Way back in 2004, Jay Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez published The Privileged Planet: How Our Place In The Cosmos Is Designed For Discovery, a captivating book not only about the incredible design that is required in our universe to allow for the existence life itself, but also about how some of the same factors that allow for life are required for us to discover how unique our existence is. The book and accompanying DVD (linked below) are still among the best resources available about the anthropic principle — the idea that the more we learn about the universe, the more it seems to be designed with human beings in mind.
One of the most fascinating topics discussed in The Privileged Planet was the phenomenon of the Solar Eclipse. As it turns out, there is an uncanny coincidence about the relative size and distance of our Moon and Sun that make observing a solar eclipse from the Earth unique for any planet ever discovered. The fact that the Sun is 400 times bigger than the Moon, but also 400 times farther away, means that the Moon covers the Sun perfectly, and that “coincidence” has allowed astronomers and physicists to discover and verify some very significant facts about the nature of our universe — among them the first verification of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
What I’m trying to say is that a solar eclipse is a big deal and, if you live in the United States, we’re about to experience the most significant such event in the past century. As a bonus, Jay Richards has begun to chronicle the event with a series of blog posts at The Stream. The first one is up here:
Jay Richards: Don’t Miss The Solar Eclipse!
I encourage readers to follow Jay’s commentary over the days leading up to the Eclipse on August 21st. I will be linking here, and on Facebook and Twitter, to each of Jay’s posts.
Following the last post, I want to finish with the most important issue that I believe was exposed with Bill Nye’s ridiculous video by devoting a separate post to my interlocutor’s (tildeb) final comment, the gist of which is as follows:
I suspect we would agree on almost everything – like family and friends and jobs and the cost of living and health concerns and so on… right up until you tried to have your religious beliefs privileged or their intentions imposed on others or if I argued to keep true to the secular ideals of personal autonomy! … All religious claims for historical creationism are equivalently based solely on belief. At best – like abiogenesis – we should agree that neither of us knows and hold that opinion until such a time that reality offers us compelling evidence to adduce a change. Belief of the religious kind does not produce knowledge and certainly doesn’t fill in gaps where we currently have none. Yet far too often, this is exactly where religious belief stakes out its ground. As if this weren’t bad enough, too often the conclusions deduced from these beliefs are then imposed on the rest of us by influencing public institutions, public practices, public policies, public law, public education, and so on. Nowhere is this more problematic than over issues claimed by the religious to be about morality… but that’s for another day.
I don’t want to cut and paste the whole thing but I believe this gives proper context to tildeb‘s point. What I want to concentrate on is the idea that he brings in the emphasized phrases of his quote — because this is where the real crux of the issue resides. Like Bill Nye (on the video in the original post), tildeb does not want to allow people who think like me to “have their beliefs privileged or their intentions imposed on others … by influencing public institutions, public practices, public policies, public law, [or] public education.”
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Craig Venter led the first privately funded effort to sequence the human genome. Some might think that would be enough to keep one busy for a while. Not so. Venter is currently trying to become the first to create synthetic life. If you’re interested, here is his own short description of the method he is using to do so. [Warning: Scientific jargon included]
If this sounds bizarre and a little scary, that’s understandable. But that’s why we should be thankful for people like Fazale “Fuz” Rana of Reasons To Believe (RTB). Fuz was a senior research scientist with Procter & Gamble right here in Cincinnati before he left his job to join RTB’s scientific apologetics ministry in Los Angeles. He’s ahead of the curve on this topic and has just had his book, Creating Life In The Lab published to anticipate a response to this kind of research.
Rana believes Venter will be successful in creating synthetic life
within the next 5 years.
So what should we think about this?
If you have a couple hours to kill on a treadmill or something, have a listen as Dr. Rana discusses his thoughts on the matter with Greg Koukl on his weekly podcast here: Koukl – Rana Interview. [The interview with Fuz begins at the 57:00 minute mark of the podcast]
Here is my summary:
First, don’t think that Venter is animating anything even remotely similar to something you might see walking around. What he is actually doing is reverse engineering simple, single-cell bacteria-like organisms (keyword: “engineering,” but more on that later) to unlock ways to create novel, new lifeforms. These would be designed for specific purposes and unique in that they don’t occur anywhere in nature.
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