Privileged Planet, Mk. 1

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Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of natural selection, published a book in 1903 called “Man’s Place in the Universe: a Study of the Results of Scientific Research in Relation to the Unity or Plurality of Worlds”. Stephen Jay Gould wrote about it in one of his Natural History columns, and later reprinted it as the essay “Mind and Supermind” in his book The Flamingo’s Smile. Gould summarizes Wallace’s argument thus:

…Wallace examined the physical structure of the earth, solar system, and universe and concluded that if any part had been built ever so slightly differently, conscious life could not have arisen. Therefore, intelligence must have designed the universe, at least in part that it might generate life.

Sound vaguely familiar? Compare it to a synopsis of Privileged Planet, a book currently being hyped heavily by the Discovery Institute. (Gould, however, was writing his essay in response to proponents of the ‘anthropic principle’, especially Freeman Dyson.)

What makes Wallace’s arguments amusing in retrospect is that the model of the universe he was analyzing is wildly inaccurate. Wallace wrote about a universe which consisted of a single galaxy only about 3600 light years across. The structure of this galaxy bore no resemblance to our own; it consisted of a central cluster of stars, an inner ring of stars, and another much larger outer ring of stars.

None of this directly addresses the specific arguments made in Privileged Planet for deliberate design of the Earth and universe. Still, it should serve as a warning that such arguments are inherently tricky and it’s very easy to deceive oneself. As Gould says,

If the same argument can be applied to such different arrangements of matter, may we not legitimately suspect that emotional appeal, rather than a supposed basis in fact or logic, explains it’s curious persistence?

Eighty years after Wallace’s book, our universe could not be more radically different, yet human hope continues to impose the same invalid argument upon it.

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Still, it should serve as a warning that such arguments are inherently tricky and it’s very easy to deceive oneself.

I suppose one must consider the nature of the deception in these cases. The final answer is known beyond any doubt, because it is defined as true. The supporting evidence is therefore necessarily defined as leading to the foregone conclusion. Therefore, it matters not what the evidence IS, and it can change wildly as observations improve. It still leads to the same conclusion. How else could it be?

Scientific research is engaged in zeroing in on increasingly fine-grained support of my interpretation of my translation of what I define to be the words of the god I define as having written them. Scientists themselves may be mostly confused by the very evidence they refine, mistakenly drawing first one wrong conclusion and then another. But the evidence, independent of scientific interpretational error, continues to support my faith. I SAID so. Why is this so difficult?

Wallace examined the physical structure of the earth, solar system, and universe and concluded that if any part had been built ever so slightly differently, conscious life could not have arisen. Therefore, intelligence must have designed the universe, at least in part that it might generate life.… What makes Wallace’s arguments amusing in retrospect is that the model of the universe he was analyzing is wildly inaccurate. Wallace wrote about a universe which consisted of a single galaxy only about 3600 light years across. The structure of this galaxy bore no resemblance to our own;

Reminds me of that creationist on here a while back, who said that the cosmological constant was tuned to 120 digits of precision for life. No idea what even one digit of the constant is, but whatever it is, it couldn’t have been any other way.

The whole concept of “fine tuning” being used here must, by definition, start with a planned goal and intentional act by a “Fine Tuner” posessing the ability and the means to carry an intelligently devised plan to fruition - that fruition in this case being the ultimate evolution or appearance of the current version of homo sapiens.

To further complicate the equation, this claim of “fine tuning” is being made, ex post facto and with no independent evidence of that required “Fine Tuner,” by the (self-proclaimed) putative intended consequence of that action, based on a flawed process I refer to as The Argument From Lookingback - which is to say, “I am, therefore I was meant to be.”

I’d say the jury is definitely out on this one, and the proponents of the “Fine Tuning” argument, who carry the burden of proof, must provide substantially more than an Argument From Lookingback and a litany of negative complaints coupled with a lack of credible positive alternatives.

That we are here, and here in a different form than our ancestors; that we are here as a result of specific - and potentially narrowly constrained - conditions which prevail/ed in this solar system, galaxy, and on this planet; that prior lifeforms have come and gone, are all givens at this point. What is not a given, and remains a “sub-specie” of Divine Creation teleology, is the notion of a preplanned and blueprinted creation by an intelligent entity of apparent supernatural power and ability.

“Eighty years after Wallace’s book, our universe could not be more radically different, yet human hope continues to impose the same invalid argument upon it.”

I wonder why that is…

Athough it is hard to study the privileged planet directly, we can use a model system. This is a very powerful model system and one that many of use are familiar with. I am refering of course to “the privileged hand.” In the same way that looking at the nature of the universe tells use about the designer of it, we can use a poker hand to tell us about the nature of the dealer. QED.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim Foley published on October 18, 2004 6:00 PM.

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