Editor’s note: This column is adapted from Rutz’s latest book, “The Meaning of Life.”
Read Part 1 of Rutz’s “Ma Earth: The planned accident.”
Continued from last week, here’s more on why our planet is unique. Any aspiring young planet must have:
6. 10-20 percent oxygen. Very few planets have the celestial luck to be home to much O2. Any little green men out there must have learned how to breathe carbon dioxide and liquid methane. But with too little or too much oxygen, you can’t make a fire, and the atmosphere won’t support breathing animals.
7. A massive core of molten iron. All main sequence (middle-aged) stars emit killer radiation constantly. The only protection for a planet is its magnetic field, which hopefully is robust enough to extend out in space far enough to head off the star’s radiation before it gets close and zaps every living thing into eternity. Earth is large enough – and blessed with sufficient iron – to have such a guarding magnetic field. Yet if Earth’s diameter were merely doubled, you’d:
- weigh 350 to 700 pounds
- have trouble breathing the thick air
- have a hobby of dodging asteroids sucked in by the extra gravity, and
- be limited to a few patches of very dry land, the air pressure being too heavy to allow much evaporation or rain, and the mountains being kind of flat. Think “Waterworld.”
8. A decorator set of tectonic plates. I spent almost 40 years living (somewhat nervously) on top of the San Andreas Fault, and I’ll concede that earthquakes can be inconvenient, especially when you’re lying in a pile of drywall and two-by-fours that used to be your house. But without our grinding, shifting tectonic plates, your house wouldn’t even exist. And frankly, neither would you. That superhot molten core of ours would have nowhere to go but KABOOM. Yet astronomers say that events drastic enough to “peel off” the usual hard outer shell of a planet (while leaving an intact, matched set of floating plates) must be rare.
9. A moderate rate of rotation and a 23-degree axis tilt. If these specs were not written into our cosmic design contract, Earth would have nothing but a few pathetic microbes. Not only would summer and winter be too extreme (or else non-existent), but our days and nights could make Alice’s Wonderland look like a paradise of sanity. Imagine a planet where your sun comes up every 45 minutes!
10. Oceans of water. Not ice: water. This is a must. And yet conditions around most stars make liquid water an almost unthinkable luxury. With all due apologies to Star Trek fans, you could boldly go to a thousand planets without finding the right conditions to get one decent drink.
You’re it, period.
I could carry on like this for a long time, reciting other minimum specifications for the support of intelligent life. Instead, let me give you what I think is the bottom line: Warm, hospitable conditions for intelligent life are not what our astronomers are seeing through their lenses. As of June 2005, they had discovered 155 planets outside our solar system. Among all of them, the one most similar to the Earth by far has 7.5 times the Earth’s mass, gets up to 700 degrees Fahrenheit, orbits a star that’s two-thirds smaller than the Earth, and has a year that’s two days long! (I suspect the natives get a consistently poor strawberry crop.)
Our faithful astronomers will keep hunting, but the odds against intelligent life by chance are probably somewhere beyond a quadrillion to one. Not a good bet. I prefer better odds when I wager on something important … like my faith in a Creator. In the end we must agree quite literally with Dorothy’s conclusion after her adventures in Oz: There’s no place like home.
We are, I feel, alone in this vast universe. That doesn’t mean God has no other universes elsewhere. It does mean that in the one universe we know of, you and I are the whole show, the center stage players in this long tragicomedy of glory and rebellion and joy. And our centrality will not be pushed aside by the discovery of microbes on Mars.
Do you accept the importance of your position at the center of the universe and your responsibility to take care of it? Our biggest challenge is not to find life “Out There,” but to allow true life to flow through us “In Here,” to bring to the waiting world the power of God to destroy the destructive force of Evil that was tossed down here for us to finish off.