Dec 08

Repeating Nonsense

I began listening to the debate on Naturalism vs. Theism between Jeffrey Jay Lowder and Phil Fernandes the other day. I’m about halfway through (it’s over two hours long) and, thus far, Lowder is “winning” decisively. There are several claims made by Fernandes that inspire a facepalm, but I found one claim especially annoying.

You will often hear creationists talk about the Earth residing in a Goldilocks Zone. Here was a claim along these lines made by Fernandes:

If the distance between the Earth and the Sun was to differ by just 2% in either direction, no life on Earth would be possible.

This, like nearly every creationist claim, is demonstrably false. Yet, such things are repeated ad nauseum. Now, we could say why this claim being used as proof of a designer is problematic in terms of philosophy, but I think some fairly simple science will be our best method of debunking here.

The Earth’s orbit around the sun looks something like this (not to scale):



You’ll notice that it is an ellipsis. Why does this matter? Well, we can see that the existing orbit does differ. At the Earth’s greatest distance from the Sun, the distance between them is about 152 million km or 1.0167 AU. This is called the aphelion. When the Earth is closest to the Sun, the distance between them is 147 million km or 0.9833 AU. This is called the perihelion. At this point, you’re probably tempted to take out your calculator. If so, you would find that the distance between the Earth and Sun actually differs by 3.3% or 3.4%, depending on whether you use the aphelion or the perihelion. Either way, we don’t have to wonder what would happen to the Earth if its distance from the Sun differed by more than 2% because it already does. Yet, here we are.

At best, the creationist claim here is poorly phrased. At worst, it’s plainly false.

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  1. Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Hi Mike — Thanks for the kind words about my debate. I wanted to point one small typo in your review, however. Please note that my opponent’s name is Fernandes, not Hernandes.

  2. Mike

    Thanks for the correction. I’ll fix it right away. The YouTube video said it correctly, so I’m not sure where I picked up the mistake.

  3. Alonzo Fyfe

    There are a wide variety of estimates on what the goldilocks zone is, ranging from an internal distance about 75% of the earth’s distance to an external distance of 300%. There are some estimates that suggest we are within 1 or 2% of the outer distance, but those estimates provide no inner range.

    Anyway, this argument fails anyway. With between 200 and 400 billion stars, and with planets apparently very common, what are the odds that NO STAR will have a planet in the habitable zone?

  4. Mike

    Agreed Alonzo. Plus, I think the recent announcement from Kepler adds confirming evidence to the claim that many planets reside in such locations.

  5. Matt DeStefano

    Is Hernandes a Creationist? If so – I wonder why we continue to debate such loonies.

  6. Mike

    Jeff might know for sure. He might believe some kind of guided evolution theory. I still had quite a bit to get through in the debate.

    I called it creationist for two reasons. First, it is exactly the type of point that gets repeated over and over again by creationists who know next to nothing about whether it’s justified. Let’s face it – it’s the type of thing Ray Comfort would say. Second, I don’t see a substantial difference between I.D. and creationism in practice.

  7. Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Fernandes is a creationist. He may even be a young-earth creationist, but I’m not sure about that.

  8. zaybu

    There is also the argument from probability theory. Say we have a lottery with odds of one in a million, say one million bought tickets in that lottery, and there is one winner. No one would think that there is a special meaning for that particular winner, it’s just the odds. Similarly, whatever the odds of getting a planet in the Goldilocks Zone, considering there are 400 million stars in our galaxy, there was bound to be one or several planets in that zone. And that’s just in our galaxy. Considering that there are hundreds of billions galaxies in the universe, then the number of earth-planets would be quite high. We just happened to be one of those winners on that lottery.

  9. Mike

    The last number I heard was an estimate of 300 sextillion stars in the universe according to best current knowledge. I think that’s around 10^22 give or take a few orders of magnitude. It’s huge, anyway. For practical purposes, it’s not even fathomable.

    Add to that the success in finding exoplanets in a short time and in a minuscule portion of the local galaxy.

  10. Hendy

    It seems like this is an odd argument to make given the clearly available data, as you’ve shown. Thus, I’m left wondering if the argument you rebut is the one he meant to make. It left me wondering if it was meant to imply increasing/decreasing the entire ellipse by 2%?

    For x2/a2 + y2/b2 = 1, increase/decrease a and b by 2%. Once that’s done, the next step would be to figure out the implications of the new orbit on photosynthesis and global temperatures perhaps?

    Anyway, just my thought on your rebuttal. If he indeed meant that the distance needs to be some nominal value +/- 2%… then your post stands just fine on its own 🙂

  11. Mike


    It’s hard to know exactly what he meant. The quote was from a string of assertions around fine tuning, as I recall. So we don’t have much context on this specific statement. In my experience, these types of claims are often repeated and rarely understood.

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