The media often brings news about newly-discovered planets in the “habitable zone” of some star beyond our solar system. They usually mean that scientists think the planet may be the right distance from the right kind and size of star for water to exist in liquid form. Calling such a planet “habitable” may be misleading because there are many factors required to support life.
One of those factors is that the star also has to be extremely stable, as our Sun is. Consider the fact that a change in the Sun’s luminosity of only two percent would make Earth uninhabitable. That seems hard to believe, but scientists have calculated and modeled it.
If the Sun were only two percent dimmer and everything else the same, there would be more snowfall. Because snow reflects more of the Sun’s heat than land or water does, Earth’s surface would become cooler. The cooling would cause more snowfall, resulting in more reflection of the Sun’s rays and, therefore, more cooling. The result would be a runaway freezing of the surface water, and the entire Earth would become covered with ice and snow.
On the other hand, a two percent increase in the Sun’s brightness would cause greater evaporation of Earth’s surface water. The resulting water vapor would act as a greenhouse gas, trapping more of the Sun’s heat in the atmosphere. The increased heat would cause more evaporation resulting in more water vapor and an increased greenhouse effect. The result would be global warming on a massive scale.
Either way, life on Earth would not be possible. We don’t know if there are any other planets in the universe with all the factors required to support life. Our finely-tuned Sun is only one of many features that allow life on this planet. Some people would suggest that our just-right Sun is merely an accident, but we think this is another case of design by a wise Creator.
There is much concern today about global warming, but many factors determine the climate in any particular location on Earth. Of course, we know that the closer we get to the equator, the warmer the temperatures are. Conversely, as we get closer to the poles, we find colder temperatures. But that isn’t always true, and one factor is what some people call “the global conveyor belt.” We are talking about how ocean currents affect the climate.
Ocean currents temper some areas which would be excessively hot to make the climate much more comfortable. Ocean currents affect the climate in some regions by stabilizing it to prevent extreme temperature swings. Many areas benefit from ocean currents which bring warmer temperatures.
An extreme example of an area warmed by ocean currents is Lofoten, an archipelago of islands in Norway. Lofoten is located north of the Arctic Circle at more than 68 degrees north latitude. The Sun remains below the horizon for more than a month in the winter and above the horizon for more than a month in the summer. The rest of the year, it never rises high in the sky. However, Lofoten is the most northern place on Earth where the daily mean temperature remains above freezing all year. The reason for that is the effect of ocean currents. The Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Current carry warmer water from areas farther south to temper the climate of Lofoten. In fact, Lofoten has the largest upward temperature anomaly in relation to its latitude of any location in the world.
The causes of the ocean currents are numerous, including waves, wind, Coriolis effect, water density differences due to temperature and salinity, shoreline configurations, melting polar ice, and the ocean floor’s contours. This global conveyor belt of ocean currents affects the climate making Earth more hospitable. It is only one of many engineering marvels that have created this amazing, beautiful, habitable world. Some say that the world is all an accidental product of natural forces. We say that those forces are evidence of a Master Designer.
In their desperate attempt to find an inhabited planet, some media people have jumped to the conclusion that any planet close to 8000 miles (13,000 km) in diameter will be inhabited. One of the candidates orbiting a star in our galaxy is called K2-141b, and it is reasonably close to us in size and location, a little under 200 light-years away. However, K2-141b is not another Earth.
Astronomers have discovered that its atmosphere has all the elemental components of rocks. That has to mean that the surface temperature of the planet is hot enough to vaporize rocks. That would be more than 5400 degrees Fahrenheit (3,000 C). K2-141b is not another Earth.
At this time, when people are concerned about global warming, we must consider how many factors on Earth and the surrounding area give use the proper temperature for life to exist. Without the variables that keep our planet cool, we could not have a surface temperature of less than 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 C). The size, temperature, and activity of the Sun have to be just right. The amount of ocean surface that reflects solar heat back into space is crucial. The factors that restrict greenhouse gases, the relatively low value of volcanic activity, the lack of exothermic chemical reactions, the reflectivity of clouds, and many other factors all influence our temperature.
Even though K2-141b is not another Earth, there may be other planets with conditions that permit surface temperatures between 0 and 100 degrees Celsius, allowing liquid water. But evidence shows that such planets are rare, and their design would be from the same source as our planet. If God has created life elsewhere on a planet that will allow life to exist over the long haul, it will be another demonstration of incredible wisdom and design. Our planet is exceptional, and taking care of it should be a high priority for all of us.
In my lifetime I have spent a lot of time on rivers. Living in Canada, I became acquainted with beautiful blue water with a clarity that allowed you to see the river’s bottom even at 20 feet. When my family moved to Bloomington, Indiana, I became involved with the White River, which was anything but white or blue. What color is your river?
In our 12 trips down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, I saw changes in the water from time to time. The river was sometimes brown and other times crystal blue depending on how much upstream water was being released from the Glen Canyon Dam. I now live on the Saint Joseph River in southern Michigan. I have read the notes of the first explorers who came through this area in which they tell of being able to see the bottom of the river through 20 feet of water. Now you can only see about a foot down. There has been a massive change in Americas’ rivers through the years.
In 1984, Satellites started taking pictures of rivers in the United States. Over 230,000 images have been taken and analyzed by the University of Pittsburgh, the University of North Carolina, and Duke University. The data shows that only five percent of Americas’ rivers are still blue. Twenty-eight percent are green, which in most cases is caused by algae. The remainder are yellow, with 11,629 miles of rivers having become distinctly greener since 1984.
As rivers change from blue to yellow to green, what can live in the rivers also changes. In the Saint Joseph River, where we live in Michigan, the kind of fish that live in the river today are far different from the native trout seen by the early settlers of this area. Today the river has large numbers of suckers and carp. There are some bass and panfish, and we do have salmon from Lake Michigan migrating up the river to spawn. Transplanted fish like walleye are popular, but the whole ecological makeup has changed.
What color is your river? More important is the question of what is causing the rivers to change color? The causes, according to the studies, are farm fertilizer runoff, dams, sewage, and global warming, which has raised the temperature so that cold-water fish cannot live in the river. This is more than the loss of recreational use of waterways. Numerous diseases, including cancer, are related to what is in the water we drink, bathe in, and provide to our animals.
The question of what color is your river leads to asking what you can do about it. Christians need to be vocal in encouraging our culture to initiate significant efforts to turn our waterways blue again. It is interesting that in Revelation 22:1-2, when the inspired writer wanted to portray some of the properties of heaven to mortal humans, he describes “a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal.” In ancient times, when people wanted to worship and get away from the hassle of human activity, they went to a river. (See Acts 16:13.) Today most of our rivers are not that attractive.
In Job 38:22, God refers to “the treasures of the snow” and “the treasures of ice.” In Job’s day, that may not have made a lot of sense. Even today, most people are not aware of the role glaciers play in our lives.
We are living in what scientists call an interglacial period when changes in Earth’s orbit have caused glaciers to melt. This interglacial period has been going on for some 12,000 years and is unrelated to any human-induced climate change. When scientists find evidence of forests, other life-forms, and human remains under the ocean’s surface, we can be sure that the sea level has been very different in the past.
Water molecules are designed in a way that allows glaciers to exist. A glacier is not a block of ice. When water is frozen and put under pressure, it behaves like a fluid. When I was teaching physics, we had a demonstration in which we froze a metal container of water and then used a piston to put it under pressure. The metal container had holes, and the ice would shoot out through the holes in a cylindrical form, just as any liquid or gas would do. Snow falls on the ground in a cold place and piles up, putting pressure on the snow on the bottom. The pressure changes the snow, and it begins to flow like toothpaste. Those gorgeous blue ice flows, the treasures of the snow, are glaciers.
So why is this a good thing for you and me? First, it locks up water, so it is available year-round. The amount of land area available to humans would drop radically if we lost all the glacial ice on the planet. As the ice melts, it does so gradually. Many areas of the world have water year-round only because slow-melting glaciers supply water in a controlled manner.
Many plants and animals depend on glaciers for their survival. Glacial algae get their water by producing dark pigments, which absorb enough sunlight to melt glacial ice. In that way, plants can grow in places like Greenland. The algae provide food for fish and other marine organisms in northern latitudes. Without the glaciers to supply drinking water for the bottom of the food chain, life couldn’t exist in northern marine environments.
Glaciers are also one of the strongest erosional agents in existence. Because of that, mountainous areas have u-shaped valleys with numerous cirque lakes and moraines. Glaciers have allowed a whole biosphere to exist in those mountainous areas. Human habitation in much of the Rocky Mountains is only possible because of the work of glaciers. Here in Michigan, we see and enjoy a continental glacial area where a vast ice sheet shaped the land and created thousands of lakes.
Job could not comprehend the full meaning of the words God spoke to him. Today, people who live where the glaciers have worked and are working can be thankful for God’s design of the “treasures of the snow.”
It is no secret that there are many problems facing humanity today. Doomsday scenarios are all over the web, and they show up in serious scientific writings as well.
The October 2020 issue of Science News carried a feature titled “Scientists to Watch.” As you read through the descriptions of what outstanding scientific minds are doing, you see a great deal of hope for solutions to some of our physical problems. I find it interesting that the researchers are using natural materials and processes that are already operational on a small level in the world around us.
Spider webs are one example. Medical folklore promoted spider webs as a dressing for wounds. New research has shown that spider silk is coated with chemicals that promote blood clotting and prevent infection. Scientists are studying spider silk as a drug delivery system that can produce scaffolding for tissue repair.
Another exciting solution for humanity’s problems today is research showing that gold nanoparticles are a catalyst for converting carbon dioxide into methane and propane. When sunlight shines on the gold nanoparticles, it sets off a series of reactions that take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and produce hydrocarbon fuels. Researchers are also studying the natural process where gold and platinum nanoparticles liberate hydrogen from ammonia. This is useful because many industries need hydrogen for processes, such as fuel cell production.
So far, these processes are slow and inefficient, but speeding them up and making them efficient is the subject of research by today’s outstanding young scientists. God has given us the tools to clean the air, get plastic out of the oceans, and stop global warming. Science is recognizing the wisdom and design built into every corner of the world to solve the world’s physical problems. A more pressing need is getting people to look at the spiritual problems facing humanity today.
One of the weaknesses of evolution’s explanation of the origin of all living things is that it is built on an assumption called uniformitarianism. The idea is that “the present is the key to the past” meaning that no process operated in the past that is not going on today. If there have been global catastrophes wiping out most living creatures, then the theories of gradualism have a problem with explaining life’s origins. Flash-frozen extinct species indicate global catastrophes.
Many years ago, we reported on the 1979 find of an extinct steppe bison mummy near Fairbanks, Alaska. The perfectly preserved corpse had been frozen for thousands of years. The gold miner who discovered the mummy called it “Blue Babe” after the mythical Paul Bunyon’s ox. That was because exposure to air caused it to turn blue due to iron phosphate. Blue Babe (pictured) is now on display at the University of Alaska Museum of the North.
As the permafrost melts in Arctic areas, people are finding more frozen animals, including mammoths and wooly rhinos. The latest one is a cave bear found on the Lyakhovsky Islands in Russia. Once again, the specimen is complete with all of the soft tissues intact. These animals were preserved in a state we don’t see happening today. They seem to be flash-frozen, not just preserved by falling into a crevasse in a glacier. All of the animals found are extinct, but studies of their DNA and their preservation conditions are opening doors to the scientific research of the past.
As scientists find more flash-frozen extinct species, there will be revisions of theories about the history of life on Earth. One positive aspect of global warming is that it will expand our understanding of life in the past.
Two of the most massive Antarctic glaciers have broken loose from their land connections and are floating in the ocean. This is a concern because if both glaciers melt, there would be enough water to raise the world’s oceans by ten feet. It is not only another evidence of global warming but also a warning to the world that we must pay attention to the coming rise in sea level.
Understand that when ice is exposed to the air on land, it absorbs a minimum of heat, so melting on a landmass is very slow. In water, however, heat exchange is very rapid. We all know that hypothermia takes place when a human gets into icy water. The melting of ice is much faster once it is in water, and the Thwaites glacier, the larger of the two Antarctic glaciers involved, is one of the fastest-changing glaciers on Earth.
Job 38:22-23 refers to the “treasures of the snow” and says that this frozen water is “reserved against the time of trouble.” In Earth’s design, the snow and ice preserve water and provide a vital heat sink to the whole planet. We see evidence that the oceans have been much higher in Earth’s geological history than they are today. There have also been times when they were much lower. The polar ice caps have been the primary water storage areas. Glaciers are also part of the design of Earth to make it hospitable for Life.
If the sea level rises ten feet, imagine what would happen to the world’s major cities located on the edge of the oceans. Since the mass of these two glaciers is enormous, this is not an immediate threat. ( A recent NASA study says that at the present rate, the melting ice sheets would add 15 inches to the sea level by 2100.) But it is a potential catastrophe we can avoid if we recognize that the possible flooding is a consequence of human actions, not a vindictive act of God. We can avoid what has already begun to happen by taking care of the planet as God instructed us to do.
If there is one phrase that needs to shout to everyone on the planet in 2020, it is “Look at the evidence!!” From the president of this country to the teenagers across this land, there has been a huge failure to look at the scientific evidence. Despite all the evidence for how the Covid-19 virus spreads, we still have young people who party without masks, even in a closed interior environment. In spite of the fires on the west coast, the significant increase in hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, the melting of the polar ice caps, and the rise in temperature of the oceans, we still have people denying climate change. Even within the Church, we have a disdain for scientific evidence.
Those who follow Jesus Christ should be the most likely to respond to evidence. Jesus appealed to people to look at the evidence. He told people to see for themselves that things are true. When Thomas was unable to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, how did Jesus convince him? Did He engage Thomas in a philosophical/theological discussion about how the resurrection was logically reasonable? Did He demand that Thomas believe as a test of faith? Read John 20:27-29 and see what He did.
The fact is that the resurrection, all of Jesus’ appearances after the resurrection, and most of the miracles before He died were to provide evidence so that people could believe. Just like today, some people refused to look at the evidence. They suggested that the miracles were fake, but the kind of miracles Jesus performed could not be faked.
It wasn’t just the miracles that Jesus used to validate His existence as the Son of God. His teachings did that as well. The parables of Jesus were not unbelievable fantasy stories. They were practical, true-to-life, easy to understand evidences for the truths He was teaching. When Jesus talked about relying on God, did He use theological and philosophical models to convince His listeners? Read passages like Matthew 6:25-34. You will find Jesus talking about examples that everyone knew about–fowls of the air, changing one’s height, and the flowers of the field.
Using the things that God has created to teach and make doctrinal points is not denigrating God. Read Romans 1:19-32 and notice what Paul uses to convict the Romans of the destructive path they are following.
Today, we see vast numbers of people refusing to look at the evidence. We don’t need to engage them in philosophical discussions. We need to show them the evidence that God does exist, that He is the God of the Bible, and that Jesus is His Son.
One of the interesting aspects of the story of Adam and Eve is the environment in which God placed them. Genesis 2:8 tells us that God planted a garden, and verse 9 tells us that He planted every tree that was pleasant and good for food. The Bible doesn’t say how long God took to plant the garden and what was involved in the garden’s growth. Verse 15 tells us that “God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” After establishing the man’s environment, the Genesis account turns to man’s spiritual nature. But the planted garden with every tree is our focus here as we think about deforestation and disease.
The Bible describes the first humans as what anthropologists call gatherers. Agriculture was a long way off. The eating of animals isn’t even suggested until chapter 4 when Abel brings “the firstlings of his flock” as an offering to God. An article in Scientific American (June 2020, page 8) points out how modern agricultural methods have led to the three major highly infectious viruses since 2002 – SARS, EBOLA, and COVID-19.
Slashing and burning to create land for crops, such as palm oil, reduces biodiversity and puts humans in contact with wildlife that carry microbes able to kill us. Species that survive the clearing are more likely to host illnesses that can be transferred to humans. In addition to the three main viruses of our time, the Scientific American article mentions some other diseases have come from rain forest inhabitants – Zika, Nipah, malaria, cholera, and HIV.