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The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery Hardcover – February 1, 2004

4.2 out of 5 stars 107 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A movement known as "intelligent design" has emerged in recent years to counter evolution theories that hold that the design of the universe is random. Critics have dubbed this the "new creationism," since many in the movement correlates the intelligent designer with the Judeo-Christian God. Gonzalez and Richards now take the defense of intelligent design one step further. By assessing the elements that compose our planet, they argue, we can tell that it was designed for multicellular organic life. The presence of carbon, oxygen and water in the right proportions makes it possible for organic life to exist; and this combination of minerals and chemical elements exists only on Earth. Moreover, they argue, we can measure the ways that Earth became habitable. Thus, tree rings, stomata on leaves, skeletons in deep ocean sediments and pollen in lake sediments help us to measure how life on Earth developed by design. In addition, the authors contend, the universe itself is designed for discovery ("Mankind is unusually well-positioned to decipher the cosmos. Were we merely lucky in this regard?" No, the authors respond), and because the Earth is habitable we can use it as a measure of the uninhabitability of other planets. "The myriad conditions that make a region habitable are the best overall places for discovering the universe in its smallest and largest expressions." Overall, the authors (Gonzalez is an assistant research professor of astronomy and physics at Iowa State, Richards has a doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary) provide a reasoned case for intelligent design, but it's important to note that the vast majority of scientists reject the intelligent design argument, and this book is unlikely to persuade many to change their minds. B&w photos.
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From the Inside Flap

Is Earth merely an insignificant speck in a vast and meaningless universe? On the contrary. The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery shows that this cherished assumption of materialism is dead wrong. Earth is far more significant than virtually anyone has realized. Contrary to the scientific orthodoxy, it is not an average planet around an ordinary star in an unremarkable part of the Milky Way.

In this provocative book, Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards present a staggering array of evidence that exposes the hollowness of this modern dogma. They demonstrate that our planet is exquisitely fit not only to support life, but also to give us the best view of the universe, as if Earth were designed both for life and for scientific discovery. Readers are taken on a scientific odyssey from a history of tectonic plates, to the wonders of water and solar eclipses, to our location in the Milky Way, to the laws that govern the universe, and to the beginning of cosmic time.

In The Privileged Planet, you will discover:
Why the best scientific evidence refutes the misnamed Copernican Principle—the widely held idea that there is nothing special about Earth or its place in the universe
Why the sheer number and size of galaxies does not mean that Earth’s capacity to sustain life is the result of blind chance
How Earth is precisely positioned in the Milky Way—not only for life, but also to allow us to find answers to the greatest mysteries of the universe
Striking ways in which water doesn’t behave like most other liquids—and how each of its quirks makes it perfectly suited for the existence of creatures like us
The harmony of Earth and the Moon: how they work together to sustain Earthly life as one intricate system—and how that system produces the best solar eclipses where Earthly observers can see them
How Jupiter and Saturn protect Earth from cataclysmic destruction
How the laws and constants that govern the universe must be narrowly fine-tuned for the existence of any complex life

The Privileged Planet's astounding findings should lead any individual to reevaluate entrenched assumptions about the universe—and even to reconsider our very purpose on what so many have dismissed as nothing more than an accident of cosmic evolution.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Regnery Publishing (February 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0895260654
  • ISBN-13: 978-0895260659
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #359,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on March 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I got this book as soon as it became available, so I thought I'd be the first one to write a review. I've followed the debates over design and fine tuning for a while, and had heard this book was in the pipeline. I am thoroughly impressed with the clarity of its argument, the elegance of its prose, and the staggering level of scholarship displayed in its pages. I have no doubt that it will raise the level of debate on the larger issues about the meaning of it all. The book is richly illustrated with both color and black and white pictures.
Gonzalez and Richards' (G and R) argument is something that, so far as I know, has not really been discussed before, namely, that the universe is fine-tuned for scientific discovery itself. This is a completely new angle. But the book is more than an argument for purpose in the universe. In fact, in many ways, it's a sweeping overview of the history of scientific discovery itself.
I would like to say something about the Publishers Weekly review that is posted on Amazon.com. It's baffling. I thought Publishers Weekly reviews were supposed to be more or less descriptive rather than editorial. But this review must have been written by someone who either didn't read The Privileged Planet carefully, or didn't understand the argument. First of all, the description of their treatment of habitability is inaccurate. G and R don't claim that Earth is the only habitable planet. They argue that, given what we already know about what it takes to make a habitable planet, such planets are probably rare. And they definitely don't argue that just because the Earth is well suited for life, therefore it was designed. In fact, they go to great lengths to show why that's not a very good argument.
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Format: Hardcover
The two halves of this book are markedly different. In the first half, the authors recount many facts and figures from the sciences, mostly astronomy. This half is readable, but the details require close attention. Some reviewers have complained that the book contains factual errors but have not said what they are. Considering the huge amount of material covered, it would be surprising if there were not a few errors. Not being an expert, I can only assume that most of the facts are correctly stated.

The second half is philosophical, treating things like the "Copernican principle" and the implications of the scientific findings. Naturally, this half is not restricted to hard data, but includes the authors' views of what the data imply. Many philosophically illiterate writers stumble on this ground, but G&R show considerable savvy.

Many outspoken scientists say that scientific findings imply that God does not exist, or that human beings are merely the last freakish product of the hurrying of matter; these authors disagree. If your mind is made up that only the former philosophy is legitimate, there is no use reading this book. If you would like to read a well-informed and reasonable defense of the latter position, this book is a good start.
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Format: Hardcover
Co-authored by two Discovery Institute Fellows, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez and philosopher Jay W. Richards, The Privileged Planet presents a new form of design argument which can be applied to the level of the cosmos. Design proponents have long held that the physical constants of nature and properties of our solar system appear finely tuned and specified to allow for advanced life. But Richards and Gonzalez take this argument to a new level by arguing that the same set of circumstances which permit advanced life are also optimized for a range of scientific discoveries.

Chapter eight, for instance, centers on research by Gonzalez that was featured in a cover story of Scientific American in 2001. Like our solar system's habitable zone, our galaxy has a habitable zone as well. This broken ring roughly have way from the galaxy's center is far enough away from the radiation-filled center of the galaxy, between its radiation-filled spiral arms, but not so far out that it lacks the heavy elements needed for terrestrial planets like Earth. This location is also well situated for making a range of scientific discovery. While other locations might allow improved observation of this or that feature, the Galactic Habitable Zone offers an overall better location for a range of important scientific observations. This is but one of many instances of what seems to be a consistent correlation between the requirements for life and the requirements for scientific discovery.

But any book coauthored by a philosopher must investigate the philosophical implications. Richards and Gonzalez recounts that a historical myth developed, according to which, when it was discovered that the Earth was neither the center of the Solar System nor the Universe, Earth became insignificant.
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Format: Hardcover
I first heard Guillermo Gonzalez present his ideas about our place in the universe being designed to facilitate scientific discovery at a conference at Yale in the fall of 2000. For me this was the high point of the conference. Jay Richards and Guillermo have since developed this idea, providing numerous lines of evidence to show that without a host of contingent facts being just-so, our scientific understanding would be impossible or severely attenuated.
The idea that the world and features of it are designed to help us understand the world and those features constitutes a remarkable insight. Gonzalez and Richards apply this insight mainly at the level of cosmology and astrophysics. But it promises to apply also in biology. Indeed, some preliminary work in the bioinformatics literature is suggesting that biological systems contain information of no functional use to the organism as such, but information that is useful to the investigator in examining the organism and trying to understand it.
The Privileged Planet breaks new ground. Einstein found it incomprehensible why the world should be comprehensible. Gonzalez and Richards begin to provide an answer to Einstein's perplexity.
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