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Gonzalez and Richards Chapter Three

Assumptions and implications are not the same thing.

Posted Monday, July 11, 2005 by Gerald Vreeland

Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards, The Privileged Planet: How our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2004).


This week’s jolly adventure into epistemic na-na-world includes a prelude from the current issue (August [!] 2005) of Astronomy magazine.  Here’s a teaser quote from Adam Frank’s “Seeing the Dawn of Time”: “EARTH EXISTS only because the physical laws in our universe are just right.  That’s a natural result of the multiverse, from which countless pocket universes bubble off from the whole” (p. 38; emphasis, the editors of Astronomy).  Yow!  If there was ever more of a motley juxtaposition of randomness and determinacy in print, I’d like to see it.  (Oh, I already have; but you will have to wait until I get to G & R’s handling of the hijacked Copernican Principle, chapter 11).  One of the headings of the article even presumes the alleged principle of mediocrity: “Our mediocre universe.”  I wonder how it will be when all the math washes out and we find new ways to observe particles that apparently disappear into others of the “multiverse” and we discover that the present universe in 4, 5, or 6 dimensions is all that there is.  Remember that there were a lot of good mathematicians that had the hammer of good math shattered on the anvil of physics.  One might think of Einstein’s defense of the static and eternal universe:


In an historical instance of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity had already predicted that the universe was either  expanding or contracting.  Unfortunately, Einstein found the notion so distasteful that he      had introduced a “fudge factor,” a variable called a cosmological constant, theoretically retrofitted to keep the universe in steady, eternal equilibrium.  But upon learning of  Hubble’s discovery, Einstein made a widely publicized trip to California to see Hubble’s data for himself.  As a result of Hubble’s discoveries, and the works of Georges Edouard Lemaitre, a Belgian Roman Catholic priest and physicist who had studied under Arthur Eddington, and Soviet Aleksandr Friedmann – whose solutions to Einstein’s theory implied an expanding universe – he repented of his cosmological constant, famously calling it the “greatest blunder” or his career (G & R p. 171; see also Stephen Hawking
The Universe in a Nutshell [New York: Bantam, 2001], pp. 21, 49, 96-97.)


One thing that you rarely get in popular level articles is that not everybody agrees on the theories that are trotted out ex-cathedra style by the peoples’ pontiffs of physics.  In defense of Frank, he does leave the doctrine at the level of theory and states plainly that some of the more eccentric assumptions and conclusions are hotly debated.  But in everything from string-theory, to n universes, you get nothing like the monolithic presentations force-fed my high-school kids.  Anyway, lest I be accused of wasting your time, read the article yourself.  The history lesson for the study of cosmology over the last 30 years or so is worth the price of the subscription.  The major problem with the article is that it does not tell you why the three problems (causality problem, flatness problem, magnetic monopole problem) are real problems to inflation theory or Big Bang Cosmology in the first place. 


Perhaps in an effort to distance himself from the craziness of the positions, the author of the article quotes Mario Livio: “Inflation naturally produces a multiverse.”  To which I ask, why?  No answer is forthcoming.  “If you believe in some form of inflation, then it is almost inevitable that some form of eternal inflation will occur.”  “Almost inevitable” is not good enough.  You said that it naturally produces a multiverse and now you say that it is “almost inevitable.”  The math must not be very good and the observations nonexistent.  Yep: “The different universes would not be causally connected. . . .”  Frank, now:  “No signals from one pocket universe could ever reach another.  That means there is no way to study them.”  How convenient!  Non-falsifiable!  The multiverse exists because I say so!  I am a “scientist” and can therefore say any crazy thing I want and not be wrong.  Oh, and by the way, that also means that you cannot short change me in government grants.  Along with my omniscience, that would, after all, impinge upon my omnipotence.  It is too bad whenever there is the request for an accountability in respect to their eccentricities, the cretins who would dare question the validity or value of the theoreticians’ product are branded right-wing fundamentalist wackos.  Academicians have insulated themselves, with their inflated salaries, in the tiny bastion of the academe.  Like supreme court justices, they are virtually unimpeachable.  Also like supreme court justices, we question the validity of their opinions.  The beauty of the religion of scientism is that most every assumption they rest on and many of the conclusions they reach for fall to the fallacy of non-falsifiability.  Isn’t it fascinating that this is exactly the same charge they level at theists?  Overall, if you find the article compelling, at least no one will ever fault you for your lack of creative imagination. . . .  But if you’re into the multiverse, I would rather recommend “The Chronicles of Riddick.”  Meanwhile back in the real universe. . . .

Round three of “Cosmologists-R-Us”! 

 First, as President Nixon used to say, “let me say this about that.”  Whoever thought “end notes” were a good idea was nutz – or a typesetter!  As I noted last time there were 10 pages of end notes for chapter two.  That amounts to, in the aggregate, eighty-eight (88!) opportunities to flip back and forth between the front and the back of the book.  Being an apostle of a dying creed, that of footnotes, I recognize that the cathedrals are emptying; but you get my point: if it is important enough to warrant text then put it at the bottom of the page where I can read it! 


Chapter three of Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards’ book The Privileged Planet is entitled “Peering Down.”  As pertains to the subject at hand, there were a mere 43 joyous expeditions to the back of the book for notes and copious but illuminating text.  While we are on the topic of end notes, it would appear to me that the authors are heavily indebted to another one of my favorites.  They seem to regularly reference Michael Denton’s Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe (New York: The Free Press, 1998).  So, I suppose we should all read that one as well. 


Beginning with the great Seattle earthquake of February 28, 2001 – which I only heard about from our Dean, since I was at that time in contact with him from about 11 time zones away – the authors begin to tell us about how such things as earthquakes and volcanoes actually preserve life . . . tell that to all those Indian Ocean folks these days.  The authors show us that such things as strategic deployment of seismographs and magnetometers are to the tectonic plates and mantle of the earth as a CAT scan and MRI would be to a physician.  From it they deduce all sorts of things – usually, of course, in the hundreds of millions of years – about changes in the orientation of the magnetosphere and ages of prolific carbon production, for instance. 


However, as is their bent, all this measurability has to do with habitability as well.  Because we live on a terresphere such this one, we have the carbon production we do that is necessary for life as we know it.  Because we have tectonic plates and oceans and continents, we have weathering and oxidizing necessary for life to go on living.  One interesting note was that where there is the least amount of phytoplankton (off the Pacific coast of South America) they were able to foster it merely by introducing the equivalent of “runoff” in the dead zone. 


Planets larger than ours would have more earthquakes and be great for looking down; but their atmospheres would be too thick to look up.  In addition, because they are both bigger targets and have greater gravitational pull, you would be dodging meteorite showers every time you went outside.  Planets smaller than ours would have fewer earthquakes and higher mountains (e.g., Mars) and would be great for exploring the cosmos; but they would have fewer planetary events that help us to know what is going on below us.  In addition, because their gravity would be less, their atmosphere and water would be constantly blasted into space by the solar wind.  If you did get into a meteorite shower, there would be less atmosphere to burn them up in and so you’d have to buy a stainless steel helmet to avoid the inevitable migraine.  Big planets are useful to smaller planets such as our own, since they act as celestial magnets or brooms sweeping for space junk and providing a meteorite umbrella for us.  Neither larger nor smaller planets are of much use for fostering or preserving life as we know it – and from what we’ve learned so far, there’s not much hope that there will be much life as we don’t know it. 


Remember for geologists and astronomers – the only two groups not to leave the evolutionary paradigm en masse – we have to deal with everything in hundreds of millions of years.  The logic goes something like this: back after the “enlightenment” we tried to define God out of existence – unfortunate baggage that all our theories will pack with them until doomsday.  Secondly, we spent hundreds of years trying to define time and space (parallax method in astronomy and geological column and index fossils in geology) and came up with astronomically absurd numbers.  Thirdly, we spent the last hundred years developing technology to measure stuff – our bravado masks our insecurity as to what we’re actually measuring.  Fourthly, we calibrated the instruments to fit our theories of time and space.  Conclusion: the cosmos is very old – but we still believe in God!  I shouldn’t think that it takes a rocket scientist (like these guys!) to see the patent circularity of the paradigm.  Oh, well. . . . 


Benefits to having read this chapter? 


  • The notation of how the magnetosphere produces the equivalent of a cosmic bow wash to protect us from excessive radiation from the sun is one major point.  Otherwise, we’d be microwaved.   
  • The size to mass ratio of the earth is indicative that the Earth is about the perfect place for all terrestrial life forms to live. 
  • As far as we can tell, it is the only place where not only complex life (still looking for space-cockroaches!) but technological life (that would be us) could possibly exist. 
  • In the hundreds-of-millions-of-years-scheme of things, you have to have the carbon transport system for life, yes; but you also have to have fuels with progressively greater efficiency (wood, coal, oil, uranium) for the necessary development of a technological society.  Here’s a quote that is doubly telling:


The wealth of industrial nations has allowed them to devote enormous time and resources to scientific research and technological development, which have led to scientific discoveries unparalleled in human history.  To sustain the present level of research, earthly life had to be highly productive for several hundred million years.  A planet with feeble primary productivity would take much longer to build up similar levels of coal and petroleum reserves (pp. 61-2).


Either that or some mechanism has to exist to accelerate the process; or processes were not always as painfully slow as they are now; or processes are not as slow now as we’ve been led to believe by our not so out-of-the-box scientism practitioners; or we’ve got to think outside the box; or. . . . 


“And the carbon dioxide we’ve been producing while developing new energy sources apparently has improved the overall habitability of Earth. . .” (p. 62).  So lay it to rest: a little extra carbon dioxide is a good thing.  Just ask the Russians!  The Kyoto Protocol allows them to sell billions of dollars of below quota carbon dioxide production (they are allowed about 30% more) to their already antiquated and paralyzed industrial economy.  Such a deal have we for you: a few rubles here a few there and a little dioxide here and a little there. 


Another Denton quote? 


Another fascinating coincidence is that only atmospheres with between ten and twenty percent oxygen can support oxidative metabolism in a higher organism [I think he intends to include us – although that might be a debatable point . . .], and it is only within this range that fire – and hence metallurgy and technology – is possible” (G & R p. 64). 


The conclusion for G & R?


Although much more could be said, it should be clear that Earth’s magnetic field and plate tectonics – as well as the associated carbon cycle, nutrient mixing, and continent building – are crucial for both life and scientific discoveries in fields as diverse as geophysics and astronomy.  The development of technology, which is essential for decoding mysteries in many corners of the cosmos, also hinges on a number of key planetary processes, including the right kind of atmosphere.  Luckily for us, we have just the right atmosphere (p. 64). 


I might have replaced “luckily” for “providentially” . . . but they will do that task for me by the end of the book.

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