They’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of the “iconic image” on the Net. AOL notes the photo taken on this date in 1972 from the outbound Apollo XVII spacecraft shaped our image of the earth. I’m so glad they called it earth. I’m indebted for science writer Frank Bures’s recalling this important anniversary to my attention.

He’s right, of course, this image did have a great impact here on Earth. We’re still not sure, he writes, which of the three American astronauts took this amazing photo. They each took many stills of the rapidly receding earth as they rocketed their way to what would be the last of our U.S. manned space voyages to the Moon.

At that point, one member of the Apollo 17 crew picked up a specially made Hasselblad camera and took several photos. No one knows who did this, because all three astronauts recalled taking the photo. Whomever did, it was a stunning, rare shot. You could see nearly all of Africa - the cradle of humanity - as well as the island of Madagascar, the Arabian peninsula and the clouds swirling over the ocean.

The photo would eventually become known as the “Blue Marble,” and it would become one of the most enduring pictures of all time. In fact, that photo probably changed the way we viewed our place in the cosmos more than any other.

Writer Bures acknowledges that the Earthrise photo taken from Apollo 8 probably began the re-orientation of our thinking. Those Apollo 8 astronauts—Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders—were the first men to leave the Earth’s gravitational pull and circle the Moon. They did not land, but they did see the far side and, after breathless minutes here at home as they were lost to radio contact, they reported back to an expectant world. No green cheese that side, either.

Those Apollo 8 heroes boldly went where no man had gone before but they irritated some atheizers here on Earth by reading from the King James Version of Genesis—on Christmas Eve, no less!

I’ve also read that King Faisal of Saudi Arabia assembled his wise men at that time, not sure how he should react to the U.S. landings on the Moon. The crescent Moon, of course, is a symbol of Islam. Saudi kings regard themselves as Custodians of the Holy Places of Islam. (Interesting that that does not include Jerusalem, but that’s a topic for another column.) King Faisal was advised by his Islamic science experts that the Americans had indeed landed on the Moon and it would probably be best not to dispute that fact in public. Better to leave such speculations to the Full Mooners in America, no doubt.

What interests me is what we make of all this. Al Gore and many other environmentalists see the Earth as fragile. Writer Bures stresses that this iconic image reinforced the idea of a planet alone in an inky void. Not very secure. It seemed to cry out for limits to growth, limits to population, limits to visions.

He doesn’t have the whole world in His hands, they tell us. We have the planet in our hands. And we’re so fearful, we’re trembling so violently from this existential terror that we’re about to drop it.

Thus, we have to hurry, right now, to acknowledge this inconvenient truth. We have to give all power to the UN or some other group of credentialed really smart geeks so we can save this fragile planet.

Cosmology explores our place in the cosmos and the origins of the cosmos. I come closest to the “Goldilocks Theory” myself, seeing our Earth and our place in the Universe as “just right.” Still, it’s fun to read what the really smart folks think about origins. How did they manage to miss the one where all that was and is and ever will be is carried about on the back of a really big turtle?

My favorite video on all this was produced by the Discovery Institute in 2005. The Privileged Planet makes the scientific case for Earth’s exceptionalism. It offers compelling evidence for the idea of Intelligent Design. This program shows how even if we limit ourselves to twenty enabling conditions, all of these conditions must be met in precisely the right sequence at precisely the right moment. The probabilities of all this happening by chance—as philosophical materialists insist is must happen—becomes remote and remoter. You might even say, astronomical.

Check out The Privileged Planet for your family. Invite some of your skeptical friends over to watch this one-hour documentary. Just hearing the rich baritone and authoritative British accent of narrator John Rhys-Davies will be worth the effort.

And remember what those valiant astronauts said on that long ago Christmas Eve.

Add to their Earth-shaping words this thought: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.