The sun is not an average star
Sometimes biblical creation is spoken of as ‘special creation’. This means that God created every planet, moon, star, and galaxy as a special, unique object with special and unique purposes. Though we may not understand these purposes, science does reveal that celestial objects do not fit any rigid pattern of conformity, but that each is distinctively different. Scripture indicates that the sun has a special status in the Creator’s purposes. From the standpoint of scientific observation, there are two ways in which the sun might be special: (1) It might be special in and of itself, i.e. taken in isolation; and (2) it might be special when its stellar/planetary environment is included.
Stellar data indicate that the sun is not astrophysically average in its properties such as mass and luminosity. Further, emerging data on stellar/planetary systems suggest that the sun is in a non-typical stellar/planetary environment. At present, it is possible to claim that, unlike most stars, (1) the sun is unassociated with nearby giant companions, (2) its planetary system seems to be a non-typical one, and (3) it is relatively stable. These three characteristics may be related and, taken together, appear to be necessary for the existence of life on earth. The sun can therefore be taken as an evidence of special creation with the purpose of making the earth habitable.
Scriptural claims vs the Anthropic Principle
One meaning of the word ‘special’ is ‘extraordinary’ or ‘uncommon.’1 The Bible treats the sun in this sense, for in Genesis 1:14–18 the sun is said to have the purpose of giving light upon the earth, ‘to rule the day.’ This purpose makes the sun unique since no other star was created for this same reason. The sun also has purposes in common with other stars, such as marking off seasons, days and years, and serving as a sign-giver. However, the sharing of some purposes does not override the specialness of each star, for God ‘calleth them all by their names’ (Psalm 147:4). This implies not only the distinctiveness of the sun, but also of each star in the heavens.
Considering that the word ‘stars’ in Genesis 1:16 can include planets as well as the incandescent stellar bodies created on the fourth day of the Creation Week, it could be concluded that the distinctiveness of each planet is also implicit in Psalm 147:4. Certainly the earth is unique, since it alone was created on the first day of the Creation Week (Genesis 1:1), with the other planets having been made later. Further, of all the planets, only the earth is said to have been formed with the purpose of being inhabited by life (Isaiah 45:18). Thus the sun, and whatever special characteristics it may possess, are linked to the performance of God’s will in maintaining life on earth.
There are objections one can raise to this conclusion that the sun is designed to support life on earth. One objection invokes the so-called ‘Anthropic Principle’ which claims that the universe itself has evolved to support life, and especially human life, which is why we are here to observe it. Another objection acknowledges that Scripture addresses the sun as special in relation to the earth, but then claims that astrophysically and environmentally the sun is indistinguishable in its properties from innumerable other stars, so God could have ‘chosen’ one of these rather than the sun to function as the earth’s star.
Promoters of the Anthropic Principle are careful to point out that the presumed evolution of the universe ‘does not mean that it cannot be special in any way’ [emphasis in original].2 After all, if no part of the universe were specially tailored for life, we could not exist. The Anthropic Principle in fact asserts that special regions of the universe must exist in which life can thrive, but that God as Designer is not responsible.3
Image of the sun taken by SOHO’s EIT (Extreme-ultraviolet Imaging Telescope) in the 284 Å wavelength.
The balance of this paper focuses on the other objection previously mentioned, that the sun may be special to God, but astrophysically and environmentally it is no different from many other stars. While it is a truism that scientific knowledge of the stars is incomplete, the knowledge we do have appears to suggest that the sun is indeed uncommon and not average. In contrast to this conclusion is the ‘principle of mediocrity’ which claims that no part of the universe is special above any other. The principle of mediocrity is in conflict with the Anthropic Principle’s prediction of special life-supporting places in the universe.6 If the sun is uncommon, one can choose to believe that evolution developed it that way, but the door is also open for the decision that God the Designer exists and made the sun and the life which the sun supports.
The Anthropic Principle vs the principle of mediocrity
Though the Anthropic Principle has gained popularity in recent years as a way of explaining evidence of design without recourse to a Designer, the principle of mediocrity has a longer history with roots in the Copernican revolution, which claimed that the earth has no central place in the universe. The assertion that the earth has no central place was transmuted into the belief that the earth is not special at all, but is merely another evolving planet on which evolving life exists. With the rise of evolution in the 1800s, other reasons emerged for accepting the principle of mediocrity. Indeed, despite the recent popularity of the Anthropic Principle—which we have seen is in conflict with the principle of mediocrity—evolution has difficulty with atypical features of planets and stars, and requires conformity for two reasons. One is that evolution tries (unsuccessfully) to explain how all planets and stars could have developed by the same natural causes acting uniformly everywhere. This is manifestly impossible if each celestial body is special and different from others.
It could be objected that this last statement does not follow from the expectation of conformity. For example, no two identical snowflakes have been catalogued, so each snowflake is ‘special’ in some sense, yet all snowflakes are formed by the same natural causes. However, the belief that non-conformities are an obstacle for evolutionary theory is a point made by evolutionists themselves. It is evolutionists who sense the impossibility of modeling evolutionary development via natural law if every celestial body is special or unique. It is evolutionists who constrain themselves to expect conformity. Astronomer Theodore P. Snow expresses this attitude:
‘We believe that the earth and the other planets are a natural by-product of the formation of the sun, and we have evidence that some of the essential ingredients for life were present on the earth from the time it formed. Similar conditions must have been met countless times in the history of the universe, and will occur countless more times in the future.’7
Another reason for evolutionary acceptance of the principle of mediocrity is the belief that extraterrestrial life exists throughout the universe. ‘If the “assumption of mediocrity” is valid, life should eventually arise on all planets that can possibly support it.’8
The Anthropic Principle also leads to the conclusion that life must have evolved in the cosmos,9 but generally, promoters of the Anthropic Principle tend to use it as an explanation of why extraterrestrial life has not been found. The conditions required are so special, the reasoning goes, that life will arise only rarely, and possibly has arisen only once—on the earth.10 This is still not a majority opinion, but along with the rise of the Anthropic Principle, the evolutionary consensus as to the number of habitable sites in the universe has altered radically downward over the last several decades.
Evolutionists have come to the realization that life can live only under ‘earth-like’ conditions. With respect to the type of star necessary for life support, once virtually any star was seen as suitable. Now there is the realization that for life to exist, a planet must be at a suitable distance from a ‘sun-like’ star. At least in this sense, even evolutionary thinking has come around to the realization that only the sun—or stars like it—can provide the stellar requirements for life.
The principle of mediocrity and claims that the sun is average
The principle of mediocrity continues to guide much evolutionary thinking. In other words, there is an evolutionary bias that demands the principle of mediocrity to be valid whatever science may show. As an example, though only the earth has been shown to harbor life, the hope continues to be held out that the earth is not special, and that the principle of mediocrity is true. Donald Goldsmith writes, ‘We have no definitive proof that any planets exist beside the sun’s … [but] we need … a second example to feel confident that our own solar system does not represent a cosmic anomaly, a unique (or nearly unique) circumstance.’11 This statement illustrates the difficulty of evolutionary theorizing with special or unique occurrences, and why the expectation persists that conditions in the solar system will be found to be typical on a cosmic scale. Since the time of Goldsmith’s statement, planets have reportedly been detected, but none likely to have life, making Goldsmith’s evolutionary quest still an ongoing one.
To maintain a thoroughly non-privileged status for the earth, the earth cannot exist in association with a non-typical star. Following the principle of mediocrity, therefore, the claim is often made that the sun is only a typical or average star. A non-specialist writer opines: ‘Today we know that the Sun really is a very ordinary star, of middling size and middle age … It is just one star among a hundred billion others; and even the Milky Way is just one among a hundred billion galaxies in the universe’.12 Astronomers make similar statements: ‘Our star, the sun, is rather ordinary … In many respects the sun is entirely a run-of-the-mill entity’.13 Again, ‘Our sun, so important to us, is merely an ordinary, “garden-variety” star’.14 Well-known planetary scientist Carl Sagan concluded that, ‘The Sun is an ordinary, even a mediocre star’.15
Is the sun really of ‘middling size’ and ‘middle age’? Is it really ‘ordinary’, ‘run-of-the-mill’, and ‘mediocre’? The suspect nature of such characterizations is apparent when one reflects on the fact that calling the sun ‘middle age’ is a deduction based on nothing more than evolutionary scenarios of the sun’s history and operation. The sun is typically taken to be some 5 billion years old, with a presumed lifetime of the order of 10 billion years, placing the sun in the middle of its presumed lifetime at ‘middle age’. Clearly, if the evolutionary presuppositions behind this characterization are wrong, the description of the sun as middle aged is also wrong.
The other characterizations of the sun just quoted are derived from the fact that the sun lies in the middle of the range of stellar types plotted on the Hertzsprung–Russell (H–R) diagram (Figure 1).16 This means that the sun occupies a median position of possible stellar types in the H–R diagram. However, the median of a population corresponds to the mean only if the population follows a normal distribution, but the distribution of star types does not follow a normal distribution. As an example, consider ‘the 100 stars closest to the sun. Stars at this range are near enough for us to measure accurate distances and to detect even very faint examples. They are also numerous enough to provide a good sample. Stars in such a random sample are believed to be representative stars—that is, a representative sample of all stars in our general neighborhood of the galaxy. … The Sun is brighter [in absolute terms] than most representative stars.’17 The sun does not have a mean ‘brightness’, i.e. absolute magnitude. It is believed that this trend generally applies in more distant regions.17
In contrast to the median, which is the middle value of a range of values, there is the ‘average’, which is defined as the ‘mean proportion’ of values actually occurring in the range.18 That is, the average is computed as the mean value of a particular property, not as the middle of a range.19 Descriptions of the sun as ‘average’ are biased descriptions issuing from expectations consistent with the principle of mediocrity. Further, when such descriptions are rationalized by appeal to the sun’s location in the H–R diagram, the average is being confused with the median. Even this assessment is too generous, however, for the apparent median position of the sun in the H–R diagram is due to the use of non-linear axes. Plotted on a (very inconvenient) linear scale, the sun would not be in a middle position.
Figure 1. The Hertzsprung-Russell (HR) Diagram where a star’s
temperature is plotted against its luminosity. The first such diagram was plotted
by Ejnar Hertzspung in 1911, and (independently) by Henry Norris Russell in 1913.
Click image for larger view.
With these considerations, it is clear that the sun is not an average star.
The sun is not average, but is it special?
There is no doubt that the sun is special in Scripture because of its relationship to the earth, and we have seen also that the properties of the sun in isolation make it an ‘unaverage’ star. Can we conclude that the sun is therefore ‘special’, i.e. extraordinary? Psalm 147:4, considered previously, does suggest that the sun, and each other star, may in fact be special, even unique. Astrophysically, however, we are prevented from reaching this conclusion by the paucity of stellar data (as opposed to the abundance of stellar theory). Theories of solar operation are routinely extrapolated to describe how other stars work. While this extrapolation is logical, it is based to an extent on the fact that no other star has been studied as much as the sun. H.B. Van der Raay states: ‘Clearly if we do not understand our own closest star, the implications on the whole field of cosmology are enormous.’24
The point here is not to suggest that the extrapolation of solar models to other stars is invalid, but simply to highlight how little we really do know about other stars in comparison with the sun. Therefore we are not in a position to make a comparison between the sun and other stars which would allow us to characterize the sun as astrophysically special or unique. We can go so far as to claim, however, that the sun, taken in isolation as an astrophysical system, appears to be non-typical. Considered in the light of its own properties, the sun is not an average star. Table 1 summarizes some of these solar characteristics, plus additional items to be discussed below.
We turn now to a consideration of the sun’s existence in its stellar/planetary environment. In the last several decades the search for extraterrestrial life has spawned a great amount of research on stellar/planetary systems, much of it devoted to determining possible abodes for life beyond the solar system near suitable stars. Despite the explosion of activity in this type of research, our knowledge of stellar/planetary systems is still in its infancy. However, it is possible to conclude that such research has consistently made the sun appear less typical and more unusual than used to be the case. Whether the sun will eventually emerge as astrophysically special or even unique remains to be seen.
It has long been realized that not any star of random mass could support life on a nearby planet. Stars above a critical mass would be too unstable to permit the survival of life, and stars of insufficient mass would require such a close proximity of a planet for heating that the planet would be devastated by tidal forces. Significantly, the sun has been determined by extraterrestrial researchers to be in just the mass-range suited for life support.25 Yet the sun is more massive than the average star. The average star will therefore not support life. It may be that if ever the sun is shown to be special or unique, such uniqueness may be inherent in the stellar/planetary environment of the sun.
Are single stars rare?
Though planetary systems have been modelled around binary and multiple star systems, doubt remains that any planets in such a system could harbor life.26 Astronomer John Fix states:
‘Compared with binary and multiple stars, single stars like the Sun are a distinct minority. Of every 100 star systems, it is estimated that only 30 contain single stars, 47 are binaries, and the remaining 23 are multiples, most of which are triples. The 100 star systems contain about 200 stars, so if only 30 of them are single stars, then 85% of them are in binary or multiple systems. The proportion of stars that are in binary or multiple systems may be even higher than 85%, moreover, because faint distant companions of what appear to be single stars or close binaries may have been overlooked or gone undetected.’27
With the sun being single, and less than 15% of other stars being single, the sun is not in an average stellar environment, but even so, the number of single stars, though a majority, must be huge—or is it? As astronomer William K. Hartmann has noted, ‘Kitt Peak astronomers Helmut Abt and Saul Levy (1976) … found that about two-thirds of all stars have detectable companions … . But from statistics of companions masses, they estimated that the other seemingly single stars probably all have companions too small to detect! … . According to this estimate, virtually all stars have at least one companion.’28 Thus the number of single stars may be quite small, a finding which could lead to the perception of the sun as distinctly ‘unaverage’ in the context of its stellar environment.
An objection could be raised at this point that the sun has companions, too—the planets of the solar system. As we will see, however, the search for extraterrestrial life on extra-solar planets appears to be revealing that the sun’s solar system is not typical, again leading to the conclusion that the sun is not in a typical stellar/planetary environment.
The sun’s environment: average or not?
The sun has long been recognized as unusually stable and has been dubbed by solar astronomers ‘the constant sun’, meaning that its energy output rate is always about the same. As more has been learned of the sun in recent decades, the realization has emerged that the sun is not stable in an absolute sense. Some instability would seem to be inherent in any celestial body such as the sun which releases energy at such a prodigious rate that planets tens of millions of meters distant are greatly warmed. Indeed, the sun has been described as an ‘inconstant, irregular, and a magnetically-variable star’.29 Nevertheless, the fact remains that ‘its total [energy] output changes little’,30 at most on the order of 1% or less. Such variability is too insignificant to directly affect life on earth.