Friday, April 30, 2010

Noah’s Ark on Mars


April 28, 2010
Creation-Evolution Headlines

We apologize for this improbable headline to draw attention to two stories making the rounds: new claims about Noah’s Ark on Mt. Ararat, and new claims about life on Mars. Headlines on these topics show up periodically in the news. What do the subjects have in common? How do they differ? Do the most recent instances affirm tradition or break new ground?

Claims about Noah’s Ark are usually made – though not exclusively – by some Bible-believing Christians (also some Muslims and Jews), while claims about life on Mars are typically made (though again, not exclusively) by some evolutionists. There is nothing about the Biblical story of Noah that prevents an unbeliever from being interested in claims about a boat on Ararat, and there is nothing that prevents a Christian from accepting the possibility of life on Mars. Nevertheless, advocates are generally divided along those ideological lines, and critics equally divided along the opposing lines: evolutionists are often boisterous in their ridicule of “Arkeologists” (while some Christians are, too), while Bible-believers often ignore or sneer at claims about life in outer space (while some evolutionists do, too).

The latest Ark claim burst onto the scene April 25 with a press conference and a website (noahsarksearch.net) showing detailed pictures and video of a wood structure allegedly found inside a cave high on Mt. Ararat in Turkey. It seemed too good to be true. Instead of the usual vague shapes of rock that might resemble a ship from some angles, here was unmistakeable artificially-manipulated timber shaped into rooms and structures found above timberline. Unless the eyewitnesses were all liars, it seemed straightforward. One of them said he was 99.9% sure it was Noah’s Ark. Some creation organizations snatched up the tantalizing news with cautious optimism; others, having been burned in the past, seemed to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. CMI put out a short press release with daily updates, but expressed the “need for caution—in both directions....” The story made Fox News, ABC News and other leading news organizations. Skeptics like those at the James Randi Foundation were were quick to moan “not again!” with dismissive vituperation against what they perceive as Christian gullibility. Alan Boyle in his Cosmic Log at MSNBC positioned the claim in the tradition of reports that surface occasionally, remarking that “a boatload of skepticism is in order.” Then on April 27 a letter from Dr. Randall Price surfaced. He is a Biblical archaeologist and member of a rival search team. His letter, reproduced at Bible Places Blog, claims that the site is a cleverly-devised hoax. The timbers were hauled up there from the Black Sea, he claims, by Turks who misled the Chinese into thinking they were the remains of Noah’s boat. Nevertheless, that claim does not answer all the questions. Some diehards are questioning Price’s motives, because he lost money on the deal and may not be impartial because he has his own search going on. They also doubted his first-hand knowledge of details mentioned in the letter. Subsequent to Price’s hoax allegation, World Net Daily posted a lengthy article sharing some of the diversity of opinions about the claim, and so did the Christian Science Monitor. The rest of this story is TBD.


What’s lively on Mars? News about Martian microbes tends to come around more frequently than Noah’s Ark reports. This month has been no exception. In a way kind of mirroring the Chinese Ark story, there was a short-lived headline that NASA had new evidence of life on Mars posted by The Sun, a British tabloid, which NASA quickly denied as “positively false” according to Clara Moskowitz on Space.com. More serious sources kept hope alive, though. New Scientist updated notions with optimism: “Life on Mars, if it ever existed, may be easier to find than previously thought,” an article said, announcing that common Mars rocks can preserve life after all. “New research on terrestrial rocks suggests that a type of rock common on Mars can preserve fossilised microbial life, rather than erasing evidence of it as previously thought.” But that’s only a possibility, not a discovery. The possibilities for unique Martian life were dimmed somewhat by PhysOrg’s report from the American Society for Microbiology that “Earth microbes may contaminate the search for life on Mars.” This is another in the “too late” category: our landers may have already contaminated the Red Planet with our own germs. (In a sense, then, if Earth were destroyed, Mars could be a kind of Ark preserving at least some organisms; but that’s hardly a justification for the tabloid headline to this entry.) James Urquhard announced a headline on New Scientist sure to give fodder to cartoonists: “Look for Mars life with laughing gas.” Scientists at the University of Georgia think that nitrous oxide could provide an atmospheric biomarker for future missions hunting Martians: “This could be an easy way to ‘sniff’ around the surface of Mars looking for pockets of sub-surface brine that might be hotspots for extreme microbial life.” It goes without saying that the relatively new science of “astrobiology” has ambitions beyond Mars. Europa, Titan, and Enceladus are all hot targets, and the sky’s the limit: millions of dollars have been spent on missions like Kepler, the Space Interferometry Mission, Terrestrial Planet Finder and other stepping stones to the discovery of life among the stars. And then there’s SETI: privately funded, but just as eager to find an unseen, hoped-for reality.

Two hunting parties: Arkeologists and Astrobiologists. Both get excited over each tantalizing hint of success. Both have outspoken critics. Both have yet to find definitive proof of their reason for being. Both are convinced that proof would clobber their critics with the superiority of their theological or philosophical views. One can only wonder what would happen if Noah’s Ark and life on Mars were found simultaneously. At least it would be a good day for sociologists.

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