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The Privileged Planet

How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed For DiscoveryMultiple Authors, Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards

Co-authored by two Discovery Institute Fellows, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez and philosopher Jay W. Richards, The Privileged Planet presents a new form of design argument which can be applied to the level of the cosmos. Design proponents have long held that the physical constants of nature and properties of our solar system appear finely tuned and specified to allow for advanced life. But Richards and Gonzalez take this argument to a new level by arguing that the same set of circumstances which permit advanced life are also optimized for a range of scientific discoveries.

Chapter eight, for instance, centers on research by Gonzalez that was featured in a cover story of Scientific American in 2001. Like our solar system’s habitable zone, our galaxy has a habitable zone as well. This broken ring roughly have way from the galaxy’s center is far enough away from the radiation-filled center of the galaxy, between its radiation-filled spiral arms, but not so far out that it lacks the heavy elements needed for terrestrial planets like Earth. This location is also well situated for making a range of scientific discovery. While other locations might allow improved observation of this or that feature, the Galactic Habitable Zone offers an overall better location for a range of important scientific observations. This is but one of many instances of what seems to be a consistent correlation between the requirements for life and the requirements for scientific discovery.

But any book coauthored by a philosopher must investigate the philosophical implications. Richards and Gonzalez recounts that a historical myth developed, according to which, when it was discovered that the Earth was neither the center of the Solar System nor the Universe, Earth became insignificant. This mythology was popularized by materialists like Carl Sagan who preferred to portray Earth to the public as just a lucky but insignificant pale blue dot floating through the uncaring depths of space.

The Privileged Planet argues that there is a weak historical and theological basis for the claim that Christianity requires Earth to be at the center of the action. Moreover, there is a growing body of scientific evidence from a range of disciplines showing that great care and intelligent design was taken in our cosmic placement. According to the evidence cited in the book, both the design of cosmic laws and the specific architecture of our solar system, including the sizes and relationship of Earth and moon, permit the existence of advanced life with the opportunities to make profound scientific discoveries.

Guillermo Gonzalez

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Guillermo Gonzalez is an Assistant Professor of Astronomy at Ball State University and 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.

Jay W. Richards

Senior Fellow, Assistant Research Professor, Executive Editor
Jay Richards, Ph.D., O.P., is an Assistant Research Professor in the School of Business and Economics at The Catholic University of America, Executive Editor of The Stream and a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute where he works with the Center on Wealth, Poverty and Morality. In addition to writing many academic articles, books, and popular essays on a wide variety of subjects, he edited the award winning anthology God & Evolution and co-authored The Privileged Planet.  His most recent book is The Human Advantage. Richards has a Ph.D., with honors, in philosophy and theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, an M.Div., a Th.M., and a B.A. with majors in Political Science and Religion. He lives with his family in the Washington DC Metro area.