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The Skeptical Rejoinder

Objections to our Argument from The Privileged Planet

Since our argument in The Privileged Planet was virtually unknown before the book was published, we didn’t have the advantage of years of thoughtful criticism. So as we worked on the manuscript, we tried to imagine the best objections that could be raised against our argument. We eventually decided to include these objections, along with our answers, as chapter 16, “The Skeptical Rejoinder.” We hoped that critics of the book would first read our responses, and then formulate their criticisms in light of those responses.

Unfortunately, many critics have chosen either to go straight for ad hominems, or simply to repeat one of the criticisms we deal with in Chapter 16, without showing any awareness of our discussion of the issue. Maybe this is our fault for putting our responses at the end rather than the beginning. Or maybe we should have listed them right on the cover. In any case, for future critics who may tire before reaching the end of the book, here are the objections we answer in Chapter 16 (there are also a few others sprinkled throughout the book):

  1. It’s impossible to falsify your argument.
  2. It’s inevitable. Whatever environment we found ourselves in, we would find examples conducive to its measurability.
  3. Well, then, it’s just a selection effect of a different sort. There are phenomena we cannot observe or measure. The argument is biased toward measurable phenomena.
  4. You’re cherry-picking. You have used a biased sample to argue for the correlation.
  5. Your argument is too speculative. It is based on guesses and a thin empirical base.
  6. Your argument is too subjective. It lacks the quantitative precision necessary to make a convincing case.
  7. How can you have a correlation with a sample size of one?
  8. Since life needs complexity, the correlation is trivial. The greater the complexity, the greater the chance for a correlation between habitability and measurability.
  9. There may be separate pathways significantly different from ours leading to equally habitable environments.
  10. Your argument is bad science because it encourages skepticism about cosmology.
  11. General Relativity appears to be a superfluous law of nature, which is not obviously required for habitability. Yet it is an important part of science. Does this not contradict the correlation?
  12. The correlation isn’t mystical or supernatural, since it’s the result of natural processes.
  13. You haven’t really challenged naturalism. You’ve just challenged the idea that nature doesn’t exhibit purpose or design.
  14. You haven’t shown that ETs don’t exist.
  15. “God wouldn’t do it that way!”

Jay W. Richards

Senior Fellow at Discovery, Senior Research Fellow at Heritage Foundation
Jay W. Richards, Ph.D., is the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, and the Executive Editor of The Stream. Richards is author or editor of more than a dozen books, including the New York Times bestsellers Infiltrated (2013) and Indivisible (2012); The Human Advantage; Money, Greed, and God, winner of a 2010 Templeton Enterprise Award; The Hobbit Party with Jonathan Witt; and Eat, Fast, Feast. His most recent book, with Douglas Axe and William Briggs, is The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic Into a Catastrophe.

Guillermo Gonzalez

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Guillermo Gonzalez is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. He received his Ph.D. in Astronomy in 1993 from the University of Washington. He has done post-doctoral work at the University of Texas, Austin and at the University of Washington and has received fellowships, grants and awards from such institutions as NASA, the University of Washington, the Templeton Foundation, Sigma Xi (scientific research society) and the National Science Foundation.