The Privileged Planet How our place in the cosmos is designed for discovery


Compiled by Discovery Institute Staff (February 1, 2004)

Is our universe a blind concatenation of atoms, evolution a random walk across a meaningless landscape, and our sense of purpose a pathetic shield against a supremely indifferent world? Or does the universe and our place within it click into place, repeatedly? These starkly different views open up immense metaphysical and theological questions, and at least part of the answer must come from science and the unfolding triumphs of cosmology, astronomy, and evolution.

In a book of magnificent sweep and daring Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards drive home the arguments that the old cliché of no place like home is eerily true of Earth. Not only that, but if the scientific method was to emerge anywhere, the Earth is about as suitable as you can get. Gonzalez and Richards have flung down the gauntlet. Let the debate begin; it is a question that involves us all.

Simon Conway Morris

  • Professor of Evolutionary Paleobiology, University of Cambridge
  • Author of Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe

This thoughtful, delightfully contrarian book will rile up those who believe the “Copernican principle” is an essential philosophical component of modern science. Is our universe designedly congenial to intelligent, observing life? Passionate advocates of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) will find much to ponder in this carefully documented analysis.

Owen Gingerich

  • Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
  • Author of The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus

Not only have Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards written a book with a remarkable thesis, they have constructed their argument on an abundance of evidence and with a cautiousness of statement that make their volume even more remarkable. In my opinion, their Privileged Planet deserves very careful attention.

Michael J. Crowe

  • Cavanaugh Professor Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame
  • Author of The Extraterrestrial Life Debate 1750-1900

Impressively researched and lucidly written, The Privileged Planet will surely rattle if not finally dislodge a pet assumption held by many interpreters of modern science: the so-called Copernican Principle (which isn’t actually very Copernican!). But Gonzalez and Richards’ argument, though controversial, is so carefully and moderately presented that any reasonable critique of it must itself address the astonishing evidence which has for so long somehow escaped our notice. I therefore expect this book to renew—and to raise to a new level—the whole scientific and philosophic debate about earth’s cosmic significance. It is a high class piece of work that deserves the widest possible audience.

Dennis Danielson

  • Professor of English, University of British Columbia
  • Editor, The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking

Gonzalez and Richards have written a book that is at once inspiring, illuminating, and beautiful. Although the 20th century insights in quantum physics should long ago have dispelled the simplistic idea that nature is nothing more than matter in motion, The Privileged Planet suggests that scientific discovery is embedded in the very structure of the cosmos. With uncommonly engaging prose, they offer a virtual tour of the marvels of modern science and the discoveries science has brought to light, from geology to cosmology. The authors also suggest intriguing answers to ubiquitous “cosmic questions”: Why have we been able to discover so much about the world around us in such a short time? Is extraterrestrial life common, or is it quite rare? What is Earth’s place in the cosmos? Does the universe exist for a purpose? Only those interested in these questions — but who isn’t? — should read this book.

George Gilder

  • Author of the bestselling book Telecosm
  • Founder, Gilder Technology Report

In this fascinating and highly original book, Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards advance a persuasive argument, and marshal a wealth of diverse scientific evidence to justify that argument. In the process, they effectively challenge several popular assumptions, not only about the nature and history of science, but also about the nature and origin of the cosmos. The Privileged Planet will be impossible to ignore. It is likely to change the way we view both the scientific enterprise and the world around us. I recommend it highly.

Philip Skell

  • Evan Pugh Professor Emeritus of Physics, Pennsylvania State University
  • Member, National Academy of Sciences

This new book is an excellent and timely contribution to the broadening and increasingly important discussion of origins.

Henry F. Schaefer III

  • Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry
  • Director, Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry, University of Georgia
  • Five-Time Nobel Prize Nominee

Privileged Planet is simply a beautifully written piece of work: so lucid and compelling in its presentation that even the most lay of laypersons will fly through its pages, barely able to put the book down. And when is the last time that hard science has delivered such an optimistic, even joyful message? For Gonzalez and Richards have made the incontrovertible case that this earth of ours is not just some flyspeck of inconsequentiality in a meaningless universe, but holds a rare, even honored place, and that we, its inhabitants, are especially privileged to be here.

Joshua Gilder

  • Former White House speech writer
  • Author of Heavenly Intrigue: Brahe, Kepler and the Birth of Modern Science

How our place in the Cosmos is designed for discovery