The Assumption of Mediocrity

I have a preference for staying out of the science vs. religion battles these days, mostly because both sets of combatants in this particular war have exhibited a tendency to talk from the other’s turf, where they have no particular expertise. My own particular history puts me squarely in the middle ground between these two camps. From this perspective, if I judge the scientists (not science, mind you) to be the losers, it’s primarily because they’ve made this particular transgression more than the theologians of late.

Not what they taught you in “history” class you say? Don’t be surprised. As Stephen Sondheim said in “West Side Story”, you’re just a victim (of bad teaching, in this case).

One of the biggest problems scientists face is the problem of reviewing previous results. It doesn’t pay. In academia, in government and in business, new results might pay, but checking something that “everyone” regards already as established fact, well, that’s just a chore. That in and of itself is not the problem for science. Remembering what is fact and what is assumption, is.

Copernicus, it is said, moved us away from the center of the universe. Yeah – as if mankind thought he was the center of all things prior to that. In actuality, moving the earth from the center of the solar system to a mere object orbiting the sun does make the math one heck of a lot easier when it comes to predicting planetary positions. Don’t forget, though, that the idea that we are not in a privileged position when it comes to the universe, is just an assumption. It’s gotten us a good bit further down the road to truth, perhaps, but it is just an assumption.

But what if it’s wrong?

Gonzalez has called his view – that Earth’s position in the universe was designed in such a way that we can explore it – a “privileged planet” hypothesis – hence the name of the book.

These are not new ideas in themselves. Similar ideas have been explored in Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee’s Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe.

However, the showing of the Privileged Planet film at the Smithsonian amid much controversy in June 2005 probably drew unfavourable attention to Gonzalez, as did the popular book and DVD themselves. The Smithsonian was the late Carl Sagan’s territory, and it must be said that Privileged Planet explicitly denies the doctrine of St. Carl and all his faithful followers, that Earth is merely a pale blue dot lost in the cosmos.

Not even close, says Gonzalez; we could not be better placed if we had hired consultants. Possibly worse.

Gonzalez has paid a price for this heresy.

Gonzalez is best known for being denied tenure in May 2007 at ISU on account of his sympathies with intelligent design. The recent disclosure of the e-mail trail made clear that his sympathies with intelligent design were the reason for the denial, though some claim that he had also failed unwritten rules.

HT to Uncommon Descent.

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