Table of Contents
Part I: The Preparation of the Earth
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
(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
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,
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 4:2�4) 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.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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