Our Planet Still not Ordinary

In their efforts to diminish the evident design of earth and the universe, atheists typically take one of two contradictory tacks – sometimes both, oddly enough. They either try to portray the earth as ordinary, in-line with the Copernican Principle; that our planet and life it supports are merely the product of a series of ordinary natural processes which one should expect to find elsewhere in the universe. Alternatively they try to portray earth as an isolated and particular place in a vast empty universe which was obviously not intended for life.

It’s a rhetorically necessary position because the more we know about the universe the more we realize the that the conditions for life rest on very particular parameters which aren’t contingent on the laws of the universe itself. In other words the criteria which support life could be other than they are and yet a series of independent and interdependent conditions exist which in turn allows life to exist on earth. If the universe were shown to be filled with life they could simply say, “See, life merely occurs when the right conditions are present – no design necessary”. When facing the mounting evidence that the rest of the universe is otherwise completely devoid of life, they respond, “Why would a designer create a universe that is so devoid of life? Obviously it’s not designed”.

Apparently there is no way to design a universe that would convince an atheist that it is in fact designed.

Yet, despite the contradictory protests, recent research continues to demonstrate that the conditions necessary for life to exist are even more particular than supposed, as we see in a recent article on ScienceDaily about the importance of solar tides in the existence of life:

Extrasolar planets, or exoplanets for short, have been known to exist outside our solar system since 1995. When searching for life in outer space, scientists focus on those exoplanets that are located in the habitable zone. This means that they orbit their sun at a distance where the temperatures on the planet’s surface allow for the presence of liquid water. Water is believed to be an essential ingredient for life. Until now, the two main drivers thought to determine a planet’s temperature were the distance to the central star and the composition of the planet’s atmosphere. By studying the tides caused by low-mass stars on their potential earth-like companions, Heller and his colleagues have concluded that tidal effects modify the traditional concept of the habitable zone.

In what way does it modify the traditional concept of the habitable zone? He concludes:

Heller said, “I think that the chances for life existing on exoplanets in the traditional habitable zone around low-mass stars are pretty bleak, when considering tidal effects. If you want to find a second Earth, it seems that you need to look for a second Sun.

This just adds one more factor to the criteria necessary for life to exist anywhere. Our little spot in the universe is looking less ordinary all the time.

Of course atheists keep contesting that the fine-tuned view of the universe, but the problem is the list of non-contingent necessities for our existence keeps growing. They may ignore it as coincidental, but at what point does coincidence looks like intention?

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35 Responses to Our Planet Still not Ordinary

  1. Justin says:

    The odds are so remote that Dawkins told Ben Stein that aliens might have seeded the planet with life.

  2. Bettawrekonize says:

    The newest argument by evolutionists is that these genetically modified mice chirping like birds is evidence of evolution.

    http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/1RdUMk/www.physorg.com/news/2010-12-japan-bio-scientists-mouse.html?utm_source=Techdirt&utm_medium=supr&utm_campaign=3particles

    Not sure if the genetic modification is an insertion of bird genes into the mouse or not, it doesn’t say on that link. It says that the mice chirping like birds happened by chance though.

  3. Bettawrekonize says:

    Here is how it sounds.

  4. secudad says:

    “When facing the mounting evidence that the rest of the universe is otherwise completely devoid of life, they respond, “Why would a designer create a universe that is so devoid of life? Obviously it’s not designed”.

    What is this “mounting evidence?” Also, I really don’t think that argument is one that many atheists use.

  5. Justin says:

    The mounting evidence is all of the features of the universe that have to be “just-so” in order for life to survive, especially complex life like human beings.

    It starts with the four known forces and their precise strengths. If gravity was stronger than it is, the universe would have collapsed back onto itself and life wouldn’t exist. If gravity was weaker than it is, stars wouldn’t have formed and since our planet is essentially made of star ashes, again, no life would exist because heavy elements wouldn’t exist. Combined with the strength of gravity is also the expansion rate of the universe, they have to be fine tuned to within 1 part in 1015 at one second after the Big Bang (source: New Scientist, 2009).

    But it doesn’t stop there. Relevant to why the universe seems devoid of life, the fine tuning continues. The Earth is located between the arms of a spiral galaxy, meaning we have less of a chance of being among the majority of planets in our galaxy that’s constantly bombarded by space debris. Some of the planets within the arm are struck daily by asteroids and such. The earth has to be a certain distance from the sun, has to be a certain size, has to have the ability of forming an atmosphere, etc.,etc.

    The more scientists look at what it really takes for life to exist, the more factors and circumstances they find to be necessary for life to exist.

    If you want to read more, you can take a look at the anthropic principal or intelligent design folks, who have more details than I can remember.

  6. Justin says:

    That should read 10^15th power, not 1015.

  7. secudad says:

    I understand the anthropic principal and the fine-tuning argument. They just really don’t hold much water as realistic proofs. They can be explained away (as has been done in many places) relatively easily. I’m just unsure or this “mounting evidence,” as I never hear any of that from scientists.

  8. jackhudson says:

    The above would be an example of mounting evidence.

  9. Justin says:

    Yes, Secudad, I did not couch this as a proof for God’s existence, just answering your request for examples of the mounting evidence.

  10. Justin says:

    Another interesting example that was on the History channel the other night was the Earth’s magnetic field. The magnetic field sheilds the earth from some of the suns solar winds. Other planets, like Venus, spin so slowly that they have a very weak magnetic field or no magnetic field at all, and the solar winds literally “blow” the atmosphere away. The rate of Earth’s spin dictates the strength of the magnetic field, and it, too, seems fine tuned at just the right amount.

  11. Nate says:

    The Vatican as well as a lot of other religions are completely open to extra terrestrial life. Although I think that its pretty likely that life is rare, I doubt it’s confined to earth.

  12. jackhudson says:

    Yes, nothing compels me as a Christian to deny the possibility of the existence of life elsewhere – but nothing convinces me from scientific evidence that it arises ordinarily from natural processes.

  13. Mike D says:

    Yes, nothing compels me as a Christian to deny the possibility of the existence of life elsewhere – but nothing convinces me from scientific evidence that it arises ordinarily from natural processes.

    If God fine-tuned the universe for life, then why wouldn’t life arise ordinarily from the natural processes that he created? Did he not “fine-tune” it quite enough?

  14. Justin says:

    Front-loading is a concept that ID proponents discuss quite often. It’s usually the view held by proponents of theistic evolution if I’m not mistaken.

  15. jackhudson says:

    If God fine-tuned the universe for life, then why wouldn’t life arise ordinarily from the natural processes that he created? Did he not “fine-tune” it quite enough?

    Perhaps for the same reason paintings don’t arise ordinarily from art galleries despite the fact that art galleries are obviously designed to house them?

  16. Bettawrekonize says:

    I used to often read the pro evolutionist argument, “why would a designer design us with one wind pipe and why does food and air share a common pathway” After thinking about it, besides the economies of scope response (it’s cheaper to create and maintain one pathway for food and air than to have two separate pathways), (while I’m not an engineer) it also seems to make sense from an engineering perspective. What you’re interested in is net air flow per unit time and, in particular, net airflow use per pipe per unit time. If we were created with two pipes in the way that evolutionists propose is more efficient, one for breathing in and one for breathing out, each pipe will not be used about half of the time. As one pipe breaths in air must be blocked from the other pipe to prevent it from breathing out, which is an inefficient use of that pipe (and as air moves out of the other pipe, the air intake pipe must block new air from entering, again, inefficient). Having the same pipe be used for both breathing in and breathing out is a much more efficient use of the pipe because now we are transferring more volume of air per pipe per unit time, the pipe is constantly being used to transfer air. So our designer really knew what he was doing in that respect.

    Also, it’s inefficient to create and maintain a whole new pathway for eating when that pathway will often not be used except while eating (expending resources on such pathways not only costs resources, it takes up space and adds weight and has opportunity cost in terms of the ability to use those resources and that space for other purposes), why not also give it a use during times when you’re not eating? If anything, this is a very efficient design.

  17. The Judge says:

    Just a line to thank you for your response of a few posts back, Jack – I’m in the middle of some journeying to see friends and I don’t have the time to write much now. But I read it with interest, and I’m looking forward to your other responses. There’s more I’d like to discuss about Christianity, but there will be time in the future.

  18. jackhudson says:

    Thanks, Judge, safe travels. I will get to the next question soon.

  19. DanJames says:

    It seems like there are a lot of places in this thread where “the universe” is getting mixed up with “the earth” (perhaps a Freudian slip!?) Fine tuning of the physical laws of the universe is different than fine tuning of the location and content of the earth.

  20. jackhudson says:

    True Dan, particular life-friendly aspects of the earth are actually more in line with ‘Privileged Planet’ theory of design. Although, in a sense it’s really a subset of fine-tuning argument, it just concerns the localized environment around a life-sustaining planet.

  21. Bettawrekonize says:

    DanJames, Welcome!

  22. Mike D says:

    Perhaps for the same reason paintings don’t arise ordinarily from art galleries despite the fact that art galleries are obviously designed to house them?

    Analogy fail. Creating paintings doesn’t require a miraculous suspension of natural law. It seems rather arbitrary to declare that the emergence of life requires a miraculous suspension of natural law, when everything else – the formation of planets, stars, galaxies, whatever – is simply what happens by God’s design. So what makes you so confident that God didn’t design the universe so that life would emerge as an outcome of its laws?

    You’re kinda hedging your bets against science here too, because we’ve already been able to synthesize the building blocks of RNA in a lab, consistent with the RNA World Hypothesis of abiogenesis. Scientists have a pretty solid track record of success on this sort of thing. Hypothetically, what would happen to your current belief if we have developed a rigorously supported theory of abiogenesis? Would you amend it to say that God designed the universe for life to emerge as a consequence of its physical laws, rather than requiring a miracle?

  23. Nate says:

    I think the universes mere existence is a pretty big miracle.

    My current belief wouldn’t change. God created the universe and whatever happens from that point forward is simply an extension of that act.

  24. Bettawrekonize says:

    “It seems rather arbitrary to declare that the emergence of life requires a miraculous suspension of natural law”

    It’s unfounded to assume that life emerged as a product of unguided natural forces. We observe that unguided natural laws do not produce life and so it is reasonable (not arbitrary) to declare that this is so based on our observations.

    “because we’ve already been able to synthesize the building blocks of RNA in a lab, consistent with the RNA World Hypothesis of abiogenesis. ”

    So because we can design RNA, RNA must have evolved unguided? Logic fail.

    “So what makes you so confident that God didn’t design the universe so that life would emerge as an outcome of its laws? ”

    Hard to prove a negative. What makes you confident that undetectable fairy dust doesn’t cause the earth to rotate? The claim that it does is unfalsifiable and hence probably false. The claim that life emerges as a product of unguided natural law is probably false for the same reason.

    As far as why wouldn’t God create natural laws that would create life unguided? That would obviously make it much too easy for naturalists to then dismiss life as being a product of design. Why should He make things so convenient for naturalists?

    “If God fine-tuned the universe for life, then why wouldn’t life arise ordinarily from the natural processes that he created? Did he not “fine-tune” it quite enough?”

    Perhaps God fine tuned the universe, and the laws, to facilitate the survival of existing life, not to facilitate the emergence of new life from unguided processes.

  25. Bettawrekonize says:

    “because we’ve already been able to synthesize the building blocks of RNA in a lab, consistent with the RNA World Hypothesis of abiogenesis.”

    Because the RNA World Hypothesis says that humans were around at the beginning of life to synthesize the building blocks of RNA? Wow, I guess I learn something new every day.

  26. jackhudson says:

    Analogy fail. Creating paintings doesn’t require a miraculous suspension of natural law. It seems rather arbitrary to declare that the emergence of life requires a miraculous suspension of natural law, when everything else – the formation of planets, stars, galaxies, whatever – is simply what happens by God’s design. So what makes you so confident that God didn’t design the universe so that life would emerge as an outcome of its laws?

    I agree paintings don’t require a miraculous suspension of natural law – they requires creativity, intelligence and intent; the same is true for the organization of life. I am not sure why you assumed that was my point.

    You’re kinda hedging your bets against science here too, because we’ve already been able to synthesize the building blocks of RNA in a lab, consistent with the RNA World Hypothesis of abiogenesis. Scientists have a pretty solid track record of success on this sort of thing. Hypothetically, what would happen to your current belief if we have developed a rigorously supported theory of abiogenesis? Would you amend it to say that God designed the universe for life to emerge as a consequence of its physical laws, rather than requiring a miracle?

    I am not sure where I said it ‘requires a miracle’ – I think it requires intent and intelligence. And I am not ‘hedging my bets’ against science as it my understanding of the requirements necessary to originate information system driven machinery that I don’t believe life originated via unguided processes. It is the result of scientific knowledge, not in spite of it.

    I would contend you are betting on materialism, not science.

  27. Justin says:

    That is why I have a hard time with the distinction between natural and supernatural. Such a distinction seems pretty arrogant. To declare something supernatural, we would have to know all possible laws, which we don’t. And I don’t know how God designing the universe and speaking it into existence would make it any less miraculous, for those who do draw that distinction.

  28. jackhudson says:

    Well yes, that distinction and that between supernatural and ‘magic’.

    Atheists can and often do believe in something outside of ‘nature’ that is the observable universe – which is in effect ‘supernatural’ by definition. And they can and often do believe that entities outside the observable universe effect change in the observable universe – the only distinction then really is that theists believe such an entity has a mind and a will. That isn’t ‘magic’.

  29. Mike D says:

    It’s unfounded to assume that life emerged as a product of unguided natural forces. We observe that unguided natural laws do not produce life and so it is reasonable (not arbitrary) to declare that this is so based on our observations.

    Life arising via natural processes is the more parsimonious explanation that supernatural miracle. The first is at least testable. Your argument hinges on an argument from ignorance: since the mechanism of abiogenesis is unknown, life must have been magically created by a supernatural being.

    So because we can design RNA, RNA must have evolved unguided? Logic fail

    The ability to synthesize RNA provides a framework to develop a working theory of abiogenesis.

    Hard to prove a negative. What makes you confident that undetectable fairy dust doesn’t cause the earth to rotate? The claim that it does is unfalsifiable and hence probably false. The claim that life emerges as a product of unguided natural law is probably false for the same reason.

    We don’t think undectable fairy dust causes the Earth to rotate because there’s no evidence that it does. We don’t bother worrying about it because it’s unfalsifiable. The claim that early life was synthesized through chemical reactions in primordial oceans is not, in principle, an untestable claim. The challenge is in developing a working theoretical framework by which to test the theory, which is why scientists are trying to synthesize RNA. The fact that we don’t yet know how life arose is not evidence that the Magic Man did it.

    As far as why wouldn’t God create natural laws that would create life unguided? That would obviously make it much too easy for naturalists to then dismiss life as being a product of design. Why should He make things so convenient for naturalists?

    Ah I see. Abiogenesis is a mystery so God can test our faith.

    Perhaps God fine tuned the universe, and the laws, to facilitate the survival of existing life, not to facilitate the emergence of new life from unguided processes.

    We can speculate til the cows come home. Where’s your proof? Maybe God doesn’t actually exist.

  30. Mike D says:

    I agree paintings don’t require a miraculous suspension of natural law – they requires creativity, intelligence and intent; the same is true for the organization of life. I am not sure why you assumed that was my point.

    You think that all the natural laws of the universe require those things to exist at all. So this doesn’t answer why biogenesis should be exempt from all the other natural laws of the universe that God intentionally made, and instead require some extra intervention (read: a miracle) from God. Really Jack, your only argument here is an argument from ignorance – that we don’t know how abiogenesis happened. At least your reader above directly answered the question, and answered that God just didn’t want to make it easy for us naturalists.

    And I am not ‘hedging my bets’ against science as it my understanding of the requirements necessary to originate information system driven machinery that I don’t believe life originated via unguided processes. It is the result of scientific knowledge, not in spite of it.

    You’re categorically ruling out the possibility of abiogenesis simply because a mechanism is currently unknown. If that’s not hedging your bets against science, I don’t know what is.

    We don’t know how life arose. Maybe God magically willed it into existence in an instant. Maybe it rose as a result of light elements interacting in chemical reactions in Earth’s warm primordial oceans (we are, after all, made of the same stuff that stars spit out when they explode). The difference is that the former rests on an argument from ignorance, and the latter is something that can be developed into a working, falsifiable theoretical framework and hence tested.

    As soon as evidence of divine intervention is demonstrated, I’ll be all ears. Until then, since scientific explanations have usurped religious ones at every turn throughout history, I’m betting the latter is far more plausible.

    Atheists can and often do believe in something outside of ‘nature’ that is the observable universe – which is in effect ‘supernatural’ by definition. And they can and often do believe that entities outside the observable universe effect change in the observable universe – the only distinction then really is that theists believe such an entity has a mind and a will. That isn’t ‘magic’.

    lol. What the hell are you talking about?

  31. Mike D says:

    * that should say “heavy elements” in the second to last paragraph there.

  32. jackhudson says:

    You think that all the natural laws of the universe require those things to exist at all. So this doesn’t answer why biogenesis should be exempt from all the other natural laws of the universe that God intentionally made, and instead require some extra intervention (read: a miracle) from God. Really Jack, your only argument here is an argument from ignorance – that we don’t know how abiogenesis happened. At least your reader above directly answered the question, and answered that God just didn’t want to make it easy for us naturalists. .

    I never said biogenesis should be exempt from natural laws; I said that unguided processes alone don’t sufficiently explain the origination of certain structures and systems, such as information system driven machinery.

    Everything we know about the origin of such systems indicates that it can’t arise through unguided mechanisms. So if I state that it can be generally understood based on our current scientific knowledge that information driven machines don’t originate apart from intelligence, I am making a testable, falsifiable statement. All that is needed to prove me wrong is to demonstrate a case to the contrary.

    It was much the same with spontaneous generation and germ theory – based on our current knowledge we can say organisms do not spontaneously generate – to prove that falsifiable statement wrong one simply needs to demonstrate a case to the contrary. Until then, I am confident that claim and my own withstand scientific scrutiny.

    Notice nowhere in that statement did I resort to ‘supernatural’ or ‘magic’.

    You’re categorically ruling out the possibility of abiogenesis simply because a mechanism is currently unknown. If that’s not hedging your bets against science, I don’t know what is..

    No, I am ruling it out because there is no evidence to support it, and much knowledge to indicate information driven technology arises through intelligence. You believe what you do because of your faith in materialism.

    We don’t know how life arose. Maybe God magically willed it into existence in an instant. Maybe it rose as a result of light elements interacting in chemical reactions in Earth’s warm primordial oceans (we are, after all, made of the same stuff that stars spit out when they explode). The difference is that the former rests on an argument from ignorance, and the latter is something that can be developed into a working, falsifiable theoretical framework and hence tested.

    I am not sure where you keep getting this word ‘magic’ – a being with sufficient power and intelligence could originate life. No magic required. That idea doesn’t derive from ignorance but from what life is.

    As soon as evidence of divine intervention is demonstrated, I’ll be all ears. Until then, since scientific explanations have usurped religious ones at every turn throughout history, I’m betting the latter is far more plausible.

    You can place your faith where you want; I am going with my understanding of biological structures and systems based on current knowledge.

  33. Bettawrekonize says:

    “Life arising via natural processes is the more parsimonious explanation that supernatural miracle.”

    There is no evidence supporting the possibility of unguided natural processes producing life and hence it is no more reasonable than invoking the supernatural. In fact, my claim that unguided natural forces do not produce life is falsifiable and hence a perfectly reasonable thing to believe.

    “The first is at least testable.”

    and so far all tests where we attempt to observe an origin of life unguided have failed. So either the theory has been falsified or it is unfalsifiable. Being testable doesn’t make it reasonable, especially when the tests say no. I can test the theory that if I jump as high as I can maybe I can jump from earth to space, and the test would demonstrate that I can’t, but just because it’s testable doesn’t make it any more reasonable to believe. The claim that people can’t jump from earth to the moon if they tried is also testable just as well, and since the tests confirm that theory, it is reasonable for me to believe it.

    To claim that unguided abiogenesis occurred is purely faith based on absolutely zero evidence and hence, until that changes, it’s no more reasonable than assuming the supernatural. However, the claim that life does not emerge from unguided natural forces is falsifiable and it hasn’t been falsified. It is reasonable for me to conclude it true.

    “Your argument hinges on an argument from ignorance: since the mechanism of abiogenesis is unknown, life must have been magically created by a supernatural being. ”

    You’re assuming a natural, unguided method exists, and such an assumption is unfounded. I’m basing my belief that it doesn’t exist on the fact that it hasn’t happened and my belief that it can’t and won’t happen is falsifiable.

    “The ability to synthesize RNA provides a framework to develop a working theory of abiogenesis. ”

    and that framework involves design, not unguided natural processes.

    “The claim that early life was synthesized through chemical reactions in primordial oceans is not, in principle, an untestable claim.”

    The claim that someone can jump and land on the moon isn’t an untestable claim either. Until someone does it, I will reasonably assume it false.

    “Ah I see. Abiogenesis is a mystery so God can test our faith. ”

    Unguided abiogenesis doesn’t happen so as to resist unguided naturalistic cause. It makes claim that unguided naturalistic cause doesn’t produce life reasonable and falsifiable and it makes the claim that it does happen unfounded.

    “We can speculate til the cows come home. Where’s your proof? Maybe God doesn’t actually exist.”

    Where is your proof that unguided abiogenesis occurs. My claim that it doesn’t is falsifiable.

  34. jackhudson says:

    Mike’s response on his blog:

    You often hear the old creationist canard that life cannot arise from non-life. Well, abiogenesis is a nascent field of science, and we’re not sure how life first arose. We certainly have no reason to assume that it must have been supernatural. Our very bodies – and indeed all life – is composed of the exact same elements (indeed the exact same atoms) that ancients stars spat out when they exploded, seeding the galaxy with heavy elements. That such elements were synthesized by the laws of chemistry is certainly more plausible than the old “A Magic Man done it!” excuse.

    Here Mike seems to have double-downed on the use of the ‘magic’ straw man fallacy which has already been addressed here (using it elsewhere perhaps because it has been dealt with here). He also offers as evidence for the unguided origination of life the rather obvious fact that life is composed many of the same elements that make up the rest of the universe.

    How it could be otherwise is unclear – obviously living systems exist in the universe and subsist on consumed material composed of elements in the universe. I don’t know how they could grow and eat and breathe if they were composed of elements unique to living systems.

    And the fact that they are composed of such material doesn’t counter the notion that intelligent intent was a necessary component of life’s origin; after all the computer one is looking at right now is composed of ‘the exact same elements’ that are found in the universe, yet no one would claim those elements arranged themselves unguided into the information processing machines we are utilizing to compose and view these posts.

    Hopefully at some point Mike will cease with the subtle ad hominems, straw men and non sequitors and engage in the thoughtful discussion on the subject I know he is capable of.

  35. Justin says:

    I’m with Jack. Even if abiogenesis were true, the question still remains; why should we exempt life from the rule that negentropic systems have designers?

    To answer that abiogenesis shows that there is no designer, from the atheist standpoint, is simply a fallacy of begging the question.

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