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About the Book

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V



     

Part I: The Preparation of the Earth Before Man

Chapter 3

The Fitness of the Earth

     IT IS a curious thing that so long as man was viewed as the centre of the universe because of his unique relationship to God, the earth which is his home automatically achieved its special status by association, and very little thought was given to its peculiar fitness in performing this function. It was only after man had been dethroned and the geocentric concept of the universe had been abandoned, that man suddenly began to realize what a unique body the earth really is.
     The uniqueness of the earth as a setting for life is indeed quite extraordinary and the fact is very widely recognized among scientists who nevertheless view it as a purely accidental circumstance. The kind of uniqueness here in view involves a number of factors: (1) its size, (2) its rate of revolution, (3) its mean distance from the sun, (4) the variations in its distance as it circles the sun, (5) the constitution of its surface, and (6) its satellite, the moon.

     (1) The size of the earth determines the constitution of its atmosphere, and the constitution of its atmosphere determines the nature of the living forms upon it. (6) If it were much larger, it would have retained a large percentage of gases inimical to life. If it were much smaller, its gravitational forces would have been insufficient to retain virtually any atmosphere at all. The smaller planets with smaller gravitational fields lose a large proportion of their lighter elements during the cooling process. The larger planets retain most of their original atmosphere. Actual measurements show that although the weight of Jupiter is only 317 times that of the earth, so great is the amount of atmospheric strata around it that its volume appears to be 1300 times greater than that of the earth. The planet Mercury, on the other hand, has a mass approximately one twenty-third that of the

6. Farmer, F. T., "The Atmosphere: Its Design and Significance in Creation," Transactions of the Victoria Institute, vol.71, 1939, p.38f.

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earth and is known to have no appreciable atmosphere surrounding it, its gravitational field being too weak to retain nitrogen, oxygen, and water vapour.
     The earth has, as a result, just sufficient mass that it is able to hold around itself a blanket of gases which both supports life and shields it from lethal rays of the sun. Its size is such that poisonous gases which formed as the earth cooled were not held in the atmosphere but escaped into space. The carbon dioxide, which was held, ultimately supported luxuriant vegetation, which in turn purified it for animal life by setting oxygen free through photosynthesis. Gases, like all other things, have mass, some being heavier than others. It so happens that the gases unsuitable for life were light enough and the earth's gravitational pull small enough that they were lost into space and thereby eliminated.
     (2) The rate of revolution of the earth is just right for the continuous renewal of the atmosphere for animal life. Nothing gets too cold or too hot over most of its area, and plants have just sufficient times of light and of darkness to perform their function of regenerating the air (since the unique stability of carbon dioxide depends upon alternating light and darkness)
(7).
     (3) The distance from the sun determines the mean temperature of the atmosphere and the earth. The pliable materials of which living tissue is composed are made up of chains of molecules which retain their physical characteristics within a comparatively narrow range of temperature variation. It appears that apart from the very exceptional properties of carbon in forming these long chainlike molecules, such structures as ourselves and all other pliant forms would not be possible at all. It is only in a very restricted range of temperature that these carbon compounds are stable. If the temperature becomes too cold, these chains become inflexible, and if the temperature becomes too high, they lose their bonds and disintegrate. The range of temperature within which living flesh can continue without artificial protection is quite small relative to the ranges of temperature which may exist on a body in space.
     (4) The seasonal variations which take place throughout the year, due to the 23° axial tilt of the earth, are very important for the continuance of human life. Were it not for these changes, micro-organisms which cause diseases and which are favoured by certain environmental conditions, would multiply so extensively that the

7. Henderson, Lawrence, The Fitness of the Environment: An Inquiry into the Biological Significance of the Properties of Matter, quoted by K. Walker in Meaning and Purpose, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England, 1950, p.102.

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human race might very well suffer extinction because of them.(8) Man is not the only animal to suffer on this account. Consider what would happen to the mosquito population if the conditions ideal for their multiplication were to persist throughout the year all over the globe. Surgeon-General C. A. Gordon pointed out that not only does the persistence of a particular temperature and humidity have to be taken into account here, but even the length of day. The length of day, of course, is governed by the rate of revolution of the earth about its axis. In his paper, Gordon gave a chart showing the distribution throughout one year of some of the major diseases caused by these micro-organisms. (9) Were the conditions favouring any one of the disease micro-organisms maintained throughout the year, the consequences would probably be disastrous for man.
     (5) The surface of the earth is part water, part dry land, in a ratio of approximately 3 to 1. The uniqueness of water has been pointed out by countless authorities so that the existence of water in a fluid state is itself fundamental to the continuance of life. On this point Harold Blum makes the following observations:
(10)

     Water makes up perhaps 80 to 90% of all living organisms, and may be regarded as their principal environmental component, since even forms living in air maintain an aqueous internal environment in one way or another. Most of the water on the earth is in the liquid state, but it is also of importance as an environmental factor when in the vapor state and even as a solid.
     Water seems admirably suited for the major role it plays in maintaining a relatively constant temperature for the earth's surface, a matter of paramount importance to living organisms, which can serve only within a very restricted range of temperature. It owes this aspect of its fitness to several properties.

     Blum then elaborates upon these properties. His elaboration leaves one filled with wonder at the power and wisdom of God in creating such a medium. But this medium requires a quite specific environment for its continued usefulness. That is to say, it is useful in a unique way -- in a unique environment. Blum sums this up by saying: (11)

     So fitness partakes of the nature of uniqueness, the uniqueness of the earth as an abode of life is a matter that strikes one more forcibly the more he tries to break out of the circle. Not only is the earth as it is, but it has reached that state through an evolutionary process, each step of which has been dependent upon the one preceding it.

8. Gordon, C. A., "Climate in Relation to Organic Nature," Transactions of the Vict oria Institute, vol.17, 1883, p.33f
9. Ibid., pp.51, 52.
10. Blum, Harold, Time's Arrow and Evolution, Princeton University Press, 1951, p.62.
11. Ibid., p.76.

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     The stage upon which living systems bowed their debut was set by all the preceding events in the history of the earth or, for that matter, of the Universe. These events placed important restrictions upon the nature of life and its evolution.
     Life, it seems, did not arise and evolve as a system free to vary in any direction whatever; but as a system upon which great restrictions were placed, some of them even before the earth came into existence.

     Harold Blum concludes his chapter "Fitness of the Environment" with these words, "This aspect of fitness is not, then, universal, but exists only in relation to the planet Earth, or to planets that are very nearly like the Earth.'' (12)
     Water is the most universally effective chemical solvent known, dissolving more substances than any other liquid, though being itself exceedingly stable chemically. It thus provides the fluid medium in which extremely slow chemical reactions may proceed rapidly. It constitutes the fluid medium in the body which makes the body a functioning chemical plant of high efficiency. Water also has almost the highest heat capacity of any known substance and therefore is probably the ideal stabilizer of the temperature of the planet, absorbing enormous amounts of heat without itself becoming too warm for life and then surrendering that heat without itself becoming too cold. Its unusual properties in all three states -- solid (ice), liquid, or gaseous (vapour) within the temperature ranges common to the earth make it tremendously important as a mechanical agent in modifying the earth's surface, weathering the rocks and creating a bed for the first plants, and allowing for its own re-circulation by evaporating into cloud formations and then being condensed and precipitated. Its ability to absorb large quantities of oxygen at comparatively low temperatures guarantees survival of living organisms in oceans and lakes. Its exceptional property of expanding slightly just above the freezing point allows it to form a protective layer of ice that floats on the surface and prevents large bodies of water from freezing solid and destroying marine life.
     Meanwhile, the earth has a proper relative proportion of land and water surface in order that the land may be neither parched through insufficient precipitation nor turned into a swamp through excess. The topography of the land is such that it assists in the process of watering the earth by causing turbulence in air currents which pass over it, thus bringing about the breakup of cloud formations.
     (6) The existence of the moon is also of fundamental importance to

12. lbid., p.85.

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the earth. As far as is known, it is the largest satellite relative to the size of its parent body. From this point of view it is, in fact, huge. The moon has sufficient mass to cause tides, and tides are of great importance in keeping the oceans fresh. The possession of a moon of such a size by our earth is of importance in more than one way to life as we know it. What currents do in vitalizing rivers, tides do for the oceans.
     All these coincidences add up to an impressive testimony to the uniqueness of the earth as a theatre for the unfolding of God's plan. In his book Man on His Nature, Sir Charles Sherrington remarked:
(13)

     A great American physiologist, Lawrence Henderson, has set forth the particularity of the physical and chemical conditions whose occurrence on the face of the earth render possible the existence of the systems we call living. Certain anomalous properties of water in conjunction with universal powers and space-relations of the carbon atom, along with exceptional conditions of radiation and temperature, are shown to form a sort of conspiracy of circumstance allowing life to be, both here and now.

     Dean H. Kenyon and Gary Steinman, in their book Biochemical Predestination, would go one step further and argue that the raw materials for life were created in such a form that life must have been predestined by them. (14) They put it this way: "Biochemical Predestination means that the limits beyond which evolutionary processes could not stray, would be determined largely by the properties inherent in the evolving bodies as preset by the (raw) materials from which the (finished) materials were fabricated."
     We are often told that the chances of life on other planets like the earth are very considerable, and there is no need to suppose that the existence of life here is really so exceptional. I think the total situation is more complex than the public has been led to believe. In a paper entitled, "Some Cosmic Aspects of Evolution," which G. G. Simpson contributed to a symposium held in Europe in 1968, he dealt with some aspects of the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe and concluded with the following remarks:
(15)

     The chances that anything like man, or for that matter like any other terrestrial species except perhaps the most primitive, exists elsewhere in the universe are, I think, the same as the chances that any other planet has had exactly the same history as earth -- and as its inhabitants -- in every essential detail for two billion years and more.

13. Sherrington, Sir Charles, Man on His Nature, Cambridge University Press, 1963, p.80.
14. Kenyon, Dean, and Steinman, Gary, Biochemical Predestination, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1969, p.268.
15. Simpson, G. G., "Some Cosmic Aspects of Evolution," in Evolution and Hominization, edited by Gottfried Kurth, Fischer, Stuttgart, 1963, p.15.

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     In my opinion those chances are effectively nil for the mere one hundred million planets of Shapley's minimum or even for Hoyle's less reasonable billions of billions.
     I therefore earnestly doubt whether there are any manlike beings waiting to greet us anywhere in the universe. The opposite opinion, even though it has been advanced by some eminent and sensible men, seems to me to underestimate either the complexity or the rigidity of historical causation.

     Our earth therefore may be somewhat more significant than we might suppose, even though astronomers have shown that it is such a tiny speck of material in an inconceivably vast universe. The question arises, can such a tiny speck, looked at from this point of view, be really so important? The answer, I think, may be found this way: There are two alternatives. One would be to make the earth much larger relative to the universe. And the other would be to make the universe much smaller relative to the earth. As we have seen, the first alternative is out of the question; the size of the earth cannot be changed very much. Then what of the latter alternative? What would happen if the universe were made smaller? Is it not true that in due time we should pierce through space until we have found its boundaries? Then suddenly it would not seem so big after all. At first this might not matter very much. But in the end and in a subtle way, when we found we could comprehend the whole of it, our view of the Creator would begin to contract and He would seem to become smaller as our exploration became more complete. In a way, man's greatness is sensed by the magnitude of his achievement, and the immensity of the universe -- for the Christian -- adds not a little to our sense of awe and our worship of the Creator. If it is true that the universe is expanding, there is little need to fear that we can ever catch up to, or overtake the greatness of God.
     And this touches one other point. We are making an assumption that the universe was created a very long time ago. It is quite conceivable that God could have created everything instantaneously and set the stage for man in a moment. Yet this would have two effects: First, it would have prevented us from seeing how wise, methodical, and orderly is God's work. The suddenness of instantaneous creation is frightening rather than reassuring and, as a rule, God has only adopted this method when He desired to make a special impression. It is not His normal way. Moreover, "taking time" implies a certain determination, forethought, and unchangeableness of purpose, as though the end result was something greatly to be desired how ever long it took to achieve. It seems to have taken a long time to prepare the earth for man, and so long as we believe it was a preparation for man, we can derive considerable assurance and

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comfort from the knowledge that God was prepared to work so patiently. Yet from His point of view, there may have been no delay involved. Le Comte du Nouy made this remark: (16)

     To an imaginary being, with a life span of ten thousand million years evolution would seem very rapid. To God, whom we cannot even conceive in relation to time, it may well have been instantaneous.

     There is no doubt, of course, that God could have created the world instantaneously, although this would have involved the making of many things in such a form that they would appear to have an age which they did not, in fact, actually have trees with tree rings that did not signify age, humus which was not constituted of decayed vegetation, and so forth. Scripture shows that this kind of "creation with a history" has often occurred in a miraculous way whenever it was absolutely necessary. Thus Moses' rod became a serpent (Exodus 4:24) which was probably of comparable length, and therefore of a specific age, since serpents grow with age continuously. When the Lord restored Malchus' ear (Luke 22:51), it was the ear of a man, appropriate to his age even though it had certainly been created instantaneously. There are many such illustrations in Scripture. Undoubtedly the Lord could have accelerated the preparation of the earth for man in the same way, but evidently a better purpose was served by working in a manner more in keeping with human experience in order that man could, if he would, see that it was all done specifically in preparation for his own coming.
     Unfortunately, for a little over one hundred years, since Lyell and Darwin's time, man has not been willing to see the whole process as purposeful with respect to himself. The insights of previous generations of naturalists have been, and largely continue to be, laid aside as inappropriate to the naturalistic world view. But the categorical denial of teleological explanations, a denial which at first seemed so stimulating to our understanding of the natural order, is now beginning to prove to be a barrier to further advances in understanding, and there is a new wind blowing.

16. Du Nouy, Le Comte, Human Destiny, Longmans Green, Toronto, 1947, p.200.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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