The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter. (Proverbs 25:2)

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handiwork (Psalm 19:1). Penned by the Psalmist 3000 years ago, these words ring just as true today as they did then. By virtue of our current unprecedented ability to view the heavens through computer-assisted terrestrial telescopes, space-based telescopes, satellites, and multi-sensing space probes, we are the most privileged generation ever to view the wonders of Yahweh's creative majesty in the heavens. Never before has man been allowed to see in such exquisite detail the reality of our own solar system, the richness of the Milky Way (our home galaxy with its more than 100 billion stars) or the deep abyss of space beyond our galaxy with its billions of other galaxies. Given these current conditions of unprecedented access into God's heavens, one might reasonably hope that the human reaction would be one of awe and humility. For some that is true, but for many scientists and laymen alike their reaction has been one of simply attributing these discoveries to man's own intellect and resourcefulness. For a majority of scientists working in astronomy/cosmology today, the mind-boggling marvels of the universe are evaluated in terms of the laws of physics and chemistry alone. The question of 'possible purpose' inherent in such manifestations of physics and chemistry is, for the most part, a matter not to be pursued. The assumption that life on Earth spontaneously evolved over vast amounts of time is almost always attended by the corollary that this occurred on a planet in a universe that is without purpose or meaning. While there are exceptions to this view, it is nevertheless the dominant paradigm of astro-science today.

Happily a few astro-scientists, despite their evolutionary leanings, have looked into the question of possible purposefulness in the Universe. Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards have compiled their research in a 2004 book entitled: The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery.1 A companion DVD of the same title provides a highly viewable synopsis of their findings.2 In their research, Gonzalez and Richards seek to determine what makes our planet, Earth, habitable for life as we know it. Their work has much to say about Earth's place in the solar system as it revolves around our local star, the Sun, as well as its place in the Milky Way Galaxy and, by extension, in the Universe per se. What follows in this article is a much abbreviated sample of some of the empirical evidence compiled by Gonzalez and Richards that points to the conclusion that Earth's place in the Cosmos is the result of precise, detailed design.

Total or 'Perfect' Solar Eclipses: When the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun and it blocks out the photosphere (or body of the Sun) such that the Moon's core shadow (umbra) falls upon the surface of the Earth, a 'total' solar eclipse occurs at that location. These relatively rare phenomena result in a brief period when the face of the Sun is blotted out and only the Sun's gaseous atmosphere (chromosphere and corona) is visible. For astronomers these occasions provide a rare opportunity to study the Sun's atmosphere which is normally not viewable because of the overwhelming brightness of the Sun's photosphere. This has led to a greatly expanded understanding of stars much farther away.

The physical relationships of size, distance, sphericity and orbit paths in a total eclipse are very special. The Moon is about 400 times smaller than the Sun and the Sun is also 400 times farther away from the Earth than the Moon is from the Earth. The result is that when the Moon moves across the face of the Sun 'to an observer on earth' the apparent size of both bodies is identical. When this optical geometry is combined with the perfect sphericity of the Sun and the unexpected near perfect sphericity of our anomalously large Moon, at those orbital moments of Earth-Moon-Sun alignment, total solar eclipses result. It was the emotional and intellectual experience of viewing just such a 'perfect' eclipse in northern India in 1995 that set Gonzalez on his quest to research the special place Earth holds in the cosmos.

The Habitable Zone Concept: As early as the 1950's, some astronomers began defining a 'Habitable Zone' in our solar system as that zone which would allow a terrestrial planet (as opposed to a gaseous planet) to maintain liquid water on its surface. They saw it as lying between the orbits of Venus and Mars where Earth is located. Since then, research regarding habitability has narrowed this zone considerably. If Earth were just 5% closer to the Sun, all of its water would be lost to a runaway greenhouse effect resulting in a dense Venus-like carbon dioxide shroud and temperatures of over 900 degrees Fahrenheit. If it were 20% farther from the Sun, it would become an uninhabitable, permanently frozen Mars-like world. In addition to simple 'temperature range' allowing for life sustaining liquid water however, the more scientists looked at the prerequisites for habitability, the more numerous and complex the determinants became. At the present time, over 20 such factors have been identified and the list is growing. With each new factor, the requirements for habitability become more and more finely-tuned.

Examples of Other Factors for Habitability

(1) Terrestrial Planet Factors
A chemically rich outer crust (lithosphere) thick enough to provide a solid outer skin, yet thin enough to allow for crustal plate tectonics (movement) is needed to provide elevation diversity for the hydrologic (water) cycle as well as to facilitate the recycling of carbon via crustal subduction and volcanic ejection. Both cycles are essential for complex life and they are present on planet Earth.

Earth's disproportionate distribution of 30% land to 70% water on its surface is crucial for climate control and habitability. The oceans plus lakes act as a giant heat sink to absorb solar energy. Oceanic and atmospheric redistribution of solar heat then allows temperatures amenable to complex life.

The movement of liquid iron in the Earth's core, combined with the rotation of the Earth around its axis creates a gigantic magnetic field far out in space around our planet. Without this protective barrier, the flow of charged particles from the Sun (solar wind) would strip away our atmosphere and harmful galactic cosmic ray particles would also reach the Earth's surface. Both would render our planet devoid of life. The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) are dramatic visual evidence of this protective magnetic barrier. It is worthy to note that the Earth's size is also a vital factor. If the Earth were smaller, its magnetic field would not be strong enough to prevent the loss of its atmosphere. The result would be the dead planet scenario we see on Mars.

(2) The Atmosphere Factor
Earth's wafer thin (less than 1% of Earth's diameter) oxygen-rich atmosphere, comprised of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% carbon dioxide plus some water vapour, is unique in the solar system and is unlikely to be found elsewhere. It is exactly configured to support complex life. Biologist Michael Denton3 notes that only atmospheres in the general range of 10%-20% oxygen can support oxidative metabolism in higher organisms. (Coincidentally he notes it is also the only range in which fire is possible.) Gonzalez and Richards write, "It just so happens that that very atmosphere (predominantly nitrogen and oxygen with some carbon dioxide and water vapour) is mostly transparent to optical radiation.4" In short, our atmosphere supports life and allows us to see the glory of God in the heavens. But the story does not end there.

Our atmosphere is also so precisely configured that it blocks out most of the harmful/lethal energy it receives, yet readily transmits the type of radiation that is vital to life. It is essentially transparent to the near-ultraviolet, visible, near-infrared and the much longer radio waves. Amazingly however, the near-ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared spectra comprise just a "razor thin slice" of the total range of all the natural electromagnetic emissions of the Universe. When considered thusly, this window through our atmosphere is so narrow it is equivalent to 1 part out of 1025Written out that is 1 out of 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000! Such a number is like trying to select one specific grain of sand out of all the beaches we have ever seen, and then some! Encyclopedia Britannica comments on this very point, "Considering the importance of visible sunlight for all aspects of terrestrial life, one cannot help being awed by the dramatically narrow window in the atmospheric absorption...and in the absorption spectrum of water."5

(3) The Sun Factor
Anchoring our solar system 93 million miles away from Earth is our Sun. It is classified as a G2 Yellow Dwarf Star in the Main Sequence. It is an average sized star but of unusually high mass. It is larger than the majority of stars in the Milky Way but very much smaller than Blue Stars, Red Giants or Super Giants. Texts often make the point it is 'average' with nothing very special about it. The fact is, however, that the solar radiation we see - visible light - is in the wave length range of 4000 Angstroms to 7000 Angstroms (an Angstrom unit is ten-billionths of a meter) and this is exactly the range in which our Sun emits 40% of its energy because of its unusually high mass. The Sun's spectrum peaks exactly in the middle of the visible spectrum at 5500 Angstroms. Because the typical energy involved in chemical reactions corresponds to the typical energy of optical light photons - our visible sunshine - chlorophyll molecules react uniquely to our Sun's visible light and photosynthesis occurs. Without this correspondence of factors, green plant life would not exist and, in consequence, neither would habitability. Gonzalez and Richards sum up this correspondence succinctly, "Life can't use just any type of light from any kind of star. Our Sun, it turns out, is near the optimum for any plausible kind of chemical life. The solar spectrum is intimately linked to life on Earth and to the transparency of Earth's atmosphere in the optical part of the electromagnetic spectrum."6

If our 'average' Sun were significantly larger and its energy output greater than its current very steady level, life on Earth would not be possible because of the overwhelming greater radiation as well as many other related factors. If the Sun were significantly smaller, its gravity would be less, the Habitable Zone would become smaller and the Earth would have to be closer to the Sun to orbit. This reduced gravity, in turn, would lock the Earth into a geostationary orbit and it would cease to rotate on its axis just like our own nearby lunar-stationary moon. Like our Moon, one side of the Earth would face the Sun's radiation continually while the other 'dark' side would face an eternal night and be permanently frozen. Both conditions would render the Earth uninhabitable for a multitude of reasons beyond just the extreme temperatures.

(4) The Moon Factor
Earth's moon is anomalously large compared to all the other moons in our solar system relative to their host planets (Jupiter, Saturn, etc). It is about ¼ the size of the Earth. What this unusually large mass does is 'stabilize' the rotation axis of Earth at its present 23½ degrees to the plane of Earth's orbit around the sun. The effect of this 'stable tilt' is to create the moderate life-friendly seasonal climates we experience in the mid-latitudes as well as the favourable general circulation of the atmosphere. A larger tilt would create extreme climatic fluctuations each season and profoundly affect the oceanic and atmospheric redistribution of heat and moisture. A small tilt would ameliorate 'seasonal' temperature changes but it would stratify changes latitudinally, as well as changing the circulation of the atmosphere, the consequent wind patterns and the rainfall distribution. Both extremes would negatively alter the habitability of the Earth.

In addition to fostering a stable axial tilt, the Moon also facilitates life by 'raising' the Earth's ocean tides. The tides help mix nutrients from the land with the oceans. If only solar gravity were at work, Earth's tides would be only 1/3 as strong. Recent oceanographic research indicates 30% of tidal energy impacts the deep ocean floor and is likely a significant driver of vital ocean currents. This tidal energy, in turn, has profound implications for bio-mixing and heat distribution over 70% of Earth's surface. Finally, the tides themselves also contribute to the stable tilt of the Earth's axis.

(5) The Outer Planet Factor
Sitting in a nearly circular orbit relatively close to the Sun, the Earth is positionally removed from the more distant part of the solar system where asteroids and comets present serious collision threats. Depending on the mass involved, a direct impact by either one of these wanderers would imperil the very existence of the Earth, let alone its habitability. Because of their considerable gravity, the giant outer planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, act as natural 'sweepers' of these dangerous space objects. Their gravity acts to pull such objects into their control and on occasion into direct capture and impact. In July 1994, comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was torn apart by Jupiter's gravity and crashed into the huge giant. Pictures from the Hubble space telescope captured this event. For Earth, its habitability is significantly enhanced by this protective role the giant outer planets play in holding and 'sweeping' space debris away from potential dangerous proximity.

(6) The Galactic Habitable Zone Factor
In addition to the many factors that contribute to the Circumstellar (Solar) Habitable Zone, it also turns out that our solar system happens to sit in the most habitable part of the entire Milky Way Galaxy. Our Sun and its planets are positioned on the mid-plane of the flattened spiral armed Milky Way pinwheel at just the right place for galactic safety and habitability as well as for visual observation of the galaxy and the Universe beyond. Astronomers have determined that our solar system sits in an open sky, galactic-energy, 'quiet' zone between the Perseus Arm and the Sagittarius Arm of the Milky Way. Almost all other areas of the galaxy are highly dangerous or unfavourable to life and without clear visual access to the surrounding cosmos.

Other Considerations: Only a few of the factors contributing to and/or allowing for the existence of life on Earth have been listed. The most significant consideration, however, is that these factors must all come together at the right place at the right time. Even when extremely conservative individual probabilities are assigned to independent factors for habitability, the net result is so infinitely small as to make it impossible for our 'living Earth' to come about by sheer chance. Scientists have calculated that probability as 1 in 1015. That translates to one chance out of one thousand, trillion chances or 1/1,000,000,000,000,000. Such an infinitely small chance begs to be dismissed as a realistic possibility.

Putting the matter another way, the probability that our 'living Earth' came into being because of a higher purpose and design in the Universe is virtually certain. What then remains is this unavoidable question: To what purpose is our planet Earth so replete with Life?

Closing Thoughts

  1. For Gonzalez and Richards, at every turn their research revealed that the factors which fostered habitability were also the same factors that allowed for observation of the Cosmos. Given that these two sets, 'habitability' and 'observation' were so inextricably linked, they concluded the following: Earth was 'designed' to support life and to allow that life to be able to observe and discover the Cosmos around it. For them, the corollary of a necessary designer/creator is an important implication crying out for scientific (and personal) investigation. They believe such a paradigm has far more scientific promise than the present Copernican-based view championed by the late astronomer, Carl Sagan. He said of our Earth as it appeared in a photo taken by Voyager I, February 14, 1990, from 4 billion miles out in space, "Because of the reflection of sunlight...the Earth seems to be sitting in a beam of light, as if there were some special significance to this small world. But it's just an accident of geometry and optics...Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.7"

  2. For the Bible student, the same two sets, 'habitability' (life) and 'observation' (witness) are also inextricably linked. The Psalmist's words, "The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth His handiwork" (Psalm 19:1) tell us plainly what we should 'see' when we observe the heavens. It is for us to see God's glory and God's His word tells us unequivocally: "I have made the earth and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens and all their hosts have I commanded. For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; He hath established it, He created it not in vain, He formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else." (Isaiah 45:12 & 18,emphasis added)

His Word further tells us that He has made all things for His pleasure (Revelation 4:11) and that His purpose is to take out from among the mortal inhabitants of this planet a covenanted people to bear His name (Acts 15:14). He has told us He will ultimately endow His covenanted chosen with His very nature to live eternally for Him (Revelation 2:7). He has further promised that they will dwell in eternal fellowship with Him and his glorified son, the Lord Jesus Christ, here on a reborn Earth eternally free of sin and death (Numbers 14:21, Habakkuk 2:14, Romans 4:1-13, Galatians 3:26-29, 1 Corinthians 15:20-26). Of this coming age, He has said His presence and His glorious power of life will be manifested in His redeemed and glorious new creation, of which Jesus is the beginning. (Revelation 3:14, Colossians 1:18, Revelation 21:1-5, 10, 22, 23, and 22:1-5). And as incredible as it might seem, He 'invites us' to be partakers with Him in this great plan of the ages!! (Isaiah 55:1-3, Matthew 11:28-30).

Regarding the certainty of His eternal purpose, it is significant that Yahweh has invoked the witness of His creative work in the heavens as surety of His prophetic word. As assurance of His fidelity to raise up and immortalize the spiritual seed of Abraham, Yahweh calls upon the enduring presence of the Sun, the Moon and Stars of Heaven which He alone has made (Jeremiah 31:35-37). In the light of such glorious immovable day and night evidence of God's love and fidelity, we would do well to impress upon our hearts the personal reality and power of these three God-given statements:

Ecclesiastes 11:7 Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.

Psalm 8:3-4 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visiteth him?

Psalm 4:4 Stand in awe and sin not.

Because...The heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament sheweth His handiwork! (Psalm 19:1)

James Horton, Grimsby, ON

Non-Biblical References

1 Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards, The Privileged Planet: How our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery. (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2004).

2 Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards, The Privileged Planet. DVD (Illustra Media, 2004., Available at www.illustramedia.com).

3 Michael Denton, Nature's Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe. (New York: The Free Press, 1998), 117.

4 Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards, The Privileged Planet, 68.

5 Encyclopaedia Britannica, fifteenth ed. 18 (1994): 203.

6 Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards, The Privileged Planet, 68, 365 #9.

7 Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1994), 7.