THE BREATH OF LIFE
So what are some of the remarkably special features of our Earth?
Our atmosphere contains a mixture of gases in perfect proportions to sustain life. Oxygen makes up 21 percent of our air. Without oxygen, all animate life – including all human life, would die in a matter of minutes. On the other end, too much oxygen is toxic because it makes combustible materials more flammable. If the proportion of oxygen in the air increased by just 3 percent, destructive fires would break out frequently all over the Earth. It would be much harder to bring under control. Objects around us would literally – burst into flame.
Nitrogen, making up 78-percent of Earth’s atmosphere, dilutes the oxygen we breathe. It also serves a vital function as fertilizer for plants. Every day around our world, millions of lightning bolts generated by thunderstorms combine this nitrogen with oxygen, creating compounds that are then washed down from the sky towards Earth by rain, where they are utilised by plants.
Carbon dioxide makes up much of the rest of our atmosphere. Without it plant life would be impossible. Plants require carbon dioxide. They take it in while giving off oxygen. Animals and human beings are the opposite, breathing in oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. Plant life sustains human and animal life and vice versa in a precise, self-sustaining cycle.
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THE PERFECT BALANCE
Another condition that makes Earth so hospitable for life is its size, which determines its gravity and in turn affects its atmosphere. If the Earth were only just a little larger, making its gravity slightly stronger, hydrogen – a light gas, would be unable to escape Earth’s gravity. It would collect in our atmosphere, making it inhospitable to life. Alternately, if Earth were only slightly smaller, oxygen which is necessary for sustaining life would escape, and water would evaporate. If Earth were slightly larger or smaller, human life would simply not exist. Yet, we take it for granted.
And then there’s water and Earth’s distance to its own sun. So many of our planet’s other forms of life are dependent on an environment in which liquid water is stable. This means that our planet must not be too close nor too far from the sun. Astronomers estimate that if the distance from the Earth to the sun changed by as little as 2-percent, all life would be extinguished! Water would either freeze or evaporate. End of story.
Likewise, the rotation period of a uniquely life-supporting planet such as ours cannot be changed by more than a few percent. If Earth takes too long to rotate, temperature differences between day and night will be too great. On the other hand, if the planet rotates too rapidly, wind velocities will rise to catastrophic levels.
MEANING BEHIND ALL THIS
There must be an explanation for the existence of everything. Why do we find so many dependable, predictable, finely-tuned laws governing our existence? What is their origin? Did life arise by chance? Is something larger at work?
As it is becoming increasingly evident, the number, precision and perfection of natural laws cannot be explained away as a convenient string of random ‘acci dents’. That view doesn’t provide any answers as it does in raising even more questions so it would be irrational to even consider framing it that way. Yet, shouldn’t some common sense tells us that the existence of an unimaginably magnificent universe, structured on and sustained by an interplay of innumer able laws of physics require the existence of a Creator of those laws, a Designer of those structures?
The grandeur of the shimmering heavens raises questions not just about the universe but about our part in it. In ancient Israel King David, looking into the heavens some 3,000 years ago realised that he was viewing the handiwork of a Divine Being and that we could discern much about Him simply by observing His handiwork: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
In this modern day and age, it is fortunate that our generation and those who may follow can now learn a great deal more by examining the universe with space-bound telescopes or view life’s intricacies through sophisticated micro scopes. But even with access to the best scientific instruments we will never really find the ultimate purpose as to why we are all hurtling through endless space or what the meaning of our existence in that space is.
All we can infer from the evidently precise natural laws and the finely-tuned features of our planet Earth is that it is optimally designed for life and for scientific discovery and understanding. Even a skeptical astrophysicist such as Stephen Hawking admits as much when a question about the miracle of life is raised by remarking “that our own universe is uniquely fine-tuned to produce life, even if in just one small, lost corner” in the entire universe.