JERRY BERGMAN The cover story by professor Howard Smith in the latest issue of the journal titled American Scientist asked “Are There Other Earths?” The answer was “Recent Astronomical Discoveries show Our Planet is Far from Average”.[i] New planets outside of our solar system, called exoplanets–planets that orbit another star– were first discovered in 1996. As of 2017, the total exoplanet tally now stands at about 3,200, and the vast majority are very un-Earthlike. Those that resemble earth so-far show no signs of intelligent life.
The cover story by professor Howard Smith in the latest issue of the journal titled American Scientist asked “Are There Other Earths?” The answer was “Recent Astronomical Discoveries show Our Planet is Far from Average”.[i] New planets outside of our solar system, called exoplanets–planets that orbit another star– were first discovered in 1996. As of 2017, the total exoplanet tally now stands at about 3,200, and the vast majority are very un-Earthlike. Those that resemble earth so-far show no signs of intelligent life.
The article title, “Questioning Copernican Mediocrity,” refers to the famed 20th century Cornell University astronomer, Carl Sagan, who proclaimed “We live on an insignificant planet, of a humdrum star, lost in a galaxy, tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe” which he presumed is also humdrum as well.[ii] The source of this worldview that Sagan describes, Smith writes, is “implied by Darwin’s theory of natural selection, that humanity is the meaningless product of evolutionary processes.”[iii] Smith then notes that one of the dramatic developments in modern astronomy, namely the discovery of many planets around other stars, “suggest that we may not be so ordinary after all,” and may “be special in some way” after all.[iv]
Around the turn of the last century many scientists assumed that life must be common in the universe. The leading American astronomer, Percival Lowell, wrote in a book published in 1908 that “From all that we have learned” life is “as inevitable … as is quartz or feldspar or nitrogenous soil. Each and all of them are only manifestations of chemical affinity.”[v] Today we know that this conclusion is naïve in the extreme. The SETI (search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) research project, using the most sophisticated modern search technology, has found no clear sign of extraterrestrial intelligence in its 50 years of searching.[vi] Smith then stresses that all of the evidence we have now is that we live on a rare planet and we must protect “our rare planet and its precious inhabitants”[vii]
The idea that our planet’s traits are rare in the universe has produced a spat of books that eloquently document the same conclusion. One example is Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe.[viii] In this book, paleontologist Peter Ward and astronomer Donald Brownlee claim that Earth’s planet type is rare, and advanced life is also rare. The reason, they document, is that complex intelligent life requires an exceptionally unlikely set of circumstances, and therefore is likely to be extremely uncommon in the universe. One of the most recent books, Lucky Planet: Why Earth is Exceptional—and What That Means for Life in the Universe[ix] by David Waltham used more recent data and research to arrive at the same conclusion.
Ironically, one of the most popular books in this area, The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery,[x] by astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez and philosophy professor Jay Richards and the movie[xi] by the same title, resulted in the termination of professor Gonzalez at Iowa State University. This case is documented in the film Expelled[xii] and in Chapter 12 of Slaughter of the Dissidents.[xiii] Several Iowa State University faculty stated that Gonzalez was denied tenure because the university feared that granting Gonzalez tenure would cause the university to become associated with the idea that life is the result of intelligent design of a Privileged Planet.
The Gonzalez case illustrates the fact that many atheists and university professors want to ensure that the idea that humans, and all life, are not special does not lose support. This is shown by the fact that, if life is found in many places throughout the universe, this fact proves that life can evolve purely as a result of the laws of physics without the need for an intelligent creator. The article and the books discussed above strongly argue against this worldview. And this is the reason why Gonzalez and other like-minded scientists have been denied tenure or fired. And the number is not small.[xiv]
[i] Howard A. Smith. 2017. Questioning Copernican Mediocrity. American Scientist. 105(4):232-239.July-August.
[ii] Smith. 2017. p. 232.
[iii] Smith. 2017. p. 232.
[iv] Smith. 2017. p. 232.
[v] Smith. 2017. p. 233.
[vi] Smith. 2017. p. 236.
[vii] Smith, 2017. p. 239.
[viii] Copernicus Publishers. New York. 2000.
[ix] New York: Basic Books. 2014.
[x] Regnery Publishing, Washington, DC. 2004
[xii] Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Starring Ben Stein and directed by Nathan Frankowski. Premise Media Corporation. 2008.
[xiii] Leafcutter Press Southworth, WA. 2nd edition. 2012. Chapter 12 pp. 229-259.