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Gonzalez and Richards Intro and Chapter One

Posted Monday, June 27, 2005 by Gerald Vreeland

Book(s) Review: Dan Brown, Deception Point (New York: Pocket Books, 2001); Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards, The Privileged Planet: How our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2004). 


One of the more surrealistic reading experiences you might engage in is to read Dan Brown’s Deception Point and Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards’ The Privileged Planet at the same time.  In the Brown novel, the theory is that, since we cannot, find intelligent life anywhere in the universe (presumably including Earth) a meteorite crashes into earth comprised of sedimentary rock and a colony of – get this – giant fossilized lice.  Bang your head on the desk a couple of times, take a deep breath and warp yourself into another universe wherein we evolved from the primordial slime and Earth was seeded by aliens and – like angels and Demons or The Da Vinci Code – you can just hang on for a Dan Brown kind of ride.  Just ignore the traditional factoid page that always gets Brown into trouble with people who think.  Because it is a novel, I will let you take the rest of the thrill ride without me. 


Conversely, Gonzalez and Richards have a riveting introduction to their work, subtitled: “How our place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery.”  After reading a review in Astronomy magazine wherein the book was panned, I went on-line to try and find out what the problem was – the reviewer left me clueless!  I discovered that it is in the genre of “Intelligent Design” and the pseudo-intelligentsia, in its relentless attempt to stifle thinking people, simply lampoons rather than engages.  After firing off a letter to the editor of Astronomy in which I trashed the review and pointed out the lack of credentials of the reviewer, I went right out and bought the book.  I have not been disappointed!

In their introduction, G and R break “the correlation” to us gently (p. xi).  The correlation they will spend the rest of the book exploring is the relationship between “measurability” and “habitability.”  It is their version of “the anthropic principle” which goes something like this: the universe looks the way it does because we are here to see it.  Or, as one more eminent scholar has it: “. . . the anthropic principle . . . can be paraphrased as ‘We see the universe the way it is because we exist’” (Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time [New York: Bantam, 1988, 96], 128.) 


The first chapter, “Wonderful Eclipses” is on the relationship between the Sun, Moon and Earth.  It begins with a first person narrative from Dr. Gonzalez when, in India, he saw his first complete solar eclipse.”  The pictures are astounding and the diagrams, charts and graphs are intriguing.  What we learn is that we are the only place in the solar system – and most probably the universe – where such a relationship exists.  Of course, we all know about the relationship with respect to the tides and the tilt of the Earth; but did you ever reflect – you cannot look directly, after all! – on the wonder of the Solar Eclipse?  Because of the apparent sizes of both spheres, the moon can effectively cover that bright orb we rarely see here.  However, it leaves exposed the “atmosphere” of the Sun.  That creates a window for all kinds of scientific inquiry.  Only on Saturn when there is a Solar eclipse by its moon Prometheus – lasting approximately one second! – is there a similar window for study.  The problem is that Prometheus is far from round and so the penumbra of the Sun is not nearly so visible for study.  As of October 2003, there were 136 known moons around the planets . . . none of which does any good for solar study.  There is no reason to believe the odds would be much better elsewhere in the universe either.  Our Sun is perhaps the most perfectly spherical celestial body in the Universe – at least it is to our knowledge.  In addition, although the oblong shape of the Moon is a matter of record, because of its frozen rotation and, call it “happenstance,” the Moon’s face toward us appears perfectly round.  Remember: only here; only now; only us!


In addition, these guys believe in an ancient universe, and so they note that only at this time would the apparent sizes of the Sun and Moon be such that we could explore them in this way – right when we are here to do so!  All we CRI types need is the calculus necessary to speed things up – it is still right here, right now and it is still us looking.  Fudge-factor?  Planck time!  That first bazillionth of a second when none of the rules of Physics pertained and the universe was said to expand at 50 times the speed of light.  Just extend it to the first four days of Creation, put the earth “safely in the hollow of God’s hand” and you’ve got it. . . .  And, surprise, you’ve got a universe that kind of looks like our and observers kind of like us to look at it. 


Alright, cut to the chase, Jerry.  What can we learn from all this astrophysics? 


Eclipses are esthetically astounding – astronomers and laymen alike routinely cry when they see a perfect one.  If we ever get one here, I have a piece of plastic that will help us look directly at them . . . I’ve done so twice and seen the reaction in my friends. 


Secondly, we can learn from spectrographic instruments about the constituent elements of the sun and other stars. 


Third, we can study solar prominences – those million mile long flames that rise from the sun’s “surface.” 


Fourth, we are able to study the General Law of Relativity by observing the bending of starlight by Solar gravitation. 


From that we can do all sorts of things simply because of the perfect relationship between these three geometric celestial friends.  For instance, I think one way to disprove the theory of Special Relativity (E = mc2) has to do with the bending of stellar light from the solar gravitational field.  If huge bodies can bend light, they can accelerate it and decelerate it!  If they can do that c isn’t c any more (c = “constant” or lightspeed = 186,000 miles per second).  Things are changing and in Physics, gravity not light is God.  For us, we marvel at the God who controls all four of the forces found by physicists.  When Physicists finally arrive at a “theory of everything” or Quantum theory of Gravity, they will find a bunch of theologians sitting around a table feasting, no? 

Monday, June 27, 2005 8:55 AM

Sam wrote: 

brilliant...i don't think i've ever wanted to read about astronomy before...any recommendations for newbies to the field?

take care!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005 8:25 AM

Brian wrote:  There is a DVD The Privileged Planet that is also available on Amazon.

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