I know I said I would not write posts responding to creationist nonsense without good reason, but when I stumbled upon the fact that Ken Ham thought that Perseverance, NASA’s latest Mars rover, was a “waste of money,” what was I to do? I got to researching, and even after knowing the ways of Answers in Genesis as well as I do, I was still shocked that they would say this.
Nevertheless—as a quick aside—I do think I have good reason to cover this. I’ve recently come to love learning and writing about both paleoanthropology and astronomy (thanks, Carl Sagan, for the latter), but I don’t have much to teach about them on my own. Strangely enough, Answers in Genesis has made it possible for me to make content about these awesome subjects in a way that I think is entertaining, and that is by refuting what they say. I find strange joy in it. Thanks, Ken Ham!
The primary place that Ken and friends express their grievances for space exploration is this post from Ken’s blog and a clip from Answers News that lives within the post. Contrary to what I first assumed, they are actually responding only to this article from Popular Science and imposing one unrelated scientist’s beliefs onto NASA instead of, well… responding to anything NASA itself has actually said.
Here’s a recap of that Popular Science article: Christopher Carr, a planetary scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology is a strong proponent of the idea that life on Earth originated from Mars before arriving here via asteroid. He holds this hypothesis for two reasons. One, the friendliest environment for assembling life is in shallow pools, but 3.5 billion years ago, when the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) of all life on Earth is thought to have lived, the Earth’s surface was almost entirely deep underwater. Meanwhile, Mars would have had the shallow pools needed. Two, LUCA’s forerunners might have evolved in an oxygen-rich environment, which Mars would have had before Earth’s atmosphere boasted the oxygen that it has today.
It’s worth noting that before even getting into these two reasons for Carr’s speculation, the article states that “the theory is not widely accepted.” Later, the author explains that Carr’s colleague at Georgia Tech, Nicholas Hud, disagrees with Carr. Hud has hope in the early Earth, not compelled by the arguments that Mars had a friendlier environment. He says, “I find [moving the origin of life to Mars] to be a little too dramatic. . . . Maybe we just need to understand some of the chemistry better. Maybe our model for the early Earth isn’t as good as it should be.”
In his usual fashion, Ken Ham latches onto this quote in his own article, saying “I would certainly agree that their model for the early Earth ‘isn’t as good as it should be’! Since they’ve rejected what God’s Word says about our early Earth . . . they won’t properly understand our origins, the world around us, or even the origin of Mars!” And as usual, he reads Hud’s quote as the opposite of what Hud actually said, which is that the Earth’s environment was life-fostering enough that we don’t have to rule it out as the stage for abiogenesis.
What is really disappointing, but not surprising, is that Ken Ham and his Answers News cohost, Georgia Purdom, equivocate Christopher Carr with NASA, when the two are in no way related. Purdom says, “[NASA is] looking for life on Mars, and why is that? Because they don’t think that there’s enough time for life to have evolved on Earth, so they think it had to have come from somewhere else, like Mars, because Mars is close to us.” No. This is purposeful manipulation of NASA’s intentions. According to NASA—and this took me seconds to search on Google—”Perseverance is studying Mars’ habitability, seeking signs of past microbial life, collecting and storing samples of selected rock and soil, and preparing for future human missions.”
Ken and Purdom are grasping at thin air. As a matter of fact, the Popular Science article barely mentions Perseverance, only using its current relevance as a jumping off point to talk about Carr’s idea and work. It says, “Ultimately, Carr hopes to someday send an instrument to Mars that could settle the debate: a gene sequencer to detect genetic material from current Martian life (if it exists) and check if it connects with our tree of life.” This is the goal of MIT’s Search for Extra-Terrestrial Genomes, of which Carr is a member. If Perseverance was already doing this, there would be no reason for MIT to send their own instrument to do this in the future.
To be clear, I’m sure that many individuals who work at NASA believe on their own that life may have originated on Mars, and they would be thrilled to finally get more clues on whether or not it did. The samples collected by Perseverance are intended to tell us if there was ever microbial life there, which could ultimately give us a closer look at how life originated here. We want to use what Mars has to teach us to learn more about the origin of life on Earth, whether the two are intermixed or not.
Toward the end of the Answers News segment, Ken says, “I think it’s great when they do scientific research, and they can do research on Mars, but NASA has said over and over again, the primary reason for this was to find evidence for life on Mars. Imagine what we could do with $3 billion in proclaiming the truth of God’s Word and the Gospel.” I’m glad that NASA has Ken Ham’s permission to do research, but I’m not sure what he wants them to do when they should not be looking for signs of life. If he were to suddenly inherit $3 billion, he would be able to pay for thirty Ark Encounters. Now, what is the greater waste of money? A rover that moves humanity forward in terms of space travel, biology, engineering, and more, or a boat that can’t float? How how much of a waste of money is it to host a news show where all you do is complain about space missions when your host can’t even remember the word “rover”, instead calling Perseverance a spaceship?
This brings me to why I wrote this post in the first place. The debate about whether science and religion can ever truly coexist is ongoing. I’ve been on both sides, and I’ve decided that as someone who is not religious but who cheers science on, it’s simply not my problem. Religious scientists do great things. But when creationists like Ken Ham are so explicitly anti-science, most science enthusiasts don’t want to comment, because it is his personal and religious right to be a creationist. However, his open disdain for scientific progress in a field entirely unrelated to the work of Answers in Genesis proves that he is not just pro-God or pro-bible, he is thoroughly anti-science.
You see, I do truly believe that creationism is anti-science. However, I know AiG’s reasons in trying to disprove evolution. They hold a worldview that, to them, is grounded in “biblical truth”, so when discoveries come along that contradict what they believe, they try and discredit those discoveries so that their beliefs can still stand. It’s not a legitimate way of constructing a strong, reality-based worldview, but it makes sense if you look at it from a “bible-defending” perspective. In their articles about human evolution, Answers in Genesis paints a picture where the anthropologists are misguided and biased, and their “biblical science” is true science.
That’s where this issue that they take with Mars exploration is different. There is no inherent conflict between Christianity—even Ken Ham’s twisted version of Christianity—and Mars rovers. The bible doesn’t say anything about there being life on Mars, and NASA didn’t say anything about life originating there (or about evolution at all). This connection was wholly fabricated by Ken. It doesn’t exist. This leads me to believe that he doesn’t only fight against science to build up his faith, he fights it solely because he does not like it. He’s just anti-science for the sake of it. It scares him, it threatens his worldview and his paycheck, and he doesn’t understand how it works.
Ken Ham is uncomfortable with the idea that no one truly knows if there was ever life on Mars. He has to have a straight answer to every question, but this is dangerous when he prematurely declares an answer that everyone else is patiently waiting for and withholding judgment on. In almost every example on Answers in Genesis, their predictions about the natural world have been wrong. Thus, given this track record, wouldn’t they have learned to not prematurely guess? They have the chance to be right about something if they just wait!
I didn’t expect to be making yet another post about an apologist after changing my blog from being atheism-focused. But the fact of the matter is that Answers in Genesis is not just an enemy of atheists, it is an enemy of science, of progress, of the most impressive and exciting feats of humanity. It is a parasite of the human spirit of curiosity, perseverance, and ingenuity. The creationist conspiracy theory is not just a religious preference to be respected, it is a disgrace to all of the incredible progress of humankind.