Tag Archives: Universe

Harvard astrophysicist backs the Rare Earth hypothesis

What is the Rare Earth hypothesis?

It’s the thesis of a recent book written by two scientists at the University of Washington.

Here’s the blurb:

What determines whether complex life will arise on a planet? How frequent is life in the Universe?

In this exciting new book, distinguished paleontologist Peter D. Ward and noted astronomer Donald Brownlee team up to give us a fascinating synthesis of what’s now known about the rise of life on Earth and how it sheds light on possibilities for organic life forms elsewhere in the Universe.

Life, Ward and Brownlee assert, is paradoxically both very common and almost nowhere. The conditions that foster the beginnings of life in our galaxy are plentiful. But contrary to the usual assumption that if alien life exists, it’s bound to be intelligent, the authors contend that the kind of complex life we find on Earth is unlikely to exist anywhere else; indeed it is probably unique to our planet.

With broad expertise and wonderful descriptive imagery, the authors give us a compelling argument, a splendid introduction to the emerging field of astrobiology, and a lively discussion of the remarkable findings that are being generated by new research. We learn not only about the extraordinary creatures living in conditions once though inimical to life and the latest evidence of early life on Earth, but also about the discoveries of extrasolar planets, the parts Jupiter and the Moon have played in our survival, and even the crucial role of continental drift in our existence.

Insightful, well-written, and at the cutting edge of modern scientific investigation, Rare Earth should interest anyone who wants to know about life elsewhere and gain a fresh perspective on life at home which, if the authors are right, is even more precious than we may ever have imagined.

And here’s a review by Library Journal:

“Renowned paleontologist Ward (Univ. of Washington), who has authored numerous books and articles, and Brownlee, a noted astronomer who has also researched extraterrestrial materials, combine their interests, research, and collaborative thoughts to present a startling new hypothesis: bacterial life forms may be in many galaxies, but complex life forms, like those that have evolved on Earth, are rare in the universe. Ward and Brownlee attribute Earth’s evolutionary achievements to the following critical factors: our optimal distance from the sun, the positive effects of the moon’s gravity on our climate, plate tectonics and continental drift, the right types of metals and elements, ample liquid water, maintainance of the correct amount of internal heat to keep surface temperatures within a habitable range, and a gaseous planet the size of Jupiter to shield Earth from catastrophic meteoric bombardment. Arguing that complex life is a rare event in the universe, this compelling book magnifies the significance — and tragedy — of species extinction. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries.”

Note that Peter Ward is a militant atheist (he has debated against Stephen C. Meyer), and Donald Brownlee is an agnostic. These are not Christians, nor are they even theists. However, I have the book, I have read the book, and I recommend the book. I usually have this book on my shelf at work for show-and-tell.

Now for the latest news about the hypothesis of the book. (H/T Brian Auten of Apologetics 315)

There are always going to be optimistic predictions by scientists who need to attract research funding, but those are hopes and speculations. The data we have today says Earth is rare. The number of conditions required for complex life of any kind is too high for us to be optimistic about alien life in this galaxy, at least. And as the number of requirements for life roll in, the odds of finding alien life that can contact us get slimmer and slimmer.

From the UK Daily Mail. (H/T Peter S. Williams)


Dr Howard Smith, a senior astrophysicist at Harvard University, believes there is very little hope of discovering aliens and, even if we did, it would be almost impossible to make contact.

So far astronomers have discovered a total of 500 planets in distant solar systems – known as extrasolar systems – although they believe billions of others exist.

But Dr Smith points out that many of these planets are either too close to their sun or too far away, meaning their surface temperatures are so extreme they could not support life.

Others have unusual orbits which cause vast temperature variations making it impossible for water to exist as a liquid – an essential element for life.

Dr Smith said: ‘We have found that most other planets and solar systems are wildly different from our own.

‘They are very hostile to life as we know it.’

‘The new information we are getting suggests we could effectively be alone in the universe.

‘There are very few solar systems or planets like ours. It means it is highly unlikely there are any planets with intelligent life close enough for us to make contact.’ But his controversial suggestions contradict other leading scientists – who have claimed aliens almost certainly exist.

These arguments are actually quite useful, and I include them in my standard list of scientific arguments for theism. (See below) You have to know this stuff cold. Most people believe in aliens because they watched movies made by artists. As a result, they think that humans are nothing special and that God is not interested in us in particular. Which is very convenient for them, because it means they can do whatever they want and not care what God thinks about what they are doing. If you want to defend against the idea that humans are nothing special, and that we were not placed here for a purpose, and that we are not accountable and obligated to seek and know the Creator/Designer, then you’ll need more than feelings. You’ll need science. You’ll need the best science available.

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William Lane Craig discusses his panel debate with atheist Richard Dawkins

Justin Brierley’s latest Unbelievable show features William Lane Craig discussing the 3-on-3 debate with Richard Dawkins that occured in Mexico.


William Lane Craig is a philosopher, author and key defender of the Christian faith in debates around the world.

Although atheist Richard Dawkins had publicly said he will not debate Craig, he found himself on the same platform as him in November 2010.  Dawkins was on an atheist team, Craig on a theist team as they debated “Does the Universe have a purpose?” at a Mexico TED-style event.

With extracts from the debate, William (Bill) Lane Craig chats to Justin about the circumstances of their encounter and why he believes Dawkins and the atheist team changed their tactics mid way, were ununified and failed to address the arguments that were presented.

To watch the full debate http://www.premiercommunity.org.uk/group/unbelievable/forum/topics/richard-dawkins-just-broke-his

The MP3 file is here.


  • who organized the conference?
  • why was Craig invited to the event?
  • how did Dawkins get involved?
  • what happened when Craig and Dawkins met in the lobby?
  • what did Craig think of format of the debate?
  • clips of Richard Dawkins and William Lane Craig
  • how the no-purpose side changed strategies in the debate
  • what did Dawkins lecture on the day before the debate?
  • how should Christians respond to the popularity of Dawkins?
  • how did Dawkins respond to Bill Craig’s arguments?
  • what does Dawkins think about the “Why” questions of life?
  • how did Dawkins respond to the kalam and fine-tuning arguments?
  • is there anything wrong with Dawkins’ epistemology?
  • what arguments were presented by each side?
  • which side’s case is rooted in emotion and wishing?

Here’s a clip showing some of the more memorable parts:

It turns out that Michael Shermer spoke up to the conference organizers to get Craig invited to the event. I have always had a good opinion of Shermer personally, and this just cements it. Shermer is an uncommonly fair atheist. He has no problem hearing from the other side. You can read a transcript of his debate with Greg Koukl, moderated by national radio show hose Hugh Hewitt.

I would like to see Richard Dawkins debate William Lane Craig one-on-one. I think it is interesting that Dawkins avoids debating Craig even though Hitchens has debated Craig and Sam Harris WILL BE debating Craig shortly. Why do so many atheists believe in Dawkins when he will not debate.

Video of the Geivett/Craig vs. Dawkins/Shermer debate from Mexico

Here is the full debate in English if you missed it.

Doug Geivett wrote a blog post about the recent 3-on-3 debate in Mexico on “Does the universe have a purpose?”.

Usually, a debate question features one side taking the affirmative and the other side taking the negative. Here, the question for debate was “Does the universe have a purpose?”It was obvious from the correspondence I received from the debate organizers that I was to team with two individuals who agreed in taking the affirmative, and that the other three would take the negative—that is, they would deny that the universe has a purpose.


The three of us on the affirmative side—William Lane Craig, David Wolpe, and Doug Geivett—all believe that whether the universe has a purpose depends on whether or not God exists. So we could argue that the universe does have a purpose if God exists, even if time did not allow for detailed arguments that God in fact exists. It would be up to the others—Matt Ridley, Michael Shermer, and Richard Dawkins—to argue that the universe does not have a purpose. Presumably, they would have to include arguments that God does not exist, since that would be crucial to their claim that the universe does not have a purpose. Or, they might argue that even if God exists, the universe does not have a purpose.


Each of the six of us was allotted exactly six minutes for initial arguments. We were timed and stopped at six minutes. Strict enforcement of time limits is characteristic of debates, but not always understood by observers. I’ve noticed that some who’ve commented on the debate at various blogs have remarked that the moderator should not have interrupted debaters when they were about to make an important point. (The debate was part of a larger conference program.)

And here is a quote to make you click through and read all of Doug’s post:

Richard Dawkins is hero to many atheists today. So his participation and relation to the other two atheists deserves special notice. You’ll find that Dawkins made numerous assertions and almost no arguments. If you disagree, you should be able to reconstruct his arguments by identifying individual premises and specific conclusions. So far, those who have praised Dawkins’s performance in the debate, all of whom have been atheists themselves, have not attempted this reconstruction. I urge them to try. I will gladly address carefully reconstructed arguments in the comments section of this post. Dawkins called religious belief “pathetic” and accused Bill Craig of making an emotional argument. As I stated in my brief closing statement, it was Dawkins, more than anyone else, who made an “emotional argument.” First, he gave no arguments against the existence of God. Second, he offered no rebuttals of the arguments we presented, and third, he dismissed religious belief as pathetic without argument. If I’m wrong about any of this, I would be happy to see evidence of my error and respond to whatever arguments he did present.

I actually am not really paying much attention to this debate since I watched a little and it looked like a music video with a crazy moderator. The speakers made opening speeches of ONLY SIX MINUTES! I can’t watch a debate with speeches that short. You can’t say anything good in six minutes! But I have to post the video in case you guys are interested in it. I think what is worth your time is Doug Geivett’s summary of the debate. Doug is one of my three favorite philosophers, the others being Paul Copan and William Lane Craig.

Why does God create people who he knows will choose Hell?

It’s Bill Craig’s question of the week, and I think this is a legitimate question.

Here’s the question:

In your debate with Victor Stenger, he advanced the argument that God could not logically be a perfect being and creator of the universe. In response you stated that God does not create because of anything lacking in Himself, but because the creation of the universe benefits man, because he can come to know God and have a loving relationship with Him. I was just wondering, how does this square with the Christian doctrine of Hell? If Christ is the only way to God, and unbelief is punished by eternity in Hell, it seems likely that the vast majority of people, or at least a good number, will end up in Hell. In what way could we say that creation benefited these people? The doctrine of Hell has always been one of my major problems with Christianity, and it was my main reason for becoming an atheist.

And you can click here for Bill’s answer.

And you can find the Craig vs. Stenger debate right here for free. I keep the DVD in my office, because it’s a good debate.


Here is Matt Flannagan’s answer:

The question why does God create people who he knows will go to hell seems to me to make some mistakes.

It assumes that it’s wrong to do something which one foresees will result in ruin for another. But one does not have to think far to see this is a mistake. Suppose a person told me that if I did not have an affair with her she would kill herself. i refuse and she kills herself. Am I guilty of murder? It seems to me not for two reasons, first although I foresaw the result I did not cause it she caused it by her actions hence I did not kill her. Second, the alternative in this instance did involve me causing something evil, it involved me causing an act of adultery and disloyalty.

Take this to the hell case, God foresees that others will freely do something which results in their damnation that does not mean he causes this action and so is not culpable. Second, the alternative to this would be to not create this person or this world and the question is whether this would be a better state of affairs, its not obvious it would be.

Moreover I am inclined to think this argument proves too much. As a parent I know that my child will at some point lie, sin and do bad things, does it follow that parents should be held accountable for their children’s actions and can’t justly punish them? After all they could have refrained from having Kids.

He’s a prominent Christian debater from New Zealand who debates the same sort of people as William Lane Craig does.

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Guillermo Gonzalez lectures at UC Davis on the requirements for life

The 5 video clips that make up the full lecture.

The playlist for all 5 clips is here.

About the speaker

Guillermo Gonzalez is an Associate Professor of Physics at Grove City College. He received his Ph.D. in Astronomy in 1993 from the University of Washington. He has done post-doctoral work at the University of Texas, Austin and at the University of Washington and has received fellowships, grants and awards from such institutions as NASA, the University of Washington, the Templeton Foundation, Sigma Xi (scientific research society) and the National Science Foundation.

Learn more about the speaker here.

The lecture

Here’s part 1 of 5:

Habitability topics:

  • What is the Copernican Principle?
  • Is the Earth’s suitability for hosting life rare in the universe?
  • Does the Earth have to be the center of the universe to be special?
  • How similar to the Earth does a planet have to be to support life?
  • What is the definition of life?
  • What are the three minimal requirements for life of any kind?
  • Requirement 1: A molecule that can store information (carbon)
  • Requirement 2: A medium in which chemicals can interact (liquid water)
  • Requirement 3: A diverse set of chemical elements
  • What is the best environment for life to exist?
  • Our place in the solar system: the circumstellar habitable zone
  • Our place in the galaxy: the galactic habitable zones
  • Our time in the universe’s history: the cosmic habitable age
  • Other habitability requirements (e.g. – metal-rich star, massive moon, etc.)
  • The orchestration needed to create a habitable planet
  • How different factors depend on one another through time
  • How tweaking one factor can adversely affect other factors
  • How many possible places are there in the universe where life could emerge?
  • Given these probabilistic resources, should we expect that there is life elsewhere?
  • How to calculate probabilities using the “Product Rule”
  • Can we infer that there is a Designer just because life is rare? Or do we need more?

The corelation between habitability and measurability.

  • Are the habitable places in the universe also the best places to do science?
  • Do the factors that make Earth habitable also make it good for doing science?
  • Some places and times in the history of the universe are more habitable than others
  • Those exact places and times also allow us to make scientific discoveries
  • Observing solar eclipses and structure of our star, the Sun
  • Observing stars and galaxies
  • Observing the cosmic microwave background radiation
  • Observing the acceleration of the universe caused by dark matter and energy
  • Observing the abundances of light elements like helium of hydrogen
  • These observations support the big bang and fine-tuning arguments for God’s existence
  • It is exactly like placing observatories on the tops of mountains
  • There are observers existing in the best places to observe things
  • This is EXACTLY how the universe has been designed for making scientific discoveries

This lecture was delivered by Guillermo Gonzalez in 2007 at the University of California at Davis.

What is intelligent design?

Related DVDs

Illustra also made two other great DVDs on intelligent design. The first two DVDs “Unlocking the Mystery of Life” and “The Privileged Planet” are must-buys, but you can watch them on youtube if you want, for free.

Here are the 2 playlists:

I also recommend Coldwater Media’s “Icons of Evolution”. All three of these are on sale from Amazon.com.

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