The following came to us from our friend Dr. Phillip Eichman, who has a Ph.D. in biology.
For many years I began the courses that I taught in Fundamentals of Biology and General Biology by bringing two things to class: a rock and something living, usually a plant from the greenhouse. Most of the students had never seen me before and must have wondered why I brought those things to class. One day I surprised the students even more with a turtle that I rescued from the middle of the road. The point that I wanted to make is that there is a vast difference between a nonliving thing and a living thing. The expression “a rock’s not alive” comes from an old Sesame Street song and makes the same point.
A rock’s not alive. It is made up of the same chemical elements as the plant or the turtle, but that is where the similarity ends. Anyone who has taken a biology course will realize that even the simplest living thing has a complex organization. It is capable of taking in and using energy, growing and reproducing, and responding to the environment.
Obviously, something happened to make living things so different from nonliving matter. Either it is a big coincidence, or some higher intelligence planned and directed the formation of life on Earth. More than forty years of studying and teaching biology have convinced me that the latter of these is true. The world in which we live is not an accident, but rather the handiwork of a creator that we call God (Psalm 19:1).
During the virus pandemic, we hear a lot about mutations. Do mutations show the poor design of life? Skeptics use the flawed design argument as proof that there is no creator God.
Several misunderstandings are involved here. First, a virus is not living according to the usual definition of life. To be called living, something has to be able to move, breathe, respond to outside stimuli, and reproduce. Viruses don’t breathe, nor can they move or even reproduce on their own.
This is an oversimplification, but the point is that the body’s design keeps us alive. Medical science is advanced enough to understand this design and to do something about it. Scientists have been studying this group of viruses for many years, making it possible to develop a vaccine in less than a year instead of several years. It is only because we understand our bodies’ design and how the cells work that we now have a defense against COVID.
Do mutations show poor design of life? The answer is “no.” There are two messages here. One is to get the vaccine whenever it is available to you. The second is to understand the incredible design of living things. Once again, we are reminded of God’s design in creation. We are not a product of blind chance.
You can find six elements in the cells of all living things: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur. Without all of those elements, life, as we know it, could not exist. Living things require many other elements to perform various functions to survive, but those six elements are the building blocks of living cells. Life depends on those six elements and three interactions.
What do those elements have in common? For one thing, they are all non-metals. More important is that those six elements have stable atoms that are not radioactive. Radioactive decay of the atoms of some elements releases alpha or beta particles, which are destructive to living tissue. When those particles enter living tissue, they cause the release of high-energy particles in the cells. That destroys DNA, causing disease and mutations.
We are exposed to some radiation every day, but the amount is usually small, and our cells have a remarkable ability to repair themselves. If any of the six elements released radiation particles, life could not exist. Why are these six elements so stable? We have to consider the six elements and three interactions.
Three carefully balanced forces or interactions work within every atom to give stability. They are the strong force, the weak force, and the electromagnetic force. The strong force binds protons together in the atomic nucleus. The weak force is responsible for radioactive decay. Electromagnetic interaction between the protons in the nucleus and the electrons holds those electrons in the atomic shell while allowing chemical interactions between elements.
The key to stability is the precise balance between the three forces. A change in the value of any of the three would upset the balance, making our atoms unstable and life impossible. Was it mere luck that caused the delicate balance of those forces? Is it possible that the balance and our existence are just chance accidents? We think a better explanation is that the Creator of the universe carefully designed the six elements and three interactions.
Chemistry is a fascinating science. The design of atoms and molecules allows life to exist. Science fiction writers have tried to convince us that there could be life out in space that is radically different from life on Earth. The subject of this discussion is not whether there is life on other planets or moons. If God created it, then it will be there, and we will find it. But life requires polar molecules.
Skeptics have maintained that to be open-minded about life in space, we must look for life based on something other than the CHNOPS. (CHNOPS is carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur.) Why not life based on silicon, iridium, cesium, iron, and chlorine?
A basic biology principle that most of us learned in high school is that to exist, life requires polar molecules. That means there has to be an abundance of a molecule with a positive and a negative end. On our planet, the molecule that meets that requirement is water.
The oxygen molecule is designed so that when it combines with two hydrogen atoms, it forms a water molecule that has a positive and a negative end. This design enables water to do a variety of things necessary for life. Water moves things around, dissolves other compounds, conveys nutrients into cells, and carries away waste. Other polar molecules, like amino acids, proteins, or DNA, could not be manipulated and used without water. Life requires polar molecules.
Astronomers have discovered methane and ethane on planets and moons throughout space, but they cannot support life because they are not polar. The media have brought attention to the moons Titan and Europa, which both seem to have oceans and rivers of methane and ethane. Other moons such as Enceladus, Ceres, Ganymede, Callisto, Dione, and Triton are chemically active and have some water, but they are dominated by non-polar chemicals. Chemical studies of the 4000 plus exoplanets astronomers have discovered do not show any other polar molecules in abundance.
Life has to follow some basic rules. One of those rules requires polar molecules in abundance for any kind of life to exist. An oxygen atom has eight electrons, but its structure allows only four electrons in its outer orbit. That is important because the outermost orbit is the only one that allows other elements to share electrons to make a compound. The four inner-orbit electrons with their negative charge cannot be shared. That automatically means that the oxygen side of any compound, such as water, will be negative, and the other side will be positive. This principle is the starting point for biochemistry, and it is a design invented by an Intelligence that established the rules for life.
When my students saw this in basic chemistry, there was always someone who would say, “Wow! Who thought that up?” As a public high school teacher, I was not allowed to say “God,” but the message is clear without being said.
For more on this, see the article titled “Looking for Life in the Universe” by Dr. Morgan Cable in the January 2021 issue of Astronomy magazine (page 46-48). Dr. Cable is the supervisor of the Astrobiology and Ocean Worlds Group at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Her research is about looking for life and habitability in space
An amazing fact is that the creation is designed for continually spreading life throughout the Earth. That isn’t always a good thing for humans.
Several years ago, a friend of mine built a large pond on his farm. He planned to stock the pond with desirable fish, avoiding carp and sunfish, which he considered to be trash fish. He stocked it with largemouth bass, and some minnows used as food for the bass. Later, when I was visiting him, I decided to do a little fishing in his pond. The first fish I caught was a large carp, and a whole school of sunfish converged on a grasshopper or worm I used as bait.
My friend was horrified and promptly wanted to accuse an enemy of putting trash fish in his pond. I noticed a great blue heron wading through the shallows of the pond picking off minnows, and immediately I knew how the sunfish got there. Herons wade through areas where fish have built nests of eggs during their spawn. The eggs are sticky and adhere to the Heron’s legs. When the Heron goes to another pond, it carries the fish eggs along.
Recent research has discovered another way in which fish are designed to spread from place to place. A study in Hungary has shown that some fish eggs can pass through the digestive system of a duck, and a small percentage of the eggs have baby fish still alive inside.
The wisdom of this system in the natural world is apparent. A new body of water will usually be sterile. To get a functional ecological system going, the bottom of the food chain must be established quickly. Birds are facilitators in getting a fish population in operation, and now we know of at least two ways they do it.
The implications for humans are significant. Biologists trying to keep a species of carp out of the Great Lakes have a huge problem. The design of fish and birds makes it almost impossible to keep any fish population isolated. God has created many designs for spreading life throughout the Earth, even into sterile places.
It is interesting how difficult it seems to be for humans to practice social distancing to control disease. Scientific American published an article about social distancing in animals. Disease control is a basic need for all animals, but only humans create vaccines. So how do animals in the wild prevent the spread of disease?
Research on spiny lobsters shows that lobsters infected with a virus called Panulirus argus give off a smell in their urine that causes other lobsters to leave the area. Because of the economic value of lobster populations, much research has gone into understanding how this social distancing works.
A particular fungus spreads its spores by physical contact between ants. Other ants keep infected ants away from the colony and especially away from the queen and the nurse ants that take care of the brood to protect the ant population from the threat. Researchers have discovered social distancing in animals such as finches, guppies, mandrills, and mongooses. They all have procedures to isolate infected individuals and prevent the spread of disease.
Interestingly, God’s design for life includes social distancing in animals to stop viruses and fungi from spreading among their populations. Humans should not only be concerned about distancing from infected humans, but also from those animals that can spread diseases that affect humans. Trying to have animal pets that can carry diseases that threaten humans seems to be something we should all reconsider.
Have you ever been in a desert for an extended time? Have you ever taken the sand of a desert and looked at it under a microscope? Have you visited the Great Salt Lake or the Dead Sea? Do you feel that deserts are a wasteland? Science has come to understand something about deserts, oceans, and life that shows wisdom and planning that is beyond our wildest dreams.
We now know that deserts, in general, are dried up lakes. The vast Death Valley desert in the United States (pictured) was a lake at one time. So was the Atacama Desert in Chile, which is now called “the driest place on Earth.” The African Sahara was once the largest lake on Earth called the Mega Chad. Fossil hunting in these deserts reveals the remains of fish and plankton called diatomite. Diatomite is the skeletal remains of microscopic forms of life called diatoms. The skeletons are composed of silicon dioxide, which is a very durable substance and is highly porous and lightweight. These factors make it ideal for the wind to carry. Diatomite also contains phosphorous, which is essential for life to exist. Every living cell needs water and phosphorous, which is the second most abundant mineral in our bodies.
To have rain on the Earth requires water vapor, cool temperatures, and condensation nuclei on which the water can condense. When bodies of water become deserts, the dust contains phosphorus. Wind currents of our planet take the dust from deserts which once were lakes and carry it vast distances. Dust particles become the nuclei for condensation of raindrops that carry water and nutrients to the ground. The deserts of the Sahara maintain life in the Amazon basin. Lightning in the storms produces nitrogen to add to the nutrients. This pattern is repeated in every life-filled system on Earth. The Great Plains of the United States are sustained by the dust and minerals of the Mojave Desert, an old inland sea.
The key to this question is a basic chemistry issue involving the water molecule. We have posted previously on the nature of the water molecule. You can also access articles from our printed publications by using the search engine on doesgodexist.org.
The main point is that the water molecule is polar. The bonding positions on the oxygen atoms in water are 105 degrees apart. Because of that, the two hydrogen atoms that bond with the oxygen atom are on one end of the molecule and oxygen is on the other end. That makes the water molecule polar, and it gives water unique properties, including the ability to dissolve most inorganic compounds.
Discover magazine (July/August 2019, page 82) carried an excellent explanation of why the chemistry of water is essential to life, making it possible for life to exist. Here is a quote from the article:
“For the chemical processes of life to happen, molecules must be able to connect, separate, and reconnect in specific ways. Think about DNA replication, for instance. The base pairs that make up the genetic code bond when their negatively charged hydrogen atoms are attracted to positively charged atoms in another nucleotide. Those bonds hold the two strands of the double helix together, but because hydrogen in water molecules also bond this way, it’s relatively easy for enzymes to ‘unzip’ the double helix for replication, then bind the two new strands together again. However, the molecules of life won’t work in hydrocarbons the way they do in water. That’s because most hydrocarbons don’t tend to form hydrogen bonds.”
In Genesis 1:2, the very first action of God on the newly created Earth is that His “Spirit moved on the face of the waters.” In Proverbs 8, wisdom speaks of the fact that in the creation process there was a time when there was no liquid water (Verse 24). We are finding water scattered throughout the cosmos, and it has become pretty apparent that water was a created and carefully designed tool to allow the basics of life. The chemistry of water is essential to life.
For all of my life, there have been articles, videos, and public presentations claiming that there must be life elsewhere in the universe. Now that we know there are thousands of planets in the creation, we see attempts to maintain that with so many planets there must be life somewhere. Scientists are even speculating alien life without water.
We need to remember that the Bible doesn’t say that this is the only planet where God created life, so this is not a biblical issue. The latest attempts to expand the window of what life is has rejuvenated the need to show the design built into the development of life. Life on Earth is based on carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. The National Science Foundation has just funded a three-year program at Saint Louis University to explore what building blocks might be used to make a different kind of life. The chemicals they are considering are hexane, ethers, and chloroform. There is particular interest in whether these materials can form membranes that could be considered life.
The first problem is the definition of life. Life has traditionally been defined as “that which can move, breathe, respond to outside stimuli and reproduce.” An extraordinary chemistry is necessary to meet all of these criteria. Water is the basic substance of life on Earth. The water molecule is polar, meaning that one end of the molecule is negative and the other end is positive. Oxygen is the negative end. Oxygen’s bonding orbitals allow the attachment of two hydrogen atoms making that end positive. This polarity allows water to dissolve other molecules. Salt, for example, is made up of sodium which is positive and chlorine which is negative. When you put salt in water, the sodium is attracted to the oxygen end of the water molecule, and the chlorine is attracted to the hydrogen end of the molecule because unlike charges attract each other. This pulls the salt molecule apart and allows the salt to dissolve. Alien life without water seems impossible.
Hydrocarbons like methane have four hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon atom symmetrically. That makes the molecule non-polar and unable to dissolve salt. Numerous experiments are underway to circumvent this problem including the use of vinyl cyanide (also called acrylonitrile) which has been found in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moonTitan. Coming up with a formula for alien life without water will be difficult. How a substitute for oxidation would work has not even been publicized, so respiration would be an equally great challenge.
The picture shows Saturn’s moon Enceladus with Saturn in the background and part of a ring visible. Scientists are talking about a life chemical factory on Enceladus. One of the interesting questions about the origin of life is the question of how the chemicals needed to produce life came into existence.
Many believers in God answer that question just saying “God created them” and leaving it at that. For many of us with interest in science, that question expands to trying to understand HOW God created those chemicals. Saying that He spoke them into existence may be theologically acceptable, but the evidence shows that God used processes that we can understand.
Enceladus is essentially a vast ocean of water surrounded by a massive layer of ice. Scientists believe that powerful hydrothermal vents mix up the material found in the moon’s porous core with the salt water that makes up its vast ocean. This material is then ejected out into space in the form of enormous plumes of water vapor and ice granules you can see in the picture taken by the Cassini spacecraft. The sight is quite spectacular, and it was into one of these plumes that NASA’s scientists were able to send Cassini to examine their composition.
What the scientists learned is that the plumes contain organic materials. These are materials that are part of the building blocks of life. Therefore, this moon seems to be a factory that builds several of the ingredients needed to produce life.
Think of how factories produce cars. Factories at different locations all over the country build the parts. The parts come together in one place where highly skilled and creative engineers assemble them into a working automobile. In the same way, we can see a possible life chemical factory on Enceladus.