What led to Percival Lowell’s obsession with life on Mars? Led him to be convinced all the way to his deathbed it held signs of ancient civilizations? Led him to waste 22 golden years convincing his eyes of what his heart wanted to see? Life on mars, and martians, is a theory that captivates the imaginations of people even today. (See: UFO’s and God)
As the egregious failure to provide evidence of abiogenesis, or the natural process of life arising from non-living matter, marred evolutionary progress in the late 1800’s, some form of organic evolution had to be found. Abiogenesis was essential for propping up Darwinian theory, and amidst the embarrassment of Darwin’s disciples classifying gypsum (sulphate of lime) as a spontaneous sea life form, science needed a new, non-divine source for life. Incidentally, the newly found ‘life form’ was never denounced publicly, and Haeckel, the evolutionist who presented it, was convinced the real life form of his imaginings was laying in the ocean floor waiting to be discovered until his dying day. He was lecturing in Berlin on evolution in 1905, standing before a back drop of artist renderings relating man with apes, and his own notorious embryo drawings, found later to be completely falsified. (Haeckel was known to be a German hero of Hitler, and gave credence to his opinions on the master race.)
At the height of his influence in 1876, Haeckel said, “[The spontaneous generation] hypothesis is indispensable for the consistent completion of the non-miraculous history of creation.” One year later was the’discovery’ from Italian astronomer Schiapatelli that would ignite a series of far reaching events to answer this evolutionary vacuum. With the limited telescopic technology available, this searcher of the stars found a straight line on the planet mars. He called them “canali” for channel in Italian, which of course became “canals” in English. A few months after this announcement was the failure of Haeckel’s spontaneous life form. Despite the modesty of Schiapatelli’s report, the imaginations of the scientific community where abuzz with visions of extraterrestrial life. And why? Ian T. Taylor says it this way: “Relegating that origin to some cosmic outpost gave a measure of intellectual satisfaction since no amount of negative evidence could lessen the possibility of it being true; in other words, it was for the foreseeable future beyond the reach of man’s inquiry and could neither be proved or refuted.” (In the minds of Men, 2008)
Which brings us, stage now set, to Percival Lowell. While traveling abroad, Percival discovered that Schiapatelli was no longer able to continue his work, and enthusiastically adopted the search for proof of Martians. He was surrounded by the progressive thinking of evolution, and with science clamoring for a life source from space, Mr. Lowell was all too eager to help. From 1894 to 1916, Lowell observed Mars, wrote about Martians, and encouraged the public with lectures and maps. Using the excellent viewing conditions of Arizona’s nighttime sky, the number of canals he observed swelled to over 700.
Other scientists seemed to struggle with eyeing the same canals Percival did, to which he replied – ‘such observations relied heavily upon viewing conditions.’ There was even a water vapor discovery that also somehow eluded other scientists. This did not stop the passionate, if not obsessed, astronomer from producing “Mars” (1895), “Mars and Its Canals” (1906), and “Mars As the Abode of Life” (1908) along with a myriad of articles discussing our fourth planet.
I discuss the dangers of indoctrination in other articles, and continue to make application as we face an educational system today that is itself obsessed with the faith of evolution. Let us examine the fall out from Lowell’s observations, bearing in mind the unrelenting PR campaign for evolution that took place before Lowell, run by Huxley, the X-Club, and various societies that held sway over the whole scientific community (this is not an exaggeration, and parallels today’s methodology). Lowell influenced the imaginations of the western world with his continual promotion of a martian probability. One such imagination belonged to a writer named H.G. Wells. The very one who wrote War of the Worlds (1898) about a martian invasion of Earth.
You know what comes next. Another Wells, this time Orson Wells, and his Halloween hoax radio show of 1938, an age of tension, and war, and technological terror. Orson proved that with theatrics, some sound effects, and not a shred of evidence, a dedicated groups of individuals could create absolute panic. The radio broadcast convinced thousands the end of the world was happening, as he presented a War of the Worlds live radio show, causing at least one death, flooding the police switchboards, and pulling off the greatest media stunt of all time.
Sci-fi followed suit, from Isaac Asimov to area 51 to Star Trek, and as evolution was blasted into the American school system in 1959 via Eisenhower’s National Defense Education Act, the need for abiogenesis was just as necessary as it was in 1876. With the space race against the Russians being the impetus for this, and the moon landing not far off, it is no wonder America never lost its fancy for Martians.
In 1976, 60 years after Lowell’s death, the Viking spacecraft landed on Mars, mapping the surface, and proving what the Mariner series spacecraft had already ascertained a couple years before. Lowell was wrong. There were no canals. None. Not one.
I cannot think of a more disappointing scientific legacy that that of Percival Lowell. I have written my first book, and know the passion and dedication that it takes to carry it out. This man not only wrote three, but built his own observatory, staffed it, and arduously studied the red planet for 22 years. I in no way feel that Lowell was a con-artist. On the contrary, I believe with every fiber of my being that he worked with dedication, ethics, and honor, and that he truly felt he was serving humanity with his efforts. He never learned of the worthlessness that was his legacy. So where did it all go wrong?
The presupposition, of course. The starting point, believed with an emotional faith that, I dare say, no one could have talked him out of. It is the same here as with biology, paleontology, anthropology, and all sciences, where how you interpret the world around you is directly affected by what you believe. Some would levy the same argument against Christianity, and would be right to do so, though it is the only starting point that offers satisfaction. To explain would take another article entirely, however I will say this. There is reason, logic, and answers within Christianity that cannot be found anywhere else. Rom 1:20 – “For from the creation of the world the invisible things of Him are clearly seen, being understood through the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” God can be clearly seen, and a presupposition beginning with a holy, inerrant, and prophetic creator is a much more reasonable faith than a faith based on man’s failed attempt to prove we are all just cosmic accidents. If Percival Lowell hadn’t been influenced by man’s idea to supplant Christian truth with humanistic evolution, as history shows us, this story wouldn’t be so tragic. Would those 22 years have been better spent studying God’s word, instead of Mars?