Intelligent Design, the best explanation of Origins

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Intelligent Design, the best explanation of Origins » Astronomy & Cosmology and God » Life on other planets, a real possibility ?

Life on other planets, a real possibility ?

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1 Life on other planets, a real possibility ? on Mon Oct 19, 2009 3:37 pm



Paul Davies, the fifth miracle page 53: 
There are indeed a lot of stars—at least ten billion billion in the observable universe. But this number, gigantic as it may appear to us, is nevertheless trivially small compared with the gigantic odds against the random assembly of even a single protein molecule. Though the universe is big, if life formed solely by random agitation in a molecular junkyard, there is scant chance it has happened twice.

The data demonstrate that the probability of finding even one planet with the capacity to support life falls short of one chance in 10^140 (that number is 1 followed by 140 zeros).

The Criterion : The "Cosmic Limit" Law of Chance

To arrive at a statistical "proof," we need a reasonable criterion to judge it by :

As just a starting point, consider that many statisticians consider that any occurrence with a chance of happening that is less than one chance out of 10^50, is an occurrence with such a slim a probability that is, in general, statistically considered to be zero. (10^50 is the number 1 with 50 zeros after it, and it is spoken: "10 to the 50th power"). This appraisal seems fairly reasonable, when you consider that 10^50 is about the number of atoms which make up the planet earth. --So, overcoming one chance out of 10^50 is like marking one specific atom out of the earth, and mixing it in completely, and then someone makes one blind, random selection, which turns out to be that specific marked atom. Most mathematicians and scientists have accepted this statistical standard for many purposes.

Sustaining the quest for other potential life sites, planetary scientist David Stevenson and origin-of-life researchers Jeffrey Bada and Christopher Wills go so far as to speculate that life might not require a home near a star.38-39 They suggest this scenario: A planet may be ejected from a normal planetary system before losing any of its light gases. If so, the planet may retain enough surface warmth (from interior radioactive decay) and a sufficiently heavy molecular hydrogen outer atmosphere (a heat-trapping blanket) to sustain life chemistry and metabolism. 

To be capable of life support, however, such a hypothetical site would require super-enrichment by radioactive elements, and no mechanism or scenario exists to bring this enrichment about—none that would accomplish the job without simultaneously destroying the molecular hydrogen outer atmosphere. If the planet somehow acquired this enrichment, it still faces a problem: heat from the radioactive decay would decline exponentially through time. So, while such a planet might serve as a brief stopover for primitive life, it could not stay within the life-support range of temperature and other conditions long enough to serve as any conceivable home for intelligent life.

I do not dispute that life as we know it would not exist if any one of several of the
constants of physics were just slightly different.

thank you so much to let that clear. 

The assertion that God can be
seen by virtue of his acts of cosmological fine-tuning, like intelligent design and earlier versions of
the argument from design, is nothing more than another variation on the disreputable God-of-thegaps

That is simply not true. Quit the oposit is the case. We use the fine-tune argument, because we KNOW the fine-tune constants.

These rely on the faint hope that scientists will never be able to find a natural
explanation for one or more of the puzzles that currently have them scratching their heads and
therefore will have to insert God as the explanation.

The data demonstrate that the probability of finding even one planet with the capacity to support life falls short of one chance in 10140 (that number is 1 followed by 140 zeros)

People often joke about the certainty of death and taxes. Astronomers can add another certainty to that short list: Sooner or later someone will ask, “What do you think about the possibility of life out there?”

Most questioners are looking for a particular answer. Science fiction novels, The Planetary Society, and countless movies, from E.T. to Contact to Planet of the Apes, suggest that extraterrestrial life is a given and help conjure images of how that life looks. To answer questions about such life takes as much diplomacy as answering my wife when she asks, “How do I look?”

Experience suggests a strategy for handling both questions. Step one: Make a positive statement, such as “You look great!” or “That’s a great question!” Step two: Provide amplification. This part is trickier. It can make or break the interaction. If it lacks sincerity or includes the word but, (e.g., “You look great, but I thought you were going to wear the blue dress”), my wife may walk away feeling hurt and deflated. A better answer adds some specific feedback (e.g., “You look great, and I especially like the way that color goes with your eyes”).

In the case of the life-elsewhere question, an honest, fact-based amplification acknowledges the “great question” as opening the door to three fascinating topics: life on other planets, life on other astronomical bodies, and life other than “life as we know it.” Step-by-step discussion of these subjects can lead to opportunities for spiritually significant conversation.

Technology and interdisciplinary research have enabled scientists to develop an extensive list of physical characteristics that must fall within limited ranges for a planet (or any other astronomical body) to be capable of life support. Those characteristics involve the planet’s star, moon(s), planetary companions, and galaxy, as well as the planet’s surface, interior, and atmospheric conditions. This list grows longer with every year. It started with two parameters in 1966,1 grew to eight by 1970, to twenty-three by 1980, to thirty by 1990, and to forty by 1995.2 Currently, the list includes more than 120 parameters and shows no signs of leveling off.3

The limits on some characteristics, especially on the essential-to-life features of a planet’s star, have been determined precisely. The limits on others, mostly on the features of the planet itself, presumably a terrestrial (rocky) planet, are less precisely known. Two reasons exist for this difference: First, trillions of stars are available for study while only 76 planets (9 in Earth’s solar system, 67 outside) have been discovered to date. Second, physical and chemical characteristics make stars, basically condensed balls of hot gas, much simpler systems than planets.

No one knows, of course, exactly how many planets exist. As recently as 1990, astronomers were divided between those who proposed that planets whirl around nearly every star and those who posited that the Sun alone possesses planets. Three research advances tilt the debate toward the latter scenario: (1) the availability of instruments and techniques capable of detecting and studying planets orbiting other stars; (2) the discovery that most, if not all, stars surrounded by disks of dust are young or still forming; and (3) the development of sophisticated theoretical models that explain how dust disks become planets.

Each of the 67 extrasolar planets discovered and studied to date orbits a relatively young, metal-rich star (a star rich in elements heavier than hydrogen and helium).4-8 This finding presents no surprise. The heavy elements needed to make planets and any type of life chemistry do not exist in sufficient quantity until at least two generations of stars have formed, burned out, and scattered their ashes, which then recycle to form more stars. Astronomers have learned that the longer a galaxy sustains star formation, the more metal rich its newly forming stars will be. In the case of the galaxy astronomers know best, the Milky Way galaxy (Earth’s own), only 2 percent of the stars possess metal richness adequate for planet formation.9

Of those Milky Way stars known to have planets, none formed as early as the Sun. The Sun benefited from a remarkable set of circumstances: it formed adjacent to two massive, star explosions (supernovae), each of which spewed out a different set of life-essential heavy elements.10-12 Those explosions occurred precisely at the right time and place for those heavy elements to be incorporated into the condensing solar nebula. Earth’s star may be the only star its age with an ensemble of both small rocky planets and gas giants. This finding implies that the probable number of life-site candidates falls far below 2 percent.

As for life-support planets in other galaxies, the odds look bleak. Astronomers have found that the Milky Way is exceptional for the longevity of its star formation processes. In 94 of every 100 galaxies, star formation shut down so long ago that few, if any, metal-rich stars reside there—hence few, if any, planets. The results of a Hubble Space Telescope (HST) study recently confirmed this conclusion. The HST searched for planets in an enormous cluster of old stars, 47 Tucanae, and found none.13

Observations indicate that the number of stars with planets, any kind or size of planets, adds up to only about 0.1 percent of all the stars in the cosmos. That number is at least a hundred times smaller than the estimate that launched the search for signals from extraterrestrial life.14 Small though that percentage may be, however, it still adds up to a lot of planets. If, for example, each star in that 0.1-percent group has ten planets around it, the number of planets would add up to a hundred million trillion (that is, 1020).

A hundred million trillion, then, is the number to which the data on various life-essential features must be applied. Some features fall within loose limits—others, within strict limits. Limits on the planet’s rotation period and its albedo (reflectivity) eliminate about 90 percent of the life-site candidates. Parameters such as the parent star’s mass and the planet’s distance from its parent star eliminate about 99.9 percent of all relevant candidates.

Dependency factors among certain of the parameters improve the odds somewhat, but many of these parameters must be kept within a specific range for long periods of time. Given how variable environments can be, this longevity requirement proves extremely limiting. The data demonstrate that the probability of finding even one planet with the capacity to support life falls short of one chance in 10140 (that number is 1 followed by 140 zeros).15

The extreme improbability such a number indicates has driven some scientists to abandon the premise that life requires an Earth-like home. A satellite (moon) orbiting a giant planet that in turn orbits a star resembling Earth’s sun at the right distance could serve, they say, as a life site.16-18 The feasibility of such an alternative can be tested against a long list of recent findings.

None of the 67 “gas giant” planets found thus far outside Earth’s solar system orbit their stars in the zone life requires. Gas giants, which are many times larger than Earth, form under cold, low radiation conditions far from their stars. By gravitational interactions with interplanetary dust or with other planets and stars that pass by, most gas giants drift into the proximity of their stars. This drifting process drastically decreases their likelihood of retaining the nearly circular, stable orbit life demands.19-24 Of the known extrasolar gas giants, only two orbit anywhere near the life-habitable zone, and these two follow such an eccentric (i.e., elongated) orbital path as to make life on their satellites (moons), if they have any, impossible.25-28 The question remains unanswered as to whether or not giant planets can possibly retain the satellites during migration.

A satellite close enough to its planet to avoid enormous seasonal temperature fluctuations (caused by variations in the distance to the planet’s star, or heat source, as the satellite orbits its planet) becomes tidally locked to the planet—the same side always faces the planet. This tidal locking itself causes a host of life-destructive effects.

For example, tidal locking makes the satellite’s rotation period identical to the planet’s. Unless that period is short enough, day-to-night temperature differences become too extreme for life’s survival. However, the rotation period can only be that short if the satellite orbits closely. Within this sufficiently close range, however, another set of problems arises. For example, tidal forces generate drastic climatic and orbital instabilities (tidal torques force such a satellite to move farther and farther away from its planet), as well as massive and frequent volcanic eruptions (such as astronomers see on Jupiter’s moon Io).29 Any possible life-favorable conditions last briefly, at best.

A satellite with a highly improbable life-sustaining atmosphere most likely loses it in short order unless that satellite somehow possesses a strong magnetic field (similar to that of the Sun, Jupiter, and Earth). Otherwise, charged particles accelerated by the planet’s magnetosphere sputter away the satellite’s atmosphere. The magnetic field around Ganymede, the largest known planetary satellite and the only one with undisputed magnetism, measures less than 1 percent the strength of Earth’s.30-32

Another life risk for a satellite closely orbiting a large planet is that such a planet’s gravity significantly attracts asteroids, comets, and other debris passing nearby. This attraction increases the likelihood of bombardment, and such bombardment proves catastrophic to any possible life on the satellite.

A satellite cannot retain an adequate atmosphere for life unless its mass exceeds 12 percent of Earth’s mass. 33 At the same time, the satellite needs a mechanism to compensate for its nearby star’s increasing luminosity (brightness, thus light and heat radiation) as the star ages. The only known mechanism is the one seen on Earth, called the carbonate-silicate cycle. This cycle cannot operate, however, without lots of dry land (which eliminates ice-water environments such as Jupiter’s satellite Europa) and without a high level of plate tectonic activity.34, 35

Plate tectonics, in turn, require a certain minimum mass (0.23 Earth masses), and the demands of sustaining a carbonate-silicate cycle significantly increases that minimum. The best calculation to date sets the minimum mass of this hypothetical satellite at three times the mass of Mars, which is more than twelve times the mass of the solar system’s largest satellite. Of course plate tectonics also demand lots of liquid water (thus eliminating all dry satellites) and the precisely-timed introduction of just-right plant life in just-right amounts throughout the satellite’s history.36-37

Sustaining the quest for other potential life sites, planetary scientist David Stevenson and origin-of-life researchers Jeffrey Bada and Christopher Wills go so far as to speculate that life might not require a home near a star.38-39 They suggest this scenario: A planet may be ejected from a normal planetary system before losing any of its light gases. If so, the planet may retain enough surface warmth (from interior radioactive decay) and a sufficiently heavy molecular hydrogen outer atmosphere (a heat-trapping blanket) to sustain life chemistry and metabolism.

To be capable of life support, however, such a hypothetical site would require super-enrichment by radioactive elements, and no mechanism or scenario exists to bring this enrichment about—none that would accomplish the job without simultaneously destroying the molecular hydrogen outer atmosphere. If the planet somehow acquired this enrichment, it still faces a problem: heat from the radioactive decay would decline exponentially through time. So, while such a planet might serve as a brief stopover for primitive life, it could not stay within the life-support range of temperature and other conditions long enough to serve as any conceivable home for intelligent life.

If life claims a home anywhere in the vast cosmos, it must be on a planet like Earth orbiting a star like the Sun in a galaxy like the Milky Way. And, as ongoing studies shows, that possibility shrinks, rather than grows, as each year’s research adds to the harvest of data. Extraterrestrial life does indeed appear to be homeless—unless, of course, a transcendent, supernatural Being built that home. But that possibility points toward, rather than away from, belief in the biblical Creator.

One other possibility must still be addressed, a question that often hampers progress toward a realistic assessment of the chance for life elsewhere: To what degree might extraterrestrial life differ from “life as we know it”? At one time biologists speculated that extraterrestrial life might be based on exotic chemistry, something other than carbon.

So, biochemists went to work on the problem. Their research showed that only silicon and boron, besides carbon, can serve as the basis for adequately complex molecules—molecules capable of sustaining basic life functions, such as self-replication, metabolism, and information storage. This finding presents some significant problems, however. First, silicon can hold together a string of no more than a hundred amino acids—far too short a string to accommodate any conceivable life systems and processes. Second, throughout the universe boron is less abundant than carbon; so carbon always supersedes it. Third, concentrated boron is toxic to certain life-critical reactions.

The conclusion, published as early as 1961, still stands. Physicist Robert Dicke deduced at that time that if anyone wants physicists (or any other physical life forms, for that matter), carbon-based biochemistry is a must.40 The key word, here, is physical. What about life that is not physical?

Both science and the Bible offer helpful information on this topic of non-physical reality. Science points to the existence of a transcendent (beyond space and time), personal Creator, demonstrably the same Creator revealed in the pages of Scripture. The Bible, in turn, reveals the existence of life forms other than Earth life, other than physical life. This life may be described as spiritual life, and yet it possesses the capacity for at least some physical expression or manifestation.

The Bible calls these creatures (in English translations) “angels,” “ministering servants,” or “ministering spirits.” Three specific names are given in the text: Michael, Gabriel, and Lucifer. The latter, also called Satan, led a rebellion against God. Scripture refers to the angels who rebelled with him (about a third of the total number) as “evil spirits,” “devils,” or “demons.” The one reliable source of information about this other kind of life is the Bible, and further study is highly recommended.

The possibility for life elsewhere is in fact great, as great as the certainty that the Bible is a true, trustworthy, and relevant revelation from the Creator. Any question that leads to an opportunity to talk about the word of God as well as the work of God, the Creator, deserves to be called a great question.

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the case of a creator pg 107 - 109


With that framework set, I moved ahead to discuss one of the main attitudes of scientists who embrace the Copernican Principle. "They believe if you can just find a place anywhere in the
universe where water stays liquid for a long enough period of time, then life will develop, just as it did on Earth," I said. "I assume you don't agree with that."
"No, I don't," Gonzalez said. "It's true that in order to have life you need water-which is the universal solvent-for reactions to take place, as well as carbon, which serves as the core atom of the information-carrying structural molecules of life. But you also need a lot more. Humans require twenty-six essential elements; a bacterium about sixteen. Intermediate life forms are between those two numbers. The problem is that not just any planetary body will be the source of all those chemical ingredients in the necessary forms and amounts."
I interrupted to point out that science fiction writers have managed to speculate about extra-terrestrial life that's built in a radically different form-for instance, creatures based on silicon instead of carbon.
Gonzalez was shaking his head before I had even finished my question. "That just won't work," he insisted. "Chemistry is one of the better understood areas of science. We know that you just can't get certain atoms to stick together in sufficient number and complexity to give you large molecules like carbon can. You can't get around it. And you just can't get other types of liquids to dissolve as many different kinds of chemicals as you can with water. There's something like half a dozen different properties of both water and carbon that are optimal for life. Nothing else comes close. Silicon falls far short of carbon.
"Unfortunately, people see life as being easy to create. They think it's enough merely to have liquid water, because they see life as an epiphenomenon-just a piece of slime mold growing on an inert piece of granite. Actually, the Earth's geology and biology interact very tightly with each other. You can't think of life as being independent of the geophysical and meteorological processes of the planet. They interact in a very intimate way.

So you need not only the right chemicals for life but also a planetary environment that's tuned to life."

That sparked a related issue. Scientists have dreamed of terraforming a planet like Mars, essentially making over its environment to create a planet that's more conducive to settlement by humans. "Would that be very difficult?" I asked.
"Absolutely. From the magnetic field to plate tectonics to the carbon dioxide cycle-ongoing life depends on a variety of very cornplicated interactions with the planet," he said.
Richards jumped in. "People generally think that because they plant a seed and it grows that it's easy to create the right environment for life, but that's misleading," he said. "A good example is the hermetically sealed biosphere that some people constructed in Arizona several years ago. They thought it would be relatively easy to create a self-contained environment conducive to life, but they had a devil of a time trying to make it work."
"But life can also exist in some terribly harsh conditions," I pointed out.

"For instance, there are life forms that live off of deepsea thermal vents. They don't seem to need oxygen or any particular support from the broader environment."
"On the contrary," Gonzalez said, "the only things down there that don't need oxygen are some microorganisms that breathe methane. But larger organisms, which need to regulate their metabolism, are invariably oxygen-breathers. The oxygen comes from surface life and marine algae. The oxygen gets mixed in with the ocean and transported into deep waters. So those organisms are very directly tied to the surface and the overall ecosystem of the planet."

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Are We Alone?:
Our recent success on Mars leaves us no reason to think otherwise–and reason to ponder what makes the Earth unique

Jay W. Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez
The American taxpayers recently footed the bill for a risky $800 million NASA mission. The good news? It worked. In January, two NASA landers bounced to their destinations and released their rovers Spirit and Opportunity to prowl the Martian landscape. These remarkable little robots were not searching for archaeological ruins or strange, black monoliths but something much less exotic--the fingerprints of water in liquid form. And the first evidence is in. Mars, as long suspected, probably once had some liquid water on its surface. But why all the fuss and expense in search of this humble substance? Quite simply, it’s because most astrobiologists now realize that such water is necessary not just for Earthly life, but for life anywhere.

But unbridled enthusiasm for ETs has obscured the obvious. Liquid water is a necessary condition for life, but not nearly a sufficient one. Life doesn’t just spring up spontaneously out of water. It’s not as if life has only one instruction in its recipe: “Just add water.” In fact, what is striking is not that Mars once had lots of liquid water on its surface, but that, although it was probably bathed by Earthly microbes during the same time, there’s no evidence that life prospered on the Red Planet. That’s the most important but almost overlooked lesson of our study of Mars.

Consider how our expectations for Mars have diminished in the last century. In 1908, H.G. Wells published a non-fiction article in Cosmopolitan magazine about the civilization that he thought inhabited the planet. Around the same time, Percival Lowell built an observatory to gather evidence of that civilization--canals built by Martian engineers. (The “canals” turned out to be the result of optical illusions and an active imagination.) Even as late as the 1950’s, some scientists thought Mars was home to intelligent life.

In the decades that followed, the Mariner, Viking, and Sojourner missions to Mars revealed a barren and hostile environment. This dampened enthusiasm for Martian civilizations. We are now reduced to looking, not even for microbial Martians, but for the existence of one of life’s necessary conditions sometime in the distant past. Mars has more in common with Earth than does any other known body in the universe. Yet, so far as we know, it still doesn’t harbor life. And the life Earth sent there clearly didn’t “terraform” the planet. Any remaining life would be the microscopic vestiges of a dying planet.

Yet the expectation that life is everywhere lives on. Why this pervasive opinion among scientists, the media, and the public at large? Among scientists, at least, it comes not so much from scientific discovery as from an assumption called the Copernican Principle or Principle of Mediocrity. Martian life enthusiast Percival Lowell summed up the basic idea in 1895: “That we are the sum and substance of the capabilities of the cosmos is something so preposterous as to be exquisitely comic. . . . [Man] merely typifies in an imperfect way what is going on elsewhere, and what, to a mathematical certainty, is in some corners of the cosmos indefinitely excelled.” According to Carl Sagan, Lowell’s enthusiasm “turned on all the eight-year olds who came after him, and who eventually turned into the present generation of astronomers.”

In his book Pale Blue Dot, Sagan reflected on a famous image of Earth taken by a Voyager satellite from some four billion miles away. He made clear that the Copernican Principle is no mere scientific hypothesis, but an offshoot of the materialistic worldview:

Because of the reflection of sunlight . . . the Earth seems to be sitting in a beam of light, as if there were some special significance to this small world. But it’s just an accident of geometry and optics. . . . Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves

Following the Copernican Principle, most scientists have supposed that our Solar System is typical and that the origin and evolution of life must be quite likely, given the vast size and great age of the universe. Accordingly, most have assumed that the universe is probably teeming not just with life, but complex, intelligent life.

But the scientific evidence has stubbornly pointed in the opposite direction. We’re now learning how much must go right to a get a habitable planet. The list gets longer all the time. Complex life in particular probably needs many of the things that we Earthlings enjoy: a rocky terrestrial planet similar in size and composition to the Earth, with plate tectonics to recycle nutrients, and the right kind of atmosphere; a large, well placed moon to contribute to tides and stabilize the tilt of the planet’s axis. That planet needs to be just the right distance from the right kind of single star, in a nearly circular orbit--to maintain liquid water on its surface.

It also needs a home within a stable planetary system that includes some outlying giant planets to protect the inner system from too many deadly comet impacts. That planetary system must be nestled in a safe neighborhood in the right kind of galaxy, with enough heavy elements to build terrestrial planets. And that planet will need to form during the narrow habitable window of cosmic history. (This is to say nothing of having a universe with a fine-tuned set of physical laws to make stars, planets, and people possible in the first place. But that’s another long and complicated story.)

Since the mid-1990s, astronomers have been able to detect planets around other Sun-like stars. And they have taught us an important, if unadvertised lesson. Planetary systems are not all alike. In fact, mounting evidence suggests that the conditions needed for complex life are exceedingly rare, the probability of them all occurring at the same place and time, minuscule.

So argued Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee in their best-selling book Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe. Ward and Brownlee obviously challenge the letter of the Copernican Principle. But they don’t challenge its spirit. Intuitively, you might think that such a precise configuration of life-friendly factors suggests that Earth is part of some cosmic design. Ward and Brownlee, however, argue that although the conditions that allow for complex life are highly improbable, perhaps even unique, these conditions are still nothing more than an unintended fluke. The universe, after all, is a big place, with some 1022 stars in the part we can see. With so many opportunities, maybe at least one habitable planet will turn up just by chance.

But what if we’re not merely the winners of a blind cosmic lottery? What if our existence is the result of a conspiracy rather than a coincidence? Is there any way we could tell? We argue that there is. It turns out that the same rare, finely tuned conditions that allow for intelligent life on Earth also make it strangely well suited for viewing, analyzing and discovering the universe around us.

The fact that we inhabit a terrestrial planet with a clear atmosphere and water on its surface; that our moon is just the right size and distance from Earth to stabilize the tilt of Earth’s rotation axis; that our position in our large spiral galaxy is just so; that our sun is its precise mass and composition: all of these and many more are not only necessary for Earth’s habitability; they also have been surprisingly crucial for scientists to discover the universe.

To put it more technically and more generally, “measurability” seems to correlate with habitability. Measurability refers to those features of the universe as a whole, and especially to our particular location in it--both in space and time--that allow us to detect, observe, discover, and determine the size, age, history, laws, and other properties of the physical universe. It’s what makes scientific discovery possible.

Those rare pockets of habitability in our universe, as it happens, also allow for the most measurement. They’re the best overall places for scientific discovery. This is strange because there’s no obvious reason to assume that the very same rare properties that allow for observers would also provide the best overall setting for observing the world around them.

Of course, justifying such a claim requires a lot of evidence. But a couple of examples should be enough to illustrate what we mean by a “correlation between habitability and measurability.”

A rare convergence of events allows Earthlings to witness not just solar eclipses, but perfect solar eclipses, where the Moon just barely covers the Sun’s bright photosphere. Such eclipses depend on the precise sizes, shapes, and relative distances of the Sun, Moon, and Earth. There’s no law of physics or celestial mechanics that requires the right configuration. In fact, of the more than 65 major moons in our Solar System, ours best matches the Sun as viewed from its planet’s surface, and this is only possible during a fairly narrow window of Earth’s history encompassing the present. The Moon is about 400 times smaller than the Sun. But right now, the Moon is about 400 times closer to the Earth than is the Sun. So, the Moon’s apparent size on the sky matches the Sun’s. Astronomers have noted this odd coincidence for centuries. And, since the Sun appears larger from the Earth than from any other planet with a moon, an Earth-bound observer can discern finer details in the Sun’s chromosphere and corona than from any other planet. This makes our solar eclipses more valuable scientifically.

The recent pictures of solar eclipses sent back from the Opportunity rover on Mars nicely illustrate how much better our solar eclipses are. The two small potato-shaped Martian moons, Deimos and Phobos, appear much too small to cover the Sun’s disk, and they zip across it in less than a minute.

It’s intriguing that the best place to view total solar eclipses in our Solar System is the one time and place where there are observers to see them. It turns out that the precise configuration of Earth, Moon and Sun are also vital to sustaining life on Earth. A moon large enough to cover the Sun stabilizes the tilt of the rotation axis of its host planet, yielding a more stable climate, which is necessary for complex life. The Moon also contributes to Earth’s ocean tides, which increase the vital mixing of nutrients from the land to the oceans. The two moons around Mars are much too small to stabilize its rotation axis.

In addition, it’s only in the so-called Circumstellar Habitable Zone of our Sun--that cozy life friendly ring where water can stay liquid on a planet’s surface--that the Sun appears to be about the same size as the Moon from Earth’s surface. As a result, we enjoy perfect solar eclipses.

That alone seems fishy. But here’s the part that suggests conspiracy rather than quirky coincidence. Our ability to observe perfect solar eclipses has figured prominently in several important scientific discoveries, discoveries that would have been difficult if not impossible on the much more common planets that don’t enjoy such eclipses.

First, these observations helped disclose the nature of stars. Scientists since Isaac Newton (1666) had known that sunlight splits into all the colors of the rainbow when passed through a prism. But only in the 19th century did astronomers observe solar eclipses with spectroscopes, which use prisms. The combination of the man-made spectroscope with the natural experiment provided by eclipses gave astronomers the tools they needed not only to discover how the Sun’s spectrum is produced, but the nature of the Sun itself. This knowledge enabled astronomers to interpret the spectra of the distant stars. So, in a sense, perfect eclipses were a key that unlocked the field of astrophysics.

Second, in 1919, perfect solar eclipses allowed two teams of astronomers, one led by Sir Arthur Eddington, to confirm a prediction of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity--that gravity bends light. They succeeded in measuring the changes in the positions of starlight passing near the Sun’s edge compared to their positions months later. Such a test was most feasible during a perfect solar eclipse. The tests led to the general acceptance of Einstein’s theory, which is the foundation of modern cosmology.

And finally, perfect eclipses give us unique access to ancient history. By consulting historical records of past solar eclipses, astronomers can calculate the change in Earth’s rotation over the past several thousand years. This, in turn, allows us to put ancient calendars precisely on our modern calendar system.

These are just three ways in which perfect solar eclipses, produced by conditions that help create a habitable planet, have fostered scientific discovery. But this is only one example of the correlation between habitability and measurability.

At the much larger, galactic, scale, we again find that the most habitable place is also the best overall location for making a diverse range of scientific discoveries.

Though the visible universe contains perhaps a hundred billion galaxies, astronomers group them into just three basic types: ellipticals, irregulars, and spirals. Our Milky Way is a spiral galaxy. Most of its stars are located in its flattened disk, its thickness is only about one percent its diameter. We live in the disk, very close to its midplane, about half way between the dangerous Galactic nucleus and its visible edge. Spiral galaxies like the Milky Way derive their popular name from the beautiful spiral pattern formed by their young stars and bright nebulae. We reside between the Sagittarius and Perseus spiral arms.

Contrary to popular impression, not all galaxies are equally habitable, since habitability depends on a galaxy’s mass, type, age, and allotment of heavy elements. Moreover, even the relatively rare, large spiral galaxies like the Milky Way, which are likely optimal for life, probably contain only a few locations within a “Galactic Habitable Zone” compatible with complex life. Galaxies are filled with dangerous radiation hazards, and many regions are either so low in heavy elements as to prohibit terrestrial planets from forming, or so high that planetary systems will be hostile to life.

This Zone is an exclusive piece of real estate. In contrast, the inner ghetto of the Milky Way suffers from greater radiation threats and comet collisions, and an Earth-size planet is less apt to form there in a stable circular orbit. The outer regions are safer, but stars there will be accompanied by only fairly small terrestrial planets, planets too small to retain an atmosphere or sustain plate tectonics.

And the spiral arms are much more hostile to planetary systems aspiring to habitability than is our location between spiral arms. While we can’t yet say how wide it is, the Galactic Habitable Zone seems to be a fuzzy ring in the thin disk at roughly the Sun’s location, a ring whose habitability is itself compromised at several points where it intersects the spiral arms. If habitability depends on proximity to the so-called corotation circle--that region in which stars orbit at about the same speed as the spiral arm--then this thin and often broken ring could be narrower still.

At the same time, our location within the Galactic Habitable Zone offers the best overall location to be a successful astronomer and cosmologist. Even though we’re near the mid-plane, there’s very little in the way of dust in our neighborhood to absorb light from nearby stars and distant galaxies. We’re far enough from the Galactic center and the disk is flat enough that it doesn’t excessively obscure our view of the distant universe. We have access to a striking diversity of nearby stars and other Galactic structures, as well as a clear view of distant galaxies and the unique cosmic microwave background radiation, both essential for discovering the astonishing facts that the universe is expanding and finite in age.

These examples are merely illustrative. To be persuasive, the argument needs more detail, more evidence, and more rigor. Properly framed and developed, however, we think the evidence for the correlation between life and discovery forms a pervasive and telling pattern, a pattern that not only contradicts the Copernican Principle, but also suggests that the universe, whatever else it is, is designed for discovery.

Design? Surely no question in science is more interesting and more controversial. But our argument has more mundane implications. If we’re right, research dollars would be better spent exploring what other factors, still undiscovered, also contribute to a planet’s habitability (and capacity for discovery). At the moment, we’re learning about habitability mostly as a spin-off of the increasingly quixotic search for extraterrestrial life, because many astronomers are still in the grip of the Copernican Principle. Another unfortunate result of that Principle is that few are inclined to ask if the universe could be designed for a purpose, let alone to seek evidence for such a possibility. But in science, as in life, things can change. Perennial questions, even when officially ignored, have a way of bubbling up.

Jay W. Richards is Vice President and Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute in Seattle. Guillermo Gonzalez is Assistant Professor of Astronomy and Physics at Iowa State University. They are co-authors of the recently-released book The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery (Regnery, 2004).

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Is there life elsewhere?

I understand the theological dilema that Xians face in regards to this question. But I see all the related fears and resistance as being unnecessary and harmful.
First, who cares what evolutionists think anyway?! “I want to know God’s thoughts”, said Einstein, “the rest is details”.
So what if there’s life elsewhere? If there is then God made them and He can handle the situation with ease. Why fear for what the atheistic evolutionists will say if life is found elsewhere? Of course they will cry, “evolution is therefore true”! They always have no matter what proof to the contrary is revealed.
And of course the cry will be just as unwarranted then as it is now. In fact a discovery of life elsewhere would only make the thing more difficult for them since they would then have another humungous set of phenomena to explain away! How did life start in the said elsewhere? The same questions will have to answered as are already necessary to answer now! They will only have succeeded in moving the questions back one more step and making the answers even more difficult to find in a Darwinian context!
The questions will become much harder for the staunch darwinists, in part, because they will then have to explain how the billionth of a billionth of a chance of life appearing spontaneously, occurred more than once in the universe.
For Xians or theists that is not the problem.
I’ve done a lot of research into the works and beliefs of the church, generally speaking, over it’s existence in the past 2 millenia. And yes, I’ve even looked for what they said and believed about life elsewhere.
Did they mention ufos or aliens etc.? No the terms were not familiar to them. Did they speak about life elsewhere? Yes indeed.
They absolutely did not have any fears or qualms about whether ET was a reality or not. They viewed God as being infinitely capable of both creating and dealing with the whole “life, the universe, and everything” questions without even “working up a sweat” if you will.
Many of the great preachers of the past said things that clearly hinted at a belief in life elsewhere. They did not, nor would have been expected to, use our modern terminologies. No doubt there were also many who did not believe in such possibilities since there have also been periods where the church was extremely man-centered and had become paranoid (as all man-centered organizations do) – adopting an “anti-everything they couldn’t understand” mentality.
Charles Finney in his many lectures on theology often spoke of the atonement as applying to all life in the universe :

“That the work of Atonement was the most interesting and impressive exhibition of God that ever was made in this world and probably in the universe.” “Now, as it can never be expected, that the Atonement will be repeated, it is for ever settled, that rebellion in any other world than this, can have no hope of impunity.” “We have reason to believe, that Christ, by his Atonement, is not only the Savior of this world, but the Savior of the universe in an important sense” “This world is to be turned back to its allegiance to God, and the blessed Atonement of Christ has so unbosomed God before the universe, as, no doubt, not only to save other worlds from going into rebellion,” — Skeleton Lecture of Theology – The Atonement.

Charles Spurgeon also made references to similar things. :

“It may also be, but I do not know, and so I cannot tell you, that we are, in future dispensations, to fill unto other worlds much the same office as angels fill to ours. Jesus has made us kings and priests×and we are in training for our thrones. What if in this congregation I am learning to proclaim my Master’s Glory to myriads of worlds! Possibly the preacher who is faithful here may yet be made to tell forth His Lord’s Glory to constellations at a later time. What if one might stand upon a central star and preach Christ to worlds on worlds instead of preaching Him to these two galleries and to this area! Why not?” – Sermon #1960
“We cannot tell but that in the boundless regions of space, there are worlds inhabited by beings infinitely superior to us” – sermon #151
“He had created worlds, I know not how many, but in them all He found no rival. Perhaps all the stars we see are worlds full of inhabitants who worship the infinite Creator” sermon #1786
“I have such a conviction of the power of Christ’s death that if it were revealed to me that on the Cross He redeemed not only one world, but as many fallen worlds as there are stars, I could well believe it!” – sermon #2224

Enough quotes from two of the greatest preachers the world has known since the apostles. Many others could be quoted.
You see, not only did these men of God have no fears or hangups about life elsewhere, but they viewed it as a perfect possibility in harmony with Genesis and with all the more glory to God who created them all by His Word.
They were not under the influence of Darwinism, nor science fiction.
All the “ado about nothing” in the life elsewhere questions is based on fears and insecurities – not on scripture and certainly not on faith in God who is bigger than it all.
And all this talk about UFOs being demons is largely rubbish in my view. They may as well be angels for all we know – and we know spit about our own world let alone the vast universe of worlds that may or may not be “out there”. The evidence for water being found of one Saturn’s moons Enceladus, recently is certainly a surprise for many since as far as we know, where there is water there is also life – at least on our little blue planet.
As for UFO’s, certainly Satan can disguise himself as many things and as the “prince of the power of the air” and capable of “transforming himself into an angel of light” may actually be involved in some of these “sightings” or alleged abductions – who knows?
Nevertheless I would encourage all of you, whatever your position, to be full of faith and courage and stand in awe at your Awesome King Creator who by His Word formed the ages and having “so loved the kosmos, gave His uniquely begotten Son so that WHOEVER believes on Him would have eternal life”.
Let the horizons of your vision and understanding be expanded and blessed with His light on all things.

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Earth really IS special: None of the 700 million trillion planets in our known universe are similar to our own, study finds

By Ellie Zolfagharifard For
Published: 00:42 GMT, 20 February 2016 | Updated: 02:20 GMT, 20 February 2016

There are believed to be 700 million trillion terrestrial planets in the known universe. Scientists have long believed that among them are worlds similar to our own. This is known as the 'Copernican principle', which states that our planet doesn't hold a privileged position in the cosmos. Now, a new study has turned that principle on its head by suggesting that Earth may well be one of a kind.

There are believed to be 700 million trillion terrestrial planets in the known universe. Scientists have long believed that among them are worlds similar to our own. This is known as the 'Copernican principle', which states that our planet doesn't hold a privileged position in the cosmos 
Astronomer Erik Zackrisson from Uppsala University in Sweden has been using computer simulations to model all of the terrestrial planets likely to exist in the universe. According to an in-depth report in Scientific American, his computer model created a miniature digital copy of the early universe. He then inputed all the exoplanet data they had from probes such as Kepler, and modelled what would happen to these planets given the known laws of physics. The team discovered that if you bring the model forward 13.8 billion, none of the known 700 quintillion possible planets look like Earth.
This is because most were far older, which led them to believe that Earth's relatively young age and position within the Milky Way makes it unique. The results have been published to the preprint server arXiv and submitted to The Astrophysical Journal. 'It's kind of mind-boggling that we're actually at a point where we can begin to do this,' co-author Andrew Benson from the Carnegie Observatories in California told Scientific American.

Astronomer Erik Zackrisson from Uppsala University in Sweden has been using computer simulations to model all of the terrestrial planets likely to exist in the universe. Pictured is an artist's illustration of a planet-forming disk around a baby star 
'It's certainly the case that there are a lot of uncertainties in a calculation like this. Our knowledge of all of these pieces is imperfect.' There are some drawbacks to the model. For instance, the team had to guess how planets might form around stars with fewer heavy elements. But despite these concerns, they say the conclusion is accurate. According to Scientific American, 'the researchers conclude that Earth stands as a mild violation of the Copernican principle'. It follows research last year, which found that Earth may be one of the first habitable planets in the universe. Scientists believe when the solar system formed 4.6 billion years ago, only eight per cent of the potentially habitable worlds that are destined to exist had formed. And the vast majority of planets are yet to be born and may not appear until after our sun burns itself out in another six billion years.

Scientists believe when the solar system formed 4.6 billion years ago, only eight per cent of the potentially life-supporting worlds that are destined to exist had formed. And the vast majority of planets are yet to be born

NASA on Kepler's mission to find planets in 'habitable zones'. Astronomers came to the conclusion after studying data from Hubble and Kepler space telescopes. Lead researcher Dr Peter Behroozi, from the Space Telescope Science Institute said: 'Our main motivation was understanding the Earth's place in the context of the rest of the universe. 'Compared to all the planets that will ever form in the universe, the Earth is actually quite early.'
Galaxy observations show that 10 billion years ago stars were forming rapidly, but the process used only a fraction of all the hydrogen and helium in the universe. Today, stars are being born at a much slower rate and, with the amount of raw material still available are likely to continue being created for a very long time to come.  One advantage of coming early to the party is that powerful telescopes like Hubble can be used to trace the development of galaxies back to the Big Bang that created the universe. Because of the run-away expansion of the universe, such observable evidence will be virtually erased one trillion years from now. Any civilisation arising in the far-future will be left with no clue - from astronomy at least - to how the universe began and evolved.


Living organisms may have existed on Earth as long as 4.1bn years ago – 300m years earlier than was previously thought, new research has shown. If confirmed, the discovery means life emerged a remarkably short time after the Earth was formed from a primordial disc of dust and gas surrounding the sun 4.6bn years ago. Researchers discovered the evidence in specks of graphite trapped within immensely old zircon crystals from Jack Hills, Western Australia.


Electron microscope images taken during the analysis of the graphite specks, which were trapped within immensely old zircon crystals. 'Twenty years ago, this would have been heretical; finding evidence of life 3.8 billion years ago was shocking,' said Mark Harrison, co-author of the research and a professor of geochemistry at UCLA. 'Life on Earth may have started almost instantaneously,' added Harrison, a member of the National Academy of Sciences.  'With the right ingredients, life seems to form very quickly.' The new research suggests that life existed prior to the massive bombardment of the inner solar system that formed the moon's large craters 3.9 billion years ago. Atoms in the graphite, a crystalline form of carbon, bore the hallmark of biological origin. They were enriched with 12C, a 'light' carbon isotope, or atomic strain, normally associated with living things.
It suggests that a terrestrial biosphere had emerged on Earth as early as 4.1bn years ago, said the scientists writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Mi sono trasferito in anticipo per discutere uno dei principali atteggiamenti di scienziati che abbracciano il principio copernicano. "Credono se si può solo trovare un posto in qualsiasi parte del universo dove l'acqua rimane liquida per un periodo abbastanza lungo di tempo, allora la vita si svilupperà, proprio come ha fatto sulla Terra, "dissi." Suppongo che tu non sei d'accordo con quello. " "No, io non", ha detto Gonzalez. "E 'vero che, al fine di avere la vita avete bisogno di acqua-che è l'universale solvente per le reazioni che si terrà, come pure di carbonio, che serve come l'atomo nucleo delle informazioni che trasportano molecole strutturali della vita. Ma è anche necessario . molto più umani richiedono ventisei elementi essenziali, un batterio circa sedici forme di vita intermedie sono tra questi due numeri il problema è che non solo qualsiasi corpo planetario sarà la fonte di tutti quegli ingredienti chimici nelle forme e somme necessarie.. ".
Ho interrotto a sottolineare che gli scrittori di fantascienza sono riusciti a speculare sulla vita extraterrestre che è costruito in una radicalmente diversa istanza di modulo-per, creature basate sul silicio invece di carbonio.
Gonzalez stava scuotendo la testa prima avevo ancora finito la mia domanda. "Questo proprio non funziona", ha insistito. "La chimica è una delle aree meglio compreso della scienza. Sappiamo che non si può ottenere certi atomi di stare insieme in numero e la complessità sufficiente a dare grandi molecole come il barattolo di carbonio. Non è possibile ottenere intorno ad esso. E voi non ne ha mai altri tipi di liquidi per sciogliere come molti tipi diversi di sostanze chimiche, come si può con l'acqua. C'è qualcosa di simile a una mezza dozzina di diverse proprietà di acqua e di carbonio che sono ottimali per la vita. Niente altro si avvicina. Silicon cade lontano corto di carbonio.
"Purtroppo, la gente vede la vita come essere facile da creare. Pensano che sia sufficiente solo per avere acqua allo stato liquido, perché vedono la vita come un epifenomeno, solo un pezzo di muffa melma che cresce su un pezzo inerte di granito. In realtà, la geologia della Terra e biologia interagiscono molto strettamente con l'altro. non si può pensare alla vita come indipendente dei processi geofisici e meteorologici del pianeta. Essi interagiscono in modo molto intimo.

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