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Critique of Intelligent Design

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IDists are from Mars...

By Nick Matzke

Over on UD Denyse O'Leary is complimenting Alfred Russel Wallace for his 1907 critique of Percival Lowell's claims that Mars was inhabited by intelligent, canal-building Martians. She says:

What made Wallace so unpopular compared to Darwin is that he insisted that in science, evidence matters. Carl Sagan-style proclamations like "They're out there! How could we be so arrogant as to think we are all alone!" do not become science just because they are proclaimed by scientists.

First, the idea that Wallace was ever wildly unpopular is ridiculous, he was a grand old man of evolution and British science when he died. Second, if Wallace insisted that evidence matters and O'Leary likes this, then I guess she considers this a strong vote for common ancestry and natural selection, both of which Wallace defended as vigorously as anyone. We evolutionists win I guess. Third, let's have a look at what Wallace actually said about Lowell's hypothesis that intelligent designers were the best explanations for the patterns he thought he saw on Mars:

The one great feature of Mars which led Mr. Lowell to adopt the view of its being inhabited by a race of highly intelligent beings, and, with ever-increasing discovery to uphold this theory to the present time, is undoubtedly that of the so-called 'canals' -- their straightness, their enormous length, their great abundance, and their extension over the planet's whole surface from one polar snow-cap to the other. The very immensity of this system, and its constant growth and extension during fifteen [[p. 103]] years of persistent observation, have so completely taken possession of his mind, that, after a very hasty glance at analogous facts and possibilities, he has declared them to be 'non-natural' -- therefore to be works of art -- therefore to necessitate the presence of highly intelligent beings who have designed and constructed them. This idea has coloured or governed all his writings on the subject. The innumerable difficulties which it raises have been either ignored, or brushed aside on the flimsiest evidence. As examples, he never even discusses the totally inadequate water-supply for such world-wide irrigation, or the extreme irrationality of constructing so vast a canal-system the waste from which, by evaporation, when exposed to such desert conditions as he himself describes, would use up ten times the probable supply.

Again, he urges the 'purpose' displayed in these 'canals.' Their being all so straight, all describing great circles of the 'sphere,' all being so evidently arranged (as he thinks) either to carry water to some 'oasis' 2000 miles away, or to reach some arid region far over the equator in the opposite hemisphere! But he never considers the difficulties this implies. Everywhere these canals run for thousands of miles across waterless deserts, forming a system and indicating a purpose, the wonderful perfection of which he is never tired of dwelling upon (but which I myself can nowhere perceive). [[p. 104]] Yet he never even attempts to explain how the Martians could have lived before this great system was planned and executed, or why they did not first utilise and render fertile the belt of land adjacent to the limits of the polar snows -- why the method of irrigation did not, as with all human arts, begin gradually, at home, with terraces and channels to irrigate the land close to the source of the water. How, with such a desert as he describes three-fourths of Mars to be, did the inhabitants ever get to know anything of the equatorial regions and its needs, so as to start right away to supply those needs? All this, to my mind, is quite opposed to the idea of their being works of art, and altogether in favour of their being natural features of a globe as peculiar in origin and internal structure as it is in its surface-features. The explanation I have given, though of course hypothetical, is founded on known cosmical and terrestrial facts, and is, I suggest, far more scientific as well as more satisfactory than Mr. Lowell's wholly unsupported speculation. This view I have explained in some detail in the preceding chapter.

Mr. Lowell never even refers to the important question of loss by evaporation in these enormous open canals, or considers the undoubted fact that the only intelligent and practical way to convey a limited quantity of water such great distances would be by a system of water-tight and air-tight [[p. 105]] tubes laid under the ground. The mere attempt to use open canals for such a purpose shows complete ignorance and stupidity in these alleged very superior beings; while it is certain that, long before half of them were completed their failure to be of any use would have led any rational beings to cease constructing them.

He also fails to consider the difficulty, that, if these canals are necessary for existence in Mars, how did the inhabitants ever reach a sufficiently large population with surplus food and leisure enabling them to rise from the low condition of savages to one of civilisation, and ultimately to scientific knowledge? Here again is a dilemma which is hard to overcome. Only a dense population with ample means of subsistence could possibly have constructed such gigantic works; but, given these two conditions, no adequate motive existed for the conception and execution of them -- even if they were likely to be of any use, which I have shown they could not be.

Whoops! And now that I'm thinking of it, we've seen IDists shooting themselves in the foot with Lowell's Martians before.

P.S.: Go vote!!