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HomeIllinois NewsBrinkman Review: Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity’s Home

Brinkman Review: Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity’s Home

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IMG_0053By Hugh Ross

Baker Books, 2016, 288p

Reviewed by Daniel Brinkman

Inconvenient Facts

In the May 2000 issue of Science, a shocking article appeared. A team of geologists at Franklin and Marshall College, examining conditions on earth some 541 million years ago, calculated that there were “182 skeletal animal designs theoretically permitted by the laws of physics (under which conditions at the time could support).” Fully 146 of these appear the very instant their appearance was first possible. Until this period, the sea’s chemistry did not permit the formation of skeletons. This expansive initial appearance of life is, however, the rule and not the exception.

Even noted atheist Richard Dawkins is forced to admit this inconvenient fact, “We find many in a very advanced state of evolution. The very first time they appear, it is as though they were just planted there without any evolutionary history.”

Certain works written over the last decade have briefly touched on the various discoveries that show the fantastic and seemingly impossible arrangement of circumstances that need to have conspired for life to be merely possible. But these points are usually made amongst other wider arguments the author is trying make, from the cosmological, to the probabilistic to the scriptural and textual, leaving the reader hoping for someone to mine this potentially fruitful area– hoping that the few sparse sentences thrown like a mere bone to the reader are not all there is of these arguments. Neither does the reader want to traverse dry academic literature in search of this history, paging past articles on medieval weaving patterns to find something meaningful.

Hugh Ross meets this demand and answers it in Improbable Planet. He charts the course of our earth’s early history, using primarily peer reviewed academic articles as his ammunition. What he produces is stunning in its breadth and detail, and even more so in its implications. More importantly, however, where some works of such factual depth are written for the scholar, Ross has made this work readable for those (like this reviewer) without a graduate background in the sciences.

Ross paints the story of our planet’s history by repeatedly using a metaphor of building a structure, laying a foundation, installing plumbing and wiring, and finally getting it up to code and ready for occupancy. He shows that, despite how long 4.9 billion years may seem, it was necessary to get our planet ready for us. He shows also why an additional 9 billion years (two generations of stars) were necessary before earth even appeared on the scene.

Once that all was in place, just as any realtor might insist, location, location, location was key. A spiral galaxy such as the Milky Way is the only type of galaxy supportive of life with an abundance of heavy elements, coupled with any possibility of long-term stability of planetary orbits. The size of our galaxy is also perfect, passing the Goldilocks test. Any bigger and a massive black hole would form at the center, any smaller and the co-rotation radius of the arms would be too small and too near deadly radiation from its core, and too close to the other spiral arms to ensure long term survival.

Simply beginning in ‘the Goldilocks zone’ of the Milky Way was not enough to get the essential quantities of elements we possess. Our solar system needed first to “originate in one of the most dangerous (to life) locations in the MWG and then quickly move into the MWG’s safest (for life) location.” Threading many a potentially deadly needle along the way as our sun and its satellites sling shotted their way through other densely packed regions of our galaxy on it’s way to the peaceful idyllic backwater of our galaxy where we now sit. Our home which also happens to have the best night sky view of our universe anywhere in our galaxy.

Ross does an expert job explaining the crucial role played by the formation of our moon and its implications for life here. Not to mention its essential role in our tides, its effect on slowing the earth’s rotation dramatically from days as short as a few hours to the twenty four hour day today, has allowed for much milder weather. Additionally, the perfect ratio of the earth to the moon and the earth to the sun allows for the perfect eclipse we experience, which has had its own advantage of allowing us to discover more of our universe and its laws throughout the ages.

We learned during the Apollo missions to the moon the extent to which the earth was bombarded by asteroids and meteors 3.9 billion years ago. Every square yard on the entire planet received at least 200 tons of it. This too changed the chemistry of the early planet. It changed our atmosphere, our core and crust to finally support life. Even more astounding is that almost immediately after the earth had sufficiently cooled from this bombardment is exactly when life first appeared. “Earth’s surface would not have cooled and stabilized enough for life to survive, let alone originate, until 3.83–3.85 billion years ago.” Life first appears in the fossil record 3.82-3.83 billion years ago.

Other works have stressed and proven the probabilistic unlikelihood given a full 3.9 billion years for merely the complex folds of proteins to appear naturally let alone the complex language of DNA, whose barest minimum viable life form requires “1,308,759 base pairs (containing) 1,354 gene products (are) considered the theoretical minimum.” The fossil record window is infinitesimally small for these to have developed on their own, but like a builder without tools, that too might have been a problem, “No natural source can be found, either on Earth or anywhere else in the universe, for hemochorial amino acids or sugars. Neither has any natural source been found for the five-carbon sugars that all DNA and RNA molecules need. Nor has research identified any possible natural source for the basic amino acids arginine, histidine, and lysine.”

We are treated to still more explanations of the necessity of certain biological events to happen in their historical order, from the appearance of plant life, to the necessity of millions of years of decay to provide us with nutrient rich soil, mineral deposits and energy resources in proper abundance for our appearance on the scene. In one example, he shows how certain marine life’s “metabolic reactions transformed much of the soluble metal resources in the oceans and crust into insoluble concentrated metal ore deposits. Thus, a potentially poisonous environment for advanced life became an optimal resource repository,”

As Ross brings us closer to the present day, the timetable he uses gets smaller and he shows still other ways how we have been placed here in the perfect time, from the continents being now capable of bearing more ice than ever before because of the position of Greenland and Antarctica to the cooling effect of the Tibetan plateau, to a fortunate period of no excessive radiation from the sun or no supernovae within 5000 light years for the last 12,000 years. Finally, Ross notes we are living on earth right now at its most beautiful stage. “The receding ice sheets and glaciers have enhanced the relief of earth’s mountains and valleys, creating majestic waterfalls. They have produced meadows, forests, rivers, and lakes filled with an extravagant diversity of plants and animals displaying every imaginable combination of color and texture.”

Over the last few decades, a quiet revolution has been stirring in scientific thought regarding the beginning of earth’s history. Gradually, the intellectual pillars for the idea that our planet is nothing remarkable are being hollowed out and now stand only by force of habit. The more we learn, the clearer this becomes, from astronomy to geology, to biology, physics, chemistry and genetics, events conspired to place us here. Hugh Ross masterfully spins this marvelous tale that has needed to be told for far too long.

 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. ‘Here in a perfect time’s; that’s because Our Creator’s timing is Always perfect. Evolution is a Pagonism attempt to explain the Intelligent Design only God could master. For those seeking truth, they should read the first two chapters of Genesis. It reveals God’s creation of it all. Do we fully understand it? No it’s beyond our full understanding. There is only one truth and it’s NOT of our individual creation, it’s God’s.