Evolution in the News - July 2004
by Do-While Jones

Mars Update

Last December we predicted that we would start seeing preliminary data from the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity this summer, and that the data would cause problems for evolutionists. We promised to keep the June and July editorial calendars open. It is so hard not to say, “We told you so!”

Information from the Mars probes actually started dribbling out in the spring. Science opened the bidding with evidence for flowing water on March 26.

It may have come and gone from year to year, might barely have reached your ankles, and would have tasted like acidic mine drainage. But a sea of sorts once covered a large region on the equator of ancient Mars.

That's the word from the Mars Opportunity rover, which inspected an outcrop of salt-laden sediment on Meridiani Planum and found thin intersecting layers that must be sand ripples shaped by flowing water. "It is a profound discovery," NASA space science chief Edward Weiler told a press conference this week in Washington, D.C. "Water is the key to life. As of today, Meridiani is the place we'd want to send our next rover on Mars." 1

The clincher came when Opportunity microscopically imaged large parts of rock outcrops dubbed Last Chance and the Dells. The images show fine layering not in the neat, parallel layers of dust sifting out of the air or sand settling quietly to a lake bottom but in layers curved upward in "smiles" that intersect one another. "We feel quite confident these 'smiles' add up to a story of ripples moving in water rather than wind," says rover science team member John Grotzinger of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 2

Nature quickly followed up on April 8.

For nearly 400 years, ever since Galileo first peered at Mars through a telescope, we have speculated about the existence of martian water and searched for it. Today, with three functioning spacecraft in orbit around the planet, and two robotic rovers on its surface, that search is more sophisticated than ever before. We can now be sure that water exists, and existed, on Mars. But our picture of its extent and distribution remains hazy.

The latest news comes from two different sources. The first is one of the rovers, Opportunity, which earlier this month provided evidence of liquid water having once been at its landing site--a not-unexpected finding given that the site was selected from orbital data showing the presence of grey [British spelling] haematite, a mineral that often forms in the presence of liquid water. The second source is the accompanying report by Bibring et al., who, from data provided by the OMEGA instrument aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter, describe the discovery of water ice at Mars's southern perennial ice cap. This, too, is not a surprise. 3

The next week, Nature teased a little bit with the discovery of “blueberries.”

This area had been chosen for the landing as it was known to be rich in the mineral haematite, which might have formed in the presence of water. In perhaps some of the most striking images yet received from Opportunity, the haematite is manifest as berry-sized concretions, dubbed "blueberries". 4

The rocks at this site seem to be composed of up to 40% evaporite salts and minerals. Evaporites are precipitated rocks, potentially the best possible material for preserving not only microfossils (should they exist) but also trace chemical clues of early environmental and prebiotic evolution. 5

It wasn’t until June 17 that Nature published the full paper on the blueberries.

The small spheres of haematite, nicknamed “blueberries”, that litter the Mars landing site of NASA's rover Opportunity might have an analogue on Earth, formed from groundwater in southern Utah. 6

The gist of this article is that Opportunity found small spheres of a mineral that looks very much like some minerals found in Utah. Study of the rocks in Utah might tell us something about how the rocks on Mars formed.

The most recent article in Science is the controversial one we predicted.

Dendritic [branching] valleys on the plateau and canyons of the Valles Marineris region were identified from Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) images taken by Mars Odyssey [a probe that is orbiting Mars]. The geomorphic characteristics of these valleys, especially their high degree of branching, favor formation by atmospheric precipitation. The presence of inner channels and the maturity of the branched networks indicate sustained fluid flows over geologically long periods of time. These fluvial landforms occur within the Late Hesperian units (about 2.9 to 3.4 billion years old), when Mars was thought to have been cold. Our results suggest a period of warmer conditions conducive to hydrological activity. 7

The unmistakable signs of flowing water show up in images from the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), which has been scanning the planet since October 2001 from the orbiting Mars Odyssey spacecraft. Mangold and his colleagues present two areas of treelike networks of valleys carved into the high ground above and draining into the great canyons of Valles Marineris. The branching valleys are as closely packed as those of typical drainage systems on Earth, they note, in contrast to the sparse valley networks usually reported on Mars. Some valleys run right up to ridge crests, which rules out spring-fed streams, because not enough groundwater could have accumulated there to create springs. And the valley networks are continuous and leave no blank areas, suggesting that the water was not flowing beneath snow or ice. "They're really best explained by rainfall," says Mangold. 8

The idea that enough water flowed on Mars to cause erosion is not controversial. The argument (as is usually the case when evolutionists are involved) is how long ago that water flowed.

So, that’s the straight scoop from the scientific journals. But what is being told to the general public through the popular press?

Science News did the best job with their March 6 article, “Red Planet Makes a Splash.” They clearly explained that the grains of sand in the Martian rocks looked like they were formed under water, and that there were holes that appear to be places where crystals precipitated under water, but later eroded away. They picked up this important point:

Moreover, the same aqueous [involving water] process that may have created conditions suitable for life in the outcrop could have served to preserve fossils there. 9

So, if there was life at the time there was water, there should be some fossils. No fossils have been found, but the hint is made that more probes need to be sent to Mars to find them. If no fossils are ever found, it isn’t because conditions were never right to preserve them.

Time magazine did a surprisingly good job with their March 15 article, “The Blueberries of Mars.” The March 15 issue of Newsweek had a small article, “Visiting Mars? Don’t Drink the Water.” The April issue of Discover reported that Opportunity found hematite. 10 These three articles were all pretty boring because they were truthful. They resisted the temptation to make their articles more interesting by introducing fanciful speculation.

Popular Mechanics, however, could not resist the temptation. Their July 2004 article, “The Mystery of Mars”, was nearly fact-free, but they made up for it with brilliant fiction. Here is their thrilling opening paragraph:

With each passing day, new images beamed from Mars by American rovers and European spacecraft build a stronger case for the argument that the red planet was not only awash in water at one time, but also chock-full of the basic building blocks of life. Conclusive proof of life--for example, an old fish bone kicked up by a wheel of one of NASA’s Mars rovers--has yet to be found. Nevertheless, there is a growing conviction among scientists that the discovery of evidence of past life on Mars is all but inevitable. 11

None of the reports in Nature or Science say a thing about finding any of the “basic building blocks of life.” The images from Mars certainly don’t show that Mars is “chock-full” of them. Nor is there anything in any of the data received from any Martian probe that suggests that “the discovery of past life on Mars is all but inevitable.” Why does Popular Mechanics say that?

Because the laws of nature hold true throughout the universe, there is every reason to believe that the same chemical processes that sparked life in the rich chemical soup that filled the primitive oceans on Earth, also took place in martian seas. 12

We would say that there is every reason to believe that since scientists have been unable to intentionally create any rich chemical soup which sparked life despite 50 years of intense effort, that no such rich chemical soup would occur accidentally on Mars.

Then PM shifts the subject to the “Martian meterorite” ALH84001, and makes these outrageous statements:

Today, the mainstream scientific community recognizes that the spherical, magnet-containing structures found inside the meteorite ALH84001could only have been produced by a living organism.

With the question of whether Mars was once alive settled to the satisfaction of most, a more important question arises: If the red planet were once alive, how did it die? 13

From what we read in Nature and Science, it appears that the mainstream scientific community has rejected the idea that ALH84001 shows any signs of life. The proposition that Mars was once alive has not been settled to the satisfaction of very many scientists, let alone “most” of them.

These minor facts not withstanding, PM spends most of the last three pages of the article speculating about what caused the extinction of life on Mars. In fact, we could find only one sentence in the entire 5-page article that had anything whatsoever to do with data sent back from Spirit or Opportunity. That one sentence is:

The recent discovery of what appears to be sedimentary rock in the Meridiani Planum casts doubt on that pessimistic theory [“that from its youngest years, Mars was a cold and desolate landscape”], and lends credence to the idea that Mars was once, perhaps recently, a warm wet planet. 14

That sentence is true, and controversial among evolutionists.

Scientists expected to find evidence of water, and they did. There is no big surprise there. They didn’t find evidence of life because Spirit and Opportunity were designed to look for evidence of water, not evidence of life. The Beagle 2, which was designed to look for life, apparently crashed on Mars. It never phoned home.

Water was apparently involved in the formation of the rocks on Mars. That makes the creationists just as happy as the evolutionists, because the Bible says that water was involved in the formation of the Earth. The fact that Mars was apparently formed by water can be claimed as evidence that God brought forth the Martian land the same way He brought forth the Earth land. So, the discovery of water on Mars doesn’t help one side any more than it helps the other.

If life can be discovered on Mars, it doesn’t really help one side any more than the other. Life has certainly been discovered on Earth, but that hasn’t settled the creation/evolution argument. If you find life on Mars, how do you know if it was created or evolved naturally?

Life on Mars is irrelevant to the creation/evolution controversy. We would not even be reporting the Mars results, if not for the fact that magazines like Popular Mechanics erroneously report the results, (and because last December we promised to report them this summer).

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Footnotes:

1 Kerr, Science, Vol. 303, 26 March 2004, “MARS: Opportunity Tells a Salty Tale”, page 1957, (Ev)
2 ibid.
3 Titus, Nature Vol. 428, 08 April 2004, “Mars: Water, water everywhere” pages 610 - 611 (Ev)
4 Moore, Nature Vol. 428, 15 April 2004, “Mars: Blueberry fields for ever” pages 711 - 712 (Ev)
5 ibid.
6 Catling, Nature 429, 17 June 2004, “Planetary science: On Earth, as it is on Mars?” pages 707 - 708 (Ev)
7 Mangold , et. Al., Science, Vol. 305, 2 July 2004, “Evidence for Precipitation on Mars from Dendritic Valleys in the Valles Marineris Area” pages 78-81 (Ev)
8 Kerr, Science, Vol, 305, 2 July 2004, “Signs of Ancient Rain May Stretch Mars's Balmy Past” page 26 (Ev)
9 Cowen, Science News, Vol. 165, 6 March 2004, “Red Planet Makes a Splash”, page 147 (Ev)
10 Wright, Discover, April 2004, “Mars Water: Then & Now”, page 10 (Ev)
11 Wilson, Popular Mechanics, July 2004, “The Mystery of Mars”, pages 79-80 (Ev)
12 ibid. page 80
13 ibid.
14 ibid. page 81