The Privileged Planet

This weekend I watched a fascinating DVD titled The Privileged Planet which refutes the Copernican principle (sometimes called the principle of mediocrity) by arguing that the Earth’s seemingly insignificance compared to the universe as a whole in actuality is a compelling argument that our planet’s existence is exceedingly rare and suggests the universe was expressly created with us in mind; that instead of demoting Earth, it actually promoted Earth.

Authors Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards outline several different variables that must be exactly right in order for life to exist, including:

  1. It must be located within the Galactic habitable zone
    …close enough to its Galaxy’s center that a sufficiently high level of heavy elements (iron, magnesium, silicon) exist to favor the formation of rocky planets, but is far enough from the center to avoid hazards such as impacts from comets and asteroids, close encounters with passing stars, and outbursts of radiation from supernovae and from the black hole at the center of the galaxy.
  2. It must be located within the Circumstellar habitable zone
    …positioned properly to its star where liquid water could form and be maintained. For example, if the Earth were positioned 5% closer to the sun, the temperatures would soar to over 900° F and water would be burned out of our atmosphere, similar to Venus; if it were positioned 25% further away from the sun, carbon monoxide clouds would form and we’d freeze similar to Mars.
  3. It’d have to orbit a main sequence G2 dwarf star having the correct mass
    …of which only 10% of the known universe is thought to be comprised of.
  4. It would need to be protected by one or more gas giant planets
    …such as Jupiter and Saturn, in our case.
  5. It would need to be orbited by a large moon.
    Our moon stabilizes the rotation of the Earth and restricts it to a perfect 23.5 degree tilt, giving us the seasons.
  6. It would need a moderate rate of rotation.
  7. It would need a nearly circular rotation.
    …to maintain relatively constant temperatures.
  8. It would be to be the correct mass.
  9. It would need to be terrestrial.
  10. It would need an oxygen-rich atmosphere
    …in order to support carbon-based life forms.
  11. It would have similar plate tectonics to our own
    If the Earth’s crust were any thicker, it wouldn’t be able to recycle carbon or regulate temperature.
  12. It would generate a magnetic field like ours.
    Without the magnetic fields of flux emanating from the Earth’s poles, the solar wind would strip off our atmosphere and leave us looking like Mars.
  13. It would have a similar ratio of water to continents.

Add to these factors that our location within the Galactic habitable zone happens to be in between the Sagittarius and Perseus arms of our galaxy where habitability is optimized and threats are minimized. Even within the Galactic habitable zone there are patches where the arms spiral inward where things are too dense: too many supernovas, too many black holes and too much deadly radiation for planets to inhabit life.

Then, add to those factors that our position within the galaxy, as well as the factors that make up Earth’s habitability, particularly its clear atmosphere, provide us with the best overall setting for making scientific discoveries. For example, the best place to view a solar eclipse was calculated against 60 planets and moons, but the best place to view one was here on Earth. Being able to view a solar eclipse this perfectly allows astronomers to see other stars, to see other galaxies and to calculate their position and movement.

When you take all of the factors the authors suggest:

N x fsg x fghz x fcr x fsp x fchz x np x fj x fc x fo x fm x fcp x fmn x fn x ft x fl x fi x fr x flc x flt

…and assign them conservative values of 10 x 1:

(1011 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) / 10 = 1/1,000,000,000,000,000 (one thousandth of one trillion)

In layman’s terms, that means that the likelihood of a planet like Earth occurring is roughly once in every trillion planets. While this suggests that the Earth is very rare, that statistic might even get lost in the types of big numbers we’re talking about in the universe. It’s kind of like the old saying where you call someone “one in a million.” With roughly 6,450,000,000 people on the Earth at the moment, that would mean at “one in a million” there might be as many as 6,449 more of you out there. So, even at one thousandth of a trillion, with Sagans of stars out there, it stands to reason that. statistically at least, the likelihood of Earth being singularly unique are small.

However, the mere fact that the universe is orderly seems to suggest that it was designed and created by an intelligent being, or… let’s just say it to be clear: God.

Consider the Kalam Cosmological Argument:

  1. Whatever comes to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Now, I know that “pure” scientists reject anything outside of materialism, but in a way, even scientists accept as a matter of faith an underlying assumption that the universe is orderly (otherwise, nothing could be studied because nothing could be measured, predicted or duplicated) and intelligent (otherwise, we ourselves couldn’t understand anything.)

If you accept that the universe is both orderly and intelligent, then it stands to reason that it either just happened to occur in that exact way as a cosmic fluke, or that is happened that way on purpose; that it was caused.

I choose to believe the latter.

Luckily, I’m in good company. Copernicus, himself the “instigator” of all this talk of “demoting” the Earth, believed that God created the universe propter nos (“for us”)