Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Another Earth Found?

Ok, so unless you're living in a cave, you have probably heard a bunch of ruckus about the discovery of a potentially inhabitable planet, like the earth. I have a very simple response to this claim:

Not so fast. Let's read the fine print.
Until now, all 220 planets astronomers have found outside our solar system have had the "Goldilocks problem." They've been too hot, too cold or just plain too big and gaseous, like uninhabitable Jupiter.

The key ingredient for life is the presence of water. That is what makes this particular planet a promising candidate to some astronomers.
The planet is just the right size, might have water in liquid form...

Notice the word might here because now we are going to string together a series of might statements.
Based on theory, [this new planet] should have an atmosphere, but what's in that atmosphere is still a mystery and if it's too thick that could make the planet's surface temperature too hot...
Besides having the right temperature, the new planet is probably full of liquid water, hypothesizes Stephane Udry, the discovery team's lead author and another Geneva astronomer. But that is based on theory about how planets form, not on any evidence...

May I emphasize the phrase "not on any evidence"? See, the tricky part with these discoveries is that the planets are so far away that they cannot be studies with much depth. They are too distant to travel to and they are too small to image in detail. About all we can detect at this point is that there is a planet out there, its size and orbit pattern and that its going around a certain kind of star.

To their credit, the article does mention that scientists recognize some significant differences between earth and this new planet.
The new planet is about five times heavier than Earth. Its discoverers aren't certain if it is rocky like Earth or if its a frozen ice ball with liquid water on the surface. If it is rocky like Earth, which is what the prevailing theory proposes, it has a diameter about 1 1/2 times bigger than our planet. If it is an iceball, as Mayor suggests, it would be even bigger.

See, here is the problem with all this. This article only mentions (speculates?) a handful of the parameters necessary for life. In actuality, there are over 300 criteria which must be met in order for complex life to exist on a planet, the way it does on earth. Now, I'm not saying that it's impossible for all of these 300+ criteria to be met, but let's at least be realistic here with our speculation about this particular planet before prouncing it a "potentially inhabitable planet." Is that too much to ask?

For a more professional analysis of this discovery from a Christian point of view, see "Smaller Stars Offer Little Hope," by Dr. Jeff Zweerink.

One more thing... So who really cares about all this? Why should I, a homeschool parent, care whether or not scientists find a "potentially inhabitable planet" like the earth? Well, other than the fact that it could be argued this kind of research is what is currently keeping NASA funded and operational, it does have some potentially explosive worldview implications. If it can be demonstrated that it is easy and common for life to arise on its own through random, natural process evolution, then the need for a supernatural Creator is pretty much eliminated. Finding life on other planets is a key scientific confirmation in the atheist platform.

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