OK, my last post was a bit of a Richard Dawkins bash. I make no secret that I personally don’t buy into his Darwinist message but that’s not my issue. It’s the arrogant, fundamentalist nature of his approach. An approach that deliberately stifles debate over important questions about origins and purpose that hacks me off.
There are other populist proponents of evolutionary theory out there who manage to communicate their message without resorting to intellectual fascism; Professor Steven Jones and the late Stephen Jay Gould come to mind.
(that’s the British Professor Steven Jones not the American Professor Steven Jones who released a scientific paper last month that suggested the three WTC towers were taken down by explosives)
History teaches us, quite emphatically, that we can be sure that today’s scientific certainty will be tomorrow’s superstition. And, for the life of me, I’ve seen no evidence that the Theory of Evolution will be any different.
I mention all this because I tried taking a couple of photos of the full Moon last weekend and I got round to thinking about a paper I’d read a few weeks ago.
The Moon is a most excellent and coincidentally useful lump of rock. The moderating effect it has on the Earth’s rotation and the role of tides make a key contribution to life on Earth. Professor Dawkins would dismiss the significance of the Moon as being one of those things. Me, I’m not so sure.
But anyway, the Lunar quirks and coincidences that intrigue me most at the moment are those that apparently have no impact on life on Earth. My two favourite are:
Lunar maria, the large dark basaltic plains visible on the Moon’s surface, are almost entirely restricted to the near-side, visible from Earth. The few maria on the far-side are much smaller, being mostly very large craters. This bias of distribution is thought to have assisted in the tidal locking of the Moon's rotation to its orbit. This results in only one side of the Moon being visible from the Earth. The reason the maria have assisted in tidal locking is that they are denser than much of the rest of the surface and are therefore more strongly attracted towards the Earth by gravity. Over millennia, the Moon's rotation has slowed so that the heaviest side of the Moon with the maria on it faces constantly towards the Earth.
Now the phase locking explanation is all very well and good but it doesn’t do anything to explain why one side of the Moon was splattered so badly in the first place. Given that the Moon is rotating, dismissing the skewed distribution of Lunar maria as being one of those things doesn’t really cut it.
My second favourite Lunar coincidence is the fact that the Moon and the Sun appear to be exactly the same size in the sky...
What’s that all about? This coincidence isn’t fixed in time. The distance between the Earth and the Moon is changing gradually. Near perfect Solar eclipses have only a limited run which coincides neatly with our own existence.
Once again, Dawkins fans would dismiss this coincidence as being one of those things. Proponents of Intelligent Design, at first sight, would seem to be stuck for an explanation. What Earthly point is there to designing Solar eclipses into the grand scheme of things?
Which gets me back to the paper I was thinking about. Guillermo Gonzalez, a US based astronomy professor has put forward the idea that we are part of a designed system that is designed for habitability and observability. In this kind of designed Universe the Solar eclipse coincidence makes perfect sense as its existence allows us to make all sorts of scientific observations which we would otherwise be unable to perform.
This is an absolutely fantastic hypothesis and it promises to drive Dawkins-esque types mental. Sure, it’s a bugger to prove experimentally and so cannot honestly be considered a theory but, if we’re being honest here, nor can Evolution (if anyone knows of an experiment that validates the Theory of Evolution I’d love to hear about it).
I’m particularly tickled by Gonzalez’ hypothesis because it turns the discredited notion of Mankind being at the Centre of Creation, an idea once supposedly as ‘certain’ as Evolutionary Theory, completely on its head...
We are not located at the centre of the Universe because it’s a really crap place to be, both in terms of habitability and for the scope it offers us to observe the Universe.
If you’re interested in this kind of material I recommend reading through Gonzalez’ stuff. Some of it is quite dry and academic but some of it is really amusing, particularly when you think about the potential implications if any of it is true.
Of course, Richard Dawkins and most of his fans wouldn’t bother reading material like that. They know he’s right.