This Is a Creationist’s Nightmare — or Maybe Not

At the PhysOrg website is a new article that will either thrill or horrify creationists everywhere. It’s titled Chance played a major role in keeping Earth fit for life. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:

A study by the University of Southampton gives a new perspective on why our planet has managed to stay habitable for billions of years — concluding it is almost certainly due, at least in part, to luck. The research suggests this may shorten the odds of finding life on so-called ‘twin-Earths’ in the Universe.

Assuming creationists can overlook the blasphemy of “billions of years,” their immediate reaction will be: “Luck? Oh no, it’s the benevolence of Yahweh — blessed be he!” But if they’re Discoveroids keeping their religious motivations in the closet, they’ll utter some kind of technical-sounding nonsense about intelligent design. Okay, back to PhysOrg. They say:

The research, published in the Nature journal Communications Earth & Environment, involved conducting the first ever simulation of climate evolution on thousands of randomly generated planets.

Here’s the journal article: Chance played a role in determining whether Earth stayed habitable. You can read it on-line without a subscription, but we’ll stay with PhysOrg, which tells us:

Professor Toby Tyrrell, a specialist in Earth System Science at the University of Southampton, explains: “A continuously stable and habitable climate on Earth is quite puzzling. Our neighbors, Mars and Venus, do not have habitable temperatures, even though Mars once did. Earth not only has a habitable temperature today, but has kept this at all times across three to four billion years — an extraordinary span of geological time.”

The Oogity Boogity potential for old-Earth creationism is obvious. PhysOrg continues:

Previous computer modeling work on Earth habitability has involved modeling a single planet: Earth. But, inspired by discoveries of exoplanets (those outside of our solar system) that reveal that there are billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy alone, a Southampton scientist took a novel approach to investigating a big question: what has led Earth to remain life-sustaining for so long?

To explore this, Professor Tyrrell tapped into the power of the University of Southampton’s Iridis supercomputing facility to run simulations looking at how 100,000 randomly different planets responded to random climate-altering events spread out across three billion years, until they reached a point where they lost their habitability. Each planet was simulated 100 times, with different random events each time.

That’s an ark-load of simulated planets. What results were obtained? Let’s read on:

The results of the simulation were very clear. Most of those planets which remained life-sustaining throughout the three billion year period only had a probability, not a certainty, of staying habitable. Many instances were of planets which usually failed in the simulations and only occasionally remained habitable. Out of a total population of 100,000 planets, nine percent (8,700) were successful at least once — of those, nearly all (about 8,000) were successful fewer than 50 times out of 100 and most (about 4,500) were successful fewer than 10 times out of 100.

And what do we learn from this? PhysOrg says:

The study results suggest chance is a major factor in determining whether planets, such as Earth, can continue to nurture life over billions of years. [Gasp!] Professor Tyrrell concludes: “We can now understand that Earth stayed suitable for life for so long due, at least in part, to luck. [Luck? Egad!] For instance, if a slightly larger asteroid had hit Earth, or had done so at a different time, then Earth may have lost its habitability altogether. To put it another way, if an intelligent observer had been present on the early Earth as life first evolved, and was able to calculate the chances of the planet staying habitable for the next several billion years, the calculation may well have revealed very poor odds.”

Have we been lucky — or blessed? Here’s the end of the PhysOrg article:

Given these seemingly poor odds, the study speculates that elsewhere in the Universe there should be Earth-like planets which had similar initial prospects but which, due to chance events, at one point became too hot or too cold and consequently lost the life upon them. As techniques to investigate exoplanets improve, and what seem at first to be ‘twin Earths’ are discovered and analyzed, it seems likely that most will be found to be uninhabitable.

Okay, dear reader, now you have a choice. You can believe our world’s marvelously long history of habitability is due to either luck or supernatural benevolence. But if you’re a Hambo-style creationist and you think the universe is only 6,000 years old, then you can’t reach any conclusion because it’s too early to know.

Whoa — hold on! We’ve got Hambo’s response all figured out. He and his creation scientists will conclude that because the long-term odds are against a congenial climate, that proves the Earth is only 6,000 years old. It’s wonderful — creationism wins again!

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5 responses to “This Is a Creationist’s Nightmare — or Maybe Not

  1. “You can believe our world’s marvelously long history of habitability is due to either luck or supernatural benevolence.”
    Meh, theologically it’s totally possible that luck in our natural reality is caused by supernatural benevolence.

  2. “Act of God” means “bad luck”.

  3. There was a movie that starred Billy Connolly, “The Man Who Sued God”, which involved an insurance company trying to weasel out of covering him when his boat was struck by lightning and burned to the waterline. The company claimed it was “an act of God”. So Connolly’s character sued God, and served summonses on those who claimed to be His representatives on Earth – the clergy of the various theistic religions.

    Who were thus put in a legal bind. Either they did act for God, and were thus liable, or they didn’t, and were thus fraudulent. The latter possibility included the possibilty that God didn’t exist, or act, at all.

    Of course such an action would never see the light of day, in a real legal system. But the film was an amusing meditation on the internal contradictions inherit in theistic religion.

  4. I have heard of such cases. The judge refuses to hear the case, and orders that the record of the case be removed from the record.