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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Finally! Privileged Planet's smoking hypothesis! Or ...

Finally we get to the big hypothesis of Privileged Planet!

Following the discussion of the uniqueness of earth for science discoveries, Jay Richards says, “What if those things that make a planet habitable also make that planet the best place for making scientific discoveries? That is, what if those rare locations in the universe that are compatible with observers like ourselves are also the best places overall for making observations?”

Well, here again we have a falsifiable assertion. Does anyone know of better realistic places for making observations than Earth?

The narrator announces that after three years of research and testing, Richards and Gonzalez published their hypothesis in The Privileged Planet (2004).

(Service note:

The extended review of Privileged Planet 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.

So if you came here for the latest update, stay right here. If you are new to this extended review, go here first. I will add each day’s post to that document.

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

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. - Denyse)

Then the key hypothesis — presumably the theme of Privileged Planet — appears on the screen:
The same narrow circumstances that allow us to exist also provide us with the best overall setting for making scientific discoveries.

Of course, my first reaction was to assume that these guys are on the NASA payroll. I mean who should be the happiest people on the planet, if their hypothesis is true?

Richards then explains that in the book Privileged Planet , he and Gonzalez detail more than a dozen examples of key correlations between life and discovery. (I have not read the book, but will try to post non-tendentious reviews.)

We then cut to a discussion of one of these factors, the atmosphere of the Earth. Interestingly, that thin band that keeps us all alive is currently the subject of one of the other BIG debates, global warming.

Other planets such as Mars and Uranus are shown, and the narrator points out that among the approximately 70 known planets and moons (that are not just a lop-sided rock), Earth is the only one whose atmosphere can sustain complex life and the only one whose atmosphere is transparent.

Now again, here’s a great chance to prove Richards and Gonzalez wrong. Can someone falsify this observation?

Gonzalez explains that, unlike some other planetary atmospheres, Earth’s atmosphere is clear. That is because it is made up of mostly nitrogen and oxygen but very little carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds. The transparent atmosphere is well suited to astronomy.

Of the other bodies in the solar system that have thick, hazy atmospheres, the narrator says, “None of these alien worlds view the stars, or even offers a clear view of the sun.”

I guess doing astronomy without a clear atmosphere would be like trying to figure out how much snow fell last night while staring at the basement wall ...

Jay Richards then asks why it is that the only planet that is habitable is also the best one for science?

Yeah, how is that. And don’t tell me I am an idiot for wondering.

Of course, this is all heresy in the Church of St. Carl (Sagan), because we are supposed to know somehow that it is all a big accident.

So the big hypothesis has been announced, ... and my local letter carrier has come and gone.

Where ARE those hellfire tracts I thought I was going to get, anyway? I can’t start banging on doors up and down the street, bugging my neighbours with my Big Message from God, until I hear something that isn’t just about how great astronomy is and (more subtly) why devout astronomers are not mad.

(The undevout astronomer is mad. - Edward Young)

(to be continued)


Privileged Planet Uproar: An All-American Jihad?

National Center for Science Education (“Defending the Teaching of Evolution in the Public Schools”) has now weighed on on the Privileged Planet controversy, having posted a review denouncing the film by astronomer William H Jefferys of the University of Texas at Austin.

It sounds as if NCSE is suffering from an advanced case of mission creep: Privileged Planet is not about evolution and the Smithsonian is not a public school. The fact that NCSE is even involved demonstrates the extent to which this conflict stems from what I have come to call the Church of St. Carl (Sagan) paradigm—the belief that the purpose of science is to be the tool of naturalism (the philosophy that there is nothing beyond nature).

Thus, it is acceptable to screen movies at schools and universities that provide evidence against meaning and purpose in the universe but not to screen movies that provide evidence for it. The trouble is, the Church of St. Carl is publicly funded in a nation that chose not to establish a church. To me, that is the most significant part of the controversy.

The Discovery Institute has in turn denounced the denouncer and nuclear physicist David Heddle retorts,“I have seen many rants against ID (Intelligent Design), but I cannot recall one as comprehensively bad and unthinking.”

(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. 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. Right now I am providing a review and detailed account of the controversial film Privileged Planet. itself. - Denyse)

Meanwhile, the Washington Post is printing letters on the controversy.

Discovery's Rob Crowther seems disgruntled by the fact that the Post printed letters from Darwinbots (people who had not seen the film and rushed out to denounce it, believing that it opposes Darwinian evolution). He writes,

What's worse is that the Washington Post knows full well what the film is about -- columnists and reporters working there claim to have seen it -- and yet chose this letter to represent the view of the letters they presumably received.

I can just imagine Crowther’s frustration, but would ask him to keep this in mind: Journalism is the first draft of history, as the cliche puts it. It is important to record popular delusions and the madness of crowds, just as it is important to record thoughtful observations.

You see, in later years, few will admit to having got all het up and run off to denounce a film they had never seen and knew nothing about. To protect their dignity (vanity), some will insist that that was merely a false accusation by an obscure Toronto blogger (“not even an American”). Not so. Thank heavens some of this stuff is captured forever in the archives of the Washington Post.

(Note: In an earlier version of this post, the disgruntlement was mistakenly attributed to screenwriter Jonathan Witt, who is no better pleased by misunderstanding/misrepresentation of what his film is about.)

You know, there is a curious resemblance between the intelligent design controversy in the United States and the struggle for the soul of Islam in the Middle East. Just as the religious orthodoxy in Muslim countries will not permit the practice of any religion but Islam, so the science orthodoxy in the United States will not permit anyone to question Darwinism, no matter what evidence they offer. And the Darwinbots remind me of the mobs that rioted over largely unfounded rumours that American officials were desecrating the Koran at Guantanamo Bay.

Fanaticism, in my view, is its own punishment, because the fanatic is deprived of the good of the intellect: He would have no way of knowing if he was wrong.

I will post another instalment of my own extended review of Privileged Planet this afternoon.

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