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Life in the outskirts

Books | Authors show the benefits of not being at the center of the universe

Issue: "How Mark Souder fell," June 19, 2010

A few years ago atheists regularly contended that we understand more the inconsequentiality of human existence than we did centuries ago. Then, many people saw Earth as the center and the sun, moon, and stars surrounding it. Now, we see ourselves on a second-rate planet of a third-range sun at the fringe of the galaxy. That means we should realistically recognize ourselves to be a product of chance. If there were a God and humans were important to Him, wouldn't we be at the center of things?

A remarkable new theistic/atheistic consensus undermines that sneer. Carl Sagan, who died in 1996, thought the Milky Way galaxy might include 1 million advanced civilizations, but Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe (Springer, 2003) showed the far greater probability that there is only . . . one. Now mathematician Granville Sewell, atheist Marcelo Gleiser, and Orthodox Jewish scholar Gerald Schroeder have come out with new books emphasizing the advantages of being located on the periphery of the galaxy on a planet that seems to have been made for us.

Sewell, a University of Texas-El Paso professor, notes the providential existence of heavier metals like copper that are not necessary for human survival but can make life better (In the Beginning, Discovery Institute, 2010). He explains that acceptance of the big bang theory means acceptance of the understanding that there were no natural forces before Nature suddenly came into being: "Now everyone must speculate about the supernatural forces which created our universe; the debate is now only about whether those forces were intelligent or unintelligent."

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Gleiser, a Dartmouth professor, offers no thanks to God for such kindness but calls for "humancentrism" (A Tear at the Edge of Creation, Free Press, 2010). He argues that life is ultimately without meaning but we should still enjoy the nooks and crannies we have due to fortuitous events like a nicely tilted planet (thanks to our large moon) and a magnetic field. Most planets spin like wobbling tops, but the moon gives us a tilt angle of 23.4 degrees: Without it we would have no regular seasons and would not have water for long periods of time.

Schroeder, in God According to God (HarperOne, 2010), notes that if our planet were in the center human life wouldn't work: Too much radiation, etc., plus, the sky would be so bright that we'd have to wear shades 24/7. Other blessings: Earth is relatively low in carbon content. Earth has a rotating molten iron-rich core and an atmosphere rich in oxygen but not hydrogen. Our orbit is nearly circular and at the right distance from the sun for warmth and oxygen-releasing photosynthesis.

The authors of a fourth book, Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini's What Darwin Got Wrong (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010), state-as intelligent-design Christians do-that Darwin's theory of natural selection could not have produced the life we see around us. But these authors are atheists who worry about "a massive failure of the evolutionary project, because wrong assumptions were made."
Email Marvin Olasky

Pointed passages

By Marvin Olasky

Gerald Schroeder writes about science but offers in passing Talmudic analyses that, through New Testament eyes, point to Christ. For example, he contends that the Hebrew word b'raisheet is mistranslated as "in the beginning." It should be, "with a first cause." Schroeder doesn't bring this out, but his insight goes well with New Testament teaching that "in the beginning was the Word," Christ, who is the first cause because "all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made."

Schroeder also wonders why Abraham, who argued with God about the destruction of Sodom, did not argue with God about the command to kill Isaac. He argues that "God's demand for us to argue" makes the absence of objections from Abraham even more remarkable. But that only shows how Abraham understood that some "deep magic," to use a Narnia term, was happening: The almost-sacrifice of Isaac, stopped by God's mercy, points us to Christ's crucifixion.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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