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(2006-10-14 21:18:05)
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[2006/09/21] Farewell to the “Face on Mars” – A Teachable Moment
Farewell to the “Face on Mars” – A Teachable Moment    09/21/2006  
ESA’s Mars Express orbiter has just sent back pictures of the Cydonia region on Mars.  Objects seen in early Viking images of this region resembled a face, a skull and pyramids that gave rise to a cult following on late-night talk shows.  NASA always discounted these resemblances as coincidental, and when JPL released higher-resolution photos from the Mars Global Surveyor (05/24/2001) it seemed to settle the matter.  The latest high-resolution color photos, showing the view from oblique angles, should put to final rest any speculations that intelligent aliens made the features as monuments.
Late night talk show hosts and their so-called experts will probably not be convinced even now.  They will either continue to see intelligent design that isn’t there, or accuse the European Space Agency of conspiracy to fudge the data.  This is the power of belief in spite of evidence.  To show our good will, though, we will offer them a new Mars Odyssey picture loaded with putative faces to dream about, and we’ll even donate some extra pyramids.  The rest of us need not worry about the Martians, though.  They’re our friends.  They even sent us a Happy Face and a Valentine.
    Teachers, however, can use this episode as an example of design detection principles.  We all tend to see faces in natural phenomena, but most of the time, we can usually tell when something was designed or not.  Compare Vermont’s erstwhile Old Man of the Mountain with Mount Rushmore.  This can be a fun project.    Finding images on the internet is easy with search engines.  Assemble as many lookalike images as you can and give children a test to see if they can tell which were designed, and which were due to natural causes or chance.  For each picture ask, “Designed or not designed?”  Explain, “That covers all the possibilities, doesn’t it?”  Either something was put together on purpose [by a mind] to say something or to do something, or else natural causes were sufficient to explain it.  Throw in some tricky ones to trip them up and make them think.  Here are some possibilities:
  • Natural bush shapes vs bushes trimmed into animal shapes (topiary)
  • Concretions vs cannonballs
  • Cave pearls (or natural pearls) vs ball bearings
  • Arrowhead Springs geological feature vs a carved arrowhead
  • Natural snowflakes vs jewelry shaped like a snowflake
  • Burrow tracks in rock vs hieroglyphics
  • Beetle tracks in wood vs graffiti carved on a tree
  • Representational art vs abstract art (shows that design detection can produce false negatives, but usually not false positives if the specification is high)
  • Mars “blueberries” vs rover scratch marks (e.g., MER).
  • An archery target vs a uranium radiohalo
  • A spirograph drawing vs the Spirograph Nebula
  • The “face on Mars” vs desert intaglios or Nazca lines
  • The “Martian canals” vs Valles Marineris
  • Cave formations vs cave paintings
  • Cave flowstone resembling organ pipes, vs real organ pipes (throw in this complication)
  • Geological columnar basalt vs a stack of steel girders
  • A cave opening vs a rock-hewn tomb
  • A natural rock pile vs an archaeological rock wall
  • Random binary digits vs the Arecibo Message
  • Rocks in random arrangements vs rocks piled up as a trail marker
  • Alphabet soup at random vs the letters arranged to spell “chance”
  • Lenticular cloud formations vs skywriting
  • Crepuscular rays vs converging railroad tracks
  • Mushroom fairy ring vs Indian medicine wheel
  • Saturn’s rings vs an Aerobee
  • A blinking pulsar vs Morse Code
  • A cyclone, a spiral galaxy and a computer-generated spiral
  • A geological ridge vs the Great Wall of China
  • Pyramid-shaped mountains vs the Egyptian pyramids
  • Sand ripples vs sand castles
  • Stratified rock vs stair steps or a block wall
  • A scrambled Rubik’s cube vs a solved one (one chance out of 43 quadrillion)
  • Random Scrabble letters vs a pattern forming crosswords
  • A face-like rock formation vs Mt Rushmore
  • An outboard motor and a flagellum
  • A solar eclipse [no correct answer; discuss reason for thinking design/coincidence]
Juniors at a recent teaching session found this a lot of fun, and it conveys several important lessons about thinking without jumping to conclusions.  Then show them a bush carved into the shape of an animal, and the real animal.  Why should we infer intelligent design in the former, but not the latter?  This exercise can lead to further discussions about information and functional design (what it says or what it does), and whether Darwin’s mechanism can account for the origin of information.  Pictures like this can be worth thousands of words.
Teaching tip: Kids might pay better attention if you make it a game.  Call up volunteers, for instance, to take turns answering “designed or not designed?” for various pictures.  Let the class vote on whether they answered correctly or not, and have them explain why.



   [2006/10/04] Whiskers Inspire Technology

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2006/10/14

   [2006/08/21] Darwinists Whack I.D. with Reckless Abandon

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2006/09/08
   

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