God the Creator and the Gift of Life

Today, I want to include a response to my recent teaching on “God’s Story Goes On:  God the Creator Who Gives the Gift of Life.”  I deeply appreciate responses to my teachings, and thought this one should be shared.  Bill Glithero sent this delightful response that I entitled “Our Unlikely World.”  Enjoy! ~ Pastor Ron

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Our Unlikely World, by Bill Glithero

After listening to the teaching a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to make a few observations, comments, and such.  Ron spoke of the “gift” of creation and I would like to give a few arguments as to the unlikelihood of our universe.  I preface this with an acknowledgement that a good deal of this information are theories, but represent the current thinking among the smart folks out there.

I will start with the four fundamental forces.  These forces are gravity, electromagnetism, the nuclear weak force, and the nuclear strong force.  We are all familiar with gravity so I will begin there.  There are a few peculiar aspects to gravity.  First and foremost is the relative weakness of gravity as compared to the other forces. You may disagree with the statement that gravity is weak.  After all, it holds the solar system together, the moon orbiting the Earth, and our feet planted firmly on the ground.  But consider that with only the muscles of a human being, we are able to leap over seven feet off the ground in a high jump, long jump over 25 feet, and lift hundreds of pounds over our heads.  (Well I can’t do this but some folks can.)  And this is combating the force of gravity from the entire planet.  Its relative strength as compared to the other forces is as follows. If we assign the strong force (I just love the name “strong force”, somebody stayed up all night thinking of this name.) with a value of 1.  The strength of the electromagnetic force is 1/137, the weak force is 1/1,000,000 and gravity is 6/1000000000000000000000000000000000000000.  Or about 6 x 10 to minus 39th power.  Scientists have been working of the question of why gravity is so weak since Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity was published in the early 20th century.  One of the most popular current theories is that most of the matter in the universe exists in extra dimensions outside of our familiar 3D world.  But for the purposes of this discussion, we will not consider those extra dimensions.

Gravity is considered to be a property of space-time, the fabric in which the universe exists.  The existence of matter “warps” the surrounding space-time and guides objects along the curves.  If you imagine a trampoline with a bowling ball placed on it, the plane of the trampoline will “warp” or deform.  If we were to roll a marble by the bowling ball, the marble would curve toward the ball, “falling into the ball’s gravitational field.”  If we place a baseball in the same location, the tramp with deform, but not as much, thus having a lesser effect on the marble.  The more matter in a given position with cause greater “warping” and thus a greater effect.  If the effect of gravity was increased by a little as 2%, the universe would have collapsed back upon itself immediately after the Big Bang.   Conversely, if the effect of gravity was decreased by the same 2%, matter would not have formed.  So we are fortunate that the strength is what it is.

The electromagnetic force operates in a completely different manner.  The EM (electro-magnetic) force is what makes magnets work, the power grid operate, and allows TV and radio to entertain us.  It also keeps matter together.  When you place your hand on the table, it is not the atoms of your hand that keeps it from passing through the table, but the magnetic fields interacting.  The magnetic field that surrounds our planet is produced at the core of the earth.  The molten metal’s, primarily iron, that circulate beneath the earth’s crust, cause this field to form, protecting earth from stellar radiation and cosmic rays.  If this field did not exist, it is unlikely that life could have advanced beyond the stage of pond scum.  It never fails to amaze me that the forces work together, along with the O zone layer, to protect the fragile ecosystem.  The planet Mars was once similar to the earth.  But Mars being smaller, with less internal heat, the core cooled and the liquid metals solidified, unable to produce any field.  Without this field, Mars lost its atmosphere to the solar winds and is now a dry dead planet.

The EM force is also the force that allows for light to operate.  The photon, the particle that is the carrier of the EM, has no mass.  This, of course, allows the EM force to operate at the speed of light. But let us consider light for a moment with regards to photography.  As kids, many of us built a pinhole camera.  With only a shoe box, and some developing paper, we were able to take pictures.  This is possible because light carries  information from the object it reflects from.   The fact that light will carry information allows us to determine the composition of objects that otherwise we would just have to speculate on.  We can tell what the composition of stars, gas clouds, and other things in interstellar space are.  We discovered helium on the Sun before we found this element on earth.  We have also found nucleic acids in dust clouds, sulfuric acid on Venus, and a nebula that is primarily composed of alcohol.  (Now that should be party central)  By using light as our information source, we have determined that, at least in the observable universe, the same elements and compounds exist everywhere.

Another interesting aspect of light is that it always appears to travel at the same velocity, regardless of the observer’s relative position and speed.  If, for example, you are in a car moving at 50 mph, and you approach another car, traveling toward you at 50 mph, the apparent velocity of the second car, to an observer in the first, would be traveling at 100 mph, the combined speeds of the two cars.  This is common experience and one which most folks can readily understand, velocity1 plus velocity 2.  Light, however, messes with our perceptions.  If we are traveling on a space ship at 120,000 miles per second, about 2/3  the speed of light, and we approach a star, common experience would dictate that the light from that star, which is traveling at 180,000 miles per second, would appear to the observer to be traveling at 300,000 miles per second, or v1 + v2.  This makes perfect sense given our everyday experiences.  Conversely, if we are traveling away from this same star at the same speed, we should observe the light from the star to be traveling at 60,000 m/s, v1 – v2.  Again makes perfect sense.  And again, absolutely wrong.

At this juncture, I need to discuss relative positions.  Imagine this scenario.  You are sitting on a train.  On the adjacent tracks, another train is sitting facing the other direction.  Assume you are isolated from the external forces such as acceleration.  As one train begins to move, it is impossible for you to tell if you are moving past the other train, or it is passing past you.  Mathematically, both views are valid.  And now I have to delve into Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity.  In part, it states that as an object approaches the speed of light, time, to an outside observer, slows.  So the faster we go the slower time travels.  This aspect of time has been proven many ways.  The easiest for me to fathom was the experiment in which identical atomic clocks were started.  One was left on the Earth, while the other was sent flying around the planet in a jet.  The clock in the fast moving jet slowed relative to the ground based clock.  At normal speeds, those in which we are likely to observe, the effect is neglitable, though still present.  Soooooo, when we combine these aspects, due to the slowing of observable time, the speed of light emanating from the observed object will always be the same.  In other words, as the object attains higher velocities, the slowing of time counterbalances the effect of relative velocities.  Clear as mud, huh?  I must admit, when a student, I took the constant velocity of light as a given, cause they told me it was true.  It wasn’t till many years later, while reading some of Einstein’s musings, that I was able wrap my mind around this, just a little.  Anyway, the reason for this journey into the absurd was to give a little background.  If light, or the EM, were to appear to be variable in velocity, none of our electronic devices would function.  The structure of the atom would disintegrate, and the effect could precede the cause.  All very messy things.

One last little aspect to light I want to mention.  All of us are familiar with the Doppler Effect, though we might not know it.  If you are standing at the side of the road, and a car in coming toward you, the sound of the engine will appear to increase in pitch as it approaches, and decrease in pitch as it recedes.  An experiment was done near the turn of the 20th century to quantify this effect.  A group of musicians were put on a train.  They were instructed to hold a note as the train approached a group of observers at the station.  As the train neared, the note appeared to rise in pitch, and as the train passed the observer spot, the pitch lowered.  This is caused because as the sound source comes toward the observer, sound waves are pushed together, rising the frequency.  As the source recedes, the sound waves are stretched, lowering the frequency.  The same thing happens with light.  As an object nears, the light waves are constricted, causing the frequency to increase, making the light appear bluer.  As the object recedes, the light waves stretched, making the light appear redder.  Using this property of light,  Edwin Hubble was able to determine that the universe was expanding, the discovery that led to the theory of the Big Bang.
I hesitate to discuss the two nuclear forces.  While varied and interesting, this discussion needs a lot of background in quantum mechanics.  Perhaps in future musings.  I will also skip talking about dark energy and dark matter.  If anybody tells you they understand these, please question this person’s honesty.

The next topic I will discuss is our remarkable planet.  There are just a lot of happy circumstances that led to us.  First is the location of Earth’s orbit.  It is within what astronomers like to call the Goldilocks zone.  Not too hot, not too cold.  If the orbit of the earth was a little closer to the sun, the heat and radiation would have boiled off the oceans, leaving no water for biology to interact with.  Conversely if the orbit was a little more distant, all the water would be frozen, again making biology impossible.  The size of our planet is important too.  If it were much larger, like Jupiter or Saturn, we would have retained a great deal more gasses, eliminating a solid surface with water oceans.  Again, tough for people to exist.  If it were much smaller, like Mars, it would not have retained its internal heat, eliminating our magnetic field that we discussed earlier.  Also the reduced size would reduce the gravitational effect, allowing for the atmosphere to leak into space.

But the most remarkable circumstance to me is our moon.  About 4 billion years ago, Earth was a smaller planet, about 2/3 the size today.  Another mini planet, a bit smaller than Mars, collided with the proto Earth at just the right speed and just the right angle.  This collision melted the surface of our young planet and threw billions of tons of debris into space.  A lot of this stuff stayed in orbit, forming our oversized moon.  If you look around the solar system, Earth’s moon is way bigger than it should be.  But the size allows the moon to act as a stabilizer for Earth.  The Earth has a tilt to it, as any globe will show you.  This tilt allows for the different seasons.  As the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun during Earth’s orbit, we enjoy our summer.  At the opposite end of the orbit, when the north is tilted away, we have our winter.  IF not for the tilt, the equator would be unbearably hot, the poles would become larger, frozen wastelands, and only a narrow strip in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres would be suitable for life.  This tilt is unstable.  If the moon didn’t exist, the tilt would fluctuate tremendously.  What this means is that the planet would tumble in its orbit.  The North Pole could end up at the equator and vice versa.  It would be a little hard on living things if the average temp would range from 20 below to 90 above in a given area.

The moon also provides the tides.  If not for the effects of the moon, the world’s oceans would become stagnant.  They would no longer clean the air and scrub the surface, making the existence of higher forms of life unlikely.  The moon has slowed the planet’s revolutions as well.  When the moon was formed, the day on Earth was about 6 hours long.  As the moon orbits, it pulls on the Earth, stealing energy, slowing the revolutions.  The moon is slowly moving away from us.  When it formed, it was only about 15,000 miles away.  That would have been an impressive full moon.  Now it travels approximately 256,000 miles away.  At this distance, the observed size of the moon and the sun are equal, allowing for eclipses to occur.  This happenstance has only been possible for the last couple million years, and will be possible for only a few millions years more.  We are lucky to be here during a relatively short time this happens.  In several billion years, the moon will have no effect on earth.  But not to worry, our Sun will have expanded to a red giant by that time.

I want to mention a more mundane phenomenon.  I worked in the hi-fi electronic business for a decade.  For those of us that are older than 30 or so years, we remember records.  Those flat black things that would play on a turntable.  I was always amazed that a needle running through grooves of vinyl could reproduce the glories of Beethoven’s 9th, Handel’s Messiah, and Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy.  This function can be traced back to Edison’s invention of the gramophone.  By speaking into a cone, attached to a cutting arm, moving on a wax cylinder, we can impart information into the wax.  By using that same cone, working through the grooves, it can reproduce the original voice, i.e. the information, to an astonishing degree.  Record albums use essentially the same process, although the technology has improved.   That nature would allow such a simple system to work makes me scratch my head.

I want to close this discussion with the most valuable, amazing, and essential compound in the universe.  I am, of course, referring to dihydrogen oxide.  More commonly known as water.  (For the chemist reading this, I am aware that UIPAC only recognizes “water” as the name, but this was more fun.)  This simple combination of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom is needed for most of the important things that happen in our lives.  As familiar as water is to all of us, being one of the most stable as well as most abundant compounds on earth, it is, nonetheless an “odd” one. In many respects, it is one of the  strangest substances known to science. Almost all its properties-boiling point, melting point, etc.- are “anomalously” higher or lower than what one might expect based on its molecular mass of 18 amu (atomic mass units). Certainly, it is these unexpected properties of water that make it a uniquely useful liquid and the basis for life. No other liquid can be substituted for water in the role it plays. The following is a summary of some of its unique characteristics.  If we compare it with other compounds in the series, H2S, H2Se, H2Te, replacing oxygen by sulfur, selenium, and tellurium; all in the same group and chemically close. It is a general trend that within a given series of compounds, boiling points and melting points increase with the increasing atomic weight of elements. Accordingly, if we plot these properties of the four compounds against their atomic weight, we expect them to follow this pattern. They all do EXCEPT water. For example, being the lightest compound in the group, water is expected to have a boiling point close to -75C (-105F). This is nowhere close to the actual boiling point of water, which is +100C (+212F). Similarly, water is expected to have a freezing point at about -100C (-145F). This is again much different than the actual freezing point of water. If water did have the “expected” boiling and freezing points the result would be dramatic; there would be No life, at least of the kind that we are familiar with.

The fact that water in the solid phase (ice) is less dense than the liquid phase (water expands on freezing and ice floats on top) is taken for granted by most of us and may on occasion cause annoyances as it results in cracking water pipes. Yet this virtually unique property of water is essential for marine life.  If ice were denser than water, it would sink and accumulate at the bottom of ocean and lakes. Water in oceans and lakes would show radical temperature changes with depth. The amount of ice would be greater each year as more and more ice would be formed each winter and less and less of it would melt each summer. It would not be long before all oceans would be totally frozen. As it is, the ice floats at the top, thereby isolating water and marine life below, keeping the temperature from dropping to the freezing point, and maintaining water as a liquid for marine life.

Water has a higher specific heat (the amount of energy it takes to raise its temperature) than all the compounds in the series, and higher than almost all organic compounds. The higher values of both specific heat and thermal conductivity allow water to be used as storage of heat, and to buffer the temperature of its surroundings. Without this property, we would have extreme of temperatures each day; freezing cold as well as scorching heat within a short span of time, many times during a single day, resulting in destruction of life. People who live in the desert experience that, although to a very limited degree-very hot days and cold nights.

Water also has a very high surface tension, a phenomenon in which the surface acts as though it were a thin, invisible, elastic membrane. It is because of this property that you can place a needle on the surface of water if you do not break the surface. A consequence of this property is that it allows biochemically important compounds to concentrate near the liquid surface and making some biochemical reactions more rapid.  The high surface tension is responsible for the so called capillary effect-rise of water in capillary tubes. It is this property that is largely responsible for the transport of water, against gravity, within plants.

The dielectric constant (measure of charge distribution within a molecule) for water exceeds just about any other liquid, thus allowing it to dissolve polar compounds, such as NaCl (table salt), into their constituent ions Na and Cl. We tend to forget that water is, after all, the least expensive and the most effective cleaning agent.  This also causes biochemically important compounds such as enzymes and nucleic acids to exhibit what is known as the hydrophobic effect. By aligning themselves toward or away from water molecules, enzymes are, in effect, formed into their “active shape.” It is established, biochemically, that it is the ‘ shape” of enzymes that enables them to catalyze biochemical reactions in the living cell. The same enzyme, if laid out differently, would become inactive, thereby bringing the life process to a halt.

Well, that was a mouthful, wasn’t it?  This discussion is not intended to be complete on the subject, and I am sure the reader can come up with several examples of the fortuitous happenstances in nature.  I am not presenting this as proof of God or as evidence against a supreme being, but simply as basis for debate.

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