film review by Charles G. Lambdin: Creationism by Any Other Name


In Creationism by Any Other Name, Charles G. Lambdin reviews the Privileged Planet film and describes it as ‘a contemporary classic of pseudoscience’.

I have written many postings on the Privileged Planet. Lambdin is similarly not very impressed by the correlation of ‘one’ or coincidences argued to be ‘evidence for design’.

Lambdin Wrote:

The thesis of The Privileged Planet is no different than the classic case of Presidential coincidences: Abraham Lincoln was elected to congress in 1846. John F. Kennedy was elected to congress in 1946. Lincoln was elected President in 1860, Kennedy in 1960. Both of their last names have seven letters. Both of their wives experienced the loss of child in the White House. Both were shot in the head on a Friday. Both were assassinated by Southerners and succeeded by Southerners. Lincoln was succeeded by Andrew Johnson, who was born in 1808. Kennedy was succeeded by Lyndon Johnson, who was born in 1908. Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, has 15 letters in his name. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, has 15 letters in his name. Both assassins were known by three names. Booth was born in 1839, Oswald in 1939. As I am unable to imagine otherwise, these coincidences are too great to have occurred due to chance alone, so there must be some Intelligent Assassin behind it. Thus runs the reasoning throughout The Privileged Planet.

Lambdin concludes:

Lambdin Wrote:

Ignoring such facts, The Privileged Planet repeatedly beats into the viewer that the coincidences in nature require an Intelligent Designer. Intelligent Design theory begs the question by not having set an objective criterion for what is “too rare” or “too unlikely” or “too complex.” As Schopenhauer said, nothing more is implied by a premise than what is already contained in it. To say that habitable planets are uncommon only implies that they’re rare, not that they’re designed. And as we have seen, they may not be that rare.

How rare are habitable planets?

Lambdin Wrote:

…, scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in a paper on “Habitable Zones and the Number of Habitable Planets in the Milky Way,” using only part of the Drake equation estimate that there are 48 million habitable planets in our galaxy alone ([…]ck_22_24.pdf). If this figure is in any way representative of other galaxies, then the number of habitable planets in the universe would be staggering.

Seems that Intelligent Design is having a hard time shaking the lack of scientific relevance from their repertoire.


Your link to your own reviews just reloads this particular post. Just a heads up.

And many more, all tagged as Privileged Planet. Scroll down. It’s a bit confusing

That is a good review of a bad movie. But it, at least, is not as long as the book by the same name. I read/skimmed the book. Bad arguments.

The book “Rare Earth” makes some similar points and is certainly worthwhile reading. It is written by a competent astrobiologist, unlike … (I’ll better just stop there.)

The argument from improbability is easily demolished thusly: There are several different hypotheses, or models if you prefer, regarding the formation of the cosmos. While some of these models require a finite size to the cosmos, none put an upper bound on the size. Somewhere in this immensity, abiogensis occurs, humans evolve and briefly proper. The immediate neighborhood in space-time, about 11 billion years years in diameter, then becomes the observable universe.

So granting the important points made in “Rare Earth” (and ignoring the many unimportant ones in “Privileged Planet”) the cosmos is simply so large, possibly infinite, that somewhere the aforesaid events occur. What’s privileged about that??

In David Brin’s excellent SciFi novel, Earth, there was this little poem that I liked:

In a large enough universe, even unlikely things can happen. As unlikely as a tiny ball of star-soot taking upon itself, one day, to say aloud, to one and all, I am.

I think Brin puts it rather succinctly.

Oops! “about 22 billion light-years in diameter”. Well, you knew what I meant, anyway…

I’m always amused when ID folk implore people to take the Three Hour Challenge, which includes this movie and Unlocking the Mystery of Life. Considering the number of mathematicians among their ranks, you’d figure at least one of them would realize that an hour long movie coupled with an hour and seven minute long movie does not a three hour long challenge make.

scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in a paper on “Habitable Zones and the Number of Habitable Planets in the Milky Way,” using only part of the Drake equation estimate that there are 48 million habitable planets in our galaxy alone”

Yeah, but how many of them have a moon that on rare occasions perfectly blocks out the planet’s sun while leaving the corona visible to a small swath of planet surface for a few minutes!? Huh? Oh, I know that looking directly at the phenomenon will burn the cornea right out of your eyeball but our planet was priveledged enough to have the chemicals necessary to produce photographs and stuff. Oh, and I know that the moon has been moving gradually farther away from our planet and that only for a certain period of time has this phenomenon been possible, and that at some point in the future it also will cease, but, well, knock it off. Goddidit and no amount of reason and sense will change my mind.

Considering the number of mathematicians among their ranks, you’d figure at least one of them would realize that an hour long movie coupled with an hour and seven minute long movie does not a three hour long challenge make.

No, Cody, apparently they’ve discovered it takes about 53 minutes to thoroughly explain why ID is crap.

“Booth was born in 1839”

1838 actually.

Correlation and causation. By trying to stack up correlations their conclusion is it represents a causation.

I was struck by the Eurocentric view of the film. It only traces back 2000 years and concentrated on the Greeks and western civilization ignoring the rest of the world. I’m sure the rest of the world would have a few things to say about that. I would hate to be stuck using Roman numerals for everything.

I did like the “you are here” graphic of the galaxy, it was the best I’ve seen.

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

I do believe the Three Hour Challenge includes a 53 minute period of drooling stupor.

I saw this recently on a cable station and was struck by the utter confusion between proximate and ultimate causation it displayed. According to Wikipedia a Proximate Cause is an event, which is closest, or immediately responsible, for producing some observed result. An Ultimate Cause is usually thought of as the “real reason” something occurred. Nearly all of what is put forth in “Privileged Planet” is proximate causes for life on earth. If life has originated on other worlds you’d expect a whole different set of proximate causes that would make that world privileged as well in an entirely different fashion. The ultimate cause of life originated, i.e. the “real reason” must have to do with the basic structure of matter, the distribution of energy and other fundamental aspects of how the universe functions, and if it functioned differently you’d expect to find a different set of ultimate causes by which life would originate if it so did. The so-called anthropic principle, which is what the video is all about, is a classic example of a solipsism, i.e. the theory that the self is the only thing that can be known and verified. In other words, since we know we exist our existence can only be understood and verified in light of the very proximate causes that produced us. Once again a totally vacuous proposition.

The time you sit waiting for RealPlayer to buffer the next ten seconds pads it out to three hours.

Yes, the issue of how we are able to “do science” is one of the most annoying aspects of Privileged Planet. Guillermo Gonzalez seems to be highly impressed by the fact that we get solar eclipses where the whole coronal ring remains visible. As if the really relevant science couldn’t be done from the moon.

If Gonzalez evolved on the moon, no doubt he’d be informing us of the benefits of the total solar eclipses there, since total eclipses are visible from the entire surface of the moon about once per year (much more often on Jovian and Saturnian satellites, of course). A single spot on earth is not likely to achieve even one total solar eclipse during the entire lifespan of a human. The total eclipse on the moon is not as spectacular, but surely one would piece together the relevant details of the corona soon enough, and the observations needed for Einstein’s general relativity would be readily possible from the moon.

That’s just one issue, though. Anyone who has studied the history of science is struck by how really difficult it was for humans to achieve science. We don’t naturally think scientifically at all, rather we began in a more or less “spiritual” (depending on definition, of course) state of experiencing “reality”. One does not read Homer or Sumerian writings and end up struck by how readily we come to scientific thought.

No, it was not easy using our primate brains to get to scientific thought. Mathematics could probably be considered to have come first, but we really only know how to count (and not very high) in our most natural state. Then we needed to desacralize the world, which we did through religious developments, as paradoxically we saved religion by sending the gods into the heavens while leaving the earth “atheistic” and mechanical in the doing.

Ballistics, smashing people up, appears to have been the next huge piece of the puzzle. Okay, that and Galileo’s pendula. This all came together to indicate that falling and other physical processes were mathematizable. And the rest is science history, of course.

All of these developments were difficult, and perhaps even worse, it was not easy to understand why they were useful or important (save the Galilean/Newtonian triumph). We are not especially good at doing math, so that it evolved quite slowly. Desacralization of the world was probably even more difficult, especially since regularities were not often visible. Arguably, only from the ivory tower were the regularities “visible”, thus scholastic fictions were created which sometimes turned out to be correct (to be fair, the puritans and other commoners–alchemists too–did see regularities that the academics missed).

In other words, if the world is set up as knowable, why was it so difficult for humans to know it? Why did it take generations to work out mathematics, physics, and empiricism? Why did so few cultures manage even to engage in the development of science? Then again, why does it appear as though no one culture could have done it, but rather than successive cultures had to take out previous biases (fortunatly, often keeping the successful parts) by using their own biases?

Of course the IDists don’t ask such questions. What is difficult and rare, they baptize as being so hard to achieve that it must be due to God. And what is common and necessary, they ascribe to the goodness of that God.

That is to say, essentially they are pre-scieintific in attitude, so that anything that seems mysterious automatically redounds to God’s workings. Getting back to the moon–it has been receding from earth for 4 billion years, and just happens to have its “angular size” through the ordinary workings of orbital mechanics (though we can’t follow these back to the origin of the moon–too many unknowns). But lo and behold, we happen to exist at a time of spectacular (if rare) eclipses, so this must be due to God. Orbital mechanics don’t satisfy their reactions to the effect, so they ignore the mechanics that give us our eclipses, and invoke “God”.

If they did so only in churches, bars, etc., what would I care? If they wish people to forget orbital mechanics in lieu of teaching “God” in the schools or in public fora, then we must oppose their hopeful Endarkenment.

Glen D

I watched the PP and I never heard them mention the Intelligent Designer. The said “design” over and over, but really they made their case stronger by simply pointing out these coincidences and saying, “Isn’t that something?”

And isn’t there a third movie which brings it to about three hours?

Glen: “…as paradoxically we saved religion by sending the gods into the heavens…”


But I would add “…and into the gaps of our science.”

Why do I think of Dr. Pangloss whenever I think about the eclipse-moon-sun bit in Privilaged Planet?

“It is demonstrable,” said he, “that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for instance, the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles. The legs are visibly designed for stockings, accordingly we wear stockings.”

To say that habitable planets are uncommon only implies that they’re rare, not that they’re designed. And as we have seen, they may not be that rare.

At last we have a testable hypothesis from the ID crowd: Life is so rare that it must be designed. Therefore, we would not expect to see evidence of past or current lifeforms on Mars. Nor would we expect to see lifeforms on Europa, given the lack of an oxygen atmosphere, etc.

This just makes me want to get our probes there sooner, rather than later.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on June 3, 2006 11:57 AM.

Modules and the promise of the evo-devo research program was the previous entry in this blog.

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