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The Privileged Planet

2nd October 2012


DVD "The PRIVILEGED PLANET" Information Sheet

Nola Stewart showed the DVD at the 2012 ACC Conference and also provided a display of material related to the DVD and creation (see photo below)


Based on the book of the same name co-authored by Jay Richards and Guillermo Gonzales, who are scientific advisors for this production, the DVD examines the questions, 'What is the probability of their being more planets like Earth in our Milky Way Galaxy and in the Universe itself?' and, 'Is there a purpose behind the Universe?'

This is a video which is presented in a worshipful way, through the words of astronomers and philosophers most of whom are also Christians. Starting with the stunning images of the giant planets, obtained from Voyagers I and II and culminating in the last shot taken by Voyager I as it left the Solar System and moved beyond Pluto's orbit, it shows Earth apparently seen in a ray of sunlight as a 'pale blue dot,' a humbling and yet beautiful distant object. The idea which first arose when Nicolaus Copernicus concluded in 1543 that Earth was not the centre of the Universe as previously thought and which apparently unseated Earth from being in any way 'special' according to a philosophical view that came to be known as the Copernican Theory, although Copernicus himself did not put forward this theory; the idea that the Earth is nothing special in the Universe is examined and found wanting. Copernicus himself said
Copernicus: '... the search for the mechanism of the Universe, wrought for us by a supremely good and orderly Creator - the system the best and most orderly artist of all framed for our sake.'

The work of Edwin Hubble (1921 - 29, using the Mt Wilson Observatory telescope) showed that the previous belief of some astronomers that the edge of our Milky Way Galaxy marks the boundary of the Universe was false and that what previously had appeared as pinpoints of light and were thought to be stars were in fact distant galaxies far beyond our own. Our own galaxy has an estimated 100 billion stars (10 to the power of 11) but Hubble found there are billions of other galaxies in the known Universe. This further highlighted the apparent insignificance of our 'pale blue dot.'

The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence or SETI programme was based on the fact that there are so many stars in our own galaxy and so many galaxies, that the chances of their being many planets like our own conducive to intelligent life had to be high. SETI began the science of Astrobiology. One such astrobiologist is Guillermo Gonzales. Ironically, the identification of the factors one would need in a planet to make it able to support intelligent life, led him to the opposite conclusion, namely that planets like Earth are probably extremely rare. 

One vital factor for the existence of life was clearly water in liquid form. Water dissolves substances, transports them and is good at absorbing heat, thus regulating Earth's surface temperature. For a planet to have water it has to be in the 'Goldilocks Zone,' at the right distance from its star such that it is not too hot for water to exist as a liquid (like Venus) and not too cold, so water freezes to ice (like Mars and planets beyond). This is known as the 'habitable zone' and Earth is in that zone. So, what is needed is a terrestrial type of planet (not a gas giant like Jupiter) with water, to be suitable for carbon-based life such as our own.

The list of necessary factors includes:
1. Water
2. Located in the circumstellar habitable ('Goldilocks') zone
3. Right mass (not so light that it cannot hold an atmosphere or so heavy that gravity is too strong)
4. Oxygen-rich atmosphere needed for complex life.
5. Large moon. Our Moon maintains Earth's axis at a tilt of about 23 degrees, which gives us the seasons. Its tidal pull circulates cold and warm water, mixing them.
6. Molten interior with thin crust and movement of crustal plates, recycling carbon and providing for a variety of land habitats for evolution of life.
7. Molten iron core to generate a magnetic field and so deflect solar radiation, shielding life on Earth.
8. Nearly circular orbit, maintaining a fairly constant distance from its star.
9. Protected by giant gas planets like Jupiter from comet impact (the gravity of these gas giants draws comets in).
10. A moderate rate of rotation, such as Earth has. Earth turns once in approx 24 hours.

At least 20 factors have been identified. If we take about 15 of these factors, realising all have to be present together, and give each of them a 1 in 10 chance of occurring around any other star in the Milky way, the chance of a planet like Earth occurring near that star is obtained by multiplying 1 in 10 together 15 times, i.e. 1 in a thousandth of a trillion ( 1 in 10 to the power of 15). We have already seen that the number of stars in our own Milky Way galaxy is around 10 to the power of 11. This is a much smaller number (10,000 times smaller) than the chance of their being another planet like Earth, on which complex life can evolve. This fact instigated the book, 'Rare Earth,' by Donald Brownlee.

Other galaxies are very distant from our own spiral galaxy, which measures 10,000 light years thick at the galactic centre and is 100,000 light years in diameter. (Andromeda, a nearby galaxy, is 2 million light years distant.)

In 1995, Guillermo Gonzales observed a total solar eclipse in India. He was struck by the fact that the same circumstances that permit intelligent life on Earth to exist, such as the size of Earth's Moon, are the very factors that enable such observers to comprehend the way things work in the Universe.

Because the Moon exactly blocks the Sun during a solar eclipse, allowing us to see the Sun's atmosphere, or chromosphere, and to analyse its light through a prism, we can work out from its spectrum what elements are present. The element Helium was first discovered in the Sun during a solar eclipse in 1870. This began the work of analysing light from other stars (stellar astrophysics). Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity was confirmed by data collected by Arthur Eddington in 1919, during a solar eclipse.

Also, the fact that the Earth's atmosphere is transparent enables us to make observations of the Universe, unlike atmospheres around Venus or Jupiter.

Further, the Sun's location in the Galaxy is 'just right' both for habitable planets to exist around it and for the observation of the Universe. Our Sun lies in the 'galactic habitable zone', not too close to the centre, where a view of the Universe is blocked by the abundance of stars and its dangers include a black hole at the centre, but half way to the edge of our galaxy and away from a spiral arm where many exploding supernovae occur. At the edge of the galaxy the relative abundance of elements such as iron, needed to make terrestrial type planets is too small. Not only is Sun's location habitable, but also relatively free of dust, making it ideal for making observations. We occupy a special place in our Milky Way galaxy that enables us to study the flattened spiral structure of the galaxy, to observe other galaxies and compare them with our own.

The book, 'The Privileged Planet' (2004), written by Jay Richards and Guillermo Gonzales put forward the idea that,

'The same narrow circumstances that allow us to exist also provide us with the best overall setting for making scientific discoveries.'

The book examines a dozen instances of where the conditions needed for life to exist correlate with conditions needed for scientific discovery. Could this be ‘intelligent design'? Jay Richards points out that if you want observers, you put them in the best location to make observations.

Robin Collins of Messiah College further observes, "If you don't have a force like gravity, you don't have stars or planets." There are constants such as gravity that are uniform throughout the Universe. These constants enable predictions to be made.

They include:
1. Gravity
2. Speed of light
3. Mass of proton
4. Mass of electron
5. Strong nuclear force, holding protons and neutrons together in the nucleus
6. Weak nuclear force, between nearby atoms
7. Atomic masses of the various elements
8. Electromagnetic force, allowing chemical bonding between elements.

These things are not only constant, they are measurable (and, amazingly, measurable by us) and 'fine tuned'. For example, the force of gravity is weaker than the strong nuclear force. How much weaker? 10 to the power of 38 times weaker. What would happen if any of these constants varied outside of a narrow range of their actual values? Life, and the Universe as we know it could not exist.

This gives us a picture of the Universe which is far from random, but of intelligent design, in which the Earth has a privileged position (by grace) and where complex, intelligent life not only can exist but has been given the right circumstances to make discoveries - the same circumstances that allowed its existence in the first place. (The wonderful creation in nebulae are shown in the pdf here)

Some scripture references:
Psalm 19: 1 'The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.'
Romans 1:20 'For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.'
Psalm 8 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. ... When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man ...'


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