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The Privileged Planet

The Search for Purpose in the Universe

Video by Institute for Creation Research
Review Copyright 2005 epicidiot.com

See Privileged Planet website.

Buy it at Amazon.com

Do we live on a planet that was
specially created for life?

  • Does the size relationship between the Sun and Moon make the Earth unique for scientific exploration?

  • Is the Earth located in the “sweet” spot of the galaxy?

Are these claims valid or pseudoscientific nonsense?

These claims and others are explored in this review of
"The Privileged Planet"


Contents

More reviews of origins videos
The Privileged Planet - Do we live on a planet specially created for life?
Unlocking the Mystery of Life - What is Irreducible Complexity?
Mount St. Helens - Evidence for Catastrophe or fraud?
And More...

Overview

The Privileged Planet video (and its companion book) explores the Finely-Tuned idea that since the Earth is configured exactly as needed for life, then it must have had a creator.  What makes it stand out from other Finely-Tuned theories, is that it also explores the idea that the Earth is uniquely configured and located to make cosmological observation and discovery possible.  As if a creator wanted us to be able to explore the Universe around us.

This is a very professional-looking and well-produced video.

Creationist View

See Rebuttal >>>

The video starts with images from the Voyager 1 probe, including one of Earth from 4 billion miles away.  Then we are told that in 1543 that Copernicus ignited a revolution with his view that the Earth orbited the Sun and how this started the "Principle of Mediocrity."  That the Earth is not special, but simply one of billions of planets.

The Privileged Planet lists many aspects of Earth that make it just right for life as we know it and therefore a special planet.

  • The Earth is just the right distance from the Sun so that water can exist in its liquid state, which is vital for carbon-based life.  If the Earth was 5% closer, our atmosphere would be more like Venus with temperatures up to 900º F.  If it were 5% more distant, then it would be more like the frozen planet Mars.
  • The Moon stabilizes the Earth's axis, thereby giving us the seasons which are vital to life.
  • The atmosphere blocks gamma rays, UV rays, and x-rays.  The light that does penetrate is just what is needed for life.
  • If the Earth's Gravity were increased, then no life larger than a pea could exist.
  • Our solar system has large planets that shield Earth from comet impacts.
  • Earth occupies the right location in the galaxy.
  • Earth has a thin crust that allows plate tectonics.
  • Has oxygen in the atmosphere to support life.

Privileged Planet also lists many aspects of Earth that make it just right for viewing and making discoveries about the Universe.

  • The Sun is 400 times larger than the Moon and is also 400 times farther away.  This creates a total eclipse of the Sun where the Moon just covers the Sun.  In 1870, this was used to discover helium.  
  • In 1919, the eclipse was again used to verify Einstein's theory that the gravity from the Sun would bend light passing it.
  • The atmosphere is transparent, allowing us to view the stars and other planets.
  • Many scientific formulas describing the Universe and how it works are incredibly simple, making them easy to discover and understand.

 

Evolutionist View

Privileged Planet follows a commonly-used theme that states since the Earth fits us so perfectly, it must have been created for us.   The essay 13 Cards shows the fallacy of this idea.  

Note: You should read 13 Cards in order to understand the rest of this review.

Privileged Planet assumes that "life as we know it" is the only form of life possible.  If that were true, then its other assumptions would be true.  However, this is not likely to be the case.  Our own Earth shows life's tremendous diversity and ability to thrive in what we as humans would consider very hostile environments.

Is the Earth's temperature just right for life?  While it is true that there is a range in which life can form.  For example it can't be so cold that  chemical reactions can't occur, or so hot that atoms can't stay together.  But the range is much wider than that implied by Privileged Planet.  Even here on Earth, life is found in the freezing temperatures of the polar ice caps and in extreme underwater temperatures of 235º F .  If our planet were hotter (or colder), then Privileged Planet would still be making the same type of claim, just with a different temperature range.  The Earth's temperature fits us so perfectly because that's the temperature we evolved into.  The assertion that the temperature is just right is simply not true. 

Is the Earth just the right distance from the sun for liquid water to Exist?  Liquid water can be found on celestial objects of extreme distances from their sun.  Case in point, liquid water has been found on Saturn's moon Enceladus.  Photos by the Galileo spacecraft show evidence of an ocean of liquid water beneath the ice on Jupiter's moon Europa.  NASA has also found evidence of liquid water on Jupiter's moon Callisto.  Celestial objects can be heated by a variety of means, such as nuclear reactions in the core and tidal friction.  An object's precise distance from its sun is not the only factor that determines whether or not it will have liquid water as implied by The Privileged Planet.  The contention that a celestial object must be just the right distance from its sun so that liquid water can exist is simply false.

Are the seasons necessary for life?  While the seasons certainly provide a nice change of pace to look forward to, there's no reason to assume that life couldn't exist without them.  Again the Earth itself provides examples of this.  Tropical areas have nearly constant year round temperatures and yet life thrives there.  Are we really expected to believe that life would cease if the temperature was 80º F year round?

Is oxygen needed for life? Life on this planet seems able to adapt to a variety of atmospheres, contrary to the contention of the Privileged Planet.  Under the ocean is a greatly different atmosphere than on dry land.  Plants use carbon dioxide, animals use oxygen.

  • Archaeons can live in sulfuric acid!  Other environments they can be found in include boiling water, super-salty pools, sulfur-spewing volcanic vents, and deep in Antarctic ice.
  • Methanogens are a form of life that lives in oxygen-deprived environments and survive by reducing CO2 and oxidizing hydrogen, and releasing the resulting methane. They are killed by the presence of oxygen.
  • A species of Carp can survive without oxygen (See Physiology Allows Crucian Carp To Survive Without Oxygen).

It seems obvious that life adapts to whatever level of oxygen is available and isn't all that picky.  The claim by The Privileged Planet that the atmosphere is just right for life is clearly false.

Note: Planet's with atmosphere have been detected outside our solar system. While these atmosphere's are different from Earth's, if life on Earth is any example, then it is possible that life has adapted to their atmosphere. (See: First Detection Made of an Extrasolar Planet's Atmosphere)

The contention that the atmosphere lets in just the right type of light while blocking harmful light such as UV and gamma rays is true for humans, but not true for life in general.  Not only is this particular "narrow range" of light not necessary for life, but light is not actually needed at all.  Bacteria has been found that uses toxic hydrogen sulfide in the same way that plants use light for photosynthesis.  If our atmosphere didn't block UV rays, then organic life would simply need some sort of UV blocker for an outer coating.  The fact that the available light is just right, is simply because that was the light that was available and therefore was the light that was adapted to.  Simple as that.  If our atmosphere let in large amounts of UV light, then Privileged Planet would be making the claim, "our atmosphere lets in just the right amount of UV light to support life . . . What a privileged planet we live on!"

Privileged Planet states that the outer planets are large enough to shield the Earth from comets.  If you see the Solar System drawn to scale it becomes obvious just how absurd this claim is.  While it is true that Jupiter's immense gravity may occasionally draw comets away from Earth, it also pulls asteroids towards Earth increasing the possibility of an asteroid strike*.  In either case, the effect is minimal due to Jupiter's distance from Earth.  Imagine the solar system drawn at 1:9,000,000 scale.  Jupiter, the largest planet, would be only 52.5 feet in diameter and 56 miles away.  How much do you suppose it actually blocks?  If missiles were being fired at you from all directions, would a shield the size of house 56 miles away block very much?

The assertion that life no larger than a pea could exist if gravity were slighter larger is simply not true.  This asserts that the pressures from a higher gravity would limit the size of life.  The pressures at 5,000 feet under water are tremendously greater than our gravity, yet large life forms exist there.

The video mentioned Copernicus igniting a revolution with his belief that the Earth revolved around the Sun, yet they didn't mention that he had to leave Rome to avoid persecution from the Creationists of his day.  He waited until he was near death to publish his work.  Some claim that this is not true, and the Church encouraged his work.  However, 70 years after Copernicus published his work, Galileo was threatened with torture and spent his last days under house arrest for teaching the Copernican system.  Copernicus' book wasn't removed from the Vatican's banned list until 1835.  If he wasn't afraid, he should have been.

It is an amazing coincidence that the Earth is 400 times larger than the Moon and also 400 times further away, thus giving them the appearance of having the same size.  However, this is not as important for discovery as Privileged Planet would have you believe.  For example:

The eclipse did indeed allow for the verification of Einstein's theory that gravity bends light.  But the size ratios of the Sun and Moon were not necessary for this discovery to be made.  In fact, they actually presented a problem for the scientists.   The closeness in apparent size allowed too much coronal light, thereby making the experiment more difficult.  Contrary to what Privileged Planet states, the experiment would have been much easier if the Moon were larger and blocked the Sun entirely.  The "privileged" sizes of the Sun and Moon are NOT the best sizes for this discovery as claimed.  In fact, in this case their "privileged" sizes were a hindrance.

The video makes much of how the "privileged" sizes of the Sun and Moon enabled the discovery helium in 1870.  But, it didn't quite get the facts right.  Although Pierre-Jules-César Janssen obtained the first evidence for helium during the eclipse of August 18, 1868 (not 1870), the actual discovery of  helium was made Sir Norman Lockyer on October 20, 1869 (also not 1870 and not on the day of a solar eclipse) using his spectroscope (a device for studying solar coronas during NON-eclipses).  Later, in 1870 he suggested that he had found an unknown element.  This was confirmed in 1885 by William Ramsay while examining minerals here on Earth.  The discovery of helium did not require a solar eclipse, much less the "privileged" sizes of the Sun and Moon.

But even when solar eclipses are necessary for discoveries, it is not necessary for the Sun and Moon to have the "privileged" sizes stated in the video.  It is true that their size relationship produces a full corona.  However, even if the Moon were larger, the eclipse would still produce a corona.  The difference would be that one could only view part of the corona instead of the full corona, yet the same coronal information could still be observed.  See animation below.


Eclipse with our Moon

Eclipse with larger moon

Eclipses don't happen every month because the Earth's orbit around the sun is not in the same plane as the Moon's orbit around the Earth.  In fact, eclipses only occur in a given location about every 300 years.  So until a few hundred years ago when we entered the age of fast travel, eclipses were almost useless for scientific experimentation.  A given scientists is not going to see more than one in his home town, and might not even see that.  Now if the orbital path of the Moon was adjusted so that it always passed between the Sun and Earth, such as Jupiter's moons do - That would be privileged!

While it is true that some mathematical formulas are quite simple, others are quite complex.  Since it's a topic covered, calculating when solar eclipses will occur is extremely complex.  See here for the method.  Get your calculator ready!

There are a lot of formulas in science.  Some are easy, some are hard.

Conclusions

Even putting aside the misinformation presented by this video, one still has to ask, "Is Earth a privileged planet, or just the planet that life has adapted to?"

Life here on Earth shows an amazing ability to adapt to whatever environment is available, be it hot, cold, high pressure, low pressure, oxygen rich, or oxygen starved.  It's hard to believe that life can't adapt to a wide variety of "privileges" on other planets.

Is this planet privileged for exploration or do scientists simply make the best use of  conditions that exist?  Had the conditions been different, then Privileged Planet would have made the same argument, just using different examples, such as 

  • There's a black hole close enough to easily observe.
  • The life on Mars allows us to compare ecosystems.
  • There's a nearby galaxy generating new stars for us to study.

Voltaire summed it up with the following satirical piece:

"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."

It's easy to imagine an ammonia-breathing being somewhere right now exclaiming, “Wow, what are the odds that this planet has just the right amount of ammonia in the atmosphere, we are just the right distance from our sun to maintain an average temperature of 180º, the three moons provide just the right amount of tidal action, we are close enough to the planet Glebdork so that we can explore it¼  We must indeed live on a privileged planet!"


 

Note: It's not the goal of this site to give negative reviews, but it is the goal of this site is to get to the truth.  If a source presents false or misleading information, then it is our obligation to point it out.  Everyone, including EpicIdiot, makes mistakes.  But there's a big difference between an honest mistake and intentionally misleading.  If a source appears to be intentionally presenting misleading information, then you should take everything they say with a grain of salt.  Besides, if you have a strong case for your point of view, why not present the information in a straightforward and accurate manner?  Resorting to misleading tactics shouldn't be necessary.

Are these innocent mistakes or intentionally misleading?  You decide.

Other Reviews 

See what others had to say about The Privileged Planet

Reviews of Associated Book


References

Scale Universe

Copernicus

Eclipses

Helium Discovery

Earth's Tilt

Interesting comments

Gaia Hypothesis

Drake Equation for determining number of extraterrestrial civilizations

Rare Earth Hypothesis

Nature's Destiny

Fine-Tuning Supporters

Mediocrity Principle

Life that exists in extreme conditions

Planets, Water, and Atmospheres


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2005-12-20 Anonymous (Atheistic Evolutionist) wrote
So So, Biased to Evolution


2005-12-27 Tad (Young Earth Creationist) wrote
So So, I'm not sure of the accuracy, Biased to Evolution
There are no simple life forms.  There was no primordial soup.  If it were easy to make life forms biologists would have done it by now. 
When (or if)they do we will know approximately how much information and intelligence it takes.
Previous attempts to design non-carbon based life forms such as silicon based have failed.


2006-01-11 kathy hanson (Young Earth Creationist) wrote
Interesting, Bogus, Biased to Evolution
The article gave examples of extreme life forms present on earth, but these exist as part of a huge, diverse biosphere balanced for the conditions necessary for carbon-based life. No matther how much we dream of silicon-based life or ammonia-breathing creatures,carbon and water are the best carriers of complex biological information. The examples of hypothetical arguments the book would make if conditions would have been different are absurd and ignores the whole point of the book: that these different conditions are incompatible with habitability. T
With the exception of this one, which is probably true
* There's a nearby galaxy generating new stars for us to study. --although you're implying that the author believes that the sole purpose of the universe is for our observation. The fact that it is designed for discoverability doesn't mean that's its only purpose.

epicidiot reply: You make some interesting points.  However, I do not imply "that the author believes that the sole purpose of the universe is for our observation," but the video clearly states that they believe it was made for observation.  I make no mention or implication of that being its sole or only purpose.
Also, I never even mention silicon-based life.  Although silicon-based life is possible, the barriers for it evolving on its own are immense compared to carbon-based life.
We don't have to dream about ammonia-breathing life. You can just look at Brocadia anammoxidans, or anammox bacteria, which survive without oxygen, producing energy from nitrite and ammonia.


2007-01-03 Sage, Atheistic Evolutionist, wrote
Interesting, Factual, Fair and Balanced
The article was seemed very objective but slightly biased though i have not researched, i expected there to be at least one or two points that would warrant belief in a" priveleged earth.I also like that they were links so that any skeptics could research for theirselves.

 



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