Intelligent Design Detected on Mars
Astronomy Picture of the Day used design detection reasoning to infer the presence of intelligent agents at work on another world. “An unusual spot has been found on Mars that scientists believe is not natural in origin,” the caption says of a photo taken from orbit by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. “The spot appears mobile and is now hypothesized to be a robot created by an intelligent species alien to Mars.” But how does this differ from the face on Mars? (see 09/21/2006) entry).
Another story about design detection occurred on our home planet. Seismologists needed to figure out if a disturbance in North Korea this past Monday was from a natural earthquake, or from a suspected nuclear bomb test. Casey Luskin on Evolution News talked about how principles of intelligent design were employed in this exercise over a matter of international concern; see also the BBC News.
Whoever wrote the APOD entry didn’t appear to realize that he or she was bringing science to a halt. Eugenie Scott would have a fit. Science cannot refer to entities that are “not natural.” A scientific explanation would require finding a natural explanation for this “unusual spot,” instead of giving up and saying a designer did it. Those are the rules, and when doing science, one must play by the rules. Perhaps the object just oozed up out of the sand over millions of years. The principle of emergence: now that’s science! (see 02/25/2003 commentary).
Teachers can use illustrations like this to explore the question of when design reasoning is appropriate and when it is not (see 09/21/2006 commentary). What would aliens landing on Mars think of this object? Would they be correct in assuming the object could not have formed out of the natural materials in the environment, but must have been the work of intelligent designers? How about finding the NEAR spacecraft on the asteroid Eros? For a trickier case, how about the crater on Comet Tempel 1 formed by the Deep Impact mission, or the crater in Utah formed by the Genesis solar wind collector? Think and grow righteous.