The stubborn man on Mars
The Des Moines Register

There's a human face sculpted into the rocks of Mars. There's a free- roaming asteroid out there somewhere, big enough to derail a planet, and it has the Earth's name on it. There's a comet streaking through the cosmos whose tail conceals a chariot of the gods, a veritable commuter train to heaven. UFOs have landed and Little Green Men walk among us in trench coats. Elvis lives, as do Anastasia, James Dean and the Easter Bunny.

There are millions of people, it seems, in whom the suspicion of science is so strong and the craving for a miracle so overwhelming that they absolutely refuse to accept contradictory evidence.

The man-on-Mars syndrome is only the latest manifestation, inspired by a photo of the planet taken from a space probe 20 years ago. It showed bumps and potholes here and there that look somewhat like a Des Moines street after a hard winter, but which to the imaginative represented a human face, obviously put there by humanoids and intended as a signal to us.

A new photo, with 10 times the detail, has persuaded scientists that it's a rock pile, nothing more. But believers have announced they'll give the new photo a thorough analysis before making up their minds.

Wanna bet what they'll decide?

OK, the believers aren't hurting anyone, unless and until a false messiah rises to convince them that the sculpted face is God, and that only those who forsake their earthly bodies can become Martians and romp in the mystic stardust of the ever-after. That's when belief turns deadly.

Maybe another Mars probe will get another picture, 10 times as detailed as the last, and proving 10 times as surely that it's nothing but a randomly strewn rock pile. But those who don't want to be convinced won't be.


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