Why Would God Create a World Where Animals Eat Their Offspring?

BY FAZALE RANA – MAY 22, 2019

What a book a Devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low and horridly cruel works of nature!

–Charles Darwin, “Letter to J. D. Hooker,” Darwin Correspondence Project

You may not have ever heard of him, but he played an important role in ushering in the Darwinian revolution in biology. His name was Asa Gray.

Gray (1810–1888) was a botanist at Harvard University. He was among the first scientists in the US to adopt Darwin’s theory of evolution. Asa Gray was also a devout Christian.

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Asa Gray in 1864. Image credit: John Adams Whipple, Wikipedia

Gray was convinced that Darwin’s theory of evolution was sound. He was also convinced that nature displayed unmistakable evidence for design. For this reason, he reasoned that God must have used evolution as the means to create and, in doing so, Gray may have been the first person to espouse theistic evolution.

In his book Darwinia, Asa Gray presents a number of essays defending Darwin’s theory. Yet, he also expresses his deepest convictions that nature is filled with indicators of design. He attributed that design to a type of God-ordained, God-guided process. Gray argued that God is the source of all evolutionary change.

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Gray and Darwin struck up a friendship and exchanged around 300 letters. In the midst of their correspondence, Gray asked Darwin if he thought it possible that God used evolution as the means to create. Darwin’s reply revealed that he wasn’t very impressed with this idea.

I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other hand I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe & especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope & believe what he can.1

Darwin could not embrace Gray’s theistic evolution because of the cruelty he saw in nature that seemingly causes untold pain and suffering in animals. Darwin—along with many skeptics today—couldn’t square a world characterized by that much suffering with the existence of a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good.

Filial Cannibalism

The widespread occurrence of filial cannibalism (when animals eat their young or consume their eggs after laying them) and abandonment (leading to death) exemplify such cruelty in animals. It seems such a low and brutal feature of nature.

Why would God create animals that eat their offspring and abandon their young?

Is Cruelty in Nature Really Evil?

But what if there are good reasons for God to allow pain and suffering in the animal kingdom? I have written about good scientific reasons to think that a purpose exists for animal pain and suffering (see “Scientists Uncover a Good Purpose for Long-Lasting Pain in Animals” by Fazale Rana).

And, what if animal death is a necessary feature of nature? Other studies indicate that animal death promotes biodiversity and ecosystem stability (see “Of Weevils and Wasps: God’s Good Purpose in Animal Death” by Maureen Moser, and “Animal Death Prevents Ecological Meltdown” by Fazale Rana).

There also appears to be a reason for filial cannibalism and offspring abandonment, at least based on a study by researchers from Oxford University (UK) and the University of Tennessee.2 These researchers demonstrated that filial cannibalism and offspring abandonment comprise a form of parental care.

What? How is that conclusion possible?

It turns out that when animals eat their offspring or abandon their young, the reduction promotes the survival of the remaining offspring. To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers performed mathematical modeling of a generic egg-laying species. They discovered that when animals sacrificed a few of their young, the culling led to greater fitness for their offspring than when animals did not engage in filial cannibalism or egg abandonment.

These behaviors become important when animals lay too many eggs. In order to properly care for their eggs (protect, incubate, feed, and clean), animals confine egg-laying to a relatively small space. This practice leads to a high density of eggs. But this high density can have drawbacks, making the offspring more vulnerable to diseases and lack of sufficient food and oxygen. Filial cannibalism reduces the density, ensuring a greater chance of survival for those eggs that are left behind. So, ironically, when egg density is too high for the environmental conditions, more offspring survive when the parents consume some, rather than none, of the eggs.

So, why lay so many eggs in the first place?

In general, the more eggs that are laid, the greater the number of surviving offspring—assuming there are unlimited resources and no threats of disease. But it is difficult for animals to know how many eggs to lay because the environment is unpredictable and constantly changing. A better way to ensure reproductive fitness is to lay more eggs and remove some of them if the environment can’t sustain the egg density.

So, it appears as if there is a good reason for God to create animals that eat their young. In fact, you might even argue that filial cannibalism leads to a world with less cruelty and suffering than a world where filial cannibalism doesn’t exist at all. This feature of nature is consistent with the idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God who has designed the creation for his good purposes.

Resources

Endnotes
  1. To Asa Gray 22 May [1860],” Darwin Correspondence Project, University of Cambridge, accessed May 15, 2019, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-2814.xml.
  2. Mackenzie E. Davenport, Michael B. Bansall, and Hope Klug, “Unconventional Care: Offspring Abandonment and Filial Cannibalism Can Function as Forms of Parental Care,” Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 7 (April 17, 2019): 113, doi:10.3389/fevo.2019.00113.

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LOOKING INTO THE “PERFECT LAW OF LIBERTY”

By Will Myers

God has laid a sure stone in the essence of things for a sure foundation, for a sure cornerstone. We now know that the sure stone is His Son, Jesus who fulfilled all the laws. Most clergies leave the physical laws out of this teaching, but the Word of God states that creation was made thru and by His Son, and this is very physical.

King Solomon was inspired to write Ecclesiastics 3:15;  “That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.”

The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament shows His handiworks.

Apostle Paul is inspired to write Romans 1:20; “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:”

The God Equation, UspaceVspace=Q whereas Uspace represent God’s perfect righteousness, Vspace is the nexuses with Q being the created thing that is. This shows God’s perfect righteousness. Math is the language of science. God created science; therefore, all equations are talking about His creation.

The Book Of Nature is perfect, and the Book Of Life (Bible) is perfect as created by God.  The formal book has been proved by science; the latter is the faith established by the Son of God as it grows and witnessed through experiences within the masses. The laws cannot create life; the spirit produces all life. The laws are to lead us unto our Savior, Christ Jesus.

My metaphysical equation of UspaceVspace=Q expresses the totality of God’s creation which is perfect as shown by what is made, Q. Romans 1:20; ” For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:”

Truly, Christ Jesus is our Messiah. Jesus is our Mediator unto God and our High Priest for all things (material) and all times leading unto God’s Holy Spirit; the presence of God.

James 1:25; “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty (Son Of God), and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”

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Are Religious Experiences Valid?

BY GUEST WRITER – MAY 10, 2019

By Francisco Delgado

When people ask me how I became a follower of Christ, I am always struck with a sudden mixture of ecstasy and caution. My story of coming to faith in Christ involves elements that are not easy to explain to an audience that may not believe in the supernatural. I love relating it, but I try not to give an initial impression of being esoteric and not describing the full picture.

Passion for Science, No Passion for Life

I grew up in a nominal Catholic family and was familiar with the rituals and traditions of the church. However, my family was discouraged from reading the Bible on our own. We were taught that we needed the guidance of a priest so that we could understand it correctly. I had tried to read some passages on my own, but they seemed dry and largely unintelligible.

During my college years at the University of Arizona I acquired a passion for science. I had started as an engineer, but my exposure to initial courses in physics and chemistry turned my interests towards medicine. The explanatory power of science was mesmerizing, and I quickly became a disciple.

My interest in spiritual things had waned, but then I took a humanities class in which the Bible was part of the world literature curriculum and I was required to read some passages. At the same time, my mother had started attending a Bible study group led by a man who had little formal education, but clear thinking. I chatted with him a few times and posed some hard questions on the Bible. He gave me coherent answers and I was intrigued.

But the pull of the world was strong. After a series of events in pursuit of my own interests and desires, I ended up literally lifting my fist at God and telling him that if he existed, that he should not bother with me. I wanted all traces of him out of my life. I told him to stay away. Shortly thereafter I fell into a severe depression, to the point of thinking seriously about suicide. I had lost all purpose in life. There was nothing to look forward to.

God Reached Me

On December 24, 1989, my mother dragged me to her church. Even though it was Christmas Eve, I cannot remember what the preacher talked about. I was not interested. Yet, he said something at the end that drew my attention, “If you have lost everything in this life, what can you lose by giving Jesus Christ a chance?” So I did. I prayed a short prayer and was taken to a room where they told me that I had made the biggest decision of my life. Not much changed. I went back home and the depression lingered and even worsened.

In my room three days later, I was flipping through the pages of a book that someone had handed me. I was not really interested in reading it, but on one page there was a verse from the Bible that stood out. It was Galatians 2:20 (NASB):

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

Immediately, the room was filled with an unusual brightness. In an instant, the deep depression that had weighed down my heart was swept away and replaced with the greatest joy I had ever known. The experience was overwhelming. I lifted my eyes and the only words that I could articulate were, “Who are you?”

Unlike the apostle Paul, I did not get an audible answer. I sat there for a long time, trying to make sense of the experience from a scientific or psychological perspective, but that was just not plausible. The only conclusion that made sense was that this experience was supernatural.

That day I decided to find out who had met me in my room. I started reading books on different religious beliefs, but after evaluating the claims of different religions it was not difficult to conclude that it was Jesus Christ who had met me in that room and transformed my life when I was at my lowest point.

Testing Religious Experiences

A fundamental question to ask regarding religious experiences is whether the experience and its associated worldview corresponds to the truth. In some worldviews the appeal to religious experiences is central to their apologetic, but Christians are called to evaluate every claim of a religious experience to see if the corresponding worldview withstands the tests for truth. The apostle John writes:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. (1 John 4:1–2)

Tests to evaluate the truth of a worldview include experiential relevance, empirical adequacy, and logical consistency. The first test includes the religious experience itself, but it goes beyond that to include the way in which the experience blossoms in the person’s life. An experience alone does not provide a strong apologetic for a worldview.

But how do we apply the other two religious experience tests?

The empirical adequacy test requires a worldview to be empirically verifiable. But how do we bring empiricism into a religious experience? Empirical verification requires the observation of the same phenomena as well as a correspondence to reality. A commitment to philosophical naturalism will pose an a priori roadblock to the application of this test because it does not allow supernatural explanations. However, there are multiple documented instances of religious experiences by Christians throughout history. The most remarkable one is the resurrection of Christ and his appearances to over 500 people. These well-attested events provide enough empirical observations that support the Christian worldview.

But not all religious experiences affirm the Christian worldview. In fact, many of these religious experiences occur in the context of other worldviews and some may even fall in the category of hallucinations. Here, the test of logical consistency can be applied to evaluate the truthfulness of the worldview that is being promoted. Drugs and other forms of brain stimulation can cause unusual experiences, but in this instance a careful thinker can identify the stimuli that triggers such experiences. All people need to guard against a willingness to believe what we want to believe. In this case, critical examination of the claim and its correspondence to reality is crucial to determine its truthfulness.

Finally, for those of us who believe in a supernatural dimension, it is vital to remember that not all supernatural events correspond to the worldview of the one who claims to be the Truth. Jesus warned us:

For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24:24, NASB)

Scripture encourages Christians to be lovers of truth, including the claims of religious experiences. Every religious experience needs to be carefully and critically evaluated before it is accepted as truth. May each of us pursue and prize the truth in all that we do.

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Will Science Become “Useless”?

BY JEFF ZWEERINK – APRIL 19, 2019

“But therein, in my opinion, lies the intellectual bankruptcy of much of theology and some of modern philosophy.”

—Lawrence Krauss, A Universe from Nothing, xiv

In his book A Universe from Nothing, Lawrence Krauss makes no bones about his belief that science provides great contributions to our fundamental knowledge. By contrast, he views input from theology (and philosophy to some extent) as largely useless. Similarly, Stephen Hawking declares, “philosophy is dead,” in The Grand Design.1 Other scientists have publicly echoed these sentiments and probably many more do so privately. Will people view science as useless someday?

Science Has Developed Recently

Historians find capable scientists and traces of scientific thought a long way back in time. However, the modern scientific enterprise largely dates back no earlier than the seventeenth century. Galileo Galilei made his first telescope in 1609. Robert Boyle distinguished chemistry from alchemy in 1661. Isaac Newton put physics on the map with the publication of the Principia Mathematica in 1687.

Theology Has Existed for Two Millennia

Christian theology, on the other hand, dates to the first century. Science has been around a few centuries, Christian theology a couple of millennia!Judaism goes back even farther into human history. Archaeologists find evidence of religious practices in the remains of every human civilization. Basically, for as long as humans have existed, so too has theology. For my purposes, I’ll be focusing on Christianity.

During the first 500 years or so after Jesus Christ’s life on Earth, Christians debated, argued, and codified the basic beliefs about God, Jesus, sin, death, redemption, eternal life, and the Bible. Christians today largely take these works (both canonized Scripture and the creeds and catechisms that amplify the words of Scripture) as definitive statements about what they should believe. Another 1,500 years of scholarship accompanies our present understanding of these basic beliefs. Many ideas and interpretations have been (and continue to be) put forth, tested, and deemed wrong. Theologians know of many heretical ideas about God—ideas so wrong that they undermine a coherent, truthful picture of God and how we relate to him.

Testing Is Biblical

It might surprise some that Christianity encourages testing to discern the truth. In Acts 17:11, author Luke describes the Bereans, a group of new converts who received the gospel “with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (emphasis added). For this, the Bereans are commended as being “of more noble character.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:20–22, Paul commands the Christians in Thessalonica, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil” (emphasis added).

So, over the last two millennia, theologians have developed an expansive, coherent, explanatory body of knowledge describing what Christians believe and how those beliefs affect how they live. Although today’s theologians continue to fill in important details and raise new questions, a great deal of Christian theology was settled within 500 years of Jesus’s earthly ministry.

Science Has Many Questions to Answer

Meanwhile, scientists are still in their first 500 years. That raises the question of what several more centuries of research might contribute. In another 1,500 years, might science look much like theology does today?

Considering the energy involved in testing grand unified theories and any proposed theory of everything, it’s conceivable that scientists may never achieve the experimental verification of a unified theory. Some scientists take a rather sour view of the progress over the last few decades on this matter. Neil Turok, director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics made this provocative assessment:

“All of the theoretical work that’s been done since the 1970s has not produced a single successful prediction . . . [Physicists] write a lot of papers, build a lot of [theoretical] models, hold a lot of conferences, cite each other—you have all the trappings of science,” he says. “But for me, physics is all about making successful predictions. And that’s been lacking.”3

Turok specifically notes that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) produced data showing that the Higgs boson exists (based on theoretical work before 1970) but none that would affirm or invalidate supersymmetry (theoretical work since 1970). Given the lack of data, some scientists have argued that perhaps beauty and elegance have effectively replaced experimental verification for advancing models.4 I take a more optimistic attitude and think that the tremendous scientific gains of the last few centuries will continue into the future. Perhaps experiments over the next 100 years will reveal a theory of everything. At that point, science won’t simply stop. Rather, many details will emerge and new questions will arise.

With all the advances, the amount of data available will grow exponentially. Scientists of the past could make contributions in multiple disciplines, but scientists today must specialize. As advances increase, so too will specialization. Even now, much of science education is taught by decree—because the basic science is already settled. Further specialization will exacerbate this issue.

What Does the Future Hold?

It is not hard to envision a day in the not too distant future when most people appreciate the results of past scientific work but see it as a somewhat esoteric discipline that provides little use for daily living. And it would happen for the same reason that people such as Krauss and Hawking view Christianity similarly—that is, irrelevancy—today. Christianity has been so successful in addressing the big questions—and perhaps science will be too—that people can enjoy the fruits without understanding the roots.

Endnotes
  1. Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam Books, 2010), 5.
  2. Putting a definitive date on the start of either theology or science (or philosophy) is a difficult task. My point here is to simply illustrate that the bulk of scientific advance has occurred since 1700 and that Christian theology started at the time of Christ.
  3. Dan Falk, “Why Some Scientists Say Physics Has Gone off the Rails,” NBC News, (June 22, 2018), https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/why-some-scientists-say-physics-has-gone-rails-ncna879346.
  4. For one account of this phenomenon, see Sabine Hossenfelder, Lost in Math (New York: Basic Books, 2018).

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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Finding Water Everywhere in the Search for Life

BY JEFF ZWEERINK – APRIL 12, 2019

What comes to mind when you think of water? Personally, water reminds me of some of my favorite activities: canoeing down the spring-fed rivers of southern Missouri, bass fishing in Ozark lakes, watching the torrential downpours of thunderstorms, and deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Beyond the fun and enjoyment water provides, it also plays a critical role in Earth’s capacity to host life (as well as the biochemical processes required by life). Consequently, astronomers ardently search for planets capable of hosting water—and those searches have paid dividends.

Water Detections

Using the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), astronomers made detailed observations of a Neptune-sized planet, HAT-P-26b, orbiting a star 400 light-years away from Earth. HAT-P-26b makes a revolution around its host star every 4.2 days and it transits across the face of the star once per revolution. As the exoplanet starts to transit, light from the host star passes through its atmosphere. The HST’s sensitivity allows astronomers to analyze this light and determine what gases exist there. The measurements reveal the presence of water vapor in quantities that exceed those found in the solar system by a factor of 5.1

Another team of astronomers detected an atmosphere around a low-mass exoplanet. The exoplanet, named GJ 1132 b, orbits an M-dwarf star about 40 light-years away and has a mass of 1.6 times the mass of the Earth, making the exoplanet a super-Earth. Using an instrument called GROND, the team observed GJ 1132 b during 9 transits to look for transmission features indicative of water in the exoplanet’s atmosphere. Along with finding unusually large radii for both the exoplanet and its host star, the observations showed a transmission band consistent with atmospheric water. This was one of the first low-mass exoplanets with a temperature below 1000K to show any spectral features. Although an exciting discovery, additional studies “found that the presence of H2O implied either an H2 envelope or low UV flux from the host star early in the lifetime of the system, and the ongoing presence of a magma ocean on the planet’s surface.”2 Consequently, this exoplanet has no hope of hosting life.

Closer to home, the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn found evidence of water/rock interactions on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons. Past observations of the moon revealed a large liquid ocean below a thick layer of ice. More recently, astronomers detected plumes of material escaping from the surface of Enceladus. The Cassini probe flew directly through one of these plumes and detected molecular hydrogen, H2. Although not definite, the most probable source of the hydrogen in the plumes is chemical reactions of water with rocks bearing minerals and organic material.3

Life Requires More Than Liquid Water

It may seem like finding water everywhere we look is a sign that life pervades the universe. That may be true, but one should remember that water ranks as the third most abundant molecule in the universe (behind two forms of molecular hydrogen), in part because hydrogen and oxygen are two of the most abundant elements in the universe. Additionally, water on an exoplanet (or a moon) does not automatically make the exoplanet habitable. It seems like life requires far more than just liquid water. Even early Genesis describes an early Earth covered in water, yet hostile to life.

From a scientific perspective, if we ever want to assess what makes a planet truly habitable, astronomers must find a wealth of planets with varying degrees of similarity to Earth and then determine if life actually exists on any of those planets. As I said nearly a decade ago,

The commonly assumed model . . . is that life arises easily in environments that meet a rather small set of criteria. I will refer to this as the “minimalist” model. In contrast, RTB’s creation model argues that life requires a planet exhibiting numerous parameters fine-tuned to exacting specifications. Planets that meet some, but not all, of these criteria serve as test-beds to distinguish which model best describes reality. The more planets astronomers find, the more powerful tests may be conducted.4

Let the testing begin.

Endnotes
  1. Hannah R. Wakeford et al., “HAT-P-26b: A Neptune-mass Exoplanet with a Well-Constrained Heavy Element Abundance,” Science 356, no. 6338 (May 12, 2017): 628–31, doi:10.1126/science.aah4668.
  2. John Southworth et al., “Detection of the Atmosphere of the 1.6 M Exoplanet GJ 1132 b,” Astronomical Journal 153, no. 4 (April 2017): 191, doi:10.3847/1538-3881/aa6477.
  3. J. Hunter Waite et al., “Cassini Finds Molecular Hydrogen in the Enceladus Plume: Evidence for Hydrothermal Processes,” Science 356 no. 6334 (April 14, 2017): 155–9, doi:10.1126/science.aai8703.
  4. Jeff Zweerink, “What to Think of the Latest Habitable Planet Find,” Today’s New Reason to Believe(blog), Reasons to Believe, October 5, 2010, https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2010/10/05/what-to-think-of-the-latest-habitable-planet-find.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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Life Requires Galactic and Supergalactic Habitable Zones

BY HUGH ROSS – APRIL 8, 2019

Zones where advanced life can exist in the universe just became stricter. Astronomical researchers have discovered that livable neighborhoods must include not only favorable planet-to-star conditions but also galactic and supergalactic features.

Almost all the research and speculation on habitability in the universe has focused on circumstellar habitable zones. Research on these zones attempts to determine at what specific distances from a host star a planet could conceivably maintain conditions which would make the survival of life possible. Though research on circumstellar habitable zones has largely focused on the liquid water habitable zone—the distance from the star where water could conceivably exist in a liquid state—another ten circumstellar habitable zones are known to be critical for the survivability of life to date. I have written about these eleven habitable zones here,1 here,2 and here.3 For a planet to be truly habitable it must reside simultaneously in all eleven of these circumstellar habitable zones.

Circumstellar habitability, however, is not the only requirement for habitability. For a planet to possibly host life it must also reside in the cosmic temporal habitable zone, the galactic habitable zone, and the supergalactic habitable zone. Astronomer Paul Mason has been studying and writing on this subject and has explained his findings.

Cosmic Temporal Habitable Zone
At the January 2017 meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Mason first addressed the subject of cosmic, galactic, and supergalactic habitability in a paper titled “Habitability in the Local Universe.”4 Therein, he pointed out that long-term habitability on the surface of a planet requires a prerequisite minimum abundance of several different elements. Animals, for example, require certain minimum abundances of twenty-two different elements in the periodic table. Mason explains that it takes a minimum amount of time for star formation and ongoing star burning within a galaxy to generate (through nucleosynthesis) the requisite abundances of these life-critical elements.

That minimum time is about nine billion years after the cosmic creation event. Though not mentioned by Mason, there is also a maximum time. Relatively aggressive ongoing star formation is necessary to sustain the spiral structure of a galaxy. When that star formation ceases, the spiral structure collapses and then the average separation between stars becomes too small for life to survive. Furthermore, virtually all planets within such a galaxy become exposed to the deadly radiation from one or more supermassive black holes.

Another problem for life is that the more time that passes, the more merger events with small and large galaxies will occur. Inevitably, one or more of these merger events will be devastating for life within the galaxy.

The window on life in the universe will close when the universe is about 15 billion years old. Since it takes time—over three billion years—for the first life in the universe to prepare a planetary environment for advanced life, the cosmic time window (less than a billion years) for advanced life is much briefer than it is for microbial life (about six billion years).

Galactic Habitable Zones
In a subsequent paper coauthored with Peter Biermann5 and in a paper delivered at the January 2019 American Astronomical Society meeting,6 Mason discussed galactic habitability conditions in addition to the galactic habitable zone. The galactic habitable zone refers to a narrow distance range from the center of a spiral galaxy where a star revolves around the center of the galaxy at virtually the same rate that the galaxy’s spiral structure rotates (see figure 1). Only within this narrow distance range does a star and its system of planets cross spiral arms infrequently enough (less than once per billion years) that it becomes possible for advanced life to exist on one of the star’s planets.

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Figure 1: The Galactic Habitable Zone. Only a star and its system of planets located very near the red annulus will experience very infrequent crossings of spiral arms. The yellow dot represents the present position of the solar system. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt; Diagram credit: Hugh Ross

Mason and Biermann point out that thanks to a relatively high rate of supernova eruption events, our galaxy maintains a relativistic galactic wind. This wind shields our solar system from deadly extragalactic cosmic rays. However, if the supernova eruption rate in our galaxy were any higher, radiation from the supernovae would prove deadly to advanced life on Earth. Fortunately, the supernova eruption rate in our galaxy is just right.

Mason and Biermann also explain how the activity level of our galactic nucleus must be fine-tuned. It takes small dwarf galaxies being regularly absorbed into the nucleus of our galaxy to sustain the ongoing star formation that is critical for maintaining our galaxy’s spiral structure. However, if our galaxy were to absorb or merge with a large dwarf galaxy, that absorption or merger could activate our galaxy’s nucleus. That activation would shower the entire extent of our galaxy with deadly radiation. Fortunately, our galaxy is absorbing dwarf galaxies of the just-right size and at the just-right rate to make possible the survival of advanced life on Earth.

Supergalactic Habitable Zone
Only in a cluster of galaxies will a galaxy like ours have a sufficient supply of dwarf galaxies to sustain its spiral structure for many billions of years. Our galaxy cluster, the Local Group (see figure 2), has the distinction of possessing many dwarf galaxies but no giant galaxies. Our Local Group also has the distinction of residing on the outer fringe of the Virgo Supercluster of galaxies.

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Figure 2: The Local Group, Our Galaxy’s Galaxy Cluster. The Milky Way Galaxy is to the lower right. Above it are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. To the upper left are the Andromeda Galaxy and its system of dwarf galaxies. Below Andromeda is the Triangulum spiral galaxy. Image credit for the galaxies: NASA/ESA/ESO/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt; Map credit: Hugh Ross

Mason and Biermann explain how the giant galaxies near the center of the Virgo Supercluster pour out such intense deadly radiation as to eliminate the possibility for advanced life residing in any of the galaxies near the center of the Virgo Supercluster. Fortunately, our Milky Way Galaxy is far enough away from the center of the Virgo Supercluster and it possesses a strong enough relativistic galactic wind that advanced life on Earth is not harmed by the deadly radiation emanating from the giant galaxies in the Virgo Supercluster.

Layers of Design
A star and its system of planets must be exquisitely designed in many different ways for advanced life to be possible on one of the star’s planets. Thanks to the findings of researchers Mason and Biermann, we now appreciate more than we have before that it also takes exquisite fine-tuning of the universe, the planetary system’s host galaxy, the host galaxy’s galaxy cluster, and the host galaxy cluster’s supercluster of galaxies for advanced life to possibly exist and thrive. As the agnostic astronomer Paul Davies wrote in his book The Cosmic Blueprint, “the impression of design is overwhelming.”7

Featured image: Giant Galaxies in the Center of the Virgo Supercluster of Galaxies. The black dots block out foreground stars. Image credit: European Southern Observatory

Endnotes
  1. Hugh Ross, “Tiny Habitable Zones for Complex Life,” Today’s New Reason to Believe, (blog), Reasons to Believe, March 4, 2019, https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2019/03/04/tiny-habitable-zones-for-complex-life.
  2. Hugh Ross, “Astrosphere Habitable Zones Display Fine-Tuned Characteristics,” Today’s New Reason to Believe, (blog), Reasons to Believe, July 7, 2014, https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2014/07/07/astrosphere-habitable-zones-display-fine-tuned-characteristics.
  3. Hugh Ross, “Overlap of Habitable Zones Gets Much Smaller,” Today’s New Reason to Believe, (blog), Reasons to Believe, December 27, 2016, https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2016/12/27/overlap-of-habitable-zones-gets-much-smaller.
  4. Paul Mason, “Habitability in the Local Universe,” American Astronomical Meeting #229 (January 2017), id. 116.03.
  5. P. A. Mason and P. L. Biermann, “The Large-Scale Structure of Habitability in the Universe,” Habitable Worlds 2017: A System Science Workshop, held November 13–17, 2017 in Laramie, Wyoming, LPI Contribution No. 2042, id. 4149.
  6. Paul Mason, “The Dawn of Habitable Conditions for Complex Life in the Universe,” American Astronomical Society Meeting #233 (January 2019), abstract id. 432.06.
  7. Paul Davies, The Cosmic Blueprint: New Discoveries in Nature’s Creative Ability to Order the Universe(Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2004), 203.

About Reasons to Believe

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Earth, an Extraordinary Magnet for Life

BY HUGH ROSS – APRIL 15, 2019

We might take it for granted, but our planet’s magnetic field is no sure thing. A just-published research paper by three Australian astronomers shows that a strong, long-lasting magnetic field is essential for the survival of advanced life and that such magnetic fields must be extremely rare among rocky extrasolar planets.1

Magnetic Field Benefits 
Earth has sustained a strong magnetic dipole (North and South Pole) moment for at least the past four billion years of its history. Such has not been the case for Earth’s companion rocky planets: Mars, Venus, and Mercury. Mars and Venus possess no measurable internal magnetic field and no magnetosphere. Mercury’s magnetic field is only 1 percent the strength of Earth’s magnetic field. Its magnetospheric cavity is 20 times smaller than Earth’s. Furthermore, Mercury’s magnetic field is often extremely leaky.2

Earth’s magnetosphere deflects charged particles in the solar wind away from Earth (see figure 1). It also acts as a protective bubble shielding life on Earth from both deadly solar and cosmic radiation.

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Figure 1: Earth’s Magnetosphere. Exposure to deadly radiation occurs beyond the outer red lines. Image credit: NASA

Earth’s magnetosphere not only protects Earth’s life from deadly radiation, but also prevents solar particles from sputtering away much of Earth’s atmosphere. It is particularly critical for maintaining liquid water on Earth’s surface. Without that liquid water, life cannot survive on Earth.

Exoplanet Magnetic Fields
Since a strong, long-lasting magnetic dipole moment is so critically important for life, and especially for advanced life, the astronomical team set out to determine just how likely it is that Earth-like planets outside the solar system will possess such a magnetic dipole moment. They used a mathematical model developed by physicists Peter Olson and Ulrich Christensen3 to estimate magnetic dipole moments for all known rocky exoplanets. The researchers assumed that these exoplanets had convection-driven planetary dynamos and then modeled the maximum possible magnetic dipole moments for each of these exoplanets. Given these parameters, they found that half of the rocky exoplanets—at distances from their host stars where liquid water could conceivably exist on their surfaces—had negligible magnetic dipole moments.

Only one of the exoplanets, Kepler 186f (see figure 2 below), could possibly have a magnetic dipole moment as large or larger than Earth’s. Kepler 186f was the first discovered planet with a diameter roughly similar to Earth’s orbiting another star at a distance where liquid water could conceivably exist on its surface.

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Figure 2: Artist’s Conception of the Kepler 186 System. Kepler 186f is in the foreground. The host star Kepler 186 is the bright dot at lower left. The other four known planets of Kepler 186 all orbit Kepler 186 closer than does Kepler 186f. Image credit: NASA/Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

However, Kepler 186f is not a candidate for hosting life. It orbits an M-type star with a mass = 0.54 times the Sun’s mass and a luminosity = 0.05 times the Sun’s luminosity. M-type stars, unlike stars as massive as the Sun, spew out frequent deadly flares.

Because Kepler 186f orbits such a dim star, its surface temperature in the absence of an atmosphere containing abundant greenhouse gases is only -85°C (-121°F), which would make it a little colder than Mars. For Kepler 186f to possibly possess liquid water on its surface, it would need to have an abundance of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere at least 1,300 times greater (if accompanied by 10 times as much nitrogen as Earth’s atmosphere presently possesses), and at least 13,000 times greater (if accompanied by negligible nitrogen in its atmosphere), than what presently exists in Earth’s atmosphere.4 Such a thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide and nitrogen may not rule out microbial life, but it would rule out the possibility of animal life.

The conclusion that Kepler 186f may possibly possess a magnetic dipole moment as strong as Earth’s assumes that Kepler 186f rotates about as rapidly as Earth does. This assumption is unlikely given that the tidal interaction between Kepler 186f and its host star is about 21 times stronger than it is between Earth and the Sun. Because of this tidal interaction, there is a 50 percent chance that Kepler 186f is tidally locked. Tidal locking means that Kepler 186f’s rotation period is the same as its orbital revolution period of 130 Earth days. If Kepler 186f is not tidally locked, its rotation period most probably will range from 10–100 Earth days. A rotation period of 10–130 days would generate day-night temperature differences that would rule out the possibility of plant and animal life. It would also rule out the possibility of a strong, enduring magnetic field.

Rare Earth
The three astronomers conclude their paper by noting that “planetary magnetism is an important factor” for determining the possible habitability of any exoplanet.5 Their calculations establish that, for rocky planets, a magnetic dipole moment strong enough and long-lasting enough to make life as advanced as plants and animals possible must be extremely rare.

Earth’s magnetic field now ranks as additional evidence for the rare Earth doctrine, the conclusion that Earth is rare, if not unique, in possessing all characteristic features necessary to make possible the existence of advanced life. The sum total of the known features and the degree to which each must be fine-tuned yields a powerful argument that the cause for all these fine-tuned features is a super-intelligent, supernatural Being.

Featured image: Computer Simulation of Earth’s Magnetic Field in a Period of Normal Polarity. Image credit: NASA

Endnotes
  1. Sarah R. N. McIntyre, Charles H. Lineweaver, and Michael J. Ireland, “Planetary Magnetism as a Parameter in Exoplanet Habitability,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 485, no. 3 (May 2019): 3999–4012, doi:10.1093/mnras/stz667.
  2. Bill Steigerwald, “Magnetic Tornadoes Could Liberate Mercury’s Tenuous Atmosphere,” NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (June 2, 2009), https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/messenger/multimedia/magnetic_tornadoes.html.
  3. Peter Olson and Ulrich R. Christensen, “Dipole Moment Scaling for Convection-Driven Planetary Dynamos,” Earth and Planetary Science Letters 250, nos. 3–4 (October 30, 2006): 561–71, doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2006.08.008.
  4. Emeline Bolmont et al., “Formation, Tidal Evolution, and Habitability of the Kepler-186 System,” Astrophysical Journal 793, no. 1 (September 20, 2014): id. 3, doi:10.1088/0004-637X/793/1/3.
  5. McIntyre, Lineweaver, and Ireland, “Planetary Magnetism,” 3999.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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