The Words of the Bramwell Family
A book review of The Reason Why: Miracle of Life on Earth by John Gribbin; Penguins Books 2012
The traditional scientific view of Earth was that it is an ordinary planet orbiting an ordinary star in an unspectacular galaxy, and we are ordinary animals. Yet an astrophysicist who trained at Cambridge University has recently published a book called The Reason Why, in which he accumulates a huge amount of scientific evidence that points to us being "the unique products of an extraordinary set of circumstances that has as yet occurred nowhere else in the galaxy and possibly not in the entire universe." There are simply far too many "cosmic coincidences" needed to make the formation of an intelligent-life-friendly planet like Earth possible. "The reasons we are here form a chain so improbable that the chance of any other technological civilization existing in the Milky Way galaxy at the present time is vanishingly small. We are alone and we had better get used to the idea."
Gribbin tends toward an atheistic view of life, but his compilation of the mind-boggling "coincidences" that led to our physical existence has provided evidence for believers like us to point to divine providence operating in the creation of the universe. Divine providence is not only spiritual, but also physical: God operates not only in the world of spirit, providing the spiritual events through which we can shape our lives, but He operates within His physical creation as well. He works through a profound intelligence to provide material circumstances for life.
To begin with, without the existence of a mysterious substance which scientists call "dark matter" and which accounts for about 90 percent of all matter in the universe, galaxies could never have formed in the first place. Dark matter cannot be seen, but it has a strong gravitational pull and enables stars to gather in gigantic groups as galaxies. What is dark matter? Could it be the spirit world or an intermediate region between Earth and the spirit world? Scientists so far know almost nothing about it, only that it plays an essential role in holding the universe together.
As much as 98 percent of the universe consists of hydrogen and helium, but these alone cannot create life. Many generations of stars needed to end their lives after manufacturing -- at extremely high temperatures -- the more complex elements needed for life -- such as silicon, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen. Some stars exploded, delivering these elements to Earth. Old stars in our galaxy have had time to form complex elements because our galaxy is one of the oldest in the universe. The majority of other galaxies lack the large number of star births and deaths that takes place in our galaxy and that are needed to produce the elements necessary for life. The fact that our solar system obtained what it needed for intelligent life from other parts of the Galaxy has prompted James Lovelock, a member of the British Royal Society, to comment, "It seems almost as if our Galaxy were a giant warehouse containing the spare parts needed for life."
Scientists know that during the first half billion years of her life, Mother Earth was bombarded by meteorites and comets, carrying amino acids, other bases for life. Another aspect of heavenly providence is that the Earth's sun is a medium sized star, because only medium-sized stars live for the billions of years necessary for life to develop. Big stars burn out too quickly and small stars ("red dwarfs") emit tremendous amounts of damaging radiation.
Earth-like planets need to be formed later in the history of a galaxy. At that time, there is more iron around to form a large iron core like the Earth's. The molten outer part of the metallic core of our planet, with its swirling currents, is vital for the existence of the Earth's magnetic field. The currents create electrical forces like a dynamo, which in turn generate magnetic fields. This field protects the Earth from damaging radiation coming from the Sun and other stars. The fossil record shows that many species became extinct when the Earth's magnetic field became weak.
Our galaxy has a central bulge and spiral arms. In the central bulge, stars are too tightly packed to provide a "peaceful" environment for intelligent life to develop on planets. Life has to be shielded from cosmic rubble, such as meteors and comets, which are more common in the central bulge. At the center of our galaxy (and perhaps all galaxies) is a black hole. When this swallows up stars or dust clouds, tremendously strong radiation is emitted, meaning destruction for life. Ninety percent of the stars in our galaxy are found within this central bulge. This leaves only 10 percent of solar systems in our galaxy -- those in the narrow band of the "galactic habitable zone" -- as candidates for life. But 75 percent of this 10 percent can be ruled out because 75 percent of stars are red dwarfs, which emit too much radiation for life. That leaves us with 2.5 percent of all stars in the galaxy potentially having planets suitable for life.
But there are many other factors that reduce the number of suitable planets to practically nil. Unlike our sun, 80 percent of stars exist in partnership with another star (binary systems) due to the process in which stars are formed. Single stars like our sun are unusual and require special gravitational and material conditions during their formation. Unfortunately, binary stars produce elliptical orbits, which cause fast-changing habitable zones with inappropriate temperatures on their planets -- conditions which are unsuitable for complex life forms. So we are left with only 0.6 percent of all stars in the Milky Way galaxy that could have planets suitable for intelligent life to emerge.
However, this number becomes reduced to a vanishingly small degree when all the other factors required for life are considered. For example, the remaining 0.6 percent candidate solar systems need to have planets that are at the right distance from their sun (the solar habitable zone), where water can be found in liquid form. Water is essential to life as it provides the medium for necessary chemical reactions. It is estimated that 0.1 percent of planets orbit in the "life zone" and contain water (this can be detected by their infrared signature).
Let us take a look at the Sun's family of planets, our solar system. The formation of planets around a star is a delicate process. The vast dust cloud from which planets are formed can easily be drawn away from the parent star by the gravitational pull of other hot, massive stars. Luckily the Sun was formed in an unusually small and diffuse cluster of stars -- so diffuse that the orbits of the planets around the Sun are almost perfectly circular. Whereas giant gas planets seem to be common in the galaxy, rocky planets like the Earth are probably rare. A rare set of circumstances is needed for them to form, such as that the fine particles of dust from which they are made don't collide head-on in the formation process but move in the same direction and thus "bump" into each other, sticking together by electric forces caused by rubbing. If radiation from nearby exploding stars is strong enough, particles can become hot enough to stick together. Another possibility is that sufficient turbulence in the surrounding gas creates swirling structures that gather the material together and give it a chance to interact. None of these circumstances is common.
Once planets have formed, computer simulations have shown that an orderly and stable system of planets, as in our solar system, is an extremely rare thing and requires exactly the right conditions throughout their formation period. Just a tiny change in the position or size of any of the starting conditions of the planets would create a mathematical chaos with a "butterfly effect" causing the planets to collide, throwing them out of their orbits into space or plunging them into the parent star. It seems inconceivable how the planets happen to be in the right orbits, stable, and in a relatively peaceful cosmic environment. At the beginning, the Creator thought of all the necessary conditions and made all the required calculations to ensure that the solar system functions perfectly. The 'big bang' at the beginning of creation was entirely calculated because the exact speed at which matter sped through space in the first moments determined the later possibility of gases accumulating to form stars.
Earth is very unusual among the planets of the galaxy; its orbit around the Sun is almost perfectly circular. If its orbit were elliptical, it would become at times so hot that all water would evaporate and at other times so cold that all the oceans would freeze. From all of the above evidence, we can conclude that any assumption that because there are many stars there "must be" many other complex living planets is mistaken.
We have seen that the galactic habitable zone contains a maximum of only 10 percent of stars in the galaxy. But how many of those stars are likely to have planets on which life has evolved? Is there anything special about our sun? There is a limited "habitable zone" around the Sun in which water can exist in its liquid form. The Earth exists almost in the middle of this habitable zone. Because the Sun is gradually warming, the habitable zone has changed its position by about 30 percent during the age of the solar system. Miraculously, the Earth, throughout its existence, has stayed within the habitable zone and will remain there for the next couple of billion years.
Our earth maintains a very delicate balance through the interaction of living things and chemical elements. For example, living things like plants put oxygen back into the air. This delicate balance has kept the earth "alive," regulating the atmosphere, for billions of years. Other planets, like Mars and Venus, are dead; oxygen is locked up with carbon to form carbon dioxide.
Earth is an unusual planet in so many extraordinary respects. No other planet in the solar system has a moon which is so big relative to itself (27 percent of Earth's diameter), making
Earth -- Moon more like a double planet system. Yet such a large moon was indispensable for the formation and maintenance of complex life. Scientists hypothesize that the Moon was formed when a planet about the size of Mars (dubbed "Theia") collided with Earth about 4.5 billion years ago when the rocky planets were still young. Through it, the surface of the Earth became so hot that it melted and absorbed Theia's metallic core into its own. This was fortunate for our magnetic field, which requires a large metallic planetary core. And out of the debris that was flung into space, the Moon was formed. Through the collision, the Earth ended up with a much thinner crust, essential for the formation of tectonic plates, without which complex life on Earth would not be possible.
Results that are even more propitious came from this super- collision. First, the rotation of the Earth was greatly speeded up so that the length of our night and day were greatly reduced (Venus' day, for example, is 243 of our days). Earth's rapid spin is a further reason why it has such a strong magnetic field, essential for protecting complex life forms from cosmic radiation. Second, this early cataclysmic impact was enough off-center to give the Earth the tilt on its axis, making the four seasons possible. Third, our large moon serves as a stabilizing influence that prevents the Earth from wobbling too much on her axis. Other planets without a large moon have toppled over completely, even lying almost on their sides. Earth is unusual in not going through chaotic changes in tilt. Slight changes in tilt do take place, however, and the Earth's orbit is not quite 100 percent circular. Due to these two factors, there have been frequent ice ages. It can be argued, however, that ice ages were a necessary factor in preparing for human beings. To survive, the primitive beings that were the ancestors of human beings were forced to quickly develop their mental and physical skills. A large percentage of the Earth's species were wiped out during ice ages; today the most tenacious species are with us, which is fortunate considering how much damage we are causing them through industrialization.
Our large moon, of course, is the reason for our tides. It is just big enough to keep the oceans in motion, but not so big as to flood the land. And here is a startling fact: the Sun is about 400 times bigger in diameter than the Moon but the Moon is about 400 times closer to the Earth than the Sun. That is why the Sun and the Moon, in an awesome kind of cosmic symmetry, appear to be of an identical size when viewed from Earth.
Water is a prerequisite for life, but it boiled away in the Earth's early stages. However, it came to Earth again later through collision with asteroids, which were too cool for water to vaporize. These were sent our way by the gravitational pull of Jupiter after the Earth had cooled down. Fortunately, these small rocky bodies did not contain as much water as earlier objects that struck the earth. If they had, our oceans would be hundreds of kilometers deep and there would be no land. Because Earth received just the right amount of water (1 percent of its total mass) -- and late enough in its formation -- it has both ocean and land.
All in all, when we look at the many fortunate events in the formation of the solar system and conditions on Earth necessary for life, we are forced to admit the fact that divine providence, the hand of God, has given us our miraculous Earth. Yet, many more miracles make Earth special.
Rocky planets are a rarity in the universe. To form, they require the right proportions of carbon and oxygen to form, for example, silicates (rock). If there is more carbon than oxygen, which happens in many parts of the galaxy, the building blocks of the planets will be carbon compounds and even carbon itself in the form of graphite, forming layers of diamond at depths where pressure is great enough. True Father surprised us by saying, "What kind of things do you think you would find in the universe? Do you think there would be diamond stars? If the all-knowing and almighty God created the universe, do you think He would have created just one diamond star?" In our galaxy, diamonds are almost as plentiful as dirt (making the crowns of monarchs and the jewelry of celebrities seem somewhat ridiculous!) Such diamond planets are not, however, suitable for life; they are likely to have lakes and oceans of tar.
Earth was lucky not to have become a lifeless diamond planet due to an excess of carbon. Rather, it became a planet where oxygen dominated and water could be formed. Silicon is another element essential to life on Earth. The relatively thin silicate crust of our Earth, floating on fluid rock beneath (kept fluid by Earth's hot core), is vital for the formation of life because of plate tectonics -- the constant motion of the several huge plates of the Earth's crust, rubbing up against each other. People who live in earthquake zones may curse these movements, yet they have been responsible for the building of mountain ranges and thus the movement of water on the Earth as it dissolves rock, binding carbon dioxide. Plate tectonics explains why there are ice ages and ice-free periods and even why species diversify and go extinct.
John Gribbin is pessimistic about the Earth's future. Even ignoring any destruction which humankind can bring upon itself (nuclear war, ecological collapse), the Earth has regularly been hit by large meteorites and powerful eruptions of super volcanoes that have wiped out whole species. Examples are the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, the mass extinction of over 80 percent of all the world's species 250 million years ago, and the super volcano in Indonesia that wiped out about 50 percent of the world's species 70,000 years ago. "Whichever way you look at it, with disaster striking either from within or from without, our civilization is doomed, and the only real question is when the end will come."
"This could happen anytime," Gribbin believes, "but in the long-term it is certain."
The incredible odyssey that has made the Earth the place it is -- bountiful and beautiful beyond all description -- was only possible through a coming together of countless providential creative events, physical, chemical and geological. True Father revealed: "Some people think that when God created through the word, saying, "Let there be this, let there be that," it was like a game. But no... God had to pour out His very essence to create heaven and earth." When we can grasp just how difficult it was for God to even create the environment for human beings, we can perhaps begin to comprehend how much effort God needed to create the human body and spirit, only through "excruciating difficulty and hardship."
Before time began, God's entire focus was on this tiny speck, Earth, like a grain of sand on the vast beach of the Cosmos. The Book of Genesis does not adequately describe the process of creation: "God's spirit was moving upon the face of the waters" (Gen. 1:2). But the early universe was not simply a cosmic soup. It may have appeared to be "without form and void" from the perspective of the narrator, but in fact God's spirit was moving within matter from the beginning of time. Divine Principle (Exposition, p. 28) explains how God, as the center of the four-position foundation, moves within each atom.
Now since the fallen Archangel has taken possession of the universe and hell has advanced right up to the throne of God, it need not surprise us that there are natural catastrophes. Seeing the universe from this perspective, while the same creative providence that made our miraculous Earth what it is today can defend us from any possible dangers coming from space, if we abuse God and his creation, we will become the victims of our own deviousness.
Therefore, True Father does not worry about threats from space or from beneath the Earth's crust, but he does fear human error. In a Hoon Dok Hae service recently, he shared that he is kept awake by nightmares about nuclear war. We have seen in our examination of God's creation that unification based on harmonious relationship is God's main identifying trait -- think of the orbits of the planets. War -- the worst possible mess that can befall humankind -- and natural catastrophes can result if we fail to practice unification based on true love. Humans reflect God's image and God is not divided in Himself. Members of a divided community would sink to a level far below a hydrogen atom.
Even though it was not his intention, I thank John Gribbin for uncovering God's laborious efforts in the process of the creation of a habitable Earth. It is one more proof of our Cosmic Parent's existence.