Reports were paraded out this week about a newly discovered planet that is similar to Earth, meaning potentially ideal for life.
A mere 600 light years away, Kepler 22b (named after the telescope) lies – like Earth - within the “habitable” zone of its solar system. This means it’s not too far and not too close to the home star for life, allowing a balmy 72 degree temperature across its surface. This zone is often called the “Goldilocks” zone because it’s not too hot, and not too cold, but just right. “Just right” meaning that water, which is necessary for life, doesn’t freeze or boil.
The planet also circles a star similar to our own, at about the same distance away from the planet as our sun, and with a year of 290 days.
Planet hunting pioneer Geoff Marcy of the University of California-Berkeley even said, “This is a phenomenal discovery in the course of human history.”
Buried deep within the story, and sometimes not revealed at all, is that it’s too big. Way too big. It’s 2.4 times wider than the size of Earth, and covered almost entirely by water, making it more like the planet Neptune.
So why the almost breathless tone of reporting?
Because of something called the “anthropic” principle, from the Greek word “anthropos” which means “man” or “human.” The idea behind the anthropic principle is that our world is uniquely suited to human beings and carbon-based life, the only form of life known to science.
Very uniquely suited.
Astrobiologists have determined that as many as twenty factors are needed for a life-sustaining planet, or at least one that sustains complex life. These include factors related to such things as:
*within Galactic Habitable Zone
*orbiting main sequence G2 dwarf star
*protected by gas giant planets
*within Circumstellar Habitable Zone
*orbited by large moon
*oxygen rich atmosphere
*ratio of liquid water to continents
*moderate rate of rotation
It has been estimated that for all of the right conditions to come together at the same time and on the same planet would be…well, astronomical.
Despite billions of suns and planets, conservative figures would be one times ten to the negative 15th, or one one-thousandth of one trillionth.
Written out, the odds would look like this:
Simply put, there are so many wonderful details which, if they were changed only slightly, would make it impossible for us to exist. The anthropic principle cannot help but compel someone to consider that somehow, someway, the Earth was intentionally created for that very purpose.
So while science searches for a planet like Earth to potentially bolster the argument that it all happened by chance, some of us simply thank the God who made it for us.
Maybe even as a sign.
James Emery White
“Planet in sweet spot of Goldilocks zone for life,” Seth Borenstein, Associated Press, Monday, December 5, 2011, as printed in the Charlotte Observer online.
“Earth-like planet discovered in ‘habitable’ zone,” Dan Vergano, USA Today, December 5, 2011. Read online.
“Kepler 22b - the 'new Earth' - could have oceans and continents, scientists claim,” Andy Bloxham, The Daily Telegraph, December 6, 2011. Read online.
See also the film series “The Case for a Creator” by Lee Strobel, specifically from 33:27 to 36:31.
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About Dr. James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
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