Date: Wed, 14 Aug 1996 12:00:00 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 14, 1996 (After

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Date: Wed, 14 Aug 1996 12:00:00 -0700 from: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 14, 1996 (Afternoon Edition ~ Part Two) Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #131 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 8/14/96 (Afternoon Edition ~ Part Two) http://www.atheists.org In This Issue... * Life On Mars: An Interview With Frank Zindler LIFE ON MARS? AN INTERVIEW WITH FRANK ZINDLER (Part Two) (Note from the editor: We continue our discussion of possible life on the planet Mars with American Atheists Editor and Science Adviser Frank Zindler...) AANEWS: Do you think that the NASA/Stanford team exercised good judgment in choosing to make the announcement of their alleged finding through a press conference, before their case was presented in SCIENCE? ZINDLER: It is my understanding that the NASA team held a press conference to announce their findings because word was leaking out before their papers could be published. I see nothing wrong with this, since their work had already been refereed by a prestigious journal and was just about to come out. It's not as though their ONLY presentation was the press conference. It seems quite different, say, than the case of "cold fusion." AANEWS: There has been a wide range of reaction to the announcement from different religious groups. Does this surprise you? ZINDLER: No. Naturally, the less educated, fundamentalist groups are denying the whole affair. Their reading of the Bible makes it clear that the earth is the center of the universe, and only here can there be life. Angels are living forms too, but they don't fossilize! The more sophisticated religionists, however, the types that think they can reconcile Christianity with the reality of evolution (i.e. theistic evolutionists) may be accepting the putative Martian fossils as "just more evidence of the glory of God." AANEWS: Fundamentalists seem to have a problem with even the possibility of relatively unsophisticated lifeforms on another planet, let alone intelligent, advanced life. What biblical sources do they base this attitude on? ZINDLER: Fundamentalists can't allow life elsewhere in the universe for the simple reason that the creation stories in the first two chapters of Genesis indicate that the objects above the earth, like the "firmament" and "great lights" were put there solely for the sake of man, and perhaps woman. "For times and for seasons" the stars were zapped into the underbelly of the solid sky. If the stars -- including planets in biblical understanding -- were put up there for us, how could they have anything living out a purpose separate from ours? Ergo, there cannot be life on other worlds. AANEWS: "Scientific" creationist arguments a la Gish have not done very well in refuting the vast body of evidence on behalf of evolutionary mechanisms. From what you've seen about the Allan Hills 84001 meteoritic specimen, might they have a bit more success in trying to undermine claims about possible life on Mars? ZINDLER: I think the creationists will have no trouble obfuscating the Martian studies and their findings. Only after we can return to Mars and dig deep beneath the peroxides to retrieve material resembling the present meteorite could we hope to produce evidence solid enough that the creationists would be seriously discomfited thereby. AANEWS: Some scientists are just gushing over this find. Carl Sagan calls it "evocative and very excitinhg." Do you think he's over reacting? ZINDLER: My understanding is that Sagan was initially very skeptical about this case. The "evocative and very exciting" I though was just a trailer comment made after he had expressed all his doubts. Certainly I too can say the same thing. AANEWS: Even if other specimens of ejected Martian materials show more promising evidence of life, we're still not talking about "ET" and "Independence Day." ZINDLER: Indeed, we are not talking about any likelihood of sentient life-forms on Mars. If my model of the evolution of the Martian atmosphere is at all correct, the planet would have become inhospitable for life long before microbes could have evolved into multicellular, sentient forms. On earth, for instance, single-celled life existed for at least 2.5 billion years before multicellular forms appeared. While we should not expect evolution on other planets to imitate that on earth in any particulars, overall, it's unreasonable to suppose that intelligent life could have evolved on Mars during the short wndow of time I believe was available. AANEWS: Some religious groups -- Muslims, even a few Catholic theologians -- see no conflict with the prospect of even advanced life elsewhere. How would you account for the differences in their reactions with, say, those of Jerry Falwell? ZINDLER: Well, the Muslims have the "Lord of the Worlds" in their Koran and that would actually require other inhabited places -- all of course being ruled by our own Allah. Allah akbar, after all! The Catholics, on the other hand, have learned through long years of fighting science how to adapt to science and incorporate it. They've learned to use the scientific technology of the twentieth century c.e. such as communications satellites, to broadcast the idealogy of the twentieth century B.C.E.! The secret, of course, is to set words loose from precise definitions. By "morphing" language sufficiently, they can accomodate anything. The same is true of liberal Protestant groups. AANEWS: People are pretty excited about even this tenuous evidence for extraterrestrial life. Would clear evidence of such life really have such a profound effect on human culture as some suggest? ZINDLER: While the discovery of life on Mars SHOULD have a prfound effect, I doubt that such will in fact be the case. The discovery that the earth is not the center f the universe should have had such an effect. But despite the claims of some scholars that that did shake our species out of its dogmatic slumber, I'm hard pressed to find any evidence that more than a small percentage of our kind have been awakened by this stimulus. Recent surveys show that roughly one out of five Americans is unaware that the earth goes around the sun. AANEWS: Let's muse a bit. If we DID encounter an advanced alien civilization, would their attitudes toward a "god" have anything to do with how our culture would react? In other words, if we encountered religious aliens of any kind, would worldly religions see that as confirmation, perhaps, of their own doctrines? ZINDLER: If there were aliens and if they too believed in "god," that certainly would give a boost to supernaturalist forces here on earth. If there were aliens and if they didn't believe in gods, they probably would just be identified as "tools of Satan" or some other thing. Probably predicted precisely in the Book of Daniel or the third chapter of Revelation. AANEWS: Any other thoughts on this admitted out-of-this-world matter? ZINDLER: Well, I don't think Atheists are going to be able to get as much mileage out of this as might be hoped. First of all, there is the reasonable worry that the evidence is not sufficient for proof. Secondly, even if it should prove to be sufficient for proof, there is the resilience of religionists alluded to a moment ago. Some Fundies might give up their faith in the face of forefully presented argumentation and evidence. But the religious liberals will continue to be unfazed. We might as well box with marshallows, or hot-nail jello to the ceiling! *** INTERESTED IN MEETING OTHER ATHEISTS? One way to interact with other non-believers is to join American Atheists, and then participate in our moderated discussion group called AACHAT. If you are a member, just contact Margie Wait through aachat@atheists.org * About This List... AANEWS is a free service from American Atheists, a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. For information about American Atheists, send mail to info@atheists.org, and include your name and postal address. You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to AANEWS and American Atheists. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, write to aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please!) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER. Internet Representative is Margie Wait (irep@atheists.org).

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