Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Liquid of Life

Continuing reflections from a brilliant read entitled A Meaningful World by Benjamin Wiker & Jonathan Witt; let’s focus some well-deserved attention onto something taken for granted every day. Many instances of the extraordinary fine-tuning of our universe are outlined in the book, all of which point to purposeful design as opposed to mindless chance, but none of which are more amazing than water.

Someone with an atheistic worldview once told me that the fine-tuning of the universe is no more remarkable than a puddle of water. We can observe that water will perfectly fit the shape of the puddle hole. No one ever asks, “What are the odds of that particular amount of water fitting that particular hole so perfectly?” I responded something to the effect that the puddle is a conditioned reality like any other physical reality. What are the physical conditions needed for the water to fit the hole and why does it need to be that way? Why does anything need to be anyway at all? It relates to the metaphysical question of “Why somethinginstead of nothing?”

Besides being able to fit a puddle hole, water has a litany of amazing properties that no one could ever guess given only water; they are only discovered in the context of water as the liquid of life.

Simplicity: Earth, wind, fire and water are not basic elements as once thought, but water is as simple and plentiful as a compound can be. This simplicity made it easy to recognize the two basic elements of hydrogen and oxygen in a simple 2:1 ratio (H2O), which was an enormous intellectual leap for mankind.
What if our plentiful liquid of life was glycerol (CH2OHCHOHCH2OH)? In terms of learning about the reality of elements which led to the discovery of atoms, water acts almost like a simple ubiquitous tutorial, like learning to read using Dick & Jane instead of Shakespeare.

Freezing and Expanding: Every kid in science class learns that things expand when they get hot and contract as they get cold. Water contracts as it gets colder too, but to a point, that point being about 4°C, then a sudden burst of expansion occurs around 0°C. This makes ice float.

Liquid water must be readily available on the surface of the earth for life to exist. Ice that sinks would not only hinder the biological processes at the bottom of a large body of water, but also accumulate as solid ice under the murky water far from the melting rays of the sun.

Specific Heat: It takes a lot of energy to heat water. Water has the highest specific heat of any liquid except ammonia. 70% of the planet’s surface is water which is a good thing for us since it helps regulate the earth’s temperature.  Think of the hot sand on the beach on a hot day as compared to the cool water. What if water heated just as fast as sand? What would that mean for not only the earth, but for our waterlogged bodies as we generate metabolic heat?!? We all know how it feels if our body temperature goes up just a few degrees.

Latent Heat of Evaporation: It takes a lot of heat to evaporate water and when it does finally does evaporate it takes a lot of heat with it. Water is not only a remarkable cooling liquid for our bodies as sweat, but evaporation in tropical areas carries latent heat to colder climates which is released as it condenses. No other substance could absorb, store, transport and release so much heat.

Latent Heat of Fusion: An unusually high latent heat of fusion means that as water freezes in winter it releases the heat it absorbed the previous spring when it melted. Remember that the next time you complain a lake is freezing over. It would be even colder if water did not have this additional temperature stabilizing property.

A Powerful Solvent: Water is a powerful solvent that is also not highly reactive like other solvents; it releases minerals from rocks without attacking biological entities and is also a great circulator of its precious cargo, being that it remains a flowing liquid at the just the right temperatures. The expanding trick of water as it freezes opens the cracks and crevasses of rocks, releasing even more life giving minerals.

High Surface Tension: Surpassed only by liquid mercury, the surface tension of water is curiously high. Water can rise to great heights and if trees and other large vegetation could be thankful, I’m sure they would be, since no extra effort is needed to pull the water up. There would be no large vegetation on earth if not for this property, and what would that do to the planet’s ecosystem?  Additionally, clingy water will not just soak through to deep soil and underground streams. It grips to particles near the surface long enough for roots to soak it up.

Another Convenient Coincidence: The liquid of life just happens to exits in all three phases (solid, liquid, gas) within the same biological temperature range that carbon based life can occur.

Water is remarkably fine-tuned for life. One must accept the premise that all its properties are either a mindless coincidence or designed for a purpose; the purpose of life. Impartial reasoning accepts the principle that things which appear intelligently designed…are in fact intelligently designed. Things do not magically design themselves no matter how much we would like them to. A quote in the book by agnostic physicist Fred Hoyle points to how some are rediscovering this intellectual honesty.

“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as the chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”
– Fred Hoyle




  1. Fine post Ben, and as another illustration of great minds travel in the same road...
    my post, "The Theology of Water--Is Design Intelligent?" based on a fine sci-fi short story "The Theology of Water" by Hilbert Schenck.

    1. Excellent! I'll check it out.
      Thanks Bob

    2. forgot to give the URL

  2. So your point is -- water is cool, therefore the God of Abraham?

    You're going to have to do better than that.

    1. Hi Anony,
      Incorrect. The point is "intellectual honesty".

  3. There are good arguments for the existence of God. The ‘fine-tuning’ argument is not one of them. The ‘fine-tuning’ argument is self-inconsistent. The valid range of probability is zero to one. There is no sub-range from 0 to alpha, where values of probability, being so close to zero, are invalid. Yet, this is what the fine-tuning argument requires, namely the necessary validity of probability from zero to one, but its invalidity from zero to alpha, where alpha is greater than zero, but less than one.

  4. I dealt with the problems of the fine-tuning argument at http://canepancakegravy.blogspot.com/2014/04/billion-dollar-brackets-and-fine-tuning.html.