Recently, I picked up the audio book version of “The Privileged Planet”, which is a book by philosopher / economist Jay Richards and astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez. This book is different from books about the origin of the universe and cosmic fine-tuning. It talks about what it takes to make a habitable planet. And it talks about how the habitable places in the universe are also the best places to make scientific discoveries.
Christian scholar Jay Richards was interviewed by Brian Auten of Apologetics 315.
An amazing debate about the origin of life and the cosmic fine-tuning between a Christian and a materialist agnostic. John Lennox is AWESOME in this debate, and he only talks for a tiny part of the debate. He’s very gracious, and focused the discussion on the areas that we care about. Paul Davies is an EXCELLENT scientist and well aware of what Christians believe. This is a great debate, very easy to listen to. Justin, the moderator, does a great job controlling a fantastic discussion.
What does it take for life to get going in our universe? Is there intelligence in the stars or right under our nose? Renowned astrophysicist Paul Davies chats to Oxford Professor of Mathematics John Lennox.
A popular science author, Davies is also the Chair of the SETI post detection task force. His latest book “The Eerie Silence” which marks SETI’s 50th anniversary examines the likelihood of the universe producing life elsewhere.
John Lennox is a Christian Mathematician and philosopher. He is the author of “God’s Undertaker: has science buried God?” and has debated Richard Dawkins on several occasions.
Davies’ work on the fine tuning of the universe for life has been sympathetic to theism. In this programme Lennox challenges Davies to look to design not just in cosmology but in the cell. They also chat about what the discovery of ET would mean for Christian theology.
Is there meaning in the universe?
We have no evidence for or against intelligent life elsewhere in the universe
The vastness of the universe makes me think there is life elsewhere
Humans are capable of observing and understanding the universe
It seems the universe has the ability to create observers to understand it
If one species has this ability, then we should expect others to do it
The fact that we can observe the universe and do science has cosmic significance
Our rare habitable planet and our ability to do science is suggestive of purpose
So science itself points to an extra-terrestrial intelligence: GOD
The complexity of life and consciousness itself points away from atheism
Monotheism gave birth to science
Human minds capable of doing science are not compatible with atheistic materialism
Why do you say that either we are the only life or there are many different kinds of life?
There are lots of factors that have to be met to have a site for simple life
These are related to the fine-tuning of cosmic constants, e.g. gravitational force
But there are also factors that have to be met for originating intelligent life
Things like convergence, self-organization, etc.
So the cosmic requirements and evolutionary requirements are different
Darwinian evolution doesn’t solve the problem of the origin of life
50 years ago, skepticism about alien life existing anywhere was excessive
Today, credulity about alien life exiting everywhere is excessive
The naturalist is searching for a process that creates life easily
Paul agrees that there is no theory for a naturalistic origin of life
This is fatal for the idea that life can emerge elsewhere in the universe
We have not discovered any law that produces life without an intelligence
Consider the method used by SETI used to detect an alien intelligence
Why can’t this method be applied to the origin of life on Earth?
Why can’t an intelligence created specified complexity (functional information)?
Why can’t an intelligence created epigenetics and protein folding?
Darwinian evolution can add new biological information after life begins
Darwinian evolution assumes a mutating replicating life form to act on
You can’t generate specified complexity by using physical laws
You can’t generate specified complexity by chance
At this point we are guessing as to how life might have formed
Why do we have to rule out an intelligent cause a priori
If you can recognize an intelligence in outer space, why not in living systems?
I don’t mind the word “intelligence”, it’s the word “signal”
I oppose the idea that God or aliens manipulated physical stuff to create life
It’s an “ugly explanation and very unappealing both theologically and scientifically”
I prefer the idea that the universe has processes to self-organize and create complexity
When it comes to supernatural meddling by God, “I don’t want that”
If I were God, I would create the universe so that I would not have to intervene
I think God would be more clever if he did not have to intervene
My preferences about what is “clever” determines what scientific conclusions are allowed
Humans already have experience with their non-material minds to move atoms (matter)
If God is a mind, then there is no reason why he cannot move atoms (matter)
My mind is physical, so are you saying that God is physical?
If God intervenes in the universe, then what is he doing now?
There is a distinction between acts of creation and providential upholding the universe
God is also speaking to people and drawing humans toward him
God is spirit, not material
How can a non-physical entity cause effects on the physical world?
What science reveals that there is information needed for the origin of life
Information requires an intelligence to create it, just as with human who write books
That’s not God of the gaps – it’s an inference based on what we know today
We may be able to explain the origin of life later, using matter, law and chance
What you’re saying is that God tinkers with the genome
If you say that God intervened once, then he intervenes all the time, everywhere!
I don’t want a God who tinkers in the genome
if God could intervene in the universe that would remove its intelligibility
Look at the cover of this book – when I read words, I infer an intelligence
There are bad gaps that the progress of science closes
There are good gaps that science opens, showing the need for intelligence
On the one hand, you say we have no theory of the origin of life
On the other hand, you know that an intelligent designer wasn’t involved
If we don’t know how life began, why do you rule God out a priori?
What scientists want to do is to explain the universe without involving God
naturalists want to use science to discover only materialist explanations
The purpose of SETI is to prove that there is other life in the universe
This would then show that there is a naturalistic way of making life
I agree that information in living systems is real hard to explain materialistically
I believe in the power of emergence
We might discover laws that prove that complexity can emerge without intelligence
The discovery of alien life would help to show that no intelligence is needed to make life
What sort of cosmic fine-tuning is needed at the Big Bang for life to occur?
It’s true that the universe appears extremely fine-tuned for life to exist
The typical answer from naturalists is that there is a multiverse
But the multiverse “falls far short” of providing a good answer to the fine-tuning
It’s irrational to appeal to massive numbers of unseen universes to explain fine-tuning
The design and purpose seen in the universe may be due to God or it may be emergent
The fine-tuning is real and the multiverse is a desperate attempt to evade the creator
Sir Martin Rees (an atheist) says he “prefers” the multiverse to a designer
Scientists are not supposed to prefer anything except what is true
Would the discovery of aliens hurt Christianity, because of the belief in the uniqueness of humans?
Christians believe that Jesus came to save HUMANS specifically, not animals or aliens
If we were to discover intelligent aliens, it would challenge traditional religions
What will God do with alien races? Multiple incarnations? Or just preach the gospel to them?
We don’t know if the aliens exist, first of all – it’s speculative
The Bible teaches that humans bear the image of God
We just don’t know whether alien species are also made in God’s image
Previously, I blogged about a few of the minimum requirements that a planet must satisfy in order to support complex life.
Here they are:
a solar system with a single massive Sun than can serve as a long-lived, stable source of energy
a terrestrial planet (non-gaseous)
the planet must be the right distance from the sun in order to preserve liquid water at the surface – if it’s too close, the water is burnt off in a runaway greenhouse effect, if it’s too far, the water is permanently frozen in a runaway glaciation
the planet has to be far enough from the star to avoid tidal locking and solar flares
the solar system must be placed at the right place in the galaxy – not too near dangerous radiation, but close enough to other stars to be able to absorb heavy elements after neighboring stars die
a moon of sufficient mass to stabilize the tilt of the planet’s rotation
an oxygen-rich atmosphere
a sweeper planet to deflect comets, etc.
planetary neighbors must have non-eccentric orbits
planet mass must be enough to retain an atmosphere, but not so massive to cause a greenhouse effect
Now what happens if we disregard all of those characteristics, and just classify an Earth-like planet as one which is the same size and receives the same amount of radiation from its star? Well, then you end up labeling a whole bunch of planets as “Earth-like” that really don’t permit life.
Here’s an article from The Conversation which talks about a recent case of science fiction trumping science facts. (H/T JoeCoder)
NASA’s announcement of the discovery of a new extrasolar planet has been met with a lot of excitement. But the truth is that it is impossible to judge whether it is similar to Earth with the few parameters we have – it might just as well resemble Venus, or something entirely different.
The planet, Kepler-452b, was detected by the Kepler telescope, which looks for small dips in a star’s brightness as planets pass across its surface. It is a method that measures the planet’s size, but not its mass. Conditions on Kepler-452b are therefore entirely estimated from just two data points: the planet’s size and the radiation it receives from its star.
Size and radiation from its star? That’s all?
Kepler-452b was found to be 60% larger than the Earth. It orbits a sun-like star once every 384.84 days. As a result, the planet receives a similar amount of radiation as we do from the sun; just 10% higher. This puts the Kepler-452b in the so-called “habitable zone”; a term that sounds excitingly promising for life, but is actually misleading.
The habitable zone is the region around a star where liquid water could exist on a suitable planet’s surface. The key word is “suitable”. A gas-planet like Neptune in the habitable zone would clearly not host oceans since it has no surface. The habitable zone is best considered as a way of narrowing down candidates for investigation in future missions.
What about plate tectonics – does it have that?
Kepler-452b’s radius puts it on the brink of the divide between a rocky planet and a small Neptune. In the research paper that announced the discovery, the authors put the probability of the planet having a rocky surface about 50%-60%, so it is by no means sure.
Rocky planets like the Earth are made from iron, silicon, magnesium and carbon. While these ingredients are expected to be similar in other planetary systems, their relative quantities may be quite different. Variations would produce alternative planet interiors with a completely different geology.
For example, a planet made mostly out of carbon could have mantles made of diamond, meaning they would not move easily. This would bring plate tectonics to a screeching halt. Similarly, magnesium-rich planets may have thick crusts that are resilient to fractures. Both results would limit volcano activity that is thought to be essential for sustaining a long lasting atmosphere.
What about retaining the right kind of atmosphere, which depends on the mass of the planet. Does it have that?
If Kepler-452b nevertheless has a similar composition to Earth, we run into another problem: gravity. Based on an Earth-like density, Kepler-452b would be five times more massive than our planet.
This would correspond to a stronger gravitational pull, capable of drawing in a thick atmosphere to create a potential runaway greenhouse effect, which means that the planet’s temperature continues to climb. This could be especially problematic as the increasing energy from its ageing sun is likely to be heating up the surface. Any water present on the planet’s surface would then boil away, leaving a super-Venus, rather than a super-Earth.
What about having a Jupiter-sized sweeper planet – does it have that?
Another problem is that Kepler-452b is alone. As far as we know, there are no other planets in the same system. This is an issue because it was most likely our giant gas planets that helped direct water to Earth.
At our position from the sun, the dust grains that came together to form the Earth were too warm to contain ice. Instead, they produced a dry planet that later had its water most likely delivered by icy meteorites. These frozen seas formed in the colder outer solar system and were kicked towards Earth by Jupiter’s huge gravitational tug. No Jupiter analogue for Kepler-452b might mean no water and therefore, no recognisable life.
What about having a magnetic field – does it have that?
All these possibilities mean that even a planet exactly the same size as Earth, orbiting a star identical to our sun on an orbit that takes exactly one year might still be an utterly alien world. Conditions on a planet’s surface are dictated by a myriad of factors – including atmosphere, magnetic fields and planet interactions, which we currently have no way of measuring.
You know, after the whole global warming hoax, you would think that NASA would have learned their lesson about sensationalizing wild-assed guesses in order to scare up more research money from gullible taxpayers who watch too much Star Trek and Star Wars.
The best answer to this is for parents to make sure that their kids are learning the facts about astrobiology from books like “The Privileged Planet” and “Rare Earth”, where the full list of requirements for a life-supporting planet will be found. Pity that we can’t rely on taxpayer-funded public schools to do that for us, because they are too busy pushing Planned Parenthood’s sex education curriculum and global warming fears, instead of real science and engineering.