The Delicate Balance

One of the most amazing things about our world is the delicate balance required to sustain it, that is, to have a universe capable of producing and sustaining life as we know it. In the book The Creator and the Cosmos, astrophysicist Hugh Ross points out twenty five factors that must all exist within very narrowly defined ranges for life of any kind to exist. Just one of these is the number of electrons. Unless the number of electrons is equivalent to the number of protons to an accuracy of one part in 1037, or better, then galaxies, stars and planets could never have formed. To get an idea of just how sensitive this is Ross asks us to imagine covering the entire continent of North America in dimes all the way up to the moon. Then do the same thing on a billion other continents the same size as North America. Now you have 1037 dimes. Now imagine that just one dime is painted red. You have mixed it in will all the others. Now take a friend a blindfold her and stand her in front of those of those billions upon billion of dimes covering a billion continents and piled to the moon and ask her to pick one out. Her chances of selecting the red one are one in 1037. These are the same odds as the ratio of electrons to protons being at the precise level required for life, and this is just one of many parameters that must be so finely tuned. Ross and many other scientists believe this points to a universe which has been carefully and skilfully designed by a Creator.

Source: information in Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos (Navpress, 1993)

A Father’s Letter

Paul Brand is a brilliant medical doctor who did pioneering work in the treatment of leprosy. He has received the Albert Lasker Award, been made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen, served as the only Westerner on the Mahatma Ghandi foundation, and had medical procedures named after him.

Brand grew up in India, where his parents were missionaries. At the age of nine he was sent to boarding school in England. Five years later, while a 14 year old student there, he received a telegram informing him that his beloved father had died of blackwater fever. Brand cherished fond memories of his father, a man who had a great love for people and a great love for the natural world around him.

A short time after he received news of his father’s death Paul Brand received a letter from his father. It had been posted prior to his father’s death but took some time to reach Brand as it came by ship. It’s words impacted deeply upon the young son. Paul’s father described the hills around their home and then finished with these words: “God means us to delight in his world. It isn’t necessary to know botany or zoology or biology in order to enjoy the manifold life of nature. Just observe. And remember. And compare. And be always looking to God with thankfulness and worship for having placed you in such a delightful corner of the universe as the planet Earth.”

 

Source: Reported in Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor (Hodder & Stoughton, 2001).

It’s a Small World

Only a few humans have been fortunate enough to journey into space, and it seems that the experience can be overwhelming and indeed, life changing. James Irwin was an astronaut on the Apollo 15 mission. He got to see the earth while standing on the moon and it reshaped his view of the world forever. Here’s how earth appeared to him from space: “That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart.”

Galileo's Telescope

In the year 1609 a man looked through a telescope and unleashed a revolution that would change the world forever. His name was Galileo Galilei. But how did this simple act of looking through a telescope unleash a revolution? Because Galileo Galilee was looking at the surface of the moon, and saw that it was full of craters and mountains. To you and I this is old news, but to Galileo and the people of his day it was a terrifying revolution. Galileo had grown up learning what everyone in his day “knew” to be “fact”. The earth was the changeable, imperfect, impure centre of an unchangeable, perfect and pure universe. And this universe spoke powerfully of God and humanity’s place in it. The earth was placed at the centre of the universe because humankind was at the centre of God’s concern. The various elements of the universe – the sun, moon and stars, existed for our benefit and ours alone. We were the focus of God’s unfathomable love. The heavens, being the creation of a pure, perfect and unchangeable God, were likewise pure, perfect and unchangeable. All that is, except the earth, which had become impure, imperfect and changeable as a result of human sin. Being at the centre of God’s concerns God had sent Christ to atone for our sin and reconcile us to himself.

But with one glance through his telescope Galileo’s view of the world was changed forever. The heavens were not perfect, pure and unchangeable and the earth was not the centre of the universe. Rather, the earth was a ball of mud floating through the vast, dark expanse of space. And so it raised the question. If we were not the physical centre of the universe, were we the centre of God’s love and purposes?

In the year Galileo died another great scientist, Isaac Newtown was born. Newton was the towering genius of his day, who demonstrated that the earth was part of an infinite universe governed by a variety of laws. These operated with mathematical certainty. If we knew those laws and the precise details of each circumstance we could accurately predict every event that would happen. Not just some events like the appearance of comets, but every event of the future. This seemed to make a miracle working, involved God impossible. God was removed from the ever-present helper to the Divine Watchmaker, who made the clock, then wound it up and let it go.

All however was not lost. Though we came to discover we were floating on a ball of mud through an infinite expanse of space governed by unmovable laws of nature, we take comfort that we human beings were created by God in 4004BC and created distinct from the animals to occupy a special place in his creation. But the comfort was ever so brief. For hot on the heels of Newtown came the geologist James Hutton and his argument that the earth’s shape was the result of tiny but continual changes taking place over aeons of time. Now we were not only a speck in space but a speck in time. Then came the final, dizzying blow to our sense of place, Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. We were not the special, unique creation of God but the distant descendents of prehistoric microbes and the cousin of the ape.

This has become the dominant story of our culture, the mental map by which we navigate life. We see the world around us that we can see and touch as what is truly real. We pursue the only logical goal in such a world – individual happiness – and believe we’ll find it solely in what we can see and touch – possessions, relationships, work, leisure.

Source: Scott Higgins

Irreducible Complexity

Evolutionary theory suggests that life evolved in a series of small steps spread out over a very long period of time. Take the eye as an example. The human eye is extraordinarily complex. How did we get it? Evolutionary theory points to other animals with less complex eyes, such as jellyfish which have just a few light sensitive cells or starfish which has a more sophisticated eye than the jellyfish, but still only a very crude type of lens. The argument then runs that over time the eye developed gradually, from simple light sensitive cells through to the marvel of the human eye.

In 1996 molecular biologist Michael Behe published a book which challenges this concept. Behe has no problem with the thought that the universe is billions of years old or that life branched out from a common ancestor. The problem he points out is that molecular biology shows us that even the crude eye of the jellyfish is not simple. When Darwin formed his theory and when Neo-Darwinism developed it, molecular biology didn’t exist. We had no idea what goes on at the most basic level of existence – that is inside the cell. Now we do, and according to Behe what we’ve discovered are amazingly complex and elaborate chemical processes.

Behe suggests that these processes are “irreducibly complex”. Think of a mousetrap. It has a number of parts – a wooden base, a U-shaped metal hammer which crushes the mouse, a spring to activate the hammer, a holding bar to hold the hammer down, and a sensitive catch which releases the bar at the time a mouse nibbles the cheese. Take away any of these parts and the mousetrap won’t work. You won’t have a less crude instrument for catching mice if you take away the spring. You won’t have a less crude instrument if you replace the base with a paper one. It simply won’t work. There is no way to have a step by step development that yields a mousetrap.

Behe suggests this is what it’s like at the level of the cell, the basic building block of life. Its processes are not only complex, but irreducibly complex. There is no way to explain the emergence of the cell using the idea of gradual development from the simple to the more complex. And as the cell is the basic building block of life this suggests that although Darwinian evolution may be able to explain the development of life once the cell has emerged, it is unable to explain how the cell came to exist in the first place.

Source: Scott Higgins summarising from Michael J Behe, Darwin’s Black Box (Touchstone, 1996)

Giant Jellyfish

In 1985 an ocean research ship was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. A biologist named Bruce was lowered over the side in a Deep Rover, a one person submarine. He’s sitting inside a clear acrylic sphere, with lights on the front and a small bank of controls built into the seat. We hold our breath as Deep Rover and Bruce head down into the ocean, watching the submarine turn from a solid metal, to a shimmering shape, then finally disappearing into the depths of the ocean. Bruce heads down 500 metres below the surface. The sea is now an inky black. Millions of tiny glowing creatures stream by, twinkling like fireflies. Then all of a sudden, out of the black, emerges an enormous, semitransparent creature 40 metres long. The creature has thousands of tentacles, dozens of stomachs. Within moments several others swim up, surrounding Bruce and Deep Rover.

You’re all waiting for me to tell you that they attacked the sub, that it returns to the surface with giant tentacle marks across it. But they don’t. This isn’t a Hollywood horror flick, this is real life. These creatures actually exist. There really is a marine biologist named Bruce Robinson who saw them in 1985.

Ask yourself, why do these giant jellyfish exist? They make absolutely no contribution to human well being. We didn’t even know they existed until the 1980’s. They are not a food source for us, they don’t provide medicines for us.

Now ask yourself why do the millions upon millions of as yet undiscovered species of life on earth exist. The Natural Museum of London estimates that there may be anywhere between 10 million and 100 million unknown species of life on the ocean seabeds alone! Why do they exist?

It seems to me they cry out that we humans need to get rid of our speciesism, our belief that God’s interest is in us alone, that God has made the world simply for us to enjoy and use. They tell us that God’s love and interest and pleasure extend to millions upon millions of forms of life on planet earth and wherever else life may exist in the universe.

This is exactly the point made by the writer of Psalm 104.. Verses 5-18 talk about the fact that God has made the world watery. That water is designed to make our fields fruitful so that we have food to eat. But God also ensures that the earth is productive for the wild donkey which lives in the humanly uninhabitable desert, for the wild goats which live high in the mountains. The earth is productive not only for us humans, but also for all the millions and millions of species of life that live on it.

Verses 19-23 talk of God creating the earth with cycles and rhythms. Spring, summer winter, autumn. Night and day. Then the Psalmist makes the interesting observation that while daytime is time for us to go out to work, night time is for the animals of the forest to hunt. It’s their God allotted space and time, and mentioned with the same type of importance and significance as out space and time.

God enjoys creation.

Source: Scott Higgins. Biologist story details from Time Magazine

Chief Seattle’s Letter

In 1855 American Indian Chief Seattle is said to have written this letter, in  response to a request from President Franklin Pierce to purchase land from Seattle’s tribe. It is highly unlikely Chief Seattle wrote it. Nevertheless its sentiments are highly moving. Here are some sections from it.

“There is no quiet place in the white man’s cities. No place to hear the unfurling of leaves in spring, or the rustle of an insects wings.

But perhaps it is because I am a savage and do not understand.

The air is precious to the red man, for all things share the same breath – the beast, the tree, the man, they all share the same breath…The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh…

We will consider your offer to buy our land. If we decide to accept, I will make one condition: the white man must treat the beasts of this land as his brothers…I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from the passing train…But what is man without beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected…

Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth…This we know: the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth….Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself…

Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people…The earth is the mother of the red man. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters; the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and man, all belong to the same family…

So when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land, he asks much of us…

We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The earth is not his brother, but his enemy, and when he has conquered it he moves on…He treats his mother the earth, and his brother the sky, as things to be bought, plundered, sold like sheep or beads…

I do not know. Our ways are different from your ways.

The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the red man. But perhaps it is because the red man is a savage and does not understand.”

 

On the authenticity of the letter see Jerry Clark, “Thus Spoke Chief Seattle: The Story of an Undocumented Speech” in Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration, Spring 1985, vol. 18, no. 1 and an article at http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/fake.html

The Remarkable Frillfin Goby

The Frillfin Goby is an ugly little fish, 10-15 centimeters long, that lives in tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world. You find them in rock pools. See a goby and you’re not likely to give it much thought. It’s not pretty like so many tropical species, nor is it impressive in size, nor is it any good to eat. It’s just an ugly, nondescript little fish swimming in rock pools.

But it is a remarkable creature. When you’re a fish living in a rockpool the biggest danger is birds who see you as a fine meal. Not really many places to run and hide. The goby however has developed an incredible technique to escape. It can fling its 10 centimetre body into a nearby rockpool, and if necessary to another, then another, and on and on.

The reason this is incredible is that the goby is jumping blind. It cannot see the rock pool into which it will leap, yet manages to jump with amazing accuracy.

How does the goby do this? Scientists have discovered that at high tide the goby swims around the rocky areas and makes a mental map of the landscape, noting where the depressions that will form rock pools are. It can do this with just one pass of an area! Then, from memory, it is able to leap from rock pool to rock pool.

The goby has a pea size brain, yet is able to accomplish this stunning feat.

I don’t know about you but the Frillfin Goby fills me with joy and wonder. It’s another reminder of the  remarkable world in which we live.

The Frillfin Goby also teaches us to look for the remarkable in others.

 

Source: information about the Goby from Braithwaite, Do Fish Feel Pain?