The wonder of water: A challenge to evolution?

Without water, the profusion of life that exists on Earth would not be possible.

For decades, a worldwide struggle has been surreptitiously fought. An important part of humanity is unaware that such a conflict is taking place. In this fight, there are neither armed troops nor military preparations. In fact, its weapons are basically ink, paper, and the audiovisual and electronic media. As you can well imagine, this is an ideological battle: namely, to determine the origin of human life and species.

Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, published more than 150 years ago, is the starting point of this controversy in modern times, and it has given rise to a worldwide debate on the origins of life as we know it. The choices have been narrowed down to basically two options: creation and evolution. The former advocates that life and the universe came into existence as a result of planning and execution carried out by an intelligent being. The latter holds that the existence of millions of living species is the result of mere chance, a natural consequence of natural laws, without the intervention of any kind of external agent. The battle involves the interpretations of the evidence that each side of the divide puts forward to make its case.

The controversy on the origins is focused on living beings; however, even in the inanimate world we can find evidence of planning and design. Let us refer specifically to an unlikely example: water. Why is water so essential for human existence? The answer can be found both in the physical and chemical properties of water.

A liquid like no other

Throughout its scientific endeavors, humanity has synthesized countless liquids, mostly as a result of developments in organic chemistry. Out of this science, liquids such as acetone, acetic acid, chloroform, benzene, and ether have been produced. However, not one of them can be compared to water. The beautiful blue coloration that adorns our planet when observed from space comes from the water that fills the oceans covering two-thirds of the surface of Earth.

Some of the properties of water in its pure state are extremely well known: water is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. Liquids in general have some other properties, which can be quantified in a laboratory. When compared to the measurements of other liquids, water exceeds those liquids and even some solids.

An outstanding temperature moderator

If you have ever been at the beach on a sunny day, you may have noticed that wet sand is not as hot as dry sand. This is the result of an impressive quality of water: its high thermal capacity.1 If we take water and other substances and apply heat to each one of them under similar conditions, we will see that water does not heat as fast as the others. The caloric capacity of water is higher. The sand, the earth’s surface, and rocks heat up faster. In deserts, days are hotter and nights cooler if compared to places close to large bodies of water. This outstanding property of water, combined with its abundance on the surface of the earth, makes water act as a giant temperature moderator that keeps temperatures on the planet within a range that favors the ongoing development of life.

A providential capacity of flotation

If we place a piece of solid aluminum on liquid aluminum that has been melted at high temperatures, we will see that the solid piece will drop to the bottom, because it has a higher density. No matter the substance, if we repeat the experiment with a solid piece and melted liquid of the same substance, the result will always be the same: since its density is higher, the solid will always drop to the bottom of its own liquid.

But water in solid form (ice) does not sink; it floats. Imagine a large body of water during winter. As the water freezes on the surface because of the effect of cold air, one would expect frozen water to sink and deposit at the bottom; more ice would form on the surface, and the process would repeat endlessly from the bottom upwards until all kinds of aquatic life would be destroyed.

Providentially, that is not the case; in fact, when freezing, water molecules adopt a crystalline pattern that covers a larger area, which gives frozen water a lower density and makes ice float. The lower body of water stays liquid, since ice acts as an insulating agent and makes further freezing more difficult. This anomalous flotation of frozen water protects aquatic life under the frozen surface.

Moreover, water also dissolves oxygen from the air so that fish and other aquatic living beings are able to breathe and survive.

Blood, sweat, and sap

Water is properly called the universal solvent, since it can dissolve many salts and other substances. This is essential for all living creatures – even for microscopic ones – since it is the means by which molecules of substances inside their cells react. The smooth running of every single living creature depends on these reactions in a watery medium. Thus, from ancient times, dehydration has been used as a means of food preservation, because without water, microorganisms corrupting food cannot survive.

Human beings and animals alike depend on a system of internal transportation to carry nutrients to their cells and to collect waste substances produced by them. Blood is the agent in charge of carrying out this double purpose. Its red corpuscles pass through the lungs and collect oxygen, which is then distributed throughout the body. That is why, when a living creature loses blood, within a short while its existence is compromised. The effectiveness and operation of this wonderful liquid substance is based in water, its solvent base.

When we exercise vigorously, our muscles produce excess heat, wich has to be removed in order to preserve the internal temperature of the body. To this end, we possess a cleverly-designed system. Physical exercise produces the formation of small drops of sweat on our skin. This body liquid, also water-based, removes a lot of heat,2 evaporating and refreshing us in the process. Thus, water contributes to efficient regulation of body temperature.

Plants also depend on water for their survival. They do not have a heart or a circulatory system as animals and humans do, but they possess an impressive mechanism for absorbing water and nutrients from the soil through their roots up to great heights, against gravity, even reaching the crowns of the highest trees. We still cannot understand fully the amazing mechanism, which is nevertheless interpreted through the coheso-tenso-transpiratory theory, based on the properties of water. The surface tension and the water traction tension combine to propel radical sap through the tiny woody vessels up to 250 and even 300 feet, to the top of the highest trees. The evaporation of water inside the leaves, combined with the high cohesive strength of water, helps to suck the sap up to great heights. The high levels of surface tension, traction tension, and the cohesive strength of water are combined to create an amazing botanic force which makes the existence of the majestic sequoias and other tall trees possible.

A high boiling point

When heated, every liquid persistently reaches a threshold temperature that becomes its boiling point.3 A liquid in a pure state will always boil at the same temperature. Thus, the boiling point can be used, together with other properties, to identify an unknown liquid. Water has a boiling point which is almost 200°C higher than the score predicted according to the periodic table.4 If such is not the case, water could not exist as a liquid in this planet but as a vapor, and thus, neither blood nor sap would be possible. Cells would not exist either, because without water, the essential chemical reactions would be impossible. Thus, the exceptionally high boiling point of water makes life possible on this planet.

A true water of life

There is a curious aspect related to water: heavy water. It is well known that each molecule of water has two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen (as expressed in the formula H2O). In heavy water, the two atoms of hydrogen are substituted by two atoms of deuterium, a heavy isotope of hydrogen. The new formula is D2O. In every sample of water, there is a molecule of D2O for every 7,000 molecules of H2O, which is a very low ratio. However, scientists can produce heavy water which is almost 100 per cent D2O, to be used in nuclear reactors as a neutron moderator. Heavy water is similar to regular (or light) water, but its properties are quantitatively superior. What is truly surprising about heavy water is that seeds soaked in it do not germinate, and mice that just drink heavy water die of thirst.

Literally, water is life. Where there is no water, there is no life. Period. In deserts where water is scarce, living beings are scarce too. But where there is abundant water, as is the case in tropical rainforests, there is abundance of life everywhere. Thus, life proves to be directly proportional to the existence of water. And in fact, every single creature is composed mostly of water – from 70 to 95 per cent of every living matter. The correlation between water and life is so close that when astronomers discover water in any planet, they speculate that life could also be found there.

Water refutes Darwinisn

Our blue planet is unique. Astron-omers have reported the existence of icecaps on Mars and in some of the moons in our solar system. However, these celestial bodies do not possess water in its liquid state. And there is no doubt that other planets and moons cannot hold water, either because they are too hot (and consequently, could only have water present in the form of vapor) or because they are too cold (and so water could be present only as ice). On the other hand, the mild climate of Earth makes it possible for water to be present in the three states of matter.

Sheer chance, which is the base of Darwinian thought, is not able to explain convincingly the co-existence in our cosmic residence of the long list of factors which are essential for life. Among them, we could mention, besides the extraordinary water, the right distance from the sun, an ideal range of temperatures, and the presence of an atmosphere with an adequate concentration of oxygen. It is very unlikely that a series of fortunate accidents could ever produce a system so perfectly adjusted for life like the one we are able to enjoy here on this planet. It is even less rational to think that as a chemical substance, water has “evolved” so as to reach its current properties, which are in fact essential for the presence of life. It is impossible for inanimate matter to become an active part in evolutionary processes. The possible explanation for the existence of such an extraordinary substance as water is that it was designed to maintain and support life.

Ordinary but special

In spite of being quite ordinary, water still is extraordinary. Its ability to evaporate easily from oceans and lakes and to condense in clouds that eventually turn to rain makes up an immense distillation system which provides pure water, essential for life.

Chemists know that the unusual properties of water are caused by the ability of molecules of water to form “hydrogen bridges.” When the properties of water are quantitatively compared with the properties of other substances, the first are usually higher. Without its great thermal properties, high heat of vaporization level, unusual floatability in its solid state, high boiling point, superior surface tension, high traction tension, and impressive molecular cohesion, among others, no living creature could dream of surviving. Really, water is a chemical substance made accurately and perfectly for life.

The importance of water exceeds our daily needs of cooking, drinking, and washing. Water is a magical substance that prompts seeds out of their slumber into germination. Health is closely related to water. Water inside and water outside the body is a simple and inexpensive recipe to prevent unknown numbers of illnesses.

This amazing liquid is an additional link in the chain of pieces of evidence that creationism uses to assert that life, our planet, and the universe have been designed by an intelligent being.

Truly, in our planet, life is everywhere. And without water, this profusion of life would not be possible. In the battle over origins, Darwinism cannot offer a convincing explanation when advocating for the random emergence of life and matter, including water. When we stop to analyze the amazing properties of water, we cannot but single out major pieces of evidence, which all support creationism.

Hugo García, (M.Sc. in chemistry Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas) has taught chemistry at the University Lisandro Alvarado, Venezuela. Currently, he is supervisor of chemical processes in a private company in Venezuela.

Notes and references

  1. The thermal capacity is the quantity of heat necessary to produce a unit change of temperature in a unit mass of a substance. The thermal capacity of water is between 2 and 30 times higher than that of other substances.
  2. When evaporating, every gram of water subtracts 540 calories from the body, a substantial quantity of heat.
  3. Boiling points change in altitude; that is why it is usually calculated at sea level.
  4. This can be visualized if we use a chart to show the boiling point of the hydrides of the elements of the oxygen group (water is “oxygen hydride”) in the periodic table against their atomic number.