Oh dear. Check out Intelligent Design the Future: Percival Lowell, Mars and Intelligent Design
Today’s Google icon pays homage to Percival Lowell, the 19th century astronomer who popularized the notion that there were Martian-made canals on the surface of Mars and, therefore, Martians. The larger story surrounding his famous blunder discredits the idea that science moves inexorably forward, with never a major backward step.
While Lowell may have popularized this idea, he certainly was not the only one speculating in that direction, nor even the first to observe these “canals”. Schiaparelli produced a highly detailed map of the planet in 1887, showing “canali” or channels. These sightings were confirmed by other observers, including Burton (who saw linear features which perhaps tellingly didn’t match Schiaparelli’s map) and Pickering. Lowell certainly believed that he observed such, and did publish a book suggesting that these canals were the work of intelligent beings, but it’s fairly clear that such ideas were never really mainstream in science. As scientists of the day noted, the appearance of these features could be due entirely to optical illusions. The conclusion of their paper:
Our conclusion from the entire experiment is that the canals of Mars may in some cases be, as Mr. Green suggested, the boundaries of tones or shadings, but that in the majority of cases they are simply the integration by the eye of minute details too small to be separately and distinctly defined. It would not therefore be in the least correct to say that the numerous observers who have drawn canals on Mars during the last twenty-five years have draw what they did not see. On the contrary they have drawn, and drawn truthfully, that which they saw; yet, fior all that, the canals which they have draw have no more objective existence than those which our Greenwish boys imagined they saw on the drawings submitted to them.
It seems a thousand pities that all those magnificent theories of human habitation, canal construction, planetary crystallisation, and the like are based upon lnes which our experiments to compel us to declare non-existent; but with the planet Mars still left, and the imagination unimpaired, there remains hope that a new theory no less attractive may yet be developed, and on a basis more solid than “mere seeming”.
I suggest that the proponents of Intelligent Design read this conclusion very carefully.
Addendum: Using the link above to get to Evans and Maunder’s article was tedious, so here’s a link to it as a PDF file. Enjoy!