Sunday, January 23, 2011

Intelligent Design and ‘The Face on Mars’

As we all know, Intelligent Design advocates – led by people like William Dembski – insist that there are scientific and even mathematical techniques that can be used to identify things that are “intelligently designed”. They have focused their attention on issues relating to the biodiversity of life, primarily evolution and abiogenesis. But if their claims are true then there would be a number of other applications for their techniques.

For example, there is the rock formation called ‘The face on Mars’.

One of the images taken by Viking 1 on July 25, 1976 revealed a rock formation that resembles a human face. The image resides on a mesa in the portion of Mars called “Cydonia” which lies in the planet's northern hemisphere. You can see pictures and a discussion at .

As Wikipedia says, “Some commentators, most notably Richard C. Hoagland, believe the ‘Face’ to be evidence of a long-lost Martian civilization along with other features they believe are present, such as apparent pyramids, which they argue are part of a ruined city.”

Once the image was presented the focus was clearly on whether or not this face is “intelligently designed”. So clearly this “Face of Mars” would seem to present an ideal opportunity to demonstrate the techniques advocated by Dembski and others.

In fact, as you study the details, the ideal features of the match become more and more apparent.

First, the discussion is about whether or not carved faces in rocks are intelligently designed. We know that this is a perfect example of where ID techniques can be used because of the words of William Dembski himself!

At Dembski says:

“Intelligent design begins with a seemingly innocuous question: Can objects, even if nothing is known about how they arose, exhibit features that reliably signal the action of an intelligent cause? To see what’s at stake, consider Mount Rushmore. The evidence for Mount Rushmore’s design is direct—eyewitnesses saw the sculptor Gutzon Borglum spend the better part of his life designing and building this structure. But what if there were no direct evidence for Mount Rushmore’s design? What if humans went extinct and aliens, visiting the earth, discovered Mount Rushmore in substantially the same condition as it is now?

“In that case, what about this rock formation would provide convincing circumstantial evidence that it was due to a designing intelligence and not merely to wind and erosion? Designed objects like Mount Rushmore exhibit characteristic features or patterns that point to an intelligence. Such features or patterns constitute signs of intelligence. Proponents of intelligent design, known as design theorists, purport to study such signs formally, rigorously, and scientifically. Intelligent design may therefore be defined as the science that studies signs of intelligence. “

Mount Rushmore, of course, consists of “intelligently designed” carved faces in rocks.

The “Face on Mars” is – at least potentially – is an “intelligently designed” carved face in a rock.

It would seem that we have a perfect fit!

Second, this “face” was very controversial. On September 8, 2000, an online poll produced the following results: 37 percent said it was made by aliens, 31 percent thought it was a natural geographical feature, and 32 percent answered that they thought there was not enough data to decide either way. It would be difficult to construct a set of statistics showing more indecision (and therefore more controversy) among the general public.

Third, the timing was nearly perfect. In 1998 – a mere two years before the poll mentioned above – William Dembski published his book titled "The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities". That book discussed ideas such as "specified complexity" that could be used as a tool to identify ID.

Fourth, Intelligent Design claims have been called religious. This has been true throughout the ID debate. Most significantly the Dover, PA, court decision stated, in part, that ID “cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."

But the face on Mars has no religious connotations at all. As mentioned on Wikipedia, even those who think that the face is intelligently designed say that some sort of Martian civilization – rather than some “god” or “God” - created it. So by examining the “Face on Mars” with their techniques ID advocates could clearly show that their claims are NOT only based solely on religion.

Fifth, the potential significance of this discovery could hardly be more significant. If, in fact, this rock really is intelligently designed, it would be, without any real debate, the most significant archaeological discovery in human history. We would have disputable evidence that some form of civilization lived on Mars or that some other alien civilization visited there and created this face.

So, all of the pieces come together here. I can’t imagine that anyone could construct, even in their imagination, a better opportunity for ID advocates to show the value of their hypotheses.

With such a significant opportunity presented to them, surely a number of papers were published in the ID literature on this subject.


Alas! No ID advocates seemed to pay any attention whatsoever to the “Face on Mars”. The Discovery Institute, for example, has no articles at all about “Cydonia” – the location of the “Face”.

What can we conclude from this?

It’s simple. ID really is religious and ID really has no intellectual, scientific or mathematical validity.

Sorry, ID advocates.

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