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Scientific Debate: Are Humans just "Chemical Scum"? Or "Cosmically Special"?

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This is a very recent article that was published about a Harvard Astronomer who responded to statements made by the famous Stephen Hawking.



Harvard Astronomer:

"We Seem to Be Cosmically Special, Perhaps Even Unique"

David Klinghoffer November 29, 2016

Writing in the Washington Post, Harvard astronomer Howard Smith forcefully blunts Stephen Hawking's assertion that "The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet."  Of course, it's not only Dr. Hawking who says as much -- denying human exceptionalism is close to universal orthodoxy among the socio-academic demographic he occupies. Carl Sagan put the same view a little more mildly: "We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star."


Smith points out, however, that science considered objectively is much closer to the exceptionalist conclusion. In truth, humanity is something momentous in the cosmos. Weighing these assertions by Hawking and Sagan, Smith writes:


An objective look...at just two of the most dramatic discoveries of astronomy -- big bang cosmology and planets around other stars (exoplanets) -- suggests the opposite. We seem to be cosmically special, perhaps even unique -- at least as far as we are likely to know for eons.


He cites the anthropic principle and the "misanthropic principle."


The first result -- the anthropic principle -- has been accepted by physicists for 43 years. The universe, far from being a collection of random accidents, appears to be stupendously perfect and fine-tuned for life. The strengths of the four forces that operate in the universe -- gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear interactions (the latter two dominate only at the level of atoms) -- for example, have values critically suited for life, and were they even a few percent different, we would not be here. The most extreme example is the big bang creation: Even an infinitesimal change to its explosive expansion value would preclude life. The frequent response from physicists offers a speculative solution: an infinite number of universes -- we are just living in the one with the right value. But modern philosophers such as Thomas Nagel and pioneering quantum physicists such as John Wheeler have argued instead that intelligent beings must somehow be the directed goal of such a curiously fine-tuned cosmos.

As for the second point, about exoplanets:


The bottom line for extraterrestrial intelligence is that it is probably rarer than previously imagined, a conclusion called the misanthropic principle. For all intents and purposes, we could be alone in our cosmic neighborhood, and if we expand the volume of our search we will have to wait even longer to find out. Life might be common in the very distant universe -- or it might not be -- and we are unlikely to know. We are probably rare -- and it seems likely we will be alone for eons. This is the second piece of new evidence that we are not ordinary.


Asking colleagues to put aside "beliefs" in favor of objective scientific "observations" like these, Dr. Smith concludes on a hortatory note:


It seems we might even serve some cosmic role. So this season let us be grateful for the amazing gifts of life and awareness, and acknowledge the compelling evidence to date that humanity and our home planet, Earth, are rare and cosmically precious. And may we act accordingly.


Edited by Beggar for the Spirit

"Create in me a pure heart, O God, And put within me a new spirit, a steadfast one" (PS 51:10)


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Looked up a bit about this Harvard astronomer, and he is Jewish, of the Kabbalah sect.  Understandably, he has many detractors from the scientific field who jump on his religious bent.  They seem rather to want to believe in 'insignificance' than to 'lift up their eyes and see' the truth for themselves. - Is 40:26



Edited by hatcheckgirl
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