Saturday, 20 February 2010

When old views are discarded

In 1910 Martian canals were not seen as being altogether fictive. They have not made any headlines recently, however. Image courtesy of NASA/ESA.

Joel Kontinen

Our views of reality tend to change with the times. Recently, the journal Nature reported on what Percival Lowell (1855-1916) thought about Mars a century ago.

In 1910 professor Lowell contemplated the melting of the Martian glaciers and the ”canals” on the red planet. According to Lowell, ”Mars is habitable by organisms not essentially different from those with which we are acquainted.” He thought that Martians had solved their water crisis: ”Water is artificially ’engineered’ in such a way that organic existence is rendered possible”.

For a long time, the denizens on the red planet were thought to be real. An imagined Martian invasion of Earth caused widespread panic before the outbreak of World War II.

But scientific (and even popular) views tend to change with the passing of time. We have not heard much about the Martian canals for quite some time.

In 1975 Francis Schaeffer, a well-known Christian philosopher, wrote: ”The history of science, including science in our own day, has often seen great dogmatism about theories which later have been discarded.”

Darwinian evolution and man-made global warming are perhaps two of the hottest potatoes of our time. Both concepts are being defended rather fanatically.

Might it be time to listen to Francis Schaeffer?


100 Years Ago. Nature 463:7281, 617. (4 February 2010).

Schaeffer, Francis A. 1975. No Final Conflict: The Bible Without Error in All That It Affirms. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.