Monday, March 5, 2012

Oxygen for the Ages

When one wishes to convey the idea that something vital has been lost, he sometimes uses the imagery of “removing the oxygen.” We may ask, “What is so uniquely vital about oxygen?”

By weight oxygen is the most common element in the earth’s crust (almost half), and also the most common element in the human body (about two-thirds). The body possesses this high fraction of oxygen because the body is more than half water. Oxygen is the weightiest fraction of water by far.

In each of the above examples the oxygen is part of a compound, joined together chemically with other elements. In the rocks of earth’s crust, the oxygen is combined with elements such as silicon, aluminum, or calcium to form the rocks. In the human body the oxygen is chemically combined with hydrogen to form water. But when oxygen is separated from its chemical compounds, it is a gas at the temperatures present on earth. Humans cannot live for more than a few minutes without breathing a supply of oxygen gas from the air around us. In this sense, therefore, “removing the oxygen” essentially means “removing the life.” Virtually all of earth’s animal life forms are dependent on a continuous supply of oxygen in gas form.

Earth’s water cycle is a concept referenced, but not named, in scripture. Several other cycles, including the oxygen cycle, are not referenced in scripture. When scripture refers to cycles, we may be fairly certain those cycles were observationally affirmed. The authors of scripture did not possess the scientific knowledge we have in our day. In our time, we are gifted with the ability to discover scientific knowledge through the application of scientific method. For example, scientific analysis now tells us the atmosphere is composed of 78.09% nitrogen gas and 20.95% oxygen gas.

Knowledge of the oxygen cycle has been acquired using the methods discovered since the scientific revolution began in about 1600 AD. Oxygen and sugars (food) are produced in land plants and phytoplankton--water dwelling algae and cyanobacteria. This process is called photosynthesis, the synthesis of food from water and carbon dioxide in the presence of light. In turn, the animals, consuming the food and oxygen produced by the plants, produce their own life-giving energy and carbon dioxide as a by-product of a process called respiration. The carbon dioxide is then recycled back to the plants and the process begins all over again.

To support life on earth today the nitrogen/oxygen balance must be maintained precisely. If the balance is disrupted, even by a small amount, animal life and human life would suffer or become impossible. The nitrogen/oxygen balance has been maintained with great precision for thousands of years. This perfect balance is necessary for life as it exists on earth today. A reading of the literature does not reveal why the complex interchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide helps maintain such an exceedingly precise nitrogen/oxygen balance despite human activity on the planet.

Scientists and politicians argue about whether or not global warming actually occurs or may be caused anthropogenically by exceedingly slight changes in carbon dioxide composition which comprises only about 0.03% of the atmosphere. Our discussion does not begin to deal with the numerous factors which influence our weather apart from the release of greenhouse gases by human activity. As we discover what those factors are, it appears ever more clearly that our global environment is supernaturally fine tuned for the support of earth’s seven billion souls.