Discovery Institute: The Copernican Principle

The Discoveroids — described in the Cast of Characters section of our Intro page — have posted several times lately to denigrate the possibility that there may be life on some of the numerous extra-solar planets that have been found to orbit in the habitable zone of their stars.

We’ve discussed the recent findings of astronomers from time to time, for example: Maybe Billions of Habitable Planets. Creationists (and that includes the Discoveroids) absolutely hate these discoveries — see Discoveroids’ Reaction to Extra-Solar Planets. Why are they so hostile? As we’ve explained before:

It’s obvious why they do this — they’re creationists and they hate the idea that there are probably of millions of worlds out there, some of which may harbor life. The very thought is blasphemous to them, as it detracts from the glory of what the magic designer — blessed be he! — hath wrought here on earth. … [This] isn’t terribly different from the Inquisition’s reaction to Galileo’s solar system.

Despite their scientific pretensions and their ceaseless insistence that they’re not creationists, the Discoveroids have embraced the dogma that the Earth is utterly unique in all the cosmos. That’s the message of the classic creationist book, The Privileged Planet, co-authored by Guillermo Gonzalez, a Discoveroid “fellow.”

We began by saying that the Discoveroids have been furiously posting about their dismissal of the whole concept of life on other planets, and because we’ve covered this ground before we’ve been ignoring them. But they just did it again, so we may as well take another poke at them.

Their latest is Don’t Let Mars Fool You. Those Exoplanets Teem with Life! It’s by Denyse O’Leary, a recent addition to the Discoveroids’ menagerie. She’s a co-author of something titled The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul (Amazon listing). As far as we can tell, she’s some kind of journalist. Here are some excerpts from what Denyse has to say, with bold font added by us and her links omitted:

Among the countless Earths that, we are told, sail the galaxies (an estimate released last week offers 8.8 billion “just-right planets”), one or two may indeed be researchable, even reachable. And what if we find no life there?

Ah. Recall that the Copernican Principle is not evidence. It is an assertion: Earth cannot be a rare planet because that would make us special, which is philosophically unacceptable today. So invoking the Principle, many of these planets must be inhabited.

The Copernican Principle? What’s she talking about? Nicolaus Copernicus merely theorized that the Earth is not in a central, specially favored position in the universe. This was later confirmed by Galileo, who demonstrated that the Earth is but one planet among several that orbit the sun. That was sufficient to get Galileo convicted of heresy — see Galileo affair — but it has nothing to do with the rarity of the Earth, or the existence of extra-solar planets and the possibility that some of them may harbor life.

It would appear that Denyse has set up her own version of the Copernican Principle as a strawman, which she will now demolish. Let’s watch her achieve that great intellectual accomplishment:

One may as well argue that there must be several species of reasoning animals like humans on Earth because there are just so many species. But there aren’t several, just one. Undeterred by such cavils, enthusiasts of the Principle press on.

Biff! Bam! Boom! Ka-pow! The straw is flying! Then she spends a few paragraphs discussing the failure thus far to find signs of life on Mars. She’s right about that, of course. After beating up on the non-existent Martians, she concludes her brilliant essay with this:

But it doesn’t really matter. The Copernican Principle features assertions, not assessments. If nearby Mars proves stubborn, the exoplanets beckon. No one has so far shown that they do not teem with life, perhaps intelligent life. We need only come up with a convincing explanation of why we do not hear from them more often.

So there you are, dear reader. Why do you persist with your foolish quest for habitable planets and the possibility of life on some of them? It’s because you’re a fool! You’ve been misled by faith in the Copernican Principle. But Copernicus was an idiot, and Galileo was rightly convicted of heresy. The intelligent designer — blessed be he! — created the Earth to be unique in all the universe. Abandon hope, all ye who seek life elsewhere!

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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22 responses to “Discovery Institute: The Copernican Principle

  1. Actually, “the Copernican principle” is used in a rather broader sense than you suppose – to mean something like “there’s no reason to suppose that Earth is unique”, and not just referring to its location. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copernican_principle. But of course I agree that this doesn’t help O’Leary’s rather mad argument. Keep up the good work, Steve.

  2. The Copernican Principle? What’s she talking about?

    She’s talking about what’s usually called the Principle of Mediocrity: in the absence of evidence to the contrary, you assume your own circumstance is roughly typical. I’m not certain who first formulated it, but I have a fuzzy memory that it was one of the SETI people.

    *pause*

    The Wikipedia entry, which I’ve now checked, doesn’t state so but would seem to bear out my guess: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_mediocrity

  3. @Steve Hedley
    Ha! We were posting at the same time. So basically the same principle has two different names. Whodathunkit.

  4. Well, it’s kinda obvious, innit? When you already know you’re special, you needn’t bother looking for stuff that might threaten that knowledge. That would be an utter waste of time.

  5. When are the evolution-deniers going to get around to telling us something positive and substantive about what their alternative is? What happened, when and where? They sure produce a lot about everything else that one can think of, while they’re neglecting what ought to be their “core business”. From H*tl*r through the Cambrian Explosion to extra-terrestrial life; nothing about what constraints the “intelligent designer(s)” have that forced them to make humans on the same body plan as other tetrapods.

  6. Charles Deetz ;)

    While there is a lot of fail in her post, I’ll take on this one little point:

    One may as well argue that there must be several species of reasoning animals like humans on Earth

    I’d say that there is a whole group of hominids which fit that description. They may be extinct, but they aren’t all of our direct lineage either.

  7. Charles Deetz ;)

    Her Facebook profile is like a link farm to Uncommon Descent, she has over 900 followers and the same one person liking her post/links.

  8. Charles Deetz, I was thinking that about other species of hominids, too.

    And actually, plenty of animals “reason”. They learn from their experiences and figure out logical strategies to do what they want. What about that famous video of a crow poking with a stick at a bucket of food within a cylinder? It soon learns that it can’t get the food that way, so it bends the end of the stick into a crook and hooks the bucket handle, thus pulling up the food.

    I venture to guess that that level of reasoning is beyond O’Leary.

  9. I must own, I’m always a tad puzzled by the Creationists’ resistance to the possibility of extraterrestrial life: their apparent insistence that such cannot be smacks dangerously of a prediction by their model, something they generally eschew.

    My own prediction on this one: if/when extraterrestrial life is discovered (be it the humblest form of slime mold), the Creationists–who seem incapable of shame–will have little difficulty in whipping up a pseudo-intellectual pretzel to ‘explain’ how it is all compatible with ‘infallible and complete scripture.’ After all, Oogity Boogity can accomplish anything, whenever they need it to explain anything they wish.

  10. There’s a reason why O’Leary is known as “Dense.” I was really surprised that the Tute gave her access to their main blog considering what a nitwit she is.

  11. Megalonyx boldly predicts:

    the Creationists — who seem incapable of shame — will have little difficulty in whipping up a pseudo-intellectual pretzel to ‘explain’ how it is all compatible with ‘infallible and complete scripture.’

    If they can insist that the Flood makes sense, they can deal with anything.

  12. One may as well argue that there must be several species of reasoning animals like humans on Earth

    Charles has already pointed out that there were once several species of hominid that could use tools, make fire, coordinate hunting etc.

    Compare this with Christianity. Christians always believed in at least four kinds of sentient beings: humans, angels, demons, and gods (the Trinity is three persons). In the Middle Ages, Christians believed in even more: all kinds of half-human creatures, including men with the heads of dogs, men with no heads and faces on their chests, men with a single leg in the middle of their trunk, men with enormous floppy dangling ears, “Red Jews” with fangs who lived in India (true), Muslims with horns and demonic visages (Muslims were routinely called “a race of dogs”) etc. etc. These and others, along with demons and angels, were routinely depicted in illuminated manuscripts and stained glass, and can still be seen in ornately carved cathedrals.

    Check out Strickland’s Saracens, Demons, and Jews: Making Monsters in Medieval Art for lovely color reproductions. (Oh, and black people were painted like in KKK cartoons, even back in the 13th century.)

  13. O’Leary asserts that there is but one species of reasoning animal on earth.

    Perhaps. However, until we learn the various languages of the cetaceans, we will not be able to assess their level of intelligence. And as already mentioned, she shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the intelligence of our fellow primates, birds, and even mollusks such as octopi and squid.

  14. The principle of mediocrity does not apply to the occurrence of planetary life. The fact that we document DNA-life arising on earth is merely a consequence of our having evolved from it. There seems to be no way to infer whether life is common or rare. However, if the path to intelligent life were extremely common, we would probably already know it.

  15. Megalonyx, What disturbs the creationists about extraterrestrial life is that it’d destroy their concept of the ‘specialness’ of earth, and the belief that their god(s) is/are oh, so very concerned about us humans.

  16. Perhaps the most dangerous heresy from the viewpoint of the Renaissance church were the speculations concerning other worlds. It opened too many wormy cans: the uniqueness of earthly creation; the single hierarchy of universal authority; whether off-worlders, not being children of Adam, were exempt from original sin and the need of salvation; and having insolent nobodies raising questions for which priests lacked pat answers. It was easier to burn them.

  17. Perhaps the most dangerous heresy from the viewpoint of the Renaissance church were the speculations concerning other worlds.

    Precisely. This was in fact the principal heresy for which Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake. Despite a million popular histories claiming he was killed for supporting heliocentric theories, that aspect was fairly unimportant to his persecutors.

  18. The whole truth

    SC said:

    “The Discoveroids — described in the Cast of Characters section of our Intro page — have posted several times lately to denigrate the possibility that there may be life on some of the numerous extra-solar planets that have been found to orbit in the habitable zone of their stars.”

    Hey wait a second, I thought that the IDiot-creationists are the open minded, scientific ones that push to follow the evidence to where it leads. Ha Ha!

    Since our solar system, galaxy, and universe are really big places that haven’t been thoroughly searched for any and all possible instances of life (our own planet hasn’t even been searched that thoroughly), I would think that the open minded, scientific (Ha Ha!) IDCs would hold off on their ‘judgement’ until all of that searching is done. Geez, they wouldn’t be lying about their actual motive and agenda, would they? Lying is a ‘sin’.

    By the way, are ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ only located on or in the Earth? If not, the IDCs do believe that there is life elsewhere, and they believe that that life is eternal/everlasting. They also believe that yhwh-jesus-holy-ghost-satan-angels-demons and/or other beings are alive and that they live throughout and even outside of our universe and space-time. EEEK, all of those beings are icky, non-human aliens! Run for your lives!

  19. Doctor Stochastic

    One thing that may disturb creationist theology (and other related ologies) is the problem of finding an intelligent being (or beings) that didn’t suffer from The Fall. Did Adam’s sin devolve on the entire universe or just the earth or just Israel or just Adam?

  20. I find it puzzling that the DI is against the notion that there may be other life out there. It makes no difference to intelligent design whether we are the only ones or not. They shouldn’t have any position on this issue at all.

    Furthermore, opposition to life elsewhere is overwhelmingly associated with religious belief, in particular with young earth creationism. The more the DI writes on this subject, the more they reveal themselves to be old-time bible thumping creationists.

    Of course, I have yet to hear anyone accuse the DI of having good judgement.

  21. Ed says: “The more the DI writes on this subject, the more they reveal themselves to be old-time bible thumping creationists.”

    Some day, someone may figure that out. Until then, their scientific reputation is secure.

  22. “But there aren’t several, just one.”
    Ah, is this a solid prediction based on ID? How nice! And how risky! Because ID would be wrong if we found another species – not family to Homo Sapiens as all – which is capable of reasoning, right?
    Guess what! I can name two.

    http://www.cracked.com/article_17453_5-diabolical-animals-that-out-witted-humans.html
    Yup. Homo Sapiens has lost a frigging war to crows.

    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2007/07/swarms/miller-text
    It’s safe to say that a million ants produce better reasoning than the average IDiot from Seattle.