My Purpose? Fine-Tuned Earth
Why has life only been found on Earth so far?
Dr Hugh Ross outlines the uniqueness of planet Earth as the ‘Goldilocks Planet’. He lists twenty unrelated “ideal-time windows” that have to arise simultaneously for complex life forms to exist (i.e. ideal sun luminosity, atmospheric oxygen content, formation of adequate continental land mass, optimal location in the Milky Way spiral arm, etc.) There is nothing in Physics to suggest that all these factors should hit their ideal-time window at the same point in history, yet they do – ideal land mass shouldn’t have any correlation with the luminosity of the sun for instance and yet they line up just in time for humanity to arise. All of these “ideal-time windows” take billions of years of 'just right' conditions to come to fruition.
Every element that we see on Earth is highly anomalous (compared to other earth-like planets). Earth needs to be rich in metals in order to sustain life. The further the distance from the centre of the Milky Way galaxy causes a proportional decrease in the metallicity of the planets that form. There happens to be a peak zone where you get ideal levels of planet metallicity. That is where Earth must have formed in order to explain the incredible levels of uranium and thorium it contains. However, this peak-zone for metallicity happens to be extremely dangerous for life to exist. Earth formed there but somehow moved to the safer location we now find ourselves in, near the edge of the Milky Way galaxy. How then did Earth move such a huge distance?! It takes an extraordinary set of events to make this happen with highly improbable odds:
There are four different kinds of Supernova – each produces a different spread of elements (as Earth has 98 elements, it would have had to form nearby all four types of Supernova at the right distance away)
After formation, our Solar System was then violently kicked out of its birthing cluster to avoid the harmful radiation and gravity from nearby stars preventing the formation of life.
Our sun must have had a gravitational encounter with some large stars, which operated like a high velocity slingshot and expelled us far into the safe zone. Our sun was flung between two spiral arms of the galaxy, which caused it to orbit around the centre of the galaxy at almost the same pace as the rotations of the spiral arms; we pass across the spiral arms once every billion years, which is a volatile experience not to be desired!
You may think this isn’t the optimal position if we still have to pass through them at times. However, if the Sun was positioned equidistant between two spiral arms (so it never had to cross them at all) it would be subject to mean-motion resonance which would prohibit life in its solar system.
The earth suffered a collision which gave rise to the moon when it was 30-40 million years old. It was on the same orbital path as another planet which was twice the size of Mars. The Earth wasn’t destroyed, as it had deep oceans at that point which cushioned the blow. But all the heavy element material in the collider went into the core of the Earth and all the light element material formed a debris cloud which became the moon.
This explains why we have such a gigantic moon for the size of our planet. Its 50x bigger than any other moon in the solar system when compared to the mass of the planetary body it orbits. Ours is not an ordinary moon; it has many functions (tidal and seasonal regulation for instance) which are necessary for sustaining life.
The collision drove off 99% of Earth’s water and 99% of Earth’s atmosphere; it made our atmosphere thin and our oceans from being too deep. The collision gave our Earth an extra dose of iron and a huge dose of uranium and thorium in its core.
The Late Heavy Bombardment pummelled the Earth with asteroids which drove surface oxygen and sulphur down deep into the core of the earth setting up a powerful magnetic dynamo. This was responsible for creating the magnetic field that protects us from radiation and X-rays from the sun. It also set up strong, stable plate tectonic activity. This is very unusual for a planet the size of Earth to have maintained over 4 billion years (it is powered by the extraordinary levels of uranium and thorium in the core).
Through this improbable chain of events, we wind up with 4x more phosphorous than we would see on other similar bodies in our universe. Phosphorous is crucial for life. Fluorine is also vital for life and we have 50x more than expected on other earth-type planets.
Sulphur, we’ve got 60x LESS than other earth-type planets and compared to other planets in our solar system. Sulphur is extremely acidic and not conducive to life in high quantities: Mars has 60x more than we do. We have 1200x less carbon than we would expect; too much carbon gives you a thick atmosphere which traps too much heat and doesn’t let in enough light.
Earth started off with an opaque atmosphere which became translucent during the Late Heavy Bombardment and the moon forming event. The collision also got rid of the excess nitrogen (2400x less than expected) – otherwise we’d be stuck with an atmosphere like Venus and it would be dark on our surface.
98 elements are stable, and these are the 98 that Earth contains – there are more elements that exist in the universe that are heavier but much more radioactive. Earth used to have natural plutonium but it has decayed and made it safe for life to exist.
Given the laws of physics and all the conditions needed, scientists have calculated that there is a minimum time requirement for producing a home fit for human habitation; that minimum time is 14 billion years, the age of our universe! But this minimum time-frame requirement only allows humans to live in a civilized state for no more than 41,000 years according to Brandon Carter. Dr Hugh Ross argues that the sun entered an extremely stable stage 50,000 years ago which is approximately the date for the origin of modern humans. This stability can only last another 50,000 years. This is known as the Anthropic Principle of Inequality: so much time invested in producing the conditions for life to exist, but life can only survive for a narrow window of time. So, what’s the point?
A wedding ceremony is a good analogy here – the average spent on a wedding in the UK is £30,000 with advance preparations spanning 18 months of time. All this time and effort for half a day’s festivities. We invest all this into such a short event because of how important those hours are – it sets up the foundation for a lifetime of marriage. Why would God invest so much in us for such a short period of time? The Bible talks of the Marriage Supper at the end of time when Jesus returns for his bride, the Church. This life must somehow play a role in preparing us for this momentous occasion.
This is the final paraphrase of John 3:16 I shall present: “For God so loved the world that He lovingly hand-crafted the Earth over a period of 4.5 billion years, leading it through an improbable chain of events to place it in just the right part of the Galaxy; packed with necessary materials for life, in spite of the fleeting time allocated to it”.
Some sceptics conclude that the Goldilocks Phenomenon of a finely-tuned universe is mere coincidence. Of course the universe looks remarkable, with all the 'just right' parameters having been met for life – if it had missed the mark we wouldn’t be here marvelling over the details! We weren’t around to view the near-infinite attempts that the Multiverse churned through in order to hit on one that could facilitate life. The Multiverse isn’t directed by any grand intellect in the sky – it just has infinite time to its advantage, so can generate every conceivable universe that operates along every possible combination of parameters until, hey presto, ours arrives; life flourishes and we think Wow – what are the chances of that?! There must be some grand purpose behind it!
My first issue with this line of argument is that there is no proof. Normally atheists claim they are 'following the science' and basing their deductions on sensory knowledge – i.e. evidence we gain from our senses exploring the universe, which is the only thing we know for certain exists. Fair enough. But then, when our universe seems so fine-tuned to beat the odds of what is possible, they posit the Multiverse Theory which is outside the known Universe. You can’t see it, touch it, measure it, interact with it in any way; it exists as a proposition to explain how a seemingly impossible universe like ours could exist – if you have infinite time then anything is possible! But how do they prove we have infinite time? What we see in our universe is a temporary one with a definite beginning and decaying to a definite end. It seems you have to propose a theory based on faith to avoid having to accept a universe designer – hardly 'following the science'.
Richard Swinburne likens this line of argument to a firing squad aiming to execute a criminal but missing every single shot. The criminal wouldn’t simply exclaim: “well it isn’t that remarkable – if it were otherwise, I would be dead and not here to witness it!” Every shot missed by a competent firing squad with working weapons would require a decent explanation; the conclusion could be that someone had tampered with the proceedings. It would be laughable for someone to suggest that as there is always a small chance of anything happening, given infinite time, there was bound to be one occasion where all members of the firing squad miss their target. What sheer luck for that criminal!
John Dyson concluded: “The more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming.” I would agree with him. The world appears to have been exquisitely designed to make life possible. It makes me wonder if there is some great purpose to it all. On to Part Three.