Complex Photosynthesis and Life

Complex Photosynthesis and Life

Photosynthesis is a biochemical process that plants, algae, and some bacteria use to create food and release oxygen into Earth’s atmosphere. We recently pointed out even some sea slugs can use photosynthesis. Complex photosynthesis and life defy accidental explanation.

Chlorophyll is the molecule that drives the process. There are two chemical reactions–one dependent on light and one independent of light. In the light-dependent reaction, sunlight enters the plant and energizes the chlorophyll. The chlorophyll splits water into hydrogen and oxygen and feeds electrons into nearby molecules. The oxygen escapes and the hydrogen is used later. The freed electrons make a molecule called ATP, which fuels cellular functions. With more sunlight, a molecule called NADP is produced.

In the light-independent reaction, NADP combines with the freed hydrogen to make a larger molecule called NADPH. These components, NADPH, ATP, and an enzyme called RuBisCCo, create sugars and other carbohydrates using carbon dioxide and water in a complex chemical process called the Calvin-Benson cycle.

Chlorophyll uses light in the blue and red part of the spectrum, reflecting green light, which is why trees and grass are green. Photosynthesis takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and forms the foundation of all food chains on Earth.

We have vastly oversimplified this explanation of complex photosynthesis and life. To believe that it could have happened by chance requires profound faith in luck. Photosynthesis reflects the wisdom of the Creator, who used some incredibly complex processes to establish life on this planet.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Six Elements and Three Interactions

Six Elements and Three Interactions

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.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Life Requires Polar Molecules

Life Requires Polar Molecules - Watere

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.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

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

Earth’s Atmospheric Design

Earth's Atmospheric Design

One of the many things that make our planet uniquely well designed is the atmosphere. Our atmosphere has the right density to burn up the 10,000 plus meteors that speed into it every year. It’s also dense enough to scatter the cosmic rays and X-rays from space, so we are protected from this deadly radiation by our Earth’s atmospheric design.

Also very important, the atmosphere is thin enough to allow light to penetrate so plants can grow. It contains the proper mix of gasses for all living things to use. There is enough oxygen for us to breathe, but not enough to cause dangerous, uncontrolled combustion. It has the right amount of carbon dioxide to allow plants to live and give us the right amount of the “greenhouse effect.” This proper amount prevents too much heat from radiating off into space, keeping Earth at a temperature that promotes life.

The atmosphere is mostly nitrogen, which is relatively inert, but plants need it to grow. Because nitrogen is inert, it’s released to the soil by bacteria and certain plants, such as legumes or by lightning or tectonic activity. The atmosphere is topped off with a layer of ozone that absorbs ultraviolet energy from the Sun to keep us from being overexposed to the harmful effects of UV rays.

When we look at Earth’s atmospheric design and compare it to that of other planets, we realize that God has given us just what we need for life on this planet.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Value of a Whale

Value of a Whale - Humpback Breaching

Many years ago, an atheist challenged my statement that everything in the creation had a designed purpose and filled a need. My atheist friend insisted that the whale is one example of a poorly designed creature with no purpose. He said that they eat massive amounts of the ocean’s food that could be eaten by other, more useful creatures. He also challenged that they contribute nothing to the ecology of the oceans. At the time, I didn’t have a good answer to why whales are useful. Whale oil seemed to me to be a weak answer. Since then, I have learned the value of a whale.

One of the things I love about science is that it continues to look for understandings of the world in which we live. New studies of whales have revealed some facts that show the whale is incredibly useful. The current winter edition of Defenders of Wildlife magazine reports data on the value of a whale.

Whales live a long time, and they accumulate carbon in their bodies. When the whale dies, it takes that carbon to the ocean bottom, removing it from the atmosphere. New research shows that each whale takes 33 tons (30 metric tons) of carbon out of the atmosphere. By comparison, a tree absorbs 48 pounds (22 kg) of carbon dioxide a year. In 60 years, which is the lifespan of most whales, a tree would remove one ton of carbon from the air. Whales play a role in removing the greenhouse gas that people are concerned about today.

In a whale’s lifetime, it will bring minerals to the ocean surface to stimulate phytoplankton growth. This plankton contributes more than 50% of the oxygen we breathe and absorbs 37 billion tons (33.5 metric tons) of carbon dioxide a year. Phytoplankton also sustains many fish species, and today, fishing is a 150 billion dollar industry.

So what is the value of a whale? Defenders of Wildlife maintains that each whale is worth more than two million dollars. God has a purpose for everything He created, but sometimes it takes us a long time to understand how His creatures help us.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Why We Need Lightning

Why We Need LightningAll life forms on planet Earth need nitrates to build proteins and DNA. We get our nitrates from the plants and seeds that we eat. Plants absorb nitrates from the soil through their roots. The nitrates in the soil come from rain that has absorbed nitrates from the air through which it falls. The nitrates in the air come from the action of lightning. Our atmosphere is 78% nitrogen, and lightning takes some of the nitrogen and catalyzes it into a bond with oxygen to make nitrates. That is why we need lightning.

A surprising thing about this complex system is that the lightning is far more abundant than we realize. Lightning strikes the Earth around 1000 times every second. Above the clouds, in the upper atmosphere, there are continuous lightning types that we don’t see from Earth’s surface. They are called elves, sprites, blue jets, and gigantic jets, depending on their color and shape. There is a voltage difference between the ground and the ionosphere, which varies from 200,000 volts to 500,000 volts. Even in fair weather, there is a constant flow of current, which scientists believe is caused by the spinning of Earth’s core. All of this adds up to a total of over three million lightning strikes a day, and each produces nitrates to sustain life. The jet stream carries these nitrates around the planet, providing a natural fertilizer in places where electrical storms rarely occur.

The Old Testament contains suggestions of this being a part of God’s design for life on Earth. Ecclesiastes 1:6 talks about wind patterns, and Jeremiah 10:13 speaks about lightning. Job 36:29 and 37:21 speak of clouds and bright lights. Lightning is sometimes destructive, often because of foolish construction by humans or ecological problems caused by human mismanagement. In reality, lightning is a tool God uses to build and maintain life on Earth. That is why we need lightning. The more we learn of the creation, the closer we get to the Creator.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Ocean Treasure House

Ocean Treasure HouseOceans are essential for life on Earth. As we learn more about the oceans, we realize more and more how important the ocean treasure house is to our survival.

Fish, shrimp, and lobsters are some of the blessings that come from the oceans. Those vast bodies of water contain a great wealth of biomass that can address human food needs. The very fact that these forms of life lay millions of eggs that can provide massive amounts of food quickly is a testimony to the vast ocean treasure house. As humans conserve and farm these resources, we see the potential for food production with minimal environmental impact.

But food is only one of the blessings that come from the oceans. The oceans of the world provide water for the land. Evaporation lifts massive amounts of water from the oceans. The moisture condenses and falls on the continents providing the vital water needed by all land forms of life.

The oceans also moderate temperatures on the land. When Earth is closest to the Sun, its tilt exposes the Southern Hemisphere to the direct radiation of the Sun. Since oceans mostly cover the Southern Hemisphere, the water reflects much of the radiation, and the rest is absorbed and stored in the water. The water carries this heat toward the polar areas of the planet, moderating temperatures and allowing life to exist in abundance at the higher latitudes.

When the Earth is at its farthest distance from the Sun, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun, exposing the land to the Sun’s radiation. The land surface absorbs more heat radiation and reflects less of it. The waters in the Southern Hemisphere moderate the climate by using their stored energy to supplement the heat from the Sun.

In addition to their thermodynamic uses, the oceans also control the gases that are critical for life on Earth. Photosynthetic processes taking place in the oceans produce most of our oxygen. The oceans are a significant carbon sink, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that would be in our atmosphere if the oceans did not exist. This not only restricts the adverse greenhouse effects of carbon dioxide but also recycles carbon in ways that benefit the entire planetary ecosystem.

Another ocean treasure house is the minerals they hold. The salt in the ocean is not just sodium chloride (regular table salt). The oceans contain a wide variety of elements that are critical to humans. They include iodine, magnesium, copper, and copious trace elements of biological importance. People who live far from the oceans benefit from these mineral resources because ancient oceans have deposited those minerals on land. Oceans gather and store the elements that humans need. While we have mined these ocean-deposited resources on land, we are now learning to take them directly from the ocean.

As science looks for life elsewhere in the cosmos, it is not likely that we will find it unless we find a planetary environment with oceans comparable to those on Earth. The ocean treasure house is a beautiful feature unique to planet Earth in our solar system. As science observes other stars and other systems, it becomes increasingly clear that planets like ours are exceedingly rare at best. God has provided the ocean treasure house that speaks eloquently of the Creator’s wisdom and power.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

How the Elements Were Created

How the Elements Were CreatedScience has made significant progress in understanding many things about the universe and our planet and the life on it. However, there are many, many things that we have not yet begun to understand. There are also many things we think we understand, but we are still working on better understandings. One question involves how the elements were created.

At the time of the cosmic creation event (widely called the “big bang”), there were atoms with one proton and one electron and some with twice that many. We call simplest element hydrogen, and two hydrogen atoms combine to form helium in the process of nuclear fusion. More and more fusion took place and still is happening in our Sun and other stars. The process requires intense heat and pressure to fuse the atomic nuclei into a heavier atom.

In stars much more massive than our Sun, heavier elements up to iron can are being formed by fusing more and more atoms together. When you go beyond iron, and all the way up to uranium, even the biggest, brightest, and hottest stars can’t squeeze those atoms together. Scientists believe that the heavier elements are created in exploding stars known as supernovae. When they explode, the theory goes, ripples of turbulence form as the supernovae toss their stellar material into the void of the universe. The forces in that turbulence press more and more atoms together to make the heavier elements. As those atomic elements fly off into space, gravity pulls them into lumps which eventually become planets, such as the one on which we live.

A problem with that explanation is that when the atoms are blasted from the supernovae, they are all traveling in the same direction at perhaps the same speed. How can that produce enough force and heat to fuse them together? An alternate explanation is that the explosion within the supernova is not symmetrical, creating areas of greater density. Ultradense and ultrahot regions concentrated in small areas of the exploding mass perhaps give a better explanation of how the elements were created. (See a paper on that published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.)

Carbon is the basic building block of all living cells. Nitrogen and oxygen, which are the next steps above carbon, bond with it along with other atoms to form living molecules. A little higher on the atomic scale are sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, and other elements which are essential to life. Iron, nickel, copper, and other metals are in molecules within our bodies, and we use them in pure form to build our homes, cars, and electronics. The heavier radioactive elements such as uranium deep within the Earth generate the heat that creates a molten iron core that generates a magnetic field which surrounds and protects us. This is a very simple explanation of a very complex system that makes it possible for us to be here.

Science is only beginning to understand how the elements were created and how they are continuing to be created. How did this amazing, complex system come into being with the precision that put life on this planet? We could declare a god-of-the-gaps to say that we don’t understand it and therefore, God did it. It is much better for us to learn HOW God did it. As we begin to see the wisdom required to put this incredibly complex universe together, we become more in awe of the Creator. We don’t have a god-of-the-gaps who “zaps” things into existence like a magician. Our God is an engineer craftsman who creates complexity and beauty that leaves us without excuse. (See Romans 1:20.)
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Benefits of Trees

Benefits of Trees

We take for granted many things that God has built into the Earth so that we can survive. Among those are trees. World Ark magazine for the spring of 2019 published some interesting data that demonstrate the benefits of trees:

One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide in a year. That is enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.

One acre of forest produces six tons of oxygen a year. That is also enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.

A single average-sized tree produces 260 pounds of oxygen a year, which is enough for two people.

Large areas of asphalt or cement attract and retain the Sun’s heat artificially boosting local temperatures. Trees are the only cure for this overheating.

Trees are the most efficient way to reduce urban noise.

Planting a tree on the west side of your house can block enough of the Sun’s heat to save $25 on your air conditioning bill every year. Trees also serve as natural windbreakers to reduce your heating bill in winter.

Some trees, such as apple trees, attract birds which eat invasive caterpillars.

Property values are increased up to 15% by having trees in yards and throughout neighborhoods.


Joyce Kilmer wrote, “I think I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree.” That is even more true when we realize the multiple hidden benefits of trees.

“And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit whose seed was in itself after its kind: and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:12).

The last verse of Kilmer’s poem says:

“Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.”

–John N. Clayton © 2019

CLEVER Planets

CLEVER Planets Include Earth
We have often mentioned many of the conditions that must exist to make a planet habitable. The number is large and growing as science learns more about Earth’s special life-supporting features. Now NASA has awarded $7,700,000 to Rice University to conduct a five-year study to see what it takes to create a “recipe for a habitable planet.” The project has been named CLEVER Planets, an acronym for Cycles of Life-Essential Volatile Elements in Rocky Planets.

The award comes from NASA’s Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NexSS). The research team will include experts in astrophysics, atmosphere and climate science, geology, geochemistry, geophysics, and organic chemistry. The investigators are from Rice University, NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the University of California-Davis, UCLA, and the University of Colorado-Boulder. This will be the most in-depth study of what it takes to create a habitable planet.

The lead investigator of CLEVER Planets, Rajdeep Dasgupta of Rice, wrote: “A recipe for life as we know it requires essential elements like carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur.” Of course, that is not all that is required to create a recipe for a life-supporting planet. There are also many other conditions including liquid water, the right temperature with stable conditions, a proper atmosphere, and shielding from dangerous radiation. Having an atmosphere requires a planet of the right size to have the right amount of gravity to sustain an atmosphere. To have liquid water and the right temperature requires that the planet must be the right distance from the right kind and size of star. The planet needs a magnetic field to shield from dangerous particles coming from the star. To have a magnetic field, there must be magnetic elements inside the planet. The list goes on and on.

We look forward to seeing the results of the CLEVER Planets study five years from now. The bottom line is that it is very, very difficult to get all of the right ingredients required to create the recipe for a habitable planet. Earth is an exceptional place in the universe.

It seems doubtful that we will find any other planet similar to Earth. But as we have said before, if there is any form of life anywhere else in the universe, that has nothing to do with the existence of God. We believe in a God who can do anything He chooses to do in keeping with His nature.
–Roland Earnst © 2018