Early Earth Enigmas
by Max Tuason @yahoo.com
I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens,
and all their host have I commanded
-- Isaiah 45:12.
The universe appears to have been mathematically designed. Greek mathematician Pythagoras, who taught that the universe was built upon numbers, is known to have said: “Nature geometrizes.”1
Sir Jonathan Sacks, (Former) Chief Rabbi, United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, is awed: “The believer might wonder, as does Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society, in his Just Six Numbers, at the extraordinary precision of the six mathematical constants that determine the shape of the Universe, such that if even one were fractionally different neither we nor the Universe would exist.”2
Nobel laureate for physics Steven Weinberg concurs: “Life as we know it would be impossible if any one of several physical quantities had slightly different values… One constant does seem to require incredible fine tuning.” He quantifies the tuning as one part in 10120 ! 3 (That’s 1 with 120 zeros afterward!)
Sir James Jeans, knighted British physicist, once remarked: “From the intrinsic evidence of His creation, the Great Architect of the Universe now begins to appear as a pure mathematician.”4
Isaiah expresses the same thought in enigmatic terms: “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, Measured heaven with a span and calculated the dust of the earth in a measure? Weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? (Isa 40:12, NKJV).
Earth, a tiny planet, is just one of the countless objects in the vastness of space, yet it is the only one known to support life. Scientists are puzzled by the numerous “accidents” that favor life on earth. Many conclude the Earth is “anthropic” -- that is, “specially made for man.”
Size of the Earth. The scientific data suggest that the Earth did not randomly come into existence. It has precise measurements that look like the product of careful planning and design. So said God to Job: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?” (Job 38:4-5, NKJV).
If the Earth were larger, gravity would be stronger. Hydrogen would be unable to escape from the surface and collect in the atmosphere, rendering the planet inhospitable to life. If the Earth were smaller, gravity would be weaker. Oxygen would escape into space, and animals could have never emerged on the planet.
Location and motion. Astrophysicist Paul Davies, in his book The Goldilocks Enigma (2007), nicknamed the Earth “the Goldilocks Planet.” It has just the right temperature, neither too hot nor too cold.5
Distance from the sun. The Earth lies at an ideal distance from the Sun: 93,000,000 miles (150,000,000 km) away. If the distance changed by as little as 2%, all life on Earth would perish. If the Earth were a bit farther from the sun, water would freeze; a little closer, water would evaporate. Consider our neighbors: Venus, closer to the Sun, is too hot; while Mars, farther away, is too cold.
Earth’s orbit. The Earth’s orbit around the Sun is just about 3% off a perfect circle – just right to keep water liquid. If its orbit were as elliptical as that of Mars, water would alternately boil when we are nearest to the Sun and freeze when we are farthest.
Rotation and axis. The Earth’s rotation period cannot be changed by even just a few percent. Too slow, the temperature differences between night and day would be too great. Too fast, wind velocities would become disastrous.
The tilt of the Earth’s axis is at a 23.5o angle relative to the sun. Greater, summers would be much hotter and winters much colder, wreaking havoc on plant cycles and agriculture.
Neighboring objects. For a satellite, the moon is quite big for the Earth. And, yet, it is just the right size. Its gravitational pull produces the tides that prevent the oceans from either boiling or freezing. Coastal waters are cleansed (by constant motion from tides), oxygen and nutrients which sustain marine life are replenished, and the tilt of the Earth is stabilized.
The gargantuan planet Jupiter, with its massive gravitational force, occupies a nearby location that is favorable to our planet. Otherwise, Earth would be struck about a thousand times more frequently by asteroids, comets, and space debris.
Atmosphere and magnetosphere
Oxygen. This life-sustaining gas comprises 21% of the Earth’s atmosphere. Much more than that would be harmful – oxygen could be toxic if breathed too long, as well as make the environment fire-prone.
Ozone, an unstable oxygen molecule, forms a layer in the top level of the atmosphere. The ozone layer blocks most of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation that can burn sensitive skin, damage eyes, and cause cancer.
Nitrogen. This constitutes 78% of the gases surrounding the planet. It dilutes the oxygen, serving as a fertilizer for plant life. Lightning bolts around the world mix nitrogen with oxygen each day, producing compounds that come down to earth with rain and enrich the soil.
Carbon dioxide. The amount of this gas in the atmosphere (3/100 of 1%) is just right – less would not be enough to keep vegetation thriving; too much would be fatal to both animals and humans.
All the other necessary elements are present – carbon, hydrogen, phosphorous, sulfur, as well as liquid water -- in the right proportions, as though deliberately combined. Science writer Stuart Clark wonders: “Chemically speaking, Earth is simply better set up for life than its neighbors. So how come we got all the good stuff?”6
Magnetosphere. The Earth has just enough internal radioactivity to maintain its iron core in a molten state,7 thus creating a protective force field surrounding the planet as far as 40,000 miles out. The magnetosphere protects the Earth against cosmic radiation.
Isaiah tells us why God did all these: “For this is what the LORD says -- he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited…” (Isa 45:18a, NIV).
The air we breathe
When the Earth became a solid body, about 4.6 billion years ago, the atmosphere is believed to have consisted solely of volcanic emissions -- a mixture of water vapor (85%), carbon dioxide (10%), sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen, with almost no oxygen.8
Rise of oxygen.
Around 2.4 billion years ago, new marine microorganisms capable of photosynthesis (primitive plants) began splitting water molecules to produce oxygen using the sun's energy.9
Subsequently, oxygen escaped from the oceans to the atmosphere, starting the formation of the ozone layer, which acted as a sunscreen that reduced harmful ultraviolet rays striking the oceans. This allowed photosynthetic bacteria that previously lived in the depths to move up to the surface and increase the output of oxygen.10
About 100 million years later, organisms with 2-3 different cell types and deriving energy from oxygen appeared. Then followed more complex cells equipped with mitochondria (sausage-shaped structures that produce energy in cells).11 Further increases of oxygen in the air led to the emergence of new air-breathing marine animals approximately 570 million years ago.12
The availability of more oxygen greatly enhanced the metabolic efficiency of organisms in extracting nutrients from food and converting them to energy. Many marine creatures grew to enormous sizes. Chambered nautiluses that are eight inches wide today measured nine feet across.13 On land, cockroaches were about a foot long. Dragonflies had wings almost three feet in span.14
Air bubbles in amber (fossil resin from trees) strongly suggest that oxygen in the atmosphere might have been as high as 25%.15 Then, in the last 10 million years, atmospheric oxygen went down to its present level of 21%. Why?
Some scientists speculate that great fires burned over the earth about 10 million years ago, reducing the number of trees and, consequently, the amount of photosynthesis and oxygen.16
The wonders of water
Earth is the only planet positively known to have liquid water. The most abundant substance on earth, water covers approximately 71% of the planet’s surface.
Water is essential to life. Combined with carbon and certain other key elements, water is the basis of almost all the molecules of living organisms. Fluids primarily made up of water, like sap and blood, carry the vital materials that plants, animals, and humans need to live. Water is an ideal solvent for metabolism as it dissolves the food that sustains living organisms.
Where all the water came from remains an enigma. If the solar system and the Earth had formed from clouds of gases and dust, hardly any water would be found on Earth. Any water this close to the Sun would have been vaporized and blown away by the solar wind, like water vapor in the tails of comets.
Law of nature altered?
Most liquids contract as their temperature goes down. So, too, water. As it gets colder, water in rivers, lakes, and seas becomes denser and heavier, sinking and forcing the lighter, warmer water beneath to rise to the top. Yet, on reaching precisely 7oF (4oC) above zero, the process is inexplicably reversed! Water begins to expand until frozen into ice, its volume increasing by 10%. Being lighter, ice floats above liquid water.
The ice on the surface serves as an insulator that keeps the water below from freezing, protecting organisms beneath. If water did not stop contracting just before freezing point, ice would be heavier and sink to the bottom, where the sun's heat could not melt it. Eventually, layers upon layers of ice would pile up, turning the Earth into an ice planet.
Did God recalibrate a law of nature to make Earth hospitable to life? This reminds us of what He said through Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer 29:11, NIV).
First life forms
Scientists believe life on earth began in the water. Charles Darwin, who advanced the theory of evolution in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species, once wrote to a friend that life might have begun in “some warm little pond.” His evolutionary theory assumes that, billions of years ago, microscopic life spontaneously appeared.
Richard Dawkins, an atheist, summarizes the idea in his book, The Selfish Gene (1976): “The newly formed Earth had an atmosphere made up of carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia, and water. These simple compounds were broken up by energy from sunlight, lightning, and exploding volcanoes, then reformed into amino acids. These accumulated in the sea and combined into protein-like compounds, producing a potentially ‘organic soup.’ Then, ‘a particularly remarkable molecule was formed by accident’ – a molecule that had the ability to reproduce itself.” (The accident, the author admitted, was exceedingly improbable.) Similar molecules clustered together, and then, by an exceedingly improbable accident again, wrapped a protective barrier of other protein molecules around themselves as a membrane. Thus, it is thought, the first “living” cell generated itself. (In the preface to his book, Dawkins says: “This book should be read almost as though it were science fiction.”)17
The first organic molecules are said to have been simple sugars and amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Proteins, in turn, are the building blocks of living cells. The first living cell is presumed to have been anaerobic (surviving without oxygen), using methane for energy.18
The sudden appearance of life all by itself from non-living matter is called “spontaneous generation” or abiogenesis, which comes from the Greek words a (“without”), bio (“life”) and genesis (“birth”). However, this theory violates the law of biogenesis, which states that all life must come from preceding life of its kind.
Spontaneous dissolution. “Spontaneous generation” has serious problems. First, the same energy from sunlight, lightning, and volcanic explosions that split up the compounds in the atmosphere would have even more quickly destroyed any amino acids that formed. So, the amino acids had to reach the oceans quickly for protection. However, science writer George Wald observes that in the water “spontaneous dissolution is much more probable, and hence proceeds more rapidly, than spontaneous synthesis.”19 Mike Riddle, a creationist, explains that water immediately destroys amino acids by hydrolysis (“water splitting”). The entry of a water molecule between two bonded molecules (such as amino acids) causes them to split. The “water tends to break chains of amino acids apart. If any protein had formed in the oceans 3.5 billion years ago, they would have quickly disintegrated.”20
“Catch 22” situation. If there was no oxygen in the atmosphere, there would have been no ozone layer, and the ultraviolet rays from the sun would have instantly destroyed any newly forming amino acids. If there was oxygen, it would have soon oxidized and destroyed any self-organizing amino acids. Either way, the emergence of life was doomed from the start. Author Michael Denton notes in his book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (1985): “What we have is a sort of a ‘Catch 22’ situation. If we have oxygen we have no organic compounds, but if we don’t have oxygen, we have none either”21 It was a no-win situation. But then something, or Someone, intervened.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Bereisheet (Gen.) 1:1