God's exceptional creation
By Roelof Ham (translated by Ursula Moestapa)
The world that God has created is a very exceptional place. The more you pay attention to it, the more you get impressed by the beauty and complexity of the reality in which we live. If you ask me, it’s a great miracle how everything is intertwined and connected. The mere fact that we can grasp and fathom our reality at all by means of science, is also a great miracle in itself. After all, that could just as easily have been different. The reality in which we live could have been infinitely more complicated and more complex than we could have grasped and fathomed with our human intellect. Why not? Yet that's not the case. We can understand, fathom and examine the reality of our existence. That goes very far: Even the laws of nature that form the foundation of everything we see and experience are finally describable in mathematical formulas that are stunningly beautiful in their elegance and (relative) simplicity. For me as a Christian, this is one of the strongest non-Biblical indications that there is a God and Creator.
It is an indication of a Creator and a Designer Who has purposely made the universe in that way so that we might find in it a pointer to His existence. In this context the Bible teaches us that we are made in God’s image and therefore we look like Him in this sense: we are wired in such a way that we could conceive it and uncover it. Or, as it is worded in Romans 1: 20: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived.” This article has the goal to describe how unique our creation is. I want to show you how everything is made exactly so that we as humans can live, grow and flourish together in cohabitation with all other living creatures on this planet. In that way I will paint a picture with words as it were, about God’s greatness. The goal is an illustration of how exceptional our reality is, of which God is the Maker. And in particular, how great the miracle of life is in that reality. Especially highly developed and advanced life and man with his civilizations in particular.
The existence of life.
There is life in many forms and shapes. Biology classifies this diversity in forms of life in generations, which are a part of families of living creatures, which in turn are a part of orders, divided over classifications.
These classifications are again divided in phyla and these phyla in kingdoms. Originally, people knew only two kingdoms: that of animals and that of plants. However, as scientific knowledge increased, this expanded to five kingdoms, namely: animals, plants, fungi, protozoa* and bacteria.
In the late 70s another group was added to it. Those were the archaea that admittedly resembled bacteria from the outside, but were totally different with respect with to DNA. This has resulted in one more layer being added to the classification of life, which is that of the dominion. The kingdoms were divided in three dominions: Archaea, Bacteria and Eukarya (plants, animals and fungi).
This is important for this article, because these Archaea in particular have taught us that life is much stronger and more flexible than people had assumed for a long time.
There are actually so-called extremophiles besides the ‘regular and normal’ forms of life. These are organisms that are found in places where one would not expect any form of life; e.g. deep in the ocean, or in geysers and volcanic pools. Many of these extreme forms of life are Archaea. Archaea can exist miles deep in the ground and in rocks. They exist in places where there is no oxygen, no sunlight, places where the air pressure is enormously high, places that are too acidic or too alkaline for life. Even with temperatures that can rise up to approximately 200 degrees Celsius, which is according to the estimation of scientists. Extremophiles have even been found in icebergs and in sea ice. This means that life is even stronger and more flexible than many have ever thought. Some consider this a proof that life itself is not so very special. It is apparently much more widely spread and more flexible than it had ever been assumed, according to their estimation.
However, there is a huge ‘but’ in this reasoning, for although simple life (as Archaea) is very strong and flexible and can exist under many circumstances, it’s totally different with regard to higher and more complex forms of life. For animals, plants and humans it is much more complicated. Even for the simplest multicellular organisms, there are much more close conditions for life. For such life there is e.g. liquid water needed, oxygen (although it may be different theoretically) and temperatures not higher than 50 degrees Celsius. And that doesn't even leave out the fact that for the human civilization we have built up, there are even stricter conditions. Besides the right conditions for man, in order to be able to live, there must also be a great deal of stability in the world in which man lives that life: stability of climate, stability of the sun, temperature, etc., etc. These are all conditions that are ‘accidentally’ at hand on the earth.
The habitable zone
One of these conditions is called the habitable zone around a star.
Our earth is situated in the solar system where it rotates around the sun, together with seven other planets around our star. It is therefore an example of many, many other planets that are rotating around their own solar system, around their own star.
Although there are eight planets in our solar system, there is as far as we know, no other planet besides the earth where life can be found. This has to do with what scientists call the habitable zone around a star. This habitable zone is the region around a star where there could possibly be liquid water and where oceans could possibly be found that do not freeze due to low temperatures and that will not start to boil due to high temperatures. Outside this habitable zone, the temperatures are too low or too high. Not that there couldn’t possibly be life at all, surely not if one considers the formerly mentioned extremophiles, but higher developed and more complex life is quite closely related to these preconditions.
In addition, each star also has a so-called continually habitable zone, because stars vary in brightness and potency throughout their life cycles. The sun e.g. is now 30% stronger than in its beginning. So the habitable zone is also shifting. For our sun, the continually habitable zone has been calculated on 0.95 and 1.15 AU (1 AU is the distance from the earth to the sun, 93 million miles). A distance within which our earth fell and will fall from the sun for the vast majority of its lifetime. This doesn’t apply to Mars and Venus, our direct planetary neighbors.
Our sun itself is also very special. Our sun is a stable star in its output of energy. That’s not a natural thing. There are stars that are irregular in their activity. Around those stars, the habitable zone may have a capricious character that varies with time. Naturally, this is not beneficial for higher forms of life. Apart from the radiation that could be released from the irregularly shining stars and which can be lethal for all life. This is not the case with our sun however. Furthermore, our sun has the right size. A larger sun would already be expanding and becoming brighter much faster than our sun and would also make the region where the earth is situated, unfit for life as we know it. The fact that our sun is like it is, makes it just so that life can flourish here over a long period of time.
The special solar system
Our solar system with its eight planets, dozens of moons, the sun, the Kuyper Belt and the Oort Cloud, is situated in a star system (a galaxy) consisting of billions and billions of other stars. This system is called the Milkyway and is a so-called spiral galaxy.
This galaxy is, with regard to its shape, best described as a flat disk with a bulge in the middle like a ball with arms revolving around it.
Our solar system is situated in one of the arms of the galaxy on a 26,000 light years distance from the center. It has been put this way: ‘If our Galaxy is a large metropolis, then our solar system would be situated somewhere in the outskirts of the suburbs.’
In the center of the galaxy there are many stars that are in relatively close proximity to each other. This causes much activity and radiation. Because, as I already described in the previous paragraph, stars do radiate much energy and much of this energy is detrimental for life. There are all kinds of different stars and some are very dangerous for life, because they release radiation that can sterilize planets. For this a simple rule applies: the more stars in close proximity, the greater the chance that a planet will be affected by these dangerous radiations. Additionally, stars sometimes explode when they near the end of their lifetimes (supernovas). That may also involve dangerous radiation, apart from the effects of the explosion itself, which is also detrimental for life. And even when a star explodes, there is still a residual core that remains and that which remains is - depending on the size and structure of the star that explodes - sometimes also dangerous; the most dangerous objects in the universe for life itself, are the product of supernovas (black holes, quasars, etc.). The same formerly mentioned rule applies here: the more stars in close proximity to each other, the greater the chance for its detrimental effects. Our star, however, is situated on the edge, somewhere in the back of the galaxy. There are not many other stars in our neighborhood and certainly not many that release dangerous radiation or explode in a supernova. This creates a stable living environment on our planet. If we would be constantly bombarded with detrimental radiations and the effects of supernovas, there would be black holes everywhere that disrupt all kinds of stable processes with their enormous gravity (e.g. our fixed orbit around the sun), then life, certainly highly developed life in a civilization like ours, would totally be impossible. This very fact that we are so far from that more active core of our galaxy, is a benefit.
At the same time we are not too far from the core. In fact, the natural laws of our universe are working in such a way that if our solar system would be situated further to the outside, our planet would contain few if any heavy metals. Without these metals we would not have had a liquid core that creates plate tectonics and a magnetic field. This, we shall see in the next paragraph, is a further unique condition for life on our planet as we know it. It also appears that the location of our solar system itself is essential for life. Exactly because of the fact that we find ourselves where we are, it makes life and particularly also the stable life that leads to civilization, possible. Would we be closer to the more active core of our galaxy or further away to the outside, then it would be far less obvious and possibly even impossible. God’s great miracle.
Our great neighbor Jupiter
Another great threat for life is the possibility of the strike of asteroids, planetoids and comets. That this does happen we can see from the craters on the moon, craters on our own earth and in 1994 we saw it happen on Jupiter with the striking of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9.
These strikes can vary in size and intensity. A small strike doesn’t have much effect, but big asteroids can destroy life and sterilize planets.
We have, however, a large neighbor planet Jupiter that makes the chance and frequency of these strikes much lower. This gas planet, the largest planet in the solar system, works like a vacuum cleaner for flying space debris. The field of gravity of this planet is so big that many asteroids and comets are deflected or attracted by Jupiter. In this way Jupiter prevents them from reaching the inner planets of our solar system, where our earth is situated. This also is one reason why that makes the earth unique as a home.
The special earth
Our earth itself is a very exceptional place in the universe. It is as far as we know, the only place where life in all its diversity and complexity exists. It’s the only place where people live together and form a civilization. It is our home. Yet, we often don’t realize how special this small blue planet is.
That the earth is a safe place for us, is the result of the coming together of the right conditions and circumstances. Exactly the combination of these makes our earth so special. That's how the earth as a planet has the exact size. Certainly in relation to our sun and its composition. On a smaller earth the total mass of the planet would be too small to keep an atmosphere and the smaller mass could have a negative impact on the volcanic activity, the plate tectonics and the magnetic field. Our much smaller direct neighbor Mars, is a good example of this. Also the composition of the earth is exactly right for life and its development in a civilization. This is why there is exactly enough CO2 on the earth. If there would be more, the planet would get derailed in a stampede greenhouse effect, such as on Venus. If there would be too little, the planet would not get warm enough for life, such as on Mars. Furthermore, the earth has much liquid water, which is as far as we know, one of the essential preconditions for life. In addition, the angle of inclination of the earth is just right. The angle of 23.45 degrees makes the seasons possible on our planet. These seasons attenuate the extremes of temperature and take care of a distribution of heat and cold on earth. That too is conducive to life on earth, certainly to humans who want to develop in civilization and societies. A temperate and stable climate throughout the year is of great importance in this regard. In addition, the earth has one very important and often underestimated factor that makes stable life possible: the liquid core. The earth does have this liquid core by the presence of the right quantity of heavy metals and nuclear material. If that was not present or not in the right proportion, then we wouldn’t have it. This liquid core does two important things for life on our planet. First, it creates a magnetic field around the earth. This magnetic field which is generated by the earth’s core, prevents detrimental radiation from reaching the surface of our planet. Our planet is protected in this way from all sorts of dangerous radiation of our own sun, but also from the radiation of other stars from more distant parts of space. Although we have less to do with it here in our part of the galaxy, it is there. This radiation is detrimental to life, it can damage DNA and increase the risk of various diseases. Astronauts that find themselves outside the protective field of the earth, can for example develop cataract due to the influence of cosmic damaging radiation.
Also the risk of some forms of cancer is higher, as a result of the harmful radiation in space. There are scholars that even assume that the magnetic field of the earth is important for sustaining our atmosphere.
Without this field, our atmosphere would gradually disappear, as a result of the solar wind. On Mars, this could be the explanation for the thin and tenuous atmosphere there. Mars after all, has no liquid core and therefore doesn't have such a strong magnetic field, as the earth has. Secondly, the liquid core causes the system of plate tectonics. This implies that the surface of the earth is moving: large plates float on a liquid cover and slide over each other, beneath each other and against each other. This causes all kinds of natural phenomena such as mountain ranges, volcanoes and earthquakes, but it also has a regulatory effect. For example, it creates balance and distribution of all sorts of minerals and materials on earth. Plate tectonics is also important for the distribution of CO2, for it also contributes to a balance there. That's important, because too much CO2 causes a stampede greenhouse effect; too much means that our earth would freeze and would transform into a lifeless ice ball. The sliding plates hold the center fast. Additionally, without the plate tectonics, all continents would gradually be eroding away through the influence of weather and water, which is not good for us humans either.
Our unique moon
Finally, something else about our moon. The earth actually has a moon far too large for its size. The more we know about the universe and all sorts of planets within it, the more we discover how exceptional it is. Not only do our own neighbors not have moons like ours, but as far as we can now estimate, predominantly only large outer planets actually have big moons. Small inner planets do not have them. Yet, our moon is very important for life on our planet, because it causes stability in the rotation and angle of the earth axis. I wrote earlier that the angle of inclination of the earth creates the possibility of seasons and this contributes to the moderation of extremes in temperature in a major part of the planet. Without the moon, however, this angle of inclination would not have been stable and our planet would be 'pulled' back and forth in its angle of inclination by the influence of the gravity of the Sun and Jupiter. The moon prevents this from happening. The moon has to also be exactly where it is now in order for this to happen. If the moon was smaller or a further away, it would not have had this effect. If the earth was closer to the Sun, the effect was not nearly as powerful.
Mars, our neighbor planet that has only two little satellite moons of about 10 kilometers in diameter, has had fluctuations of more than 45 degrees in its position compared to the sun. That would have profound consequences. This stabilizing process of the moon will remain like this for billions of years.
The creation of God and life on this earth, is a very unique whole.
Everything is correct in every detail. Would there be anything even slightly different, then the creation as we know on this planet would absolutely not be possible. Simple life, certainly in the form of extremophiles, would possibly be able to survive under varying circumstances and even be able to flourish, but more complex lifeforms such as animals and plants would not. Let alone humans and the civilization we have built up. God's greatness has made it so, however, that everything fitted together.
We have seen that the earth is in exactly the right place in the solar system. The sun has exactly the right size and is, in terms of composition and star type, stable and beneficial for life. Jupiter, as our big brother, protects us from too many strikes from space debris. Space debris which in the worst case could ruin life on the earth. The solar system in its turn lies exactly in the right place in the galaxy. If it was further away from the core, then there would not be sufficient metals to make a liquid core possible. Closer to the core of the galaxy would imply that the risk of the earth being affected by cosmic radiations and harmful effects of other stars, supernovas and black holes, would be much greater.
Then there is our planet itself. It has exactly the right size and angle of inclination for a stable climate, a right atmosphere and the distribution of heat which makes the moderate temperatures possible that are so benificial for the life we lead. It has a liquid core which provides a protective magnetic field and the regulatory effect of plate tectonics.
And finally the moon which is exceptional for a planet as ours. The fact that we have our moon as cosmetic companion, makes it so that the earth remains stable in its angle of inclination toward the sun and has a positive effect on life and its growth and development. This effect is only possible with the composition of the Moon and distances it has now.
The possibility that all of this would have come about and come into being by accident is, all things considered, extremely small. There must be something or someone behind it. Accidental circumstances and evolution, are too weak explanations for me. That requires a greater faith than what I can muster. And although I am not a scientist nor an astrobiologist or astronomer, geologist or biologist and cannot say that I can totally comprehend all this, it is to me a very clear indication of the existence of the higher Power which is our God.
All around us we see God's plan in action every day and often we don't even notice it! When you let it sink in it touches you: how great this miracle is that God has made. He has designed it all this way!
*The kingdom of the protozoa does no longer exist, it has been outdated by new scientific insights.
The (scientific) information in this article is for the greater part based on the book 'Rare Earth' by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee.