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Home, Sweet Home II - The Solar System


In the first part of this series we brought up the possibility that the characteristics and phenomena of the universe imply design. And that design implies a Designer. From the tiniest subatomic particles and nuclear forces to the incomprehensible mass and age of the entire universe we saw that all those parameters, and more, are "just right"–just right meaning that if their values were to deviate much one way or another, there would be no life.

Here, in Part Two, we continue our look at this "Goldilocks syndrome." But now we concentrate on our solar system and the Earth’s place in it. What is it about our sun and the other planets that makes us unique? What can Earth’s size and orbit and position tell us about the possibility of design? How, possibly, can earthquakes and climate and carbon dioxide imply that there is a Someone-in-charge-of-it-all?

Let’s investigate...

1. PARENT STAR DISTANCE FROM CENTER OF GALAXY


We live in a galaxy which is one of nearly a trillion galaxies in the universe. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is a spiral-shaped galaxy about 100 000 light years across (600 000 trillion miles!) containing probably over 100 billion stars. All the stars we see at night belong to the Milky Way. One of those stars, our sun, is located about 28 000 light years from the center of the galaxy. This center has a tremendously high concentration of stars and heavy elements (elements such as carbon and iron and oxygen and silicon and magnesium). As one moves farther from the center, the average number of stars decreases; so does the amount of heavy elements. Our position in the galaxy, about two-thirds the way out, is a very important place for life. Why?

If we were close to the center of the galaxy the amount of radiation coming from all those closely positioned neighboring stars would be so intense as to render life impossible. Moreover, all those neighboring stars would have a pronounced effect on the orbits of any planet circling its parent star. The little planet would be pulled and tugged by the nearby stars so as to render a steady orbit around its parent impossible. (As we will soon see, a steady orbit is very important to any planet planning on becoming home to any lifeforms.) Too much radiation and no stable orbit mean no life.
If we were far from the center of the galaxy the amount of heavy elements, the "stuff" of which rocky planets and you and I are made, would be so dispersed that there would not be enough of it around to collect into rocky planets. No rocky planets means no life.

It appears there is a place in a galaxy which is "just right."


2. NUMBER OF STARS IN THE PLANETARY SYSTEM


Most of the stars we see out there are not loners; they travel with friends. Binary systems, stars that travel in pairs, are prevalent in the universe. Some stars travel in threes, and occasionally we see four-star systems. Obviously our star is a lone star; it has no companion. Why is this important?

If there are two or more stars in a star system the pull and tug on a developing rocky planet would be so disruptive as to hinder its formation. Even if it managed to form under these harsh conditions, its orbit would be torn between the two or three or four stars competing for it. This lack of any semblance of a stable orbit essentially eliminates the hope for any life on the rocky planet. No stable orbit = no life.

If there is less than one star, in other words a lone planet hurtling through space, there would be no sustained major source of energy, one consequence of which is that there wouldn’t be near enough heat to maintain any biochemical life. No consistent energy source = frozen, dead planet.
It appears there is a number of parent stars for a rocky planet which is "just right."

3. DISTANCE FROM PARENT STAR


Planet Earth is approximately 93 million miles from the sun. And it has a water cycle. So what? What is the connection? First, let’s describe the water cycle.

Water exists in all three forms on our planet–gas, liquid, and solid. This a good thing. The liquid oceans evaporate gaseous water into the air. This water vapour condenses into clouds. The clouds rain down their water onto land where it can collect into lakes and streams and rivers. It can either evaporate from there or make its way to the oceans again for a repeat performance. All life uses water as a medium for biochemical reactions and because of the water cycle nearly all life on Earth has access to this life-giving liquid. The water cycle set-up on Earth is also responsible for evaporation, rain, snow, erosion, sedimentation, cloud cover, a limited greenhouse effect, the maintenance of our oceans and lakes and glaciers, etc., etc., etc..–all very important processes to life on Earth. So what does distance from the sun got to do with the hyper-important water cycle?

If our orbit were any farther from the sun it would be too cool for us to have a stable water cycle. Most of the water would be trapped in its liquid or solid phase, essentially bringing an end to rain and snow and all the effects of those phenomena. Earth would be a frozen planet.
If our orbit were any closer to the sun temperatures would be so high so as to prevent the establishment of a stable water cycle because water would exist mostly in its gaseous form. A worse-case scenario sees temperatures rising high enough that an irreversible process begins in which water is completely eliminated from the planet. This is probably what happened on Venus, our "sister planet," which is closer to the sun and devoid of water–and life.

It appears there is a distance for a rocky planet which is "just right."

4. ROTATION PERIOD


A rotation period is merely how long it takes a planet to spin around one time. Our rotation period–our day–is 24 hours.
There is a natural tendency for things to spin when they are coming together and forming. Our galaxy spins, the solar system spins, the sun and all the planets spin. The "rotation periods" for the planets, their "days," vary from as short as 10 hours (for Jupiter) to as long as 243 Earth days (for Venus).

If our rotation period were slower our daytime temperatures would be very hot, perhaps hundreds of degrees, because the sun’s heat would beat down on us for a longer period of time. And our nighttime temperatures would be extremely cold, easily and consistently remaining below freezing, because the sun would be absent for such a relatively long time. Such a "daily" temperature difference is wholly nonconducive to the establishment of complex life.

If our rotation period were faster the problem would not be a temperature problem but a wind problem. Witness the ferocious winds of the planets Jupiter and Saturn which consistently clock in at over 200 miles per hour and sometimes reach more than 1000 mph! Our atmospheric wind velocities would be too great to sustain advanced life on this planet.

It appears that there is a rotation period which is "just right."

5. ORBITAL ECCENTRICITY


Orbital eccentricity is just a measure of how circular an orbit is or not. A circular orbit is not eccentric. An elliptical orbit is eccentric; it resembles an oval shape. A planet with an elliptical orbit, unlike one with a circular orbit, spends part of its time considerably nearer the sun and part of its time significantly farther away. Our orbit is nearly a circle around our star, but some heavenly bodies can have highly eccentric orbits. Pluto’s orbit, for example, is so eccentric, its "circle" has been so stretched out, that sometimes it is closer to the sun than Neptune. The orbits of some comets can be so highly elongated that they can come closer to the sun than Mercury at one time in their orbit but end up beyond the outer planets at another time.

If Earth had a highly eccentric orbit it would spend some of its year either too close to the sun (thus becoming too hot), too far from the sun (thus too cold), or both, for advanced life to be established. Being either too far or too close means we aren’t here.

It appears that there is an orbital eccentricity which is "just right."


6. SEISMIC ACTIVITY


This is just the scientific term for what most of us know as earthquakes and volcanoes. The outer layer of Earth, the part we live on top of, is the crust. It is "floating," so to speak, on the next lower layer, the mantle. An analogy would be the thin shell "floating" on a hard-boiled egg. Now, Earth’s crust is broken into about a dozen pieces, known as plates. This is like our hard-boiled egg with its shell intact but broken into many pieces. The United States is mostly on the North American Plate. Hawaii and parts of California are on the Pacific Plate. These plates grind, slide, and move by, into, under, and over each other all the time. In this way minerals are recycled, mountains are built, continents grow, oceans are formed. Two results of these movements are earthquakes and volcanoes. How is seismic activity any evidence for design?

If the seismic activity were greater on Earth too many lifeforms would be destroyed. Imagine a planet with intense and constant killer quakes and continuous volcanic activity. The volcanic activity would not only wipe out local life, à la Mt. St. Helens, but would also have a severe effect on the atmosphere. The air would be poisoned. The atmosphere, filled with particulates and gases would have a severe effect on the climate of the planet. The place would be a mess.

If the seismic activity were less the nutrients which are washed off the continents by rivers into the ocean and onto its floor would not be recycled for the continuance of life processes. Landed of nutrients means less plants, which means less animal life, which would include us. We need the tectonic scraping and uplift to recycle these nutrients back onto the continents. Earthquakes and volcanoes are good things; they allow life a constant re-supplying of life-building materials.

It appears that there is an amount of seismic activity which is "just right."

7. CARBON DIOXIDE LEVEL IN ATMOSPHERE


Carbon dioxide is one of the many gases in our atmosphere. But as well known as it is, carbon dioxide accounts for less than 1% of our air. Despite this fact, carbon dioxide is a very important gas. When sunlight passes through our atmosphere it strikes the ground, heating it up. The heat radiates back up through the atmosphere but is partially stopped by our friend carbon dioxide. This property of carbon dioxide allows it to act as a blanket, keeping us warmer than we would be without it. This phenomenon is called the greenhouse effect. We experience something similar in a car with its windows rolled up. The sunlight streams in, strikes the car’s interior, gets changed into infrared heat energy, and bounces out of the car–almost. The windows have a similar property to carbon dioxide, stopping the outward flight of the infrared energy. This is why car interiors can get up to 180°F when the temperature outside is only 90°F, and why it is important not to keep animals or small children in a sealed-up automobile.

Carbon dioxide also is incredibly important to life on Earth because it is the gas that plants use for photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process by which the sun’s energy is converted to food.

If the carbon dioxide level were greater than what it is now a runaway greenhouse effect would occur. If there is a little more carbon dioxide in the air, the atmosphere would warm. A warmer atmosphere means even more carbon dioxide is gassed out from oceans and rocks and more water evaporates (another greenhouse gas). This leads to higher and higher temperatures and higher and higher water vapor and carbon dioxide levels. It is a vicious self-feeding cycle, which leads eventually to no water and a lot of carbon dioxide. Scientists believe that Venus went through something like this. Its surface temperature now reaches 800°F!

If, however, the carbon dioxide level in our atmosphere were less plants would not be able to maintain efficient photosynthesis. Therefore, inefficient carbon dioxide levels means both less food and less oxygen, two of the staples of life on Earth.

It appears that there is an amount carbon dioxide which is "just right."

8. OXYGEN QUANTITY IN ATMOSPHERE


Speaking of air, oxygen is a main component of our atmosphere. But only 20% of the atmosphere is oxygen (nearly 80% is nitrogen). Oxygen is, obviously, the most important gas for lifeforms on Earth. It almost goes without saying that…

If there were less oxygen in the atmosphere on Earth (<10%) then advance life would suffer. Our biochemical functions would slow down considerably. Advanced, active mammals need a lot of oxygen to survive. Obviously, if Earth were to have as much oxygen in the air as it does carbon dioxide, widescale death would occur–there would be too little to breathe. Most affected would be the advanced lifeforms which require the most oxygen. Surely more oxygen would be beneficial then, wouldn’t it? Well...

If there were more oxygen plants and hydrocarbons would burn up too quickly. Oxygen is required for combustion. We all know how well things burn in the 20% oxygen we have now. If it became significantly higher, things would burn much more rapidly, to a point where it would be nearly impossible to put them out. Imagine a completely out-of-control forest fire and the wide-scale devastation that would occur. Moreover, that would affect our atmosphere which would affect our climate which would affect biochemical processes, et cetera.

It appears that there is an amount oxygen which is "just right."

9. JUPITER-LIKE NEIGHBORS


Most of us are at least aware of the astronomical events that took place late in July 1994 as Comet Shoemaker-Levy crashed into the planet Jupiter in a string of more than 20 fireballs. Occasionally comets and asteroids plunge into our planet and wreak havoc of biblical proportions. (The dinosaurs were believed wiped out in the collision of a comet about 65 million years ago.) But collisions like this on Earth are rare. But why are they rare? Because of our neighbor Jupiter. Allow me to quote extensively now from a Christian astronomer [1]:

The findings [of planetary scientist, George Wetherill, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington D.C.] demonstrate that Jupiter-sized planets form only rarely. Typically, young stars lose their surrounding cloud of planet-building materials so quickly (to the gravitational pull of more massive objects, such as other stars, gas clouds, the galactic arms and core) that planets the size of Jupiter have little chance of forming. Therefore, even if many stars do have planetary systems around them, the odds of finding one with an outer Jupiter-sized planet shielding an inner Earth-like planet from cometary collisions is indeed remote.[Wetherill shows] how this protection system works. Jupiter is two and a half times more massive than all the other planets combined. Because of its huge mass, thus huge gravity, and its location between the Earth and the cloud of comets surrounding the solar system, Jupiter either draws comets (by gravity) to collide with itself or deflects comets (again by gravity) right out of the solar system...If we had no Jupiter-sized planet positioned exactly where it is ... Earth would be struck about a thousand times more frequently by comets and comet debris than it is. Without Jupiter impacts such as the one that wiped out the dinosaurs would be common. In Wetherill’s words, if it were not for Jupiter, "we wouldn’t be around to study the origin of the solar system."


It appears that there is a number, type, and position of a big planet which are "just right."

CONCLUSION


A critic of the evidence presented here may say, "It’s not so serious as it seems. One may as well say that a car won’t run because one of its tires is a little over- or underinflated. Of course, although the car may not run as efficiently, the car will run." That analogy fails in at least two ways: 1) There are several parameters, especially in Part One, which are so critically fine-tuned that if they were to vary at all the result would mean no atoms and molecules at all, therefore no car at all, let alone one with tires. And 2) An interesting "coincidence" comes in that everything about our "car" is perfect, not just acceptable. The tires are perfectly inflated, the body is perfectly aerodynamic, the lights are the perfect brightness, the fuel is the perfect fuel, the engine is perfectly tuned. The brakes, the alignment, the transmission, the engine, etc., etc., etc., are all perfect.

Of course, one explanation of our perfect car is that it is the result of countless, random motions of molecules, which, given enough time, by pure chance arranged themselves into a perfectly running, internal combustion motor-driven vehicle with AM-FM cassette stereo and air conditioning. But our experience tells us that more likely it is the result of some designers who painstakingly and meticulously designed and crafted this beautiful machine.

Won’t you consider the excellent possibility that this universe has been carefully and lovingly designed by a Grand Designer–the God of the Bible? If the universe is designed, then you are designed. If you are designed, then your life has purpose and meaning.

How much purpose and meaning was demonstrated when Jesus Christ, God in the Flesh, gave His life for you.


1. Ross, Hugh, Computer Models Reveal New Evidence of God’s Care, Facts&Faith Newsletter, Vol. 7, No. 3, Fall 1993, pg 2.

There are many other factors which require this same sort of fine tuning for a planet to be a candidate for life. Their explanations are beyond the scope of this tract, but here are some of them:parent star birth date parent star age parent star massparent star color parent star luminosity inclination of orbitaxial tilt age magnetic fieldthickness of crust albedo water vapor levelatmospheric electric discharge rate ozone level in atmosphere ocean-continent ratiosoil mineralization gravitational interaction with moon and more...[Note: The basic structure and much of the information for this tract were taken, with permission, from The Creator and the Cosmos by Dr Hugh Ross (© 1993 Reasons To Believe). That book offers a far more sweeping and detailed look into the scientific history and cosmological evidence concerning the existence of the God of the Bible. For more information on these factors of design, consult The Creator and the Cosmos, or contact Reasons To Believe, P.O. Box 5978, Pasadena, CA 91117 (626) 335–1480.]
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