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Why so many planets?

Can populated planets arise by chance, and are empty planets a waste of space?

Published: 18 January 2014 (GMT+10)

Mihai A. from Romania asks us to address his concerns about the huge number of planets in the universe and their implications for biblical creation:

NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (SSC-Caltech) 8790-planets

Hello, I was raised as an Orthodox Christian and both my father and my grandfather were very devout believers. They have taken me to church since I was very little. However, I started questioning the existence of God for several years now. I appreciate very much what your website does and that it provides a bridge between science and God that nobody actually teaches you in school. And it brought a little faith back.

However, one of the topics I have the biggest problem with is cosmology. Evolution seems like a longshot, but there are so many planets in the Universe that we might actually be the result of a lucky shot.

And if all these planets exist just because we have a creative Designer, why would this Designer waste all the space for only ONE planet.

I would welcome the prospect of aliens being true, it would make more sense that God created more living planets than just to waste all the space for us. The question WHY must be applied to space too.

Thank you,

Mihai.

CMI’s Keaton Halley responds:

Hi Mihai,

Thanks for the kind words. Glad our site has been helpful to you, and I hope you will see that there are good answers to your cosmological concerns as well.

Before I address those questions, however, let me encourage you to keep them in proper perspective. What I mean is, we have good reasons from many other fields to believe in the God of Scripture. As we’ve written about on creation.com, there is powerful evidence for God from the universe’s finite past, the genetic information present in living things, the realm of moral obligations, the accuracy of Scripture, and much more. See also The Creation Answers Book, chapter 1.

Secular astronomers are desperately searching for earth-like planets, but so far have come up empty.

Against that backdrop, let’s examine your specific concerns. First, you say that we might result from “a lucky shot” because there are so many planets in the universe. Well, have you considered how many factors need to be in place before a planet can be suitable for life? For starters, a life-friendly planet must orbit a very stable star, have a nearly circular orbit in the ‘just right’ Goldilocks zone, be a terrestrial planet made of rare heavy elements, contain liquid water, possess a large moon to circulate water in its oceans, be protected from impacts by large outer planets, have a protective atmosphere with the right chemistry, be shielded from solar wind by a strong magnetic field, etc. See Did life come to Earth from outer space? Secular astronomers are desperately searching for earth-like planets, but so far have come up empty. And calculations of the chance of getting all these factors in one place suggest that if a particular galaxy came about by chance it would almost certainly not contain any habitable planets. So, you might say that taking into account all these conditions that are necessary for life is akin to visiting Oz; you are likely to conclude that there’s no place like home.

Of course, since the universe contains trillions of galaxies, one could still speculate that there might be rare habitable planets out there somewhere—except that we have not yet considered the problems with forming all these astronomical bodies naturalistically. It turns out that evolutionary astronomers have to invoke countless freak accidents to explain the existence of various astronomical bodies. For example, see Cosmic catastrophes, Earth is ‘too special’?, Solar system origin: Nebular hypothesis, and Problems for ‘giant impact’ origin of moon. With these problems factored in, I think we can definitively say that we are not the result of “a lucky shot”.

But there’s more. It also appears that the same conditions that are conducive to life are also conducive to making scientific discoveries. This is the thesis of a book called The Privileged Planet, which was not written by young-earth creationists, and yet much of the book’s content can be adapted into a biblical, young-earth framework. An example would be that the combination of gases in Earth’s atmosphere is not only optimal for sustaining life, but also happens to be transparent—allowing us to peer out into the universe beyond. The remarkable correlation of so many factors like this suggests that our local cosmic neighborhood was not the result of chance, but design.

It’s no harder for an omnipotent God to make a big universe than a small one.

And that’s not all. There are other factors governing the entire universe which have to be just so in order for life to exist anywhere, like the strength of the gravitational force or the electron to proton mass ratio. See The universe is finely tuned for life and Multiverse theory.

Finally, even if habitable planets could arise by chance, and even if they were ubiquitous throughout the universe, that still would not imply that “we” human beings got here by chance. Just because a planet is habitable doesn’t mean it’s inhabited. Many secular astronomers seem to think that if we find a planet with liquid water, then it will also, by chance, contain life. But the recipe for life is more complicated than: “just add water”. See Origin of life: An explanation of what is needed for abiogenesis. Plus, there are many other insurmountable hurdles to the idea that humans evolved from simpler life forms. See, for example, Plant geneticist: ‘Darwinian evolution is impossible’. So, in sum, our existence is much better interpreted as the product of intelligent agency, not a cosmic lottery.

As for your question about why God would create such a big universe, keep in mind that it’s no harder for an omnipotent God to make a big universe than a small one. God could have many reasons for making a big universe, like giving us much to explore and discover, or emphasizing His power and majesty (Psalm 19:1). It’s actually quite presumptuous to claim that, if the rest of the cosmos is uninhabited, then it exists for no reason or is a waste of space. We simply aren’t in a position to know all of God’s purposes (Deuteronomy 29:29; Job 42:3; Ecclesiastes 3:11), so even if we can’t immediately identify one, that doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist. For more on this, see Did God create life on other planets?, which also explains why the presence of intelligent ETs would be inconsistent with Bible’s big picture.

I hope this is helpful to you, Mihai. Please explore the links for the details. And next time you write in be sure to search the site first because, as you can see, we already have a lot of published materials that address these questions.

I will say a prayer for you right now, that God will help you to trust fully in Him, and I wish you the best.

In Christ,

Keaton Halley