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A-Z of thought: Jurassic

Robert White

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The film Jurassic Park paints a vivid picture of scary dinosaurs rampaging across the landscape. If we could be transported back to Jurassic time it would indeed appear an alien place. Our atlases would not be much use either - the shapes and locations of the continents were quite different from now. England was at the latitude of the Mediterranean and much of what is presently land was shallow sub-tropical seas and tidal flats. The seas were teeming with now-extinct life including marine reptiles such as plesiosaurs and relatives of squids called ammonites and belemnites. Reptiles also flourished on land. The Jurassic coast in Dorset contains a superb record of these environments, with new fossils exposed every year as cliffs are eroded.

The Jurassic rocks (145-200 million years old) are just a small snapshot of an incredibly rich and varied geological history spanning the 4,567 million year age of our planet. A remarkable feature is that life existed on Earth as soon as environmental conditions made it possible. Ever since then, through thousands of millions of years, conditions on earth have remained favourable for life. This is despite the sun's power having increased by 30%, and the length of the day having increased from only 5-6 hours to the present 24 hours.

If the earth's surface temperature had risen above 100ºC, all the water would have boiled off and that would be the end of life as we know it. At the other extreme, were it not for the natural greenhouse effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide and water vapour, the earth's surface would be more than 30°C colder and would be a barren, icy waste. We can take this either as an amazing coincidence or, from a Christian standpoint, as an example of God's providence in continually upholding and sustaining the world as a place fit for life.

Another striking point is that humans have been present for only a tiny portion of earth's history. If the history of the earth were to be compressed into one year, modern Homo sapiens would be found only during the last 15 minutes before midnight on New Year's Eve. Taken in conjunction with the understanding that the conditions in the universe are finely tuned to make it possible for life to exist on earth - the anthropic principle - this gives reason for atheists to pause for thought and for Christians to rejoice in the creativity and sovereignty of the Creator God.

It also provides a humbling perspective on the position of humankind in the time-frame of the universe and adds striking significance to the Bible's assertion that humans are of especial importance to God (e.g., Gen. 1:26-31; Ps. 8).

Robert White