Posts Tagged ‘life’

Every now and then, a paper appears on astroph that has us thinking – is this serious? Or is this an imagination gone a tad wild? (Or is it April 1st?) For example, a friend at the IoA once wrote a proposal (for a graduate course) aiming to find extrasolar planets through bioluminescence. Rarely has an observing proposal been so entertaining.

So it was this week when this paper appeared on astroph. The proposal is as follows: “Genomic complexity” estimates that life on earth began 10 billion years ago (give or take three billion years). This is older than the solar system. A slight problem, perhaps. Suppose, perchance, that life didn’t develop on Earth. Suppose that, long before the solar system was formed, a planet was ejected from another planetary system. En route, this wandering planet (or rogue planet) forms life deep underground, shielded from cosmic rays, lethal radiation and freezing temperatures on the planet surface and warmed by radioactivity of the planet core.

Now suppose that the planet wanders into our solar system. The planet is most likely on an unbound orbit, and thus this will not be a long visit. (The paper estimates this number at around 43 years). But, bathed in the radiation of the sun and the solar wind, the surface of the planet may be stirred up enough to throw rocky shards off the guest planet. Should one of these shards reach a newly-formed Earth, and carry with it life-forms, then we would receive a population of organisms with a few billions of years of evolution behind them – they would be older than the Earth itself. (more…)

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I’ve just about finished by series of responses to various views on the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life that I have encountered. Here I will respond to the work of Hector Avalos, who is professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University. In 1998, he wrote an article for Mercury Magazine entitled “Heavenly Conflicts: the Bible and Astronomy.” While most of the article pertains to the cosmology of the Bible and it’s (shock horror) apparent contradiction with modern cosmology, he spends five paragraphs near the end discussing the anthropic principle. He writes:

Attempts to relate the Bible to astronomy are often intertwined with the search for the meaning and purpose of human life. In particular, discussions by John A. Wheeler, John Barrow and other cosmologists concerning the so-called anthropic principle – the idea that the physical constants of the universe are finely tuned for human existence – have attracted interest. The anthropic principle would assert, for example, that if the charge of the electron were other than what it is or the weights of the proton and neutron were different, then human existence would not be. But do these precise quantities necessarily indicate that human beings were part of some intelligent purpose?

The primary assumption of the anthropic principle, which is really a new version of the older “divine design” or teleological argument, seems to be that the “quantity of intelligent purpose” for an entity is directly proportional to the quantity of physico-chemical conditions necessary to create that entity. But the same line of reasoning leads to odd conclusions about many non-human entitles.

… let’s use the symbol P to designate the entire set of physico-chemical conditions necessary to produce a human being … Making a computer requires not only all the pre-existing conditions that enable humans to exist but also human beings themselves. In more symbolic terms, making a computer requires P + human beings, whereas only P is needed to make human beings. By the same logic, garbage cans and toxic pollution produced by human beings would be more purposed than human beings. So measuring the divine purpose of an entity by the number of pre-existing conditions required to make that entity is futile.

This response to the fine-tuning of the universe is confused on many levels. (more…)

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Today, more on the work of William Lane Craig on the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life. The issue today is whether the laws/constants/initial conditions of the universe are, in some way, necessary. We think that the probability of a randomly chosen universe (with its laws, constants and initial conditions) being life-supporting is vanishingly small. We reach this conclusion by altering the laws/constants/initial conditions and predicting the outcome.

But perhaps when we have a deeper understanding of the laws of nature, we’ll realise that these constants couldn’t have been different. Or at least, we’ll realise that many of them are related, and thus cannot be altered independently. This would significantly reduce the probability of “getting the universe right”, as there are fewer dials to be tuned.

Let’s have a look at Craig’s response to this argument: (more…)

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Continuing my series on truly awful internet articles on the topic of the fine-tuning of the universe for life, we turn to the work of Professor PZ Myers. Myers is a biologist at University of Minnesota Morris. He is known for his work in evolutionary biology and his outspoken opposition to the Intelligent Design movement.

On November 24, 2007, Paul Davies published an OpEd piece in the New York Times entitled “Taking Science on Faith”, discussing the commonly held but rarely discussed belief among scientists that the laws of nature are dependable, immutable, absolute, universal, and mathematical. The Edge Foundation published replies from a number of scientists. I hope to be able to discuss the wonderful, thoughtful responses of Lee Smolin and Sean Carroll soon. Here I will focus on the Myers’ reply.

In his response-to-the-responses, Davies takes Myers to task for missing the whole point of his article: “Myers goes on to attribute to me precisely the point of view I am seeking to refute”. It only gets worse when the fine-tuning of the universe is raised. Here’s Myers:

Alas, Davies also brings up the anthropic principle, that tiresome exercise in metaphysical masturbation that always flounders somewhere in the repellent ditch between narcissism and solipsism. (more…)

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