Those of us who live many miles from the ocean may not think about what goes on under the water. Similar to the land, there is an enormous diversity of plants in the sea. Just like land plants, ocean plants have flowers and pollinate and reproduce. Seagrass grows on the floor of the ocean and provides habitat for sea turtles, manatees, and many other marine animals. There are some 60 species of seagrass, and those grasses bloom and release pollen. Like land plants, seagrasses need something like the bees that help pollinate land plants. So are there underwater bees?
Researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico have reported that hundreds of crustaceans and other small insect-like animals visit plants and bring pollen with them. These invertebrates are the “underwater bees.” Along with ocean currents, they allow ocean vegetation to flourish.
As scientists study ways in which carbon can be locked up to avoid high concentrations in our atmosphere, they find that the ocean is a major factor in avoiding runaway greenhouse heating of the earth. Life in the oceans is essential to life on land.
Here is another design feature of this planet which is critical to the long-term existence of life on Earth. In the 1950s, scientists thought that there were maybe five or six factors which would be critical to the existence of life. The famous Drake Equation of how many planets could have life on them only considered five factors in its original format. Now we know there are a huge number of things that have to be “right” to allow life to exist.
A recently discovered asteroid is raising new questions. The cosmos is one of the great evidences for the existence of God. Romans 1:18-20 tells us that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.” Psalms 19:1 tells us, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork…” We see a constant stream of new proposals year after year giving possible scenarios about how the solar system and Earth were produced. In the nearly 50 years that we have been writing, we have seen a dozen or so theories advanced and discarded because they couldn’t account for new observations.
This month Science News (May 13, 2017, page 5), carried a story about a strange asteroid. This will once again cause some rearranging of the current best guesses as to how the solar system and the Earth were formed. Research reported in Nature magazine (March 30, 2017) shows an asteroid that revolves around the Sun backwards, even though it is in Jupiter’s orbit. If you were to look at the solar system from the north star, you would notice that everything revolves around the Sun in a counterclockwise direction. Moons, asteroids, and planets are basically all in one plane and all moving the same way. Jupiter is the most massive planet in the solar system, and it has a multitude of rocks called asteroids that orbit around the Sun in the same direction. Now we have an asteroid that is in Jupiter’s orbit but revolves clockwise around the Sun.
If you think about that for a minute, you will see that it would logically follow that in the first orbit this asteroid would have slammed into Jupiter like a car driving the wrong way down a one-way street. In time at least, Jupiter should have sucked in this wayward hunk of rock. The orbit of asteroid 1015 BZ-509 is such that in one orbit it goes on one side of Jupiter and on the next orbit it goes on the other side of Jupiter, so the gravitational jerk of Jupiter is canceled out. Computer simulations show that this arrangement is permanent. It has been going on for a long time and will continue into the future.
The atmospheric oxygen level in Earth’s early history allowed life-forms to grow much larger than they do today. We find fossil remains of insects that grew to incredible sizes. There are wonderfully preserved fossils of a dragonfly called Meganeura which was the size of a modern-day hawk. Ants a foot (30 cm) long and centipedes that were as long as two feet (61 cm) show up in the fossil record. There are also fossils of mammals that were larger than any land mammals living today.
A major key to the huge sizes is the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere at the time those animals lived. New laboratory techniques in nuclear chemistry give us accurate methods of determining the oxygen level of the atmosphere in the past. Ice cores and tree rings confirm the measurements. Studies show that Earth’s atmosphere has had oxygen content as high as 35 percent in the past compared to 21 percent today. This higher oxygen level would have some negative consequences, with fires burning much hotter and faster and corrosion happening faster. Its effect on some living things, however, would be very positive.
Laboratory experiments have also shown us how oxygen content affects the size of living things. Insects do not breathe with lungs since oxygen diffuses into their bloodstream directly. Dr. Robert Berner at Yale has shown that a 35 percent level of oxygen in the atmosphere would increase the diffusion rate of oxygen in an insect’s bloodstream by as much as 67 percent. Body size varies directly with oxygen concentration, and experiments with fruit flies and mealworms consistently show high growth rates with increased oxygen. Studies done on alligators have shown that variations in egg development and growth are in direct proportion to the oxygen in the atmosphere. It is the same for mammals. Dr. Paul Falkowski of Rutgers has said, “Pound for pound, mammals typically need three times as much oxygen as reptiles do.” An oxygen level that would support reptiles might not support mammals.
All of this is very helpful in understanding a variety of issues relating to the Bible and the evolution/creation controversy. It is increasingly obvious that dinosaurs and humans could not survive together on this planet. At the time of the dinosaurs, the oxygen level was too low for mammals to survive. Competition for food and living space between humans and dinosaurs would be most difficult. Domestication of reptiles is impossible so humans would not be able to train dinosaurs to help with heavy chores.
The Bible does not mention dinosaurs, and no Hebrew word in Genesis 1 could legitimately be interpreted to mean dinosaurs. The emphasis that the Bible gives to the breath of living things as seen in the Hebrew word nephesh becomes more and more relevant as we learn more about how vital that concept of breath is. (See Genesis 2:7; 7:22, etc.)
Many people seem to feel that dinosaurs were unnecessary to human existence and that their presence denigrates evidence of God’s creation. The balance between the composition of the atmosphere and the abundance of life on Earth is critical. For plants to grow, there has to be soil, and soil is not as simple as it looks. Dirt must have the critical elements for food chains and cell reproduction. The production of all of those resources is not simple. As plants take in carbon dioxide and lock carbon into the soil, they release oxygen into the atmosphere. The ecological system of the planet at the time when the dinosaurs lived allowed not only the formation of soil but also the massive amounts of coal and fossil fuels we need.
In our day of concern over carbon emissions and global warming, it is always good to see something positive taking place in the environment. Every day there is a new view in space posted by NASA at the website apod.nasa.gov. On April 24, 2017, there was a photograph taken from space of the Black Sea showing a bloom of coccolithophores. So what are they and why should you care? Coccolithophores are phytoplankton, tiny organisms that live in the large bodies of water such as oceans and seas around the world.
Why should you care? The answer to that has to do with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There are also viruses called coccolithoviruses that attack the coccolithophores. To protect themselves, they absorb carbon dioxide from the air and combine it with calcium to make shells of calcium carbonate–chalk. The White Cliffs of Dover are made of this chalk material that was produced by coccolithophores. In the process of protecting themselves, these organisms remove carbon dioxide from the air. It appears they may have been the agents that allowed oxygen to rise in our atmosphere to the level where animal life could exist.
They are designed to move dirt. The echidna is one of only two mammals that lay eggs. (The other is the duckbilled platypus.) Every year the short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus), lays one leathery egg which is about the size of a grape. The egg is put into the mother’s pouch, and it hatches in about ten days. Two patches of pores in the pouch ooze milk and the baby, which is called a puggle, laps the milk from the mother’s skin. The baby hangs on to the mother for weeks as she forages. When it the starts growing spines, the mother will put the puggle into a burrow, and it is on its own.
Echidnas get their food by clawing and poking their snouts into termite hills or ant nests. They flick out their sticky tongues and draw in the insects. The echidnas’ toes point backward on their hind legs and forward on the front. Their short legs slant outward, and they move both left feet at once and then both right feet at once, so they rock as they walk. They may look awkward while walking, but they are well-designed to move dirt. Echidnas spend 12% of their day excavating so that in a single year each echidna will churn up 204 cubic meters of soil. That’s enough to bury 100 full sized refrigerators.
Earth is very different from any other planet we have discovered inside or outside of our solar system. One key factor that makes our planet habitable is our Moon. The Moon serves several important roles, including holding Earth in a stable rotation. The Moon can be a stabilizer for Earth because of its relatively large size. Other planets have moons that are much smaller in comparison to the planets they orbit. Also, other planets in our solar system have multiple moons which make conditions less stable.
Many of the planets discovered outside of our solar system are huge and located incredibly close to their stars with highly eccentric orbits. A solar system in the constellation Serpens was found with a planet seventeen times as massive as Jupiter. Someone might respond with the observation that we can only see the big planets because those systems are so far away. That observation misses the point. These huge, Jupiter-sized and larger planets are located as close to their stars as we are to our Sun or closer. If there is a small planet in the vicinity, it would be twisted and wrenched about by the influences of the large planet. The problem with highly elliptical orbits and life is that there would be too much variation in the amount of energy that the planet receives from its star. Earth’s orbit is only slightly elliptical giving us stable temperatures. If we had only one planet in our solar system with a radically elliptical orbit, there would be a danger of it crashing into our planet. Circular orbits are important for stability. The instability produced by highly eccentric orbits of large planets would make the area sterile and void as far as life is concerned. Everything we see indicates that our solar system is a cosmic oddball.
There are many properties of our planet, Sun, solar system, and the galaxy in which we live that have to be exactly as they are for any kind of life, not just intelligent life, to exist. The galaxy has to be the right type of galaxy, we must be in the right position in the galaxy, and our Sun has to be the right type of star and at the right age in its life process. Our planet must have the right size, mass, tilt, magnetic field, distribution of land masses, chemical makeup, atmosphere, distance from the Sun, and much, much more.
One of the most interesting examples of design in living things is the ability that various forms of life have to migrate great distances for a wide variety of reasons. Sea turtles have an uncanny ability to return to the same beaches over and over to lay their eggs. Whales can travel long distances when they are ready to calve, giving their offspring a greater chance of survival. Migrations can be critical to animals or plants other than the animal making the migration. Sometimes the migration is critical to an environmental ecosystem. The salmon migration in Alaska, for example, is critical to the entire area sustaining plant life and a wide variety of animal life.
When insect migrations are studied, the question of how they make the migrations and why becomes even more complicated. Monarch butterflies make migrations of great lengths even though their life expectancy is too short for any single butterfly to make the entire migration. The champion of insect migrations is the globe skimmer dragonfly (Pantala flavescens). This insect has wide wings that look very delicate, but those wings can carry it for thousands of miles seeking wet seasons when it can reproduce. Migration has spread this insect’s DNA worldwide to every continent except Antarctica. Globe skimmers can fly for hours without landing and have been seen as high as 20,000 feet (6,200 m) in the Himalayas. They are sometimes called wandering gliders because they can glide on thermals in a way similar to birds. They seem to prefer moist winds, and they don’t stop for bad weather.
It is easy for humans to minimize the design that is needed for life to exist on Earth. How do you feed massive numbers of birds, especially in the spring when winter has taken away most of their food sources, and their food needs are maximized as they lay eggs and feed baby birds? In the past scientists have shrugged their shoulders and imagined that there are food sources we don’t recognize that fill this gap until the summer season generates sufficient seeds and insects to sustain the growing populations. Similar problems exist for many other animals like bats that depend on insects for their nutritional needs.
In the April 2017 issue of Scientific American (page 84), there is an interesting report about previously unknown migrations of insects. We have known about monarch butterflies for some time, but this study by British researchers shows that migrations of insects are massive. Over southern Britain alone there are 3.3 trillion insects migrating. That is an average of 3200 tons of bugs moving through the skies over Britain every year. The study also reports that similar patterns have been observed in Texas, India, and China.
The complexity of this migration is astounding. Insects don’t live long enough for one bug to complete the migration. Researchers found that in some cases six generations were involved to complete a migration. The insects do not just get randomly blown about. They travel in a well-programmed pattern taking advantage of wind direction and speed. The elevation at which they fly to get the strongest support for their journey is carefully chosen. For a number of reasons, spring migrations are different from fall migrations.
One of the most interesting areas of scientific research today is the study of dark matter. We have known for more than half a century that galaxies are groups of billions of stars revolving around a core. Science had assumed that the glue holding galaxies together was the gravitational force produced by the mass of the stars in the galaxy. The problem with this explanation was that the stars were spiraling too fast for the gravity produced by their mass to hold the galaxy together.
If you stand in the center of a circle and spin a bucket of water on a rope, you have to spin it at a certain speed to keep the water in the bucket. If you go too slow, the bucket will hit the ground, and if you go too fast, it will break the rope. In the case of galaxies, the stars were going so fast for the gravity of the stars to hold the system together. Some other gravitational force must be the glue doing the job. The discovery of black holes in the center of galaxies was thought to be a possible answer, but the speed was much too fast for even that source. The amount of mass it would take to hold some of the galaxies together is as much as 85% higher than what we can observe.
This problem led to the proposal that there is a missing mass. Scientists suggested particles called WIMPS, which is an acronym for “weakly interacting massive particles.” For some time now, experiments have been conducted to find evidence for WIMPS. The Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, has been smashing protons together in hopes of detecting the particle. The Large Underground Xenon experiment in South Dakota has been looking for traces of them as well. So far neither attempt has been successful. In an article in Scientific American (October 2016, page 16) Edward Kolb, who was involved in proposing the existence of WIMPS, said: “We are more in the dark about dark matter than we were five years ago.” David Spergel who is an astrophysicist at Princeton says, “…we now need more hints from nature about where to go next.”
It seems that God has already taught us quite a bit about the complexity of creation. Thanks to Isaac Newton we know that mass has a connection to gravity. Thanks to Albert Einstein we know that the shape of space has something to do with it as well. Making a galaxy is not a simple task. Just like the making of electric charge, the process involves understandings that science is just beginning to comprehend. Quantum mechanics has taught us that a whole new set of laws governs what happens in forming these building blocks of what we see.
There is an economy of language in the Hebrew descriptions of the Bible. In Genesis 2:8-9 for example, the Bible says: “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees to grow out of the ground…”
We can learn a lot from those verses. They tell us that the Lord planted something, he did not “zap” something into existence. Later the man was told to tend the garden (verse 15), suggesting that it needed care to continue to provide for the man’s needs and later for the woman’s needs. How long was it after God planted the trees before they began to produce fruit? What did Adam and Eve have to do to take care of the garden? How long was it before Adam and Eve sinned? What else did God need to do in the process of planting the trees?
This last question opens the door to a great deal of understanding that science has gained in recent years through the study of soil chemistry. Plants do not grow in sterile sand. For soil to nourish plants so that they can feed us, much careful science has to be applied. Modern soil scientists refer to “healthy soil” meaning that it is rich in organic material, is crumbly, and has the right chemical profile. To have these things, the soil must contain microbes including bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and protozoa. A teaspoon of healthy soil can hold more microorganisms than there are people on Earth.
We now know that there is a symbiotic relationship between plants and soil microbes. Plants use the sun’s energy to pull carbon dioxide from the air and create a carbon-rich nutrient packet to allow growth. Oxygen is released in that process. The plants also leak nutrients to the microbes, and the microbes supply plants with other nutrients they have extracted from the minerals in the soil. The fungi produce an underground network that brings water and carbon to the plants. When insects begin to feed on a plant, fungi filaments called hyphae help the plant bring tiny soil nematodes that feed on the insects.
When humans abuse the soil and interrupt this system, we have to artificially add chemicals to do what organisms in the soil were designed to do. The chemicals of modern farming could be reduced or eliminated if farmers worked on building healthy soils. The Garden of Eden was a place of healthy soil. God used incredible wisdom and intelligent design to build a system that would meet human needs. This was done in God’s time and was not a magic show, but a consciously built system that has sustained all living things for a very long time. Proverbs 8:22-31 tells us that wisdom was involved in all of this planning and design, and Romans 1:18-22 lets us know that all of this is a testimony to the existence of God.