How good is our neighbourhood!
Everyone likes to live in a good neighbourhood—one that is safe, protected, friendly and predictable. And it turns out that Earth’s neighbourhood is very much like that.
Our planet is one of several which orbit the sun and, although it has long been realized that we occupy a special place in our solar system, it is becoming even more evident that the solar system and our place in it is anything but ordinary.1
In fact, our world continues to look like it has been especially made as a home for us. This feature has even been given a name—the ‘anthropic principle’—and it confronts the atheist’s view that the world originated from unguided evolutionary processes.
Some have attempted to avoid the obvious by saying that the universe looks like it was designed for us simply because we exist in it. Were it not so, they say, we wouldn’t be here to observe it. But this has no explanatory power at all! If my doctors had saved me from a life-threatening disease and someone asked me how, it would be an inadequate explanation to say, “If I hadn’t survived then I wouldn’t be here talking to you.” Such philosophical dodges are often employed to sidestep the overwhelming evidence for creation.2
But our neighbourhood does indeed have all the hallmarks of having been designed just for us. Let’s see just how good it really is.
A safe place
Our moon is unusual compared with other moons in the solar system. It is large enough and close enough to partially protect the earth from meteorites, comets and asteroids. Every crater on the moon’s surface represents an object which might otherwise have impacted the earth.
The giant planets, Jupiter and Saturn, exert massive gravitational influence in the solar system and help to ‘sweep’ potentially dangerous objects, especially comets, from the solar system. In 1994, the comet Shoemaker-Levy collided with Jupiter having first been ripped apart by the intensity of Jupiter’s gravitational field as it was drawn into the giant planet. The presence of the gas giants greatly reduces the impact risk for us.
Our atmosphere is the final line of defence. Very few objects actually reach the surface of the planet as they are consumed by fierce heat generated by entry into the atmosphere. And another special feature of the earth, its powerful magnetic field, strongly protects the atmosphere from being lost, as seems to have happened on Mars.3
A friendly place
The earth orbits the sun in what is called the circumstellar habitable zone, where liquid water, essential for life, can exist. Being in this zone is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the earth to have the abundance of water it enjoys. It is influenced by the stability of the host star; a significant variation in the star’s output of energy will greatly narrow the habitable zone and may even eliminate it entirely.
According to the evolutionary story, the earth and solar system were not designed for life, and cannot be considered special in that sense. That is why we are often told our sun is just an ordinary, somewhat boring, star. But it is anything but ordinary! First, it is exceptionally stable.4 Although it does produce flares, these are far smaller than those of similar stars which have produced superflares 100 to 100-million times more energetic than the sun’s, with associated high-energy particles that would be lethal to life on Earth. Also, the sun is in the top 10% by mass of stars in our neighbourhood of the Milky Way Galaxy,4 providing a relatively high energy output especially suited for life on the earth. So it is by no means ordinary.
Furthermore, the sun is a lone star whereas many stars in the Milky Way Galaxy are either in binary systems, where a pair of stars orbit each other, or in orbiting groups of three or more. A planet orbiting a multi-star system could experience wide temperature variations even if it were in a circular orbit. Even worse, such a planet would risk being tossed into a chaotic orbit making it even less conducive to life.
Our extraordinary solar system
In 2009, NASA launched the Kepler Space Telescope to “determine how common Earth-size and larger planets are in the habitable zone of Sun-like stars”.5 They expected to find many Earth-like planets because, in the evolutionary worldview, they must be easy to form by natural processes.
Kepler uses very clever science to detect ‘extra-solar planets’ or ‘exoplanets’6—planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. Including other methods, as of September 2016, around 3,500 candidates have been confirmed as planets.7 However, to date, the merest handful of Earth-sized planets inside the habitable zone of a Sun-like star have been claimed. In any case, many more factors than just the ability to support liquid water need to be present to sustain life. And of course it is impossible for life to arise unaided from lifeless chemicals, anywhere in the universe.8 This is an impenetrable barrier to any naturalistic explanation for origins.
But what do these planetary systems look like anyway? Many of the terrestrial (rocky) exoplanets discovered orbit much closer to their parent star than does the earth9. So they are likely to be tidally locked with one side of the planet always facing the star, the way our moon orbits the earth. But this would be hostile for life since one side would be very hot with the ‘sun’, fixed in the sky, shining relentlessly. The other side of the planet would be cold and frozen, in permanent darkness. Only along the thin line between ‘day’ and ‘night’, called the terminator, could the temperature possibly be conducive to sustaining life.
Perhaps the most stunning discovery is the large number of planetary systems which are extremely inhospitable neighbourhoods for life. Huge planets, much larger than Jupiter, have been found hurtling around their ‘suns’ in just a matter of days. In some cases, violent interactions are taking place such that the star is consuming the planet. But if these ‘hot Jupiters’, as they are called, are being rapidly consumed, they could not have been orbiting their stars for billions of years.
Interestingly, the standard view of solar system evolution, the nebular hypothesis, fails to explain such large planets so close to a star—because gas giants should form in the cold outer parts of the supposed gaseous nebula.
Some exoplanets have even been found to orbit their stars in the wrong direction,10 opposite to what the nebular hypothesis predicts. In order to save this evolutionary hypothesis, these planets are usually explained by invoking an undetected third body which has supposedly perturbed their initial orbits and caused the planets to change into the opposite orbits. But these just-so stories are not confirmed by observation. Such events, unlikely enough in themselves, must have occurred multiple times, making the explanation even less credible. Astronomer Ann Finkbeiner observed:
“The discovery of thousands of star systems wildly different from our own has demolished ideas about how planets form. Astronomers are searching for a whole new theory.”11
We live in a wonderfully designed neighbourhood
Our solar system with its combination of inner rocky planets and outer gas and ice giants stands unique. Astronomer Carl Sagan once said: “… we live in a routine planet of a humdrum star stuck away in an obscure corner … on an unexceptional galaxy which is one of about 100 billion galaxies. … That is the fundamental fact of the universe we inhabit, and it is very good for us to understand that.”
In contrast, ongoing exploration of the universe reveals that our planet is anything but routine, that our sun is certainly not humdrum, and our neighbourhood, the solar system, is beautifully suited as the home for mankind. To borrow from Sagan, “Those are the fundamental facts of the universe we inhabit, and it is very good indeed for us to understand that.” This matches exactly what the Bible says, that the earth was created to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18). How good is our Creator, and how good is our created neighbourhood!
References and notes
- Harwood, M., Created to be inhabited, Creation 35(3):38–40, 2013; creation.com/earth-design. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The universe is finely tuned for life, creation.com/tuned, 2015. Return to text.
- Earth’s magnetic field provides vital protection, esa.int, March 2012. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The sun: our special star, Creation 22(1):27–31 December 1999: creation.com/sun. Return to text.
- Kepler website: kepler.nasa.gov. Return to text.
- Spencer, W., Planets around other stars, Creation 33(1):45–47, 2011; creation.com/extrasolar2. Return to text.
- exoplanet.eu/catalog/, accessed 1 Sep 2016. Return to text.
- See Origin of Life Questions and Answers, creation.com/origin. Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D., Kepler-78b, Creation 38(3):23, 2016. Return to text.
- Atkinson, N., Dropping a bomb about exoplanets, universetoday.com; 13 April 2010. Return to text.
- Finkbeiner, A., Astronomy: Planets in Chaos, Nature 511(7507):22–24, 2014. Return to text.