Intelligent Design the Future: Heddle on Sagan: Billions and Billions of Errors

Today’s rant on the subject of Intelligent Design is going to be a little difficult to follow, so try to stick with me. Today, on the blog, Intelligent Design the Future, Jonathan Witt reports on “physicist” David Heddle’s critique of the late astronomer Carl Sagan. Actually, you can’t really call it a critique: it’s basically the assertion that Carl Sagan was never right about anything. Heddle comments:

Recent astronomical data have again demonstrated that few scientists have simultaneously achieved such widespread acclaim while consistently being wrong as the late Carl Sagan.

In the area of popular science, I don’t know much that he wrote or said that was correct.

The problem (aside from its obvious vagueness) is the part that we don’t know: how much of Sagan’s writings on popular science has Sagan Heddle actually read?

Heddle’s vita (updated at Heddle’s request) suggests that for the last fifteen years at least, his publications have all been in the field of scientific software, not the most illustrious physics resume you might actually find.  shows him to be a collaborator on a large number of papers on particle physics.  You can check out some of Sagan’s achievements via his wikipedia entry, and decide for yourself who might be best qualified to speak for the world of exobiology in astronomy.

The one criticism that Heddle makes against Sagan is:

Sagan was wrong, wrong, wrong. The earth is in a privileged location (not just for life as we know it, but for any kind of complex life imaginable), as discussed quite convincingly by Gonzalez and Richards in the Privileged Planet.

But there is the problem: The Privileged Planet isn’t convincing in the least. Their reasoning is basically that the earth occupies a fairly uncommon part of the galaxy, a part which happens to be reasonably quiet astronomically. No recent supernovas. Relatively few life extinguishing collisions. Not too close to the radiation centers at the galactic core. Isn’t it amazing, that we find ourselves in such a friendly place?

Does everyone spot the problem with this argument?

If you win the lottery, people might interview you and ask what is it about you that enabled you to win. You might think that you deserved it, or that “God told you to pick the numbers”, or that your lucky rabbits foot enabled you to win. But if you didn’t win, nobody would be around to ask the question, because nobody cares what all the losers did. Similarly, it is not at all surprising that we find ourselves orbiting a particularly boring star in the most boring part of the galaxy. If we didn’t, we would have been exterminated a long time ago, and wouldn’t have the metabolism necessary to ask the question. We didn’t evolve around a random star: we evolved around a star where life could evolve. Therefore, it really isn’t evidence of anything when we find that these places are uncommon.

You’d think this would be relatively easy to figure out.

Oh, and incidently, if you’d like to claim that intelligent design and religion are completely different, surf on over to Heddle’s personal blog and read what things he feels strongly enough to post about, and then see if you can maintain a straight face.

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