EXISTENCE BY INFERENCE                                           JOHN FISHWICK


Earth-based optical telescopes and the Kepler space probe have identified several hundred planets orbiting stars or suns elsewhere in our galaxy. Most of these planets are too large or too close to their parent star to support the kind of life that we have here on Earth. We can’t actually see these planets –we detect their presence by inference in two main ways. First, if the observed star undergoes a slight wobble, as indeed our own sun would do were it to be observed by some alien civilization several light years from us, then it would be reasonable to conclude that this wobble was caused by the gravitational force produced by orbiting planets. Earth’s wobble is caused mainly by Jupiter and Saturn. Second, if the planets pass on a line of sight between Earth and the star being observed then we can measure a slight dimming of light as the planets cross the face of their sun. Bear with me for a while, I’ll eventually get to the point.

As with the planets, no one has actually seen or talked to God, so we must rely on inference to ascertain His existence. Let’s look at planet Earth to see if it is a suitable gift to us from a divine creator.

Earth was born some 4.5 billion years ago in violence. In its early years it was a violent place being bombarded regularly by asteroids, one of the larger ones knocking off a piece of the Earth to produce our moon. In our geological history, Earth has experienced at least five major extinctions, caused by asteroid strikes or volcanoes, in which over 90% of species then living died. The largest of these occurred at the end of the Permian period as evidenced by a drastic reduction of fossils found in the rocks of the early Triassic period.

Since the evolution of homo sapiens, our planet has been, and continues to be, raked by powerful hurricanes and tornadoes and ripped apart by earthquakes. Hundreds of thousands of humans have died as a result and many more have been slaughtered by religious conflicts. The list of disasters is too long to be given here. Besides, they have been well covered in previous issues of this magazine.

And then there is infantile carcinoma.

So, is it logical to conclude that Earth was a gift to us from an all-powerful and all-loving God?

I think not.

A final word on Pascal’s Wager, in which it pays to hedge your bets and believe in God in case He is found to really exist after the final judgment day. If you decide to believe for this reason, don’t you think that He will see through your little scheme?