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Friday, June 10, 2005

Aha! Privileged Planet’s heresy against the Church of St. Carl begins to be unmasked

The pace of the film begins to slow down a bit here, but bear with me; we’re getting somewhere.

(Note: If you are following the Privileged Planet-Smithsonian uproar and are new to this blog, scroll down to the Service note below for options.)

Having mentioned the virtues of the Earth’s atmosphere, the narrator notes, “The virtues of such an atmosphere are continually tested.” We are told that Earth is bombarded with radiation from the sun and other bodies throughout the universe, even supernovas of distant galaxies. The electromagnetic spectrum is listed: (gamma, Xray, ultraviolet, visible, infrared, microwave, and radio waves. While almost all the wavelengths are invisible, lethal, or useless but a “thin sliver of radiation” is essential for life.

Jay Richards points out that the narrow spectrum essential for life also turns out to be the spectrum best suited to making observations about the universe.

We are then told that these specific frequencies that suit both plants and astronomers, while produced in abundance by our sun, represent less of than one trillionth of a trillionth of the universe’s natural range of electromagnetic energy.

As much of that number as can be accommodated is observed to shoot across the night sky, like a very improbable celestial body.

So far, so what, I found myself asking? Haven’t we been here before, with fine tuning, eclipses, atmosphere, et cetera? How many more of these episodes will there be?

BUT, Guillermo Gonzalez then says,

It’s a remarkable coincidence that the kind of atmosphere that’s needed for complex life like ourselves does not preclude that life from observing the distant universe. It’s something that you wouldn’t expect just chance to produce. Why would the universe be such that those places that are most habitable also offer the best opportunity for scientific discovery?

Okay, ... before we go on, let’s recap St. Carl (Sagan)’s key teaching:

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. Look again at that dot. That’s here. Home. That’s us. 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.

Do you see a conflict here? If you don’t you must have skipped a page or two. This is truly a deadly heresy in the Church of St. Carl, whose implications did not hit me clearly until now:

Richards and Gonzalez are saying two closely related but slightly different things:

1. The science evidence clearly and obviously contradicts the general teachings of the Church of St. Carl.
2. If the exact conditions of life are the same as the exact conditions for observation and exploration, then maybe human strivings do have some empirically detectible significance.

I think this second item is what disturbed the Washington Post. Unambiguous evidence from science is being used — without any editorializing so far — to attack the immensely powerful twentieth-century “life in a world without meaning” cult. This cult is, after all, the staple of every art filmfest, artie magazine, artsie course in sociology and religion ... By implication, Richards and Gonzalez are casting down secular saints as important as Ernest Hemingway and Jean-Paul Sartre.

There is an unwritten understanding, after all, that science must never be used in public to attack the cult of life after meaning, only to uphold and support it. And the film violates this understanding.

But so far no one has advocated any religion; they have instead undermined the religion of the secular cultural elite.

Yeah, I guess the gods are mad!

(to be continued)

(Service note:

IF you are looking for a basic introduction to the uproar over the screening of The Privileged Planet at the Smithsonian, you can start anywhere in the archives from May 25, when I broke the story, on. For best convenience, I suggest you go here and here to start, and then this one will bring you up to date. Note that the blogs on the right-hand panel also update the story at various times, so try them too.

If you are new to this extended review of Privileged Planet, go here first. I will add each day’s post to that document.

If you were following it previously, but haven't visited it recently, the extended review will now be posted in a slightly different way. This post is only my account of the latest section of the film that I have re-viewed in detail. Recall that my primary purpose is to try to figure out why the Washington Post thinks Privileged Planet is a religious film.

When I finish, I will post a single complete document to the archives for your convenience.

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?.

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