Years ago, I read two novels by author Ben Bova, “Mars” and “Return to Mars,” which described scenarios by which mankind would explore the surface of the Red Planet. I vaguely remember enjoying them.
While wandering through Barnes & Noble, I stumbled upon a third Mars book by Bova, entitled “Mars Life.” It was a paperback priced at $6.99, so it was a low-risk purchase in which I indulged. Yet only twenty pages into the thing, I’m ready to throw it across the room and never pick it up again.
Bova’s book is built on the scientifically indefensible premise that the polar ice caps will melt in just a few years, which will result in… well, I’ll let you tell you himself.
From his preface:
The political results of massive greenhouse flooding will be, I fear, to accelerate a trend toward ultraconservative religion-based governments almost everywhere on earth, a trend that is already evident in much of the world, including the United States.
When I read sentences like that, I fall into despair.
Mr. Bova seems to be, by all accounts, a bright man. But if he truly believes that theocracy is just around the corner, then he has misunderstood me and others like me in such a profound way that it is impossible to believe that we could have any productive communication whatsoever. It’s also impossible for me to respect anything he says, as he has revealed himself to be vapid, arrogant, and almost irredeemably ignorant.
For further evidence of such, consider this fictional scientific presentation to a California school board that Bova thinks is a plausible prediction of the near future:
Maxwell remained in his chair, smiling back at the board members. He was a stocky man in his late forties, with crinkles around his deep set eyes.
“This won’t take long. I represent the Mars Foundation, as most of you know. The Foundation wants to make its package of learning materials available to the schools of your district.” Almost as an afterthought, he added, “For free, of course. ”
“A package of learning materials?” asked one of the board members.
“About Mars. About the exploration work going on there,” Maxwell said. “The lifeforms they found. The cliff dwellings. The ancient volcanoes. The kids’ll love it.”
One of the two male board members, tanned and sun-blond as a beachcomber, knit his brows. “This is science stuff, isn’t it?”
Nodding, Maxwell replied, “The exploration’s being done by scientists, yes. But it’s exciting. It’s an adventure in discovery!”
The beachcomber shook his head. Turning to the chairperson, he complained, “Look, they tried to ram Darwin down our throats years ago. The scientists are always trying to sneak their ideas into the school curriculum. It’s our duty to protect our children from their secularist propaganda.”
“But it’s not propaganda! “Maxwell cried, sounding genuinely hurt. “It’s real. They’re actually searching for the remains of a village that intelligent Martians lived in millions of years ago!”
“Yeah. And I’m descended from a monkey. “
Granted, the possibility of ancient Martian villages may seem absurd, but it’s far less ludicrous than the possibility of a California public school board rejecting Darwinism as “secular propaganda.” Maybe that’s why Bova moves onto an easier target at the end of this passage.
For it seems that having been rejected by the Sacramento Inquisition, this poor fictional scientist dreads what comes next.
From page 20:
Reluctantly Maxwell got to his feet and shuffled out of the meeting room. He knew what the board’s decision would be. And he didn’t look forward to the next stop on his itinerary: Salt Lake City.
Oh, spare me.
We are left to assume that the Mormons like me epitomize the tyrannical theocracy that is to come. Mr. Bova fears me, but he clearly does not understand me. There is a word to describe people who slander others they fear but do not understand.
That word is “bigot. And “bigot” is a label that Ben Bova goes out of his way to earn.
Only prejudice can explain the premise that the Western world is on the brink of theocracy. The fact is that, outside of the Middle East, religion has never been more marginalized in affairs of state than it is today, and the worldwide trend is decidedly toward the secular, not the sacred. Europe is now essentially a post-Christian continent, and anyone who tries to mention God in a state-sanctioned setting in America is subject to lengthy and costly litigation. Maybe Bova’s worried that China, the world’s fastest growing economy and an officially atheistic nation, is about to wholeheartedly turn to Jesus?
That’s something that can only be believed by willfully ignoring reality. And the willful ignorance of reality is a primary criterion for bigotry.
So this is why I despair. Asking me to find common ground with a bigot like Bova is like asking the Chairman of the NAACP to reach out to the Klan. There can be no productive discussions until bigotry is set aside and people treat each other with respect and courtesy, all the while acknowledging a common set of facts.
But Bova’s bigotry is not accepted as such by the cool people, the people who consider prejudice to be enlightenment, who hide behind scholarly pretense to breed ignorance and stoke fear.
So, to sum up, I’m done with “Mars Life,” and I wasted seven bucks. Maybe I’ll just read Harry Potter again.