Goldilocks Zone – ecology

As our summers become hotter and stormier, an ancient Torah message comes across with renewed force – our world is a Goldilocks zone. The term “Goldilocks zone” derives from the old tale of hungry Goldilocks who visits the bears and discovers that father bear’s porridge is too hot, mother bear’s porridge is too cold, and baby bear’s porridge is just right. Similarly, scientists have learnt that the entire Cosmos is designed “just right” for man, animals and plants. A little too hot, a little too cold, too much of this, too little of that, and life could not exist. Pump too much carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere and the ice-caps melt. Hashem made everything just right.


The Goldilocks principle was publicized in 5733/1973 by the Australian physicist Brandon Carter. The scientific name he coined for this phenomenon is the Anthropic Principle, which, although not a religious idea, is used by believing people to demonstrate creation’s infinite design. Anthropic means “man based.” Everything about the Cosmos and our planet indicates that it was created for man. As the Medrash (Kohelles Raba 7) says, “When the Holy One created the world. He said to Adam, ‘See how beautiful and praiseworthy My work is. All that I created, I created for you!’”

Carter was disgruntled at people’s growing tendency to think that man is an insignificant creature lost in a tiny corner of the Universe. This idea had grown ever since Nicolaus Copernicus revived the idea that the world spins around the sun and is not the physical center of the Cosmos. This idea was first suggested about 26 centuries ago by Philolaus of Croton, Greece, and then fine-tuned by Aristarchus, whom Archimedes reported, “hypothesizes that the fixed stars and the sun remain unmoved and the sun remain unmoved; that the earth is borne around the sun on the circumference of a circle.”

In those days, Greek astronomers rejected this idea out of plain common sense. First, if the earth is spinning around the sun, why do people feel as they are standing on firm, unyielding rock? Second, if the world is hurtling along at high speed, the resulting wind should blow us all off like insects. Third, because the Greeks thought that gravity is the result of a force that attracts everything to the center of the Cosmos, they argued that if the sun was the center of everything, as Aristarchus claimed, it would suck everyone off the earth like a giant vacuum cleaner. Finally, if the earth is moving from place to place, why don’t stars hidden behind other stars shift into view as our perspective alters?

Because of these unanswerable objections, the earth-centered model of the Greek astronomer, Ptolemy, ruled supreme for almost 2,000 years until Nicholas          Copernicus reintroduced Aristarchus’ theory in the 16th century. The main objection to Ptolemy’s model was that viewed from earth, the six planets that orbit the sun together with earth appear to wander forwards and backwards instead of moving in a circular path. That is one reason Chazal call them kochvei leches (wandering stars).

To solve this problem, Ptolemy claimed that in addition to circling around the earth, the six planets also circle in small “epicycles” that, from our vantage point, make them move backwards and forwards. Copernicus found this idea clumsy and offensive, complaining, “It is as though an artist were to gather the hands, feet, head and other members for his images from different people. the result would be a monster rather than a man.”

Early the next century, Galileo Galilei found solid proof for Copernicus’ claim. Using the most powerful telescope ever built he detected moons circling around Venus. This proved that the world was not the center of everything as Ptolemy claimed. Furthermore, he saw that the phases of Venus (similar to the phases of the moon – full moon, half moon, etc.) do not correlate with Ptolemy’s circles within circles model.

Now that the earth was unseated from its central throne, some people erroneously felt that this somehow decreased its importance; their inferiority complex deepened when astronomers discovered that the sun is lurking on a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy about 25,000 light years from its center. To make things worse, current theories argue that there is no center to the universe at all.


This was a ridiculous mistake, Carter argued, because the Cosmos and the world are exquisitely designed to be man’s unique home in the universe. Place man in
any other conceivable place and he will immediately freeze, roast, or be crushed by gravity.

As he put it, “Although our situation is not necessarily central, it is inevitably privileged to some extent.”

In the same vein, after investigating the properties of the carbon atom, the famed Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle wrote in 5741/1981:

“Would you not say to yourself, ‘Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule.’ Of course you would!

“ A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintendent has monkeyed with the physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. I do not believe that any physicist who examined the evidence could fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce within stars.”

Hoyle is also famous for a similar statement: “A junkyard contains all the bits and pieces of a Boeing 747, dismembered and in disarray. A whirlwind happens to blow through the yard. What is the chance that after its passage a fully assembled 747, ready to fly, will be found standing there? So small as to be negligible, even if a tornado were to blow through enough junkyards to fill the whole Universe” (The Intelligent Universe, 1983).

However, although Hoyle admitted that he was “greatly shaken” by his findings, he strangely refused to believe in Hashem. As Chazal warn us, “Shani minus demashchei, Heresy is different as it draws people (towards it).”

As mentioned earlier, Carter’s idea is flippantly called the “Goldilocks” story because everything in our world is “just right.” Take, for example, the atom’s “nuclear force” that holds its components together. If this force was a few percentage points stronger, the atomic processes that drive the sun’s nuclear furnace would not get started and instead of a sun we would have a freezing gas ball hanging over a glacial world. If the force was a few percentage points weaker, the nuclear forces would accelarate into a giant nuclear reaction and blast the sun, and us, to smithereens.

Another example. Our world is awash in the liquid gold we call water. Consider our close neighbors in space. Put a drop of water on Venus, our sunwards neighbor, and it will instantly boil into nothingness. Place a drop of water on our outer neighbor, Mars, and it will instantly deep-freeze.

This idea is reflected in Chazal. Commenting on the verse, “Can you tie the chains of Pleiades or loose the ropes of Orion” (38:31), the Gemara (Berachos 58b) states, “If not for the heat of Orion the world would not be able to survive because of the cold of Pleiades, and if not for the cold of Pleiades the world would not survive the heat of Orion.” Rashi explains that the constellation (mazal) of Orion governs winter and the constellation of Pleiades governs summer, and by fine tuning these two opposites Hashem saves the world from freezing or burning to death.


Chapters 38 and 39 of sefer Iyov discuss Hashem’s fine-tuned briyah. At the beginning of chapter 38 “Hashem answered Iyov out of a storm (mitoch hase’ara).” Translating the word se’arah as “hair,” the medrash (Bereshis Raba 4:4) says that sometimes the entire universe cannot hold Hashem’s glory and sometimes Hashem speaks to man even from between the hairs of his head, and based on this translation, the Gemara (Bava Basra 16a) explains this verse and subsequent verses of chapter 38 as follows:

“(Hashem) said to him – I have created many hairs on a person and for each hair I created a follicle for itself so that both should not derive sustenance from the same follicle, because if two derived sustenance from one follicle it would blind the person… I have created many raindrops and each drop I created from one mold. Because if two drops went out from one mold (simultaneously so that rain falls as a deluge instead of in small drops) they would wash away the earth and it would not produce fruits. The deer is cruel to its offspring. At calving time it goes to the top of a mountain so that it should fall. and die. But I prepare an eagle that catches it with its wings and places it before her. And if it came a moment early or a moment late it would die immediately.”

Another example of Hashem’s timing mechanism in the animal world is the way He supplies water to the O. unguicularis (headstander) beetle of the Namibia Desert in South-West Africa where years can pass without a drop of rain. How does the beetle receive its water supply? About sixty days a year, once every two weeks, moist air from the Atlantic Ocean blows over cold currents drifting north from Antarctica, creating a damp fog that drifts inland. Sensing the cool wind, groups of headstander beetles climb up the desert dunes, raise their hind legs, stand, and head downwards towards the fog. Water droplets in the fog strike their backs and flow down to the insects’ mouths, sating their thirst for the next two weeks.

Almost a thousand years ago the Chovos HaLevavos, too, discussed how the world is fine tuned for our needs:

“Consider the things necessary for physical survival. You will find that they are plentiful or scarce according to the degree of their necessity. Whatever is more essential is more plentiful and whatever one can do without is harder to find and less available. An example of this is air. Because one cannot survive without it for one hour the Creator provided it to everyone everywhere. Because water is also essential, but one can do without it for longer than air, the Creator provided it worldwide and gathered it in one place where living creatures go. But it is not everywhere like air.” (Shaar Habechina 5).

The Chovos Halevavos goes on to show how the same idea applies to food, clothing and jewels.

The greenhouse effect now endangering the world is also an essential part of Hashem’s plan; if the sun’s heat wasn’t trapped by carbon-dioxide, the world’s temperature would drop about 54 degrees Farenheit and we would freeze. The problem is that human tampering is upsetting the delicate balance. The medrash cited earlier may be warning of such dangers when it concludes with Hashem’s warning to Adam, “Take care you do not damage and destroy My world, for if you do damage, there is no one to repair after you.”

(Fred Hoyle quotes: The Universe: Past and Present Reflections. Engineering and Science, November 1981.)

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