I have always held that the view that anything slavishly followed by too many people must, of necessity, be wrong. When I was younger I had my hair long. But when long hair become a badge of social acceptance among my peers, I cut it off, then cheerfully confronted the reverse discrimination that followed. When Time magazine famously declared ‘God is Dead’ and millions lined up in rows behind that banner, I figured it was high time I began investigating the truths of the Bible for myself.

Global warming has been much in the news the last twenty years or so. My understanding of that phenomenon has been much enlightened by Rare Earth, a book written in 2000 by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee. Rare Earth disputes the notion of Coperinican Mediocrity that was the darling of the late Carl Sagan, among others. According to this notion, the earth is an insignificant peice of dirt among the vastness of the universe, with nothing unusual to its credit.

According to Sagan, and his associate Frank Drake, there are as many as a million civilizations out there in our Milky Way Galaxy alone, and many hundereds of millions more on far distant stars. Considering the recent revision of the number of stars in our galaxy, and the number of galaxies in the universe, the number of civilizations out there must be truly mind-boggling. Certainly plenty of species to populate an infinite number of Star Trek reruns.

Since this is now the popularly held view of space, I naturally think it is bunk, and I cheerfully encourage you to do the same. You could no better than to begin your study with Rare Earth, a highly readable book on the orgins of the earth, whose countervailing conclusion is that the earth is so unique, so rare, that perhaps we really are alone in the universe. Their study and its stunning conclusions are part of the growing awareness of what is called the Anthromoporphic Principle: that so many things in the universe – from the mass of protons, to the position of the earth – are so carefully calibrated that even the most minute deviation would have made existence impossible.

Ward and Brownlee discuss about ten of these in good detail, and allude more briefly to a dozen others. Along the way they deal with some naive notions of eath’s importance, such as the fact that if we were really important we would be at the center of the galaxy, not two-thirds of the way out in some ‘remote’ region of the Milky Way. We are in fact in the optimal position: any closer and life would have been sterilized by the DNA destroying gamma rays emanating from the center of our galaxy; any further out from the center and the abundance of elements heavier than helium – elements necessary for planetary formation – rapidly declines.

In a similar way we are in the exact center of the CMZ, the continuously habitable zone, that is present around our (see the next post) remarkable stable sun, a position not enjoyed by our closest, and lifeless neighbours, Mars and Venus.

But clearly location isn’t everything (even in real estate) since the moon shares our exact location from the sun on average, and is itself lifeless. That is also explored by Ward and Brownlee, who point to the creation of atmosphere by the restless mantle of our earth, a mantle that is itself unique. To say that the earth itself is a living organism is not too much of a stretch once you properly understand its relationship with the organisms it supports. I’ll have more on these thoughts later, including the much ballyhoo’d global warming. Stay tuned.