Earth's Story Is One in a Billion

For this is what the Lord says—
he who created the heavens,
he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth,
he founded it; he did not create it to be empty,
but formed it to be inhabited—he says:
“I am the Lord, and there is no other.”
—Isaiah 45:18

Just a few short decades ago, the Earth was considered to be an ordinary planet, orbiting an ordinary star, lost in a vast galaxy of other stars, amid myriad other galaxies populating the cosmos. Mindless processes produced the first living organisms, we were told, which slowly evolved over the eons to produce creatures like us.1 This secular myth was accepted hook, line, and sinker by the uneducated masses after its promotion by God-denying "high priests" of materialist science, including Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan, and Richard Dawkins, and it was mindlessly parroted by a generation of science journalists unwilling to dig any deeper.

But now, with the exponential rise in human knowledge, this worldview is being radically overturned by an avalanche of new science, which paints an entirely different picture of our world. In this picture, the Earth's exceptional properties for supporting a long-lived biosphere—for the express benefit of humanity in particular—are coming to the fore, and life itself is seen to have "terraformed" the Earth under divine direction. 

An Anomalous Solar System

Many lines of evidence show that the Earth is old; 4.543 billion years old, to be exact (with a margin of uncertainty of just one percent). But the circumstances under which our planetary system was shaped were very unusual. Formed from the gravitational collapse of a vast cloud of gas and dust, the proto-solar system condensed into a relatively thin disk, with the neonatal Sun at its center. The inventory of elements endowed to our solar system might have turned out to be much like that of any other were it not for at least two relatively close-by supernova events,2 which helped to eject the primordial solar system from a nursery of other stars, and to enrich it with relatively large quantities of heat-generating radioactive elements, such as aluminum 26, thorium, and uranium.3

The aluminum 26, with its short half-life of 730,000 years, provided enough thermal energy to remove excess levels of volatiles, including water, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide, which would have scuppered the future emergence of living creatures on our planet. In contrast, the very dense and long-lived radioactive elements, like uranium and thorium, sank to the center of the primordial earth, where their prodigious heat has kept the planet in a geologically active state for billions of years.

The Moon-forming event, which is thought to have occurred about 100 million years after the neonatal Earth formed, in a highly improbable, oblique collision with a Mars-sized object,4 helped remove still more volatiles from the primordial Earth, allowing it to eventually form relatively shallow oceans, from whose floor the continental land-masses could eventually emerge. The debris from this cataclysmic event formed a relatively large Moon in close proximity to the Earth, helping to stabilize the latter's orbital inclination and, over time, to slow down its rotation rate from just 5 hours (shortly after the Moon's formation) to its present leisurely period of 24 hours.

For the first few hundred million years after its formation, the Earth would have looked black and gold from outer space, due to the vast amounts of solidified magma cooling on its surface, as well as to the prodigious levels of volcanic activity spewing out hot lava from the planet's interior. Frequent collision events with smaller objects like asteroids would have exacerbated these hellish conditions, but eventually the prodigious levels of water vapor outgassed from its interior would have transformed our lava-dominated planet into a blue water world still devoid of continental landmasses.5 But just as soon as the Earth cooled down enough to enable liquid water to flow on its surface, life appeared.

Life Terraforms the Planet

The standard evolutionary story is that life began as simple organisms and gradually progressed to more complex forms, but the best scientific evidence now suggests that early life-forms were already complex and biochemically sophisticated. This is based on evidence from the analysis of ratios of carbon and sulfur isotopes in sedimentary rocks laid down over 3.5 billion years ago.6 Since these biochemical processes could not have occurred unless highly complex protein enzymes were already present, they obviate an evolutionary explanation.

Then why did our Creator choose to begin Earth's life story with microbes? The answer has less to do with evolution than with chemical sophistication: microbes are, by some considerable margin, the hardiest creatures ever to have lived on our planet.

Microbes are the die-hards of the living world, being capable of surviving in very hot and very cold temperatures, in high and low pH environments, and even amid toxic chemicals and radioactivity. Once the planet had cooled enough to allow the first microbes to survive, they set to work removing a plethora of poisonous substances from the primordial Earth.

In those early times, the Earth's surface would have had large amounts of so-called vital poisons, substances that are required in small amounts for more complex life to thrive, but can prove lethal in higher concentrations; these include iron, copper, zinc, molybdenum, arsenic, boron, selenium and iodine, among others. In their soluble forms, these vital poisons would have stunted any new life-forms coming on the scene. But by chemically transforming them into insoluble ores and minerals, the microbes not only removed the vital poisons from the Earth's water environments but also left large deposits of valuable minerals in the ground, which are now mined for their use in high-technology devices.7

One other benefit that microbial life brought to the Earth is an abundance of minerals and gemstones. According to Dr. Robert Hazen, a world-leading mineralogist, Earth has the greatest diversity of mineral species of any body in the Solar System.8 Over 4,600 mineral species have been identified on Earth. In contrast, Mars probably has about 500 and Venus about 1,000 at the most. What's more, Hazen discovered that life processes formed about two-thirds of Earth's mineral species.9

Atmospheric Conditions

Recent oxygen isotope evidence shows that ongoing plate tectonic activity had produced nearly all the continental landmasses by about 2.5 billion years ago.10 Just 29 percent of the planet's surface area is covered by dry land, an amount that appears to be highly fine-tuned. A greater amount of land surface would have induced too little precipitation in the interior of the ancient continents to allow life to gain a hold in those places. A smaller amount of land surface would have prevented sufficient re-cycling of valuable nutrients between the land, the sea, and the atmosphere to maintain a healthy biosphere.

The earliest life-forms extracted energy from minerals without the need for molecular oxygen, but once photosynthetic microbes were introduced, they radically transformed the early biosphere, paving the way for the appearance of advanced life-forms. One way to get a handle on how early oxygenic photosynthesis occurred on Earth is to study so-called Banded Iron Formations (BIFs) consisting of iron-rich clays containing magnetite and hematite. The early oceans had high concentrations of soluble iron, but when iron reacts with oxygen, it forms an insoluble rust-like substance known as iron ore. BIFs were laid down over the period between 3 billion and 1.8 billion years ago.11 This timescale coincides with the microfossil record of life, which shows that oxygen-dependent complex cellular life-forms (the so-called Eukaryotes) made their first appearance around 2 billion years ago.12 The rise in atmospheric oxygen also created the ozone layer, which protected future life on land from the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.

The emergence of oxygen-generating photosynthesis had other effects that are not immediately obvious. For instance, when the Sun was born, it was about 30 percent less luminous than it is today, but as it aged, its luminosity increased, with the result that the amount of thermal energy received by Earth also increased. Photosynthetic organisms removed great amounts of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere by absorbing carbon dioxide and generating oxygen, which reacted rapidly with another greenhouse gas, methane. In so doing, photosynthetic organisms served to counteract the tendency of the aging Sun to overheat the planet.13 The remains of these and other unicellular creatures settled to the bottom of the oceans, where they formed vast sediments that were compressed over time to produce the natural gas and oil reserves so important to human civilization today.

After a long cooling phase, which coincided with the formation of the supercontinent, Rhodinia,14 the first large (macroscopic) multicellular life-forms appeared about 600 million years ago, in an event known to paleontologists as the Avalon Explosion. Scientists have uncovered the first evidence of simple life-forms from this period, but it is unclear whether these bizarre creatures were animals or plants.

What is clear from the fossil record is that in the space of a short, 10-million-year period starting around 541 million years ago, 80 percent of all existing animal forms appeared on Earth, with no credible evolutionary antecedents. Paleontologists studying fossil layers from the so-called Cambrian Explosion have found no transitional forms in the layers immediately pre-dating this period in Earth history. Moreover, the land was being prepared for the arrival of vascular plants by fungi, which began breaking down rocks into soil as early as about one billion years ago.15 It is difficult to conceive how any blind process like Darwinian evolution could have produced such stunning biological complexity and diversity in such a short space of time.

Plate Tectonics

In recent times, a greater appreciation of the interplay between life and plate tectonics has emerged. Without plate tectonics, our planet wouldn't have a climate stable enough to support life over billions of years. That's because plate tectonics takes center stage as a planetary thermostat in a process called the "carbonate-silicate" cycle.16 Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere dissolves in rainwater to form carbonic acid, which dissolves silicate rocks. The by-products of this erosion, or "weathering," are conveyed to the oceans, where they are ingested by organisms—such as tiny planktonic foraminifera—and incorporated into limestone (calcium carbonate) shells. When those creatures die, they fall to the bottom of the ocean and pile up as sediments, creating new raw materials that humans can use.

The introduction of life on Earth also caused an increase in the amount of water subducted into the mantle, where it functions as a kind of lubricant, facilitating motions between plates. It also lowers the melting point in the mantle, which leads to more volcanism and therefore to more continent building. So without life speeding up both the weathering at the surface and the sedimentation rate on the sea floor, the fraction of Earth's surface covered by continents would be far smaller.

Plate tectonics has also had consequences for the maintenance of the Earth's strong magnetic field. By accelerating the transfer of heat to the surface, plate tectonics induces convection in the liquid iron outer core of our planet. It's the dynamic outer core that generates our planet's magnetic field, which in turn both protects Earth's atmosphere and oceans from excessive erosion and desiccation from the solar wind and protects all surface life from dangerous cosmic rays.

Even Extinction Plays a Role

The fossil record attests to several mass extinction events that occurred over the long history of our planet.17 Research has shown that these devastating events were followed by equally spectacular mass speciation events, uncannily similar to the scenarios described in Psalm 104. According to Christian astronomer Hugh Ross, these events proved crucial for maximizing both the quantity and longevity of Earth's living creatures:

By ensuring that the right quantities and kinds of life are present at the right times, a Creator can use those organisms to remove the just-right quantities of greenhouse gases from Earth's atmosphere. So as the Sun brightens, the atmosphere's capacity to trap heat decreases by the just-right amount. Thus, from a creation model perspective, one would expect God to intervene periodically to remove life no longer appropriate for compensating for a brightening Sun and then replace it with life that is.18

Ross cites the work of astronomer ­Gennady Kochemasov, who showed that "Earth has the best possible orbit in the solar system to receive the frequency and kind of asteroid and comet collisions needed to cause the required mass extinction events." Moreover, these extinction events did not occur randomly, but at regular 27-million-year intervals over the last 500 million years. This regular periodicity was also crucial for sustaining life on Earth.19

Finally, in the last few hundred million years, vast deposits of coal and oil were produced from the remains of plant life that flourished on land during the Carboniferous and Permian periods (360 to 250 million years ago). Without these resources, humans could never have launched the industrial revolution.

Jewel Planet

Together, these scientific discoveries show that the Earth has been highly fine-tuned to sustain a very stable environment for the flourishing of life. And some life-forms were themselves instrumental in making our world an ideal place for humans to thrive in.

This consensus has been expressed in a number of influential books by scientists who have noted Earth's amazing properties. Donald Brownlee and Peter Ward's Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Rare in the Universe (Springer, 2000), David Waltham's Lucky Planet (Icon Books, 2015), John Gribbin's Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique (John Wiley, 2011), and Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards's The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery (Regnery, 2004) all seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet. They show that, far from being a humdrum planet orbiting an ordinary star, the Earth is an extraordinary planet that was designed by a mind vastly superior to our own. To God be all the glory!

Notes
1. Carl Sagan, Cosmos (MacDonald Futura Publishers, 1981).
2. Eric Gaidos et al., "26Al and the Formation of the Solar System from a Molecular Cloud Contaminated by Wolf-Rayet Winds," Astrophysical Journal 696 (May 10, 2009), 1854–1863.
3. Hugh Ross, "Elemental Evidence of Earth's Divine Design," Reasons to Believe (Mar. 1, 2010): https://reasons.org/explore/publications/nrtb-e-zine/read/nrtb-e-zine/2010/03/01/elemental-evidence-of-earth-s-divine-design.
4. Robert M. Hazen, The Story of Earth (Penguin, 2012).
5. Ibid.
6. Allen P. Nutman et al., "≥3700 Ma pre-metamorphic dolomite formed by microbial mediation in the Isua supracrustal belt (W. Greenland): Simple evidence for early life?", Precambrian Research 183, no. 4 (Dec. 15, 2010), 725–737; Yanan Shen et al., "Isotopic Evidence for Microbial Sulphate Reduction in the Early Archaean Era," Nature 410 (Mar. 1, 2001), 77–81.
7. Geoffrey Michael Gadd, "Metals, minerals and microbes: geomicrobiology and bioremediation," Microbiology (Mar. 1, 2010): https://mic.microbiologyresearch.org/content/journal/micro/10.1099/mic.0.037143-0;jsessionid=CfnAVoIxE-Nxln81QM-D2S0N.x-sgm-live-02.
8. Ibid., note 4.
9. Ibid., note 4.
10. I. N. Bindeman et al., "Rapid Emergence of Subaerial Landmasses and Onset of Modern Hydrologic Cycle 2.5 Billion Years Ago," Nature 557 (May 23, 2018): https://doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0131-1.
11. Harold L. James, "Distribution of Banded Iron-Formation in Space and Time," Developments in Precambrian Geology 6 (1983), 471–490.
12. Simonetta Gribaldo et al., "The Origin of Eukaryotes and Their Relationship with the Archaea: Are We at a Phylogenomic Impasse?" Nature Reviews Microbiology 8 (2010), 743–752.
13. Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet (Baker Books, 2016).
14. Ibid., note 4.
15. Katie Field, "Complex life may only exist because of millions of years of groundwork by ancient fungi," The Conversation (May 22, 2019): https://theconversation.com/complex-life-may-only-exist-because-of-millions-of-years-of-groundwork-by-ancient-fungi-117526.
16. James C. G. Walker et al., "A negative feedback mechanism for the long-term stabilization of Earth's surface temperature," Journal of Geophysical Research (Oct. 20, 1981), 9776–9782.
17. Adrian L. Melott and Richard K. Bambach, "Do Periodicities in Extinction—With Possible Astronomical Connections—Survive a Revision of the Geological Timescale?" Astrophysical Journal 773 (July 18, 2013).
18. Hugh Ross, "Mass Extinction Periodicity Design," Reasons to Believe (Dec. 1, 2013): reasons.org/explore/publications/nrtb-e-zine/read/nrtb-e-zine/2013/12/01/mass-extinction-periodicity-design.

holds a Ph.D in biochemistry and a BSc in physics & astronomy. His latest book, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy (Springer, 2018), explores four centuries of visual astronomy.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #51, Winter 2019 Copyright © 2019 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo51/planetary-jewel