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The Universe: Cradle for Life: Part 2

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The Universe: Cradle for Life

Part 2

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3. Carbon—the matrix for life

When we think of carbon, maybe the first thing that comes to mind is coal, which is made mostly of carbon and some hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen and nitrogen. Yet carbon is an amazing element that forms the chemical backbone for all living things. Scientists use the term carbon-based life to emphasize the importance of this substance in living things. It is another marvel of design.

“A house is built up from wood, brick, stone, and metal components,” explains biochemist Michael Denton. “In the case of living organisms, the basic chemical building blocks utilized in their construction are organic compounds—molecules composed of the atom carbon (C), in combination with a handful of other atoms . . . The world of life is very much the product of the compounds of carbon. All the machinery of the cell—and all the vital structures of living organisms from the molecular to the morphological level—are constructed from the compounds of carbon . . .”

“Carbon is so uniquely fit for its biological role, its various compounds so vital to the existence of life, that we may repeat the aphorism, ‘If carbon did not exist, it would have to be invented’” (Nature’s Destiny, 1998, pp. 104, 116).

Some writers have envisioned life on other planets having another chemical basis, such as silicon. Yet the more that is discovered about other possible substances as the foundation of life, the more carbon is found to be the only element that fulfills those requirements.

As astronomer Hugh Ross mentions about carbon and just the right amount of it in the universe: “Without carbon, physical life is impossible. No other element displays the rich chemical behavior needed to form the range of complex molecular structures life requires. Given that physical life must be carbon-based, why would God make a universe with so little carbon?

“Researchers have found that the quantity of carbon must be carefully balanced between just enough and not too much because carbon, though essential for life, can also be destructive to life. Too much carbon translates into too much carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane. In large quantities, these gases are poisonous. In modest quantities, their greenhouse properties keep the planet sufficiently warm for life. In larger quantities, they can heat a planet’s surface beyond what physical life can tolerate” (Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, 2008, p. 28).

Notice how the Bible mentions life came from the very compounds of the earth made by God, which include this vital element, carbon: “Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth the living creatures according to its kind, cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind’; and it was so” (Genesis 1:24, emphasis mine throughout).

4. The size of living things—not an accident

We take for granted the size of living things we see around us, but as scientists have discovered, these have been carefully created with the optimal dimensions given their different functions.

“The physiologist Knut Schmidt-Nielsen considered the question,” writes Dr. Denton, “of whether or not the blue whale weighing 100 million grams (110 tons), the giant redwoods (1 billion grams or 1,100 tons), and the smallest existing organism, the mycoplasma, are close to the actual limits on what is possible and concluded, ‘There are cogent reasons to believe that the smallest and the largest organisms represent approximate limits to the possible size of animals under the conditions that prevail on our planet’” (ibid., p. 309).

Scientists often talk about constraints—those conditions that limit what is within the range of possibility. If a biological structure exceeds or falls short of the range set by the physical laws that govern it, it simply will not work.

Take for instance the method of delivery of oxygen to animals and insects. This falls into two categories—the circulatory system for vertebrates and the tracheal system for invertebrates such as insects and spiders.

“There are also firm grounds for believing,” adds Denton, “that in the case of certain basic structural and physiological systems, such as oxygen delivery systems, skeletal systems, and excretory systems, all design possibilities have been exhaustively exploited . . . There is nothing in the slightest ‘accidental’ about the fact that it is the larger vertebrates that use the circulatory system, while the tracheal system is utilized by the much smaller arthropods . . . The largest insects are in fact close to the maximum size possible for an organism obtaining oxygen via a tracheal system . . .”

Denton concludes by marveling at such creative variety: “It is impossible not to be struck by the enormous functional, structural, and behavioral diversity manifested by life on earth. Is it conceivable that there could be a world of life more varied . . . than the one existing on our watery planet? From the tiniest bacterial cell to the immensity of the blue whale . . . our senses reel before the fantastic panoply [variety] of carbon-based life forms which clothes the earth” (ibid., pp. 302, 311).

Yes, virtually every square inch of this earth is teeming with life. Yet all the world’s laboratories have not been able to create a single human hair!

So Denton describes the effect of the variety on this vibrant world, but we read of the cause of this in Genesis 1:21-22: “So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’”

5. Foresight—the creation of organic backup systems

Some people fear flying in a plane. The idea of being up thousands of feet above the ground can send shivers down their spines. Yet there are about 4 million people around the world who take flights every day, and rarely does something go wrong. Why?

Two of the reasons are: (1) man has been able to harness the physical laws of flight, and (2) humans have carefully built back-up systems so if one device fails, there is another to take its place. Engineers call it redundancy. For instance, the space shuttle Atlantis on its last mission in 2011 had five backup computers to ensure the consistent performance of its navigational system.

Similarly, the more we know about life, the more redundant systems are found to protect organisms from minor errors that could destroy them. It throws a real monkey wrench into the idea of evolution.

Denton notes, “And it seems increasingly that it is not only individual genes that are redundant, but rather that the phenomenon may be all-pervasive in the development of higher organisms, existing at every level from individual genes to the most complex developmental processes . . . Now this phenomenon poses an additional challenge to the idea that organisms can be radically transformed as a result of a succession of small independent changes, as Darwinian theory supposes . . .

“In other words, the greater the degree of redundancy, the greater the need for simultaneous mutation to effect evolutionary change and the more difficult it is to believe that evolutionary change could have been engineered without intelligent direction. Redundancy also increases the difficulty of genetic engineering, as it means that the compensatory changes that must inevitably accompany any desired change must be necessarily increased” (ibid., pp. 338-339).

The bountiful and carefully designed life on earth is described in these verses: “So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth . . . And God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:21-22, Genesis 1:25).

Wealth of evidence

From the many striking examples of carefully fine-tuned physical properties that are all around us, we can conclude God did prepare the universe and the earth, just as the Bible described, as a “cradle for life” especially for mankind. How many thanks should we give to our Heavenly Father and His Son for all of this!

With the wealth of evidence we have seen, we can better understand why Psalm 14:1 simply declares, “Only a fool would say, ‘There is no God!’” (Contemporary English Version).