In astronomy, Earth is considered a “Goldilocks” planet, meaning it is in a star’s “habitable zone” — in a nutshell, the distance range from a star that allows it to have the presence of liquid water. Of course this, along with other suppositions of the necessary conditions for life (as we know it, mind you) make up a “Rare Earth” hypothesis that hints at mind-boggling odds against our existence.
In fact, a basic premise in Intelligent Design is that the existence of a world with exactly the right conditions for life cannot be a coincidence for just that reason.
First, let’s get all the science out of the way as to why such a hypothesis is nearly undefendable, and then look at the raw logic that … well … it certainly is NOT a coincidence, but for reasons the opposite of the fallacious way this premise is commonly touted.
As far back as I can remember, I have watched and pondered the search for extraterrestrial life, perhaps more than the average geek glued to the Discovery Channel (and PBS back in my day). But even that would suffice to give a contrary mind-opening perspective — especially when one considers the historical scientific journey itself:
(1) We are constantly finding life forms on our own planet in places we did not believe life could exist. The existence of more and more heretofore unimaginable extremophiles tells us one thing: whatever parameter limits we set on life forms and conditions, we have always been wrong.
(2) We are finding potentially hospitable places on other planets (in particular many moons of gas giants) that are LESS hostile than places we now know life exist on Earth.
(3) The conditions on which we understand life to have first formed is absolutely nothing like the conditions on Earth today. This alone expands the possibility to many known bodies past our big blue marble.
(4) We do not currently have the capability to find “earth-sized” planets except when “too close” to parent stars (via transit method), so it is no wonder we have catalogued over 300 extrasolar planets and none of them Earth-like. However, like our limited concepts of life, we have discovered a plethora of planetary system configurations we thought impossible, and still may contain earth-like planets.
(5) We have yet only attempted to find planets around the tiniest fraction of our approximately 100-billion-star playground known as the Milky Way, which in turn is one among countless others. So even if the Rare Earth principle has any merit at all, the immensity of the universe plus the Drake equation will always equal putting the odds back in our favor.
Yes, from all this, we can say with some sanity that it is far more likely than not that SOMEWHERE there is SOME other being on SOME other world writing an article similar to this one. (If they finish and publish it first, I personally swear this one isn’t plagarised.)
First, let’s put aside any assumption that the universe revolves around our existence. Yes, that is not only the punch-line of a blonde joke I heard once, but the premise of Intelligent Design which is why the whole darned thing is one big circular argument.
It is at least one possibility that the universe was NOT created to accommodate us, and we can easily understand the viewpoint that we are a product of the universe — or at least the biblical and scientific chronology agree which precedes the other. Either we were created by the universe or through it as a tool and framework of existence by divine will or whatever.
Which perspective we hold as truth is irrelevant to the Goldilocks question, so let’s assume the IDers are right, that for whatever mysterious reason, a universe of seemingly infinite size was created expressly for the solitary grain of sand that is our total existence and experience.
Back to Goldilocks, since we can at least agree on which planet for us is “just right”, let’s step back and see the flaws.
What if Goldilocks was Fat?
Marveling that the Earth is so suitable to us is like being amazed that car seats are perfectly made for human bodies, or even that the length of a giraffe’s neck is always amazingly suited to how far its head is from it’s body.
All the straw man criticisms and perceived negative implications of Darwinism aside, the most basic concept we can use from him is the common sense premise of Natural Selection: An organism that is NOT suited to its environment is less likely to survive long enough to pass on it’s genes. Therefore, ALL organisms — except for limited populations and individuals over short periods of time — will naturally be suited for whatever niche they adapt to or live in. If they hadn’t they wouldn’t be there, but somewhere else, or nowhere but in a losing game of chance to be remembered in the fossil record.
So from the other side of the coin, consider this: If Goldilocks was an obese adult, which chair would be “just right”? If our physical beings were designed (figurative or literally) to live under different conditions, we would either be living IN those conditions, perhaps on ANOTHER planet being amazed at how it seemed to be custom-built for our comfort. Otherwise, we would clearly be unable to blog about it.
Never Tell Me the Odds
What are the odds that someone exactly like me (meaning me myself) would exist, given the almost infinite possible combinations of genes?
The odds are 1. Think about it.
If I didn’t “happen”, someone else would be asking the same question. The correct answer is always “yes” when someone asks you if you can believe you are alive as exactly where, when and how you are. The odds of your characteristics is no different from any other combination, limited only by the combinations that are possible and survivable.
Goldilocks could have just as easily sat somewhere else, or been unable to fit in any of their beds, or not be able to finish even the smallest bowl of porridge. Maybe she would have found some other mammal’s house to invade. But in the end, it wasn’t her house. It wasn’t built for her. She CHOSE to sleep in the bed her size; the bed didn’t choose her.
However, as much as that contradicts the primitive notions in Intelligent design, to be fair, that would in a more intelligent way make the idea that a diversity of beings would exist through an intentional variety of conditions something actually worth writing home about. We are simply marveling for the wrong reasons.
The Goldilocks Universe
If we take this understanding — that an organism exists as it does because if it didn’t, it couldn’t survive — to the whole of creation, what do we get?
Physicists hypothesize multiple universes running on different rule sets and conditions. This is not because they are physicists, but because they are thinking too hard. If an organism doesn’t follow the rules of survival … well … it doesn’t survive or cannot even be born. Is it possible for a universe to exist in any stable, long-term way UNLESS its rules allow for it and not contradict each other into some void of self-destructive oblivion?
Perhaps the Cosmos (with the term’s noteworthy etymological philosophical connotation) can ONLY exist as it is. The rules MUST be this way, or it wouldn’t work and we wouldn’t be arguing over it. The bottom line from this position? It is not chance. And if it may or may not be “design” in terms of a divine conscious intention … that is perhaps more about perspective than fact.
The only question then left would be if a hypothetical Goldilocks from another universe would or could come here, would they be able to find a seat?