Saturday, April 16, 2005

Privileged Planet theology

The thesis of "The Privileged Planet" is that, far from being "a small blue-green planet orbiting an unremarkable star in the outer reaches of the Milky Way" - or however Douglas Adams put it - there are various characteristics of Earth which make it exceedingly remarkable in terms of how well it is suited to complex life. No big deal, an atheist would say - that's just anthropic inevitability - if so, we may not find life elsewhere, but if Earth wasn't remarkable in that way, then we wouldn't be here to know about it.

Where they go from there, though, is to point out that the same factors that make Earth highly suited to intelligent life are also those that make it a highly suitable platform for observing the universe. Thus a clear oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere allows us to see beyond the atmosphere; it is also a good (perhaps the only) mixture for complex life. Being where we are in the galaxy allows us to see not only deep space and extra-galactic objects, it also provides a mineral-rich region in which life can exist but doesn't lead to us being bombarded by high levels of radiation from the centre of a galaxy.

As with "design" of organisms, it isn't the case that it is impossible to conceive of a better environment in which some observations could be made - but our location is probably optimum both from the point of view of survivability and observation. They also touch on cosmic fine-tuning.

Since the book is a science book, the authors don't explore any theological implications of this. What I am wondering is: ignoring for a minute whether Genesis corresponds to a historical account, what would a universe created by a (truly omniscient, omnipotent) God be like? Surely it would have to be internally coherent at just about all levels - as though it makes sense according to its own rules - like the universe we see? I have no philosophical or logical framework to hang this on, but my hunch is that an internally coherent universe (apparently working according to its own rules) that turns out to be incredibly improbable (cosmic fine-tuning) is not only required for the existence of life, and for life to be able to observe the nature of the universe in which it is, but is (ultimately) also the only way in which a god who was external to the universe and involved in creating it could signal its presence to the life without intervening directly - general revelation. Is this the ultimate significance of the "eternal power" talked about that signals the presence of God to humans in Romans 1?

I'm not sure I have expressed clearly the idea that is floating around my brain somewhere - I will try and tease it out more fully if I can sit down and think at some stage.

Incidentally, a quick plug for Wikipedia, referenced above - an open-source encyclopaedia.

1 comment:

Corrie said...

ht to Telic Thoughts and the Meeting of the Minds.

There was an interesting science-fiction story a number of years ago that had scientists building a computer that could calculate pi to a bazillion, bazillion digits. When they did, and arranged them a certain way (I forget the details of the story) the supposedly random, non-repeating numbers formed an image of a perfect circle.

Now, that's fiction, of course.

Romans and Psalms make it clear that God reveals Himself through His works, but why? Why *should* an omni-everything being CHOOSE to reveal Himself to His creation? Certainly a God who revels in His own glory (see the writings of John Piper) could have designed a universe devoid of life, devoid of intelligent life, devoid of life capable of wondering why it is there and whether anything else is there.

And it's possible, of course, that He did - that there exist multiverses of which we are not aware, all of which glorify God much as do the unseen wonders of the ocean abyss and the alpine meadow.

And yet, here we are.