Date: Wed, 14 Aug 1996 12:00:00 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 14, 1996 (After
Date: Wed, 14 Aug 1996 12:00:00 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 14, 1996 (Afternoon Edition ~ Part Two)
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
#131 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 8/14/96 (Afternoon Edition ~ Part Two)
In This Issue...
* Life On Mars: An Interview With Frank Zindler
LIFE ON MARS? AN INTERVIEW WITH FRANK ZINDLER
(Note from the editor: We continue our discussion of possible life on the
planet Mars with American Atheists Editor and Science Adviser Frank
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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