Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Very Tiny Place In The Heavens (part 4)

[This is the 4th installment in this series. To see the others, click on the following links: Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 3]

In his 1994 bestseller, Pale Blue Dot, atheist Carl Sagan offered this picture as the latest proof of the Copernican Principle and of humanity's breathtaking insignificance. In 1990, while at the edge of our solar system, the Voyager 1 spacecraft turned its camera back toward its launch point and snapped this photo. Yes, that "pale blue dot" at the center of the photo is the Earth. Sagan's reaction to seeing this snapshot included the following ...
Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot"
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 … It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.
The authors of The Privileged Planet have a completely opposite take on this discussion. In their compilation of evidence that points to the Earth’s place in the cosmos as being special, Gonzalez and Richards, when analyzing such disparate data as: the size, orbit and position of the Earth as well as the interdependence of its ongoing formational processes, the size and location of the Moon relative to the Earth and Sun, the Sun’s composition and location within the Milky Way, and the structure of the galaxy itself; make a compelling case that each of these is fine-tuned to allow the existence of complex, self-aware life. But that's not all.

They also show that the same factors that allow us to live in this place and time, also allow us the ability to discover just how unique and improbable it is that we live here. Our place in the solar system, our location in the galaxy, even the unusual size of the moon relative to the Earth, have allowed us to observe phenomena and make discoveries we could never have made if we were anywhere else. There is no reason why these two realities should be related to one another. But the fact that they are plays strongly into the idea that there is an element of design involved in our existence here.

Theists have reacted with understandable indignation to the assertion that these are just anthropic "coincidences." Arguing that the factors involved in our appearance here reveal an incredible level of fine-tuning, theists demand an explanation for it. They also rightly point out that SAP and its progeny, MU, are not only products of pure speculation but that they are blatantly unfalsifiable. Man’s existence is special and the universe he lives in appears to point to him as its purposeful objective.

And this brings me back to the reason I began this short series. As I watched the Hubble Deep Field 3D image in the original video and listened to the narrator's comment about how we live in "a very tiny place in the heavens" I realized that we can take that truism in completely different directions. Naturalists like Weinberg and Sagan take our existence here in this little corner of the cosmos to be a hopelessly brief and insignificant coincidence. Theists (like me) take it as breathtaking evidence that the entire universe was created not only with us in mind, but with us as its ultimate purpose.

Yet we are both looking at the same data.

I believe our response to the anti-theistic lines of reasoning, and the naturalistic worldview that spawned them, should include three commitments. First, we must insist on a commitment to truth. The Copernican Principle is based on a lie.  Sadly, the distortions of this historical account have become so entrenched in the university, the culture, and even the church, that most Christians are completely unaware of them. It comes as a shock for most to hear that their understanding of the actual thinking of Copernicus and later Galileo, which led to their alleged “revolution,” is incorrect. As apologists, we must use every means possible to correct and disseminate the real story.

Second, we must promote a commitment to objective reality and empirical evidence where this subject is concerned. This effort offers us common ground with even the most ardent naturalistic scientists.  Science itself relies on a commitment to realism and disciplined analysis of empirical data. It despises the relativistic, non-rationality of postmodern philosophical thought that has driven this debate thus far. As such, the thinking that led to the “uncritical equation of geocentrism with anthropocentrism” must be questioned. There is no data that can be used to link these two conditions.

The only way the latter follows from the former is by the infusion of metaphysical assumptions into the discussion. In particular, this allowance for naturalistic presuppositions led to SAP and MU in the absence of any supporting data. When speaking about scientific matters the debate should be confined to the data so that it can speak for itself and lead where it might.

This commitment to objective analysis of the data is what defines our third commitment. When the data is analyzed the theistic hypothesis and the centrality of man to the creation both come crashing through all the rhetoric. The Gonzalez/Richards hypothesis offered in The Privileged Planet is one that combines data mentioned above about the habitability of this planet with parallel data that relates to our ability to observe and collect it. The authors combine these probabilities in their updated version of the Drake Equation.  In this way the multiplicative nature of the data demonstrates the vast mountain of improbability that the collective life-essential parameters must have scaled in order for us to be here.

By this objective measure, the unfalsifiabilty and pure conjecture of MU are transformed from a threatening, infinitely-headed hydra into a theory with implications that could not conceivably be more beneficial to the theistic hypothesis. I say, let the naturalistic scientists have their way. Let them deduce MU from SAP. When the naturalistic scientist cites MU as the method by which all the design in our universe, including the existence of human life, is explained, he makes a startling admission. In essence he is saying that the level of design – that the precision of the fine-tuning of this universe – is so incredibly high that it requires an infinite explanation.  This should give him pause because in his zeal to bury the theist he has offered an explanation that inadvertently, but perfectly, defines the God he so wants to avoid implicating.

The irony here is stunning.  Naturalistic scientists, seeking to demean the theistic hypothesis by capitalizing on the fact that the Earth does not sit at the physical center of the universe, have succeeded in elevating the importance of our existence to infinite levels.

Realtors offer location, location and location as the most essential aspects of a property’s value. Though we may not be at the physical center, the data does suggest that we are at the habitable, observable and teleological heart of the universe. As far as location goes, one can hardly comprehend a more valuable, or a more remarkable, location than that.

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