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You Go, Eric Metaxas! Measuring the Improbability of Intelligent Life Elsewhere in the Cosmos

Daniel Bakken

Miracles.jpegAs Casey Luskin has already noted here ("Still Taking Aim at Eric Metaxas, the Media Underestimate the Degree to which Physicists See Evidence for Intelligent Design"), Tobin Grant seems to have a chip on his shoulder when it comes to any scientific evidence that could point to God. Apparently the evidence can only point away from such a conclusion. As a matter of objective science, is that even possible? I think not, and of course you don’t need a PhD to figure out why.

In his much talked about and debated Wall Street Journal essay, the data that Eric Metaxas points to is from scientists exploring the parameters the universe must have, along with local conditions in our solar system and planet Earth, to permit life, especially life like ours, the kind that can build rockets and radios. Even the origin of our moon, which seems to be necessary in a number of ways for advanced life on Earth, is a fascinating very low probability event.

Dr. Grant can be forgiven if he is not up to date on the fields of cosmology, astrobiology, and the anthropic principle, as he is a professor of political science and an editor, not a scientist in astronomy or cosmology. But his seemingly religious conviction that none of these could possibly ever point to God is disturbing, and should raise flags as to his biases. We all have biases, but that doesn’t mean we can’t identify them and objectively evaluate the data, something I submit that Grant doesn’t want you to do.

Professor Grant complains that the scientists cited by Eric Metaxas are out of date. It is true Metaxas doesn’t name many such scientists — it is a very short article, after all. It was my take that Metaxas was pointing to some of the earlier scientists involved in identifying the life-friendly properties of the universe, but there have been many others since who are not household names, who have discovered far more. Dr. Grant should examine Metaxas’s argument in full in his new book, Miracles, before complaining in an article (much longer than Metaxas’s own) about a lack of citations.

Grant also complains of "cherry picking" experts. Well, if you sum up the fields of cosmology, and astrobiology, it would be the consensus view that there is an increasing number of parameters that must be satisfied to allow technological civilizations in this universe. The trend is in view in Metaxas’s article, and even though there is debate as to whether evolution could make more varied environments life-friendly, so far the search for ETs has come up dry.

You could certainly "cherry pick" your experts to dispute this, but surveying the relevant fields, the available evidence points to technological civilizations being far less common in the universe than we previously thought. Some scientists are coming to the conclusion that Earth may be unique. Now does this point away from God? It seems to point in the other direction. To be clear, it does not prove the existence of God, but it certainly seems to fit a theistic framework comfortably.

Since Metaxas didn’t drop as many recent names as Tobin Grant would like, I’ll drop some more. In 2000 the book Rare Earth came out, arguing that advanced life is likely much rarer in the galaxy than previously believed. The authors, Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee, both then at University of Washington, are experts in the field of astrobiology. In 2011 John Gribbin, astrophysicist, wrote Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique, making the case that contingent events in Earth’s history make it likely unique in its capability of supporting advanced life.

Then in 2014, as Casey notes, came Lucky Planet: Why Earth is Exceptional — And What That Means for Life in the Universe,by David Waltham, an astrophysicist and geologist at the University of London. He makes the case that the Earth is likely unique in its climatological history in maintaining a relatively stable climate for over 4 billion years. On the grander scale you can look to Paul Davies’s Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe Is Just Right For Life, published in 2007.  None of these authors as far as I know, claims belief in God. These books are written at the layman’s level, and you can check them out yourself.

Once again echoing Casey, I also recommend The Privileged Planet: How Our Place In The Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery by Guillermo Gonzalez, an astronomer and astrobiologist, who has discovered extra-solar planets, and philosopher Jay Richards, from 2004.

Open-minded researchers, who follow the evidence where it leads, have been discussing this surprisingly unique universe and evidently miraculous Earthly environment in journals. Despite the risk that goes with doing so, some scientists are willing to publish these findings in publicly accessible books. Professor Grant should read this material carefully before he continues to make ignorant and outdated claims.