Is it possible that “the heavens declare” has scientific basis? That question is answered by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards in “The Privileged Planet”. It starts with something so simple as an eclipse. Our solar eclipse seems to be quite unique. There is one other planet with a moon that comes close to matching Earth’s solar eclipse minus the corresponding unusually round shapes of the Moon and the Sun. Our Sun is 400 times larger than the Moon. Our Sun is 400 times farther away from our observing station (Earth) than the moon, thus we have this almost perfect solar eclipse. This event becomes a laboratory of scientific discovery using the same laws of nature that are true here to measure and understand our Solar System, galaxy, and universe and beyond.
Our authors have a simple point to make. The same features of life that make Earth the Goldilocks planet (just right for life) also make Earth the perfect place to study and observe the universe. They are going to take us on a scientific journey that will cover our (turns out to be) quite unique Sun and our quite unique Earth (when it comes to supporting life) from the Big Bang all the way into a future where the Earth will be swallowed up by the Sun. The largest portion of the book is dedicated to an understanding of the science that makes Earth fit for life and fit for discovery.
The last portion of the book covers how we have educated ourselves to see Earth as the pale blue dot, one dot among countless millions, which is no more special than any other dot in the multitudes of universes. It started with Copernicus who informed the world that the Earth and the other planets of our Solar System rotated around the Sun. The Sun, not the Earth, was the center of our world. We have educated ourselves to believe that this knowledge has turned all religious thought into meaningless dribble when it comes to science.
It was in 1990 that Voyager I took the famous photo of earth in a band of light that made it look like a piece of dust floating in the sun rays that come through our windows in the late afternoon. This is Carl Sagan’s take on the photo:
“Because of the reflection of sunlight…the Earth seems to be sitting in a beam of light, as if there were some special significance to this small world. But it’s just an accident of geometry and optics…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.”
My own feelings expressed the wonder of God when I first saw the photo. Two different people viewing the same photo really mark the only divide within humanity that will ultimately matter. Our authors describe the same divide when they speak of the Apollo 8 crew that took the famous “Earth Rising” photo. Lovell told the world on Christmas Eve, 1968: “The earth from here is a grand oasis in the big vastness of space.” Bill Anders, a man who had abandoned his faith described his impression: “We’re like ants on a log”. To quote the book:
“Even in a crew of three, two opposing interpretations of the world emerged. For some, the cosmos exists for no purpose and submits to no explanation more ultimatge than itself. For others the cosmos finds its proper interpretation in terms of purpose, design, and intention.”
The book makes its case quite well. “The one place that has observers is the one place that is best for observing.” “The same narrow circumstances that allow us to exist also provide us with the best overall setting for making scientific discoveries.” “The universe is ordered in a way that humans can understand.” From Albert Einstein: “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” Some might find talk of a “Big Bang” and billions and billions of years a put off, I know I had to make adjustments. In explaining it to church I asked: “How old was Adam when God created him?” The idea being that the Adam that God created was already a man and if a scientist were to start examining him he would have to conclude that Adam had been walking the planet for whatever amount of years his body exhibited, even though it was only a day. Hope you can follow that logic as we now apply it to the universe. When God created it, just like Adam, it came fully formed with a history that pointed to billions of years and, just like Adam, was created mid-stream with that history there for us to discover.
The book took on a parallel view of evolution and a rare Earth in a fascinating way for me. Darwin ended his life waiting for the flood of fossil evidence that would be forthcoming proving his theory of evolution. He died waiting and his believers are still waiting. In the same way this book chronicles the belief that since Earth is just one point of light among many that life was inevitable on other planets. The man in the moon and the Martian canals with their stirrings of life gave way to the hard facts that no life has been found. The more we discover, the more we realize how unique this planet with us on it is. Yet, the believers wait for the day of visitation, one side waits for the visitor from outer space, the other waits for the visitor from Heaven.