Is our world with its teeming variety of life the result of chance, a series of lucky accidents? Or is it, as more and more scientific discoveries are revealing, a perfect habitat finely tuned for life? What does the evidence show?
The intricate relationship between the sun, earth and moon stand as powerful witness to divine hand of the Creator God.
December 24, 1968, witnessed a moment of triumph in man's attempt to reach into outer space. On that date the three astronauts on the Apollo 8 mission entered lunar orbit, becoming the first human beings to orbit the moon and gaze down on its far side.
Before retiring that evening, lunar module pilot William Anders, in a live television broadcast showing pictures of the earth and moon as seen from the astronauts' space capsule, took up a Bible and read the following: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).
This was the first time in history that a man gave witness from outer space about the grand handiworks of the heavens. Yet the witness has been present on the earth in the Bible for thousands of years. In addition to what God inspired Moses to write in Genesis as quoted by astronaut Anders, King David later added his testimony in Psalm 19:1: "The heavens declare the glory of God."
From the beginning of man's existence, the creation we see all around us has stood as a clear witness to the existence of a great Creator God (Romans 1:20). As a result, ancient peoples, generally speaking, did not question the existence of a supreme Deity or deities behind it all.
Moses and David knew God personally and believed that He stretched out the universe in all its glory; they stood in awe of it. Brilliant scientists of today would agree that the universe is wonderful, but many disagree with the Bible as to how it originated and who sustains it.
World-famous physicist, cosmologist and author Stephen Hawking does not believe in a personal God who created the universe. He believes that "the beginning of the universe was governed by the laws of science and doesn't need to be set in motion by some god" (Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design, 2010, p. 135).
Hawking and Mlodinow present for consideration the "idea that the universe itself has no single history, not even an independent existence" (p. 6). These opinions, of course, are contradictions to the statement in Genesis that the heavens had an origin and were established by God.
But what does an objective look at the evidence reveal? Let's consider some facets of the universe and the earth that point to a divine Creator—evidence that atheists and agnostics cannot explain, except to attribute them to chance or a series of lucky accidents.
Earth's orbit perfect for life
Even though they make no room for God, authors like Hawking and Mlodinow are forced to acknowledge that planet Earth is carefully calibrated to facilitate human habitation. For example, a study of Earth's orbit around the sun reveals that it is not a perfect circle but is just slightly elliptical.
"The degree to which an ellipse is squashed is described by what is called its eccentricity, a number between zero and one. An eccentricity near zero means the figure resembles a circle, whereas an eccentricity near one means it is very flattened...The earth's orbit has an eccentricity of only about 2 percent, which means it is nearly circular. As it turns out, that is a stroke of very good fortune ...
"In fact, if the eccentricity of the earth's orbit were near one, our oceans would boil when we reached our nearest point to the sun, and freeze over when we reached our farthest...Large orbital eccentricities are not conducive to life, so we are fortunate to have a planet for which orbital eccentricity is near zero" (pp. 150-151).
Lucky accidents or master strokes?
All serious observers of the interactions between the earth and the sun would agree that the "laws of science" in play are magnificently manifest in structure. But can we attribute these features to just a series of lucky accidents? Or are they due to the master strokes of a Creator God?
Psalm 102:25 addresses God this way: "Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands." Many features about our universe and the earth are so carefully designed that they reflect divine design rather than chance.
How high are the stakes? If things were minutely different regarding these aspects, human life could not exist on earth. This is further evidence of a Creator. Indeed, the more we discover, the more evidence of God we find!
Neither Moses nor David possessed telescopes nor other sophisticated instruments to observe the heavens and measure what we believe are the fingerprints of God. But modern science has bequeathed to us the ability to probe into space and discover these divine marks. And what is being revealed?
Astrophysicist Hugh Ross has catalogued the characteristics that demonstrate the touch of a Creator. "In the past few years, the pace of new discoveries demonstrating design in the universe and solar system has escalated dramatically...The most recent of these updates describes thirty-five characteristics for the universe and 122 for the solar system" (Norman Geisler and Paul Hoffman, Why I Am a Christian, 2006, p. 148).
For the remainder of this article, let's examine four "constants," what we might call finely tuned formulas or facts, that diligent scientists have discovered, without which our dwelling in the universe would not be possible. You can decide whether to attribute these (and scientists have discovered dozens more) to blind chance or the divine Creator as revealed in the testimony of the Bible.
Constant 1: Atmospheric oxygen level and form
Oxygen is the third most abundant element in our universe. Earth's atmosphere is 21 percent oxygen. "That precise figure is an anthropic constant [i.e., one permitting man's existence, seemingly by design] that makes life on earth possible. If oxygen were 25 percent, fires would erupt spontaneously; if it were 15 percent, human beings would suffocate" (Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, 2004, p. 98).
That raises an obvious question: "How did the amount of atmospheric oxygen reach its present level? 'It's not that easy why it should balance at 21 percent rather than 10 or 40 percent,' notes geoscientist James Kasting of Pennsylvania State University. 'We don't understand the modern oxygen control system that well'" (David Biello, "The Origin of Oxygen in Earth's Atmosphere," Scientific American, Aug. 19, 2009).
Scientists admit they cannot explain this phenomenon. In the beginning when God created and prepared the planet where He would create human beings, He primed an atmosphere that would support human life. He then kindled and breathed into the lungs of the first man the essence that was the breath of life (Genesis 2:7), which included the right proportion of oxygen. The result was that Adam lived. All people live today because God continues to sustain our atmosphere.
But simply having enough oxygen isn't enough. It must be in a specific form.
Most of the planets in our solar system contain environmental oxygen, and scientists have assumed that most of the extra-solar planets also have a range of amounts of oxygen present. However, only on very few of them is it in elemental form. On the others it is combined with other elements—such as on Venus in the form of carbon dioxide and on Mars in the form of iron oxides.
This is one reason why Earth is the only planet in our solar system now able to support life. The way God infused oxygen into our atmosphere is a magnificent testimony to the handiwork of the Master. It is not a stroke of sheer luck as many would have you believe. Were the level of oxygen not so precisely calibrated, we would not be here to contemplate such questions!
Constant 2: Atmospheric transparency
Our planet is bombarded constantly with radiation from the sun. This electromagnetic radiation is what we generally call sunlight. The level of transparency in our atmosphere is critical to the support of human life. It provides us daylight when the sun is above the horizon.
But here, too, we find a delicate balance. "If the atmosphere were less transparent, not enough solar radiation would reach the earth's surface. If it were more transparent, we would be bombarded with far too much solar radiation down here" (Geisler and Nix, p. 100).
What would the results be if our level of sunlight were unbalanced? Excessive sunlight would result in increased health problems. One of the most notable would be an increase in skin cancer. Insufficient sunlight, on the other hand, would also lead to health problems—since it would not enable our bodies to manufacture vitamin D, an essential ingredient for good health.
In addition to colder temperatures, without sufficient sunlight photosynthesis would not occur. This process in which green plants use energy from the sun to transform water, carbon dioxide and minerals into oxygen and organic compounds is vital to all life on earth. Both plants and human beings depend on this system.
As part of the process, the green pigment chlorophyll is uniquely capable of converting the active energy of light into a latent form that can be stored in food and used when needed.
Photosynthesis provides us with most of the oxygen we need to breathe. We, in turn, exhale the carbon dioxide needed by plants. Plants are also crucial to human life because we rely on them as a source of food for ourselves and for the animals that we eat.
When God said, "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3), He had designed things so that the gaseous balance of the earth's atmosphere would enable all life, including mankind and plants, to reproduce and thrive. He also designed the earth to rotate at a 23-degree tilt in relation to our sun. If this angle were altered, the light would be more intense in some areas, less intense in others, and surface temperatures would be too extreme for the global support of life.
Constant 3: The four forces of nature
Particle physics is the branch of physics that deals with the properties and behavior of elementary particles. Four forces govern the interactions between these particles—gravitation, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force. How do these forces function?
Gravity is the phenomenon by which physical bodies attract with a force proportional to their mass. We're most familiar with it when it causes objects to fall to the ground when dropped. Gravitation is also responsible for keeping the earth and the other planets in their orbits around the sun and for keeping the moon in its orbit around the earth. Without this force the earth would never have come to orbit the sun, being just a sterile, wandering body meandering aimlessly through space.
One manifestation of electromagnetism is illustrated when we use a magnet to attract a metal object. It also works at the subatomic level in that it's the force that holds electrons and protons together inside atoms. The strong nuclear force works to bind protons and neutrons together to form the nucleus of an atom. The weak nuclear force is responsible for the radioactive decay of subatomic particles. It initiates hydrogen fusion in stars and results in the release of energy. By the process of fusion, the sun radiates light and heat to sustain life on our planet.
The exact calibration of these four forces in relation to one another is critical if the universe is to remain as it is and if earth is to support life. How important and how exact are these forces?
"The existence of life as we know it depends delicately on many seemingly fortuitous features of the laws of physics and the structure of the universe...Changing the strength of any one of them, even by a small amount, could render the universe sterile" (Paul Davies, Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe Is Just Right for Life, 2007, p. 150).
Here is an example: "If the gravitational force were altered by 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000001 percent, our sun would not exist, and, therefore, neither would we" (Geisler and Nix, p. 102).
In addition to the importance of universe-spanning effect of gravity, there also exists a vital balance of gravitational interaction more locally between the earth and the moon.
"If the interaction were greater than it currently is, tidal effects on the oceans, atmosphere, and rotational period would be too severe. If it were less, orbital changes would cause climatic instabilities. In either event, life on earth would be impossible" (p. 100).
When God established earth's moon as "the lesser light" in the earth's sky (Genesis 1:16), it's clear that He must have set its size and position relative to the earth by careful calculation. If it were otherwise, we could not live here. Earth's environment would be hostile to the existence of advanced life.
Constant 4: Earth's spin on its axis
"The earth rotates at just the right speed, making a complete revolution every twenty-four hours in its trip around the sun. The result is, the earth's crust is evenly heated like a chicken on a turning spit" (Fred John Meldau, Why We Believe in Creation, Not in Evolution, 1968, p. 28).
None of the other planets in our solar system have the same speed of rotation. Why is earth's rotation 24 hours in length? It was specifically designed this way to accomplish God's intended purpose for earth to support human life and other life forms.
The earth's carefully calibrated circular path, tilted at just the right angle on its axis, is also influenced by the moon. "The moon affects the earth through its gravitational attraction...the [earth's] ocean tides pull on the moon...These tides also slow the earth's rotation" (Neil Comins, What If the Moon Didn't Exist? 1993, p. 4).
Another factor essential for the earth to support human life is the constancy of the angle of the planet's spin on its axis. This angle of spin is called obliquity. "The obliquity...of three of the four 'terrestrial' planets of our solar system—Mercury, Venus, and Mars has varied chaotically. Earth is the exception, but only because it has a large moon...Earth's climactic stability is dependent to a large extent on the existence of the Moon" (Ward and Brownlee, p. 266).
The intricate relationships between the sun, earth and moon stand as powerful witness to the divine hand of the Creator God. Just as the spiritual law of God is perfect (Psalm 19:7), so are the numerous physical laws that govern our home in the universe.
Creation of the heavens by chance?
British astronomer Edward Harrison studied the evidence head-on: "Here is the cosmological proof of the existence of God...The fine tuning of the universe provides prima facie evidence of deistic design. Take your choice: blind chance that requires multitudes of universes [a seemingly infinite number
to come up with one with all the right factors] or design that requires only one...Many scientists, when they admit their views, incline toward the teleological [goal-directed] or design argument" (Edward Harrison, Masks of the Universe, 1985, p. 252, 263).
Hugh Ross wrote: "The community of believers has no reason to fear and every reason to anticipate the advance of scientific research into the origin and characteristics of the cosmos. The more we learn, the more evidence we accumulate for the existence of God and for his identity as the God revealed in the Bible" (Geisler and Hoffman, p. 157).
So we see that not all scientists believe that the state of our universe and earth are mere accidents. Furthermore, not all believe that man's existence on this orb is purposeless. Physicist, cosmologist and astrobiologist Paul Davies wrote: "I cannot believe that our existence in this universe is a mere quirk of fate, an accident of history, an incidental blip in the great cosmic drama" ( The Mind of God, 1992, p. 232).
We indeed are not a "mere quirk of fate." We are destined by God for a future of unimaginable glory.
The Bible poses a question over which man has mused for millennia and then follows with the astounding answer: "What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You take care of him? You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet" (Hebrews 2:6-8, quoting from Psalm 8:4-6).
This is a promise that will be fulfilled in the future. In Revelation 21:7, God gives essentially the same promise in different words: "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son."
The Bible tells us that we will someday receive as our heritage the vastness of the interminable universe. We can then explore its immensity and understand its mysteries. We will be able to know personally—face to face—the Father and the Son who created it all and share in Their glory forever (read our free Bible study aid booklet What Is Your Destiny ? to learn more).
In 1 Corinthians 13:12, the apostle Paul described the present spiritual state of Christians, as well as that to which they can look forward (as paraphrased in the Message): "We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us."