October 10, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Is Water Miraculous?

It depends on your definition of miracle, but one professor thinks the word might aptly be applied to H2O.

In “The Universe’s Most Miraculous Molecule” on The Conversation, Dr. Richard Gunderman, a professor at Purdue, can’t get over water’s many unique properties that support life.  It’s so remarkable, it seems to surpass nature.

It’s the second most abundant substance in the universe. It dissolves more materials than any other solvent. It stores incredible amounts of energy. Life as we know it would not be possible without it. And although it covers more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, many parts of the world are in dire straits for lack of it. What is it?

The answer, of course, is water. In some ways, water is one of the substances we know best, in part because it makes up 75% of our bodies. Every day we drink it, bathe in it, clean with it and use it to dispose of our wastes. Yet scientists are still striving to understand many of water’s remarkable properties, and the 21st century will force us to think about water like we never have before.

Here are some the properties of water he finds intriguing:

  1. Hydrogen bonds cause water molecules to have high attraction to one another.
  2. Water’s high specific heat means it takes a lot of energy to warm it. This helps humans remove heat by perspiration.
  3. Water’s high boiling point compared to similar liquids keeps it in the range for life’s liquid requirements.
  4. Capillarity, due to the molecules’ attraction, allows water to rise in the vessels of trees with a pulling action.
  5. Surface tension allows some animals like water striders to walk on water.
  6. Water’s polarity makes it almost a universal solvent.
  7. “Even more remarkably, water is practically the only substance known to man that, as it cools from its liquid to solid state, actually expands.” Because ice is 9% less dense than water, ice floats, and, consequently, Earth does not freeze solid.
  8. Water is dynamic on Earth, continually evaporating, traveling over land, condensing, and flowing back to the seas.
  9. Water is dynamic in life, too, cycling between photosynthesis and respiration.
Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, by David Coppedge

Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, by David Coppedge

Gunderson, who teaches medicine, liberal arts and philanthropy, shares some additional facts about water that are interesting to know:

  • All of Earth’s water could be contained in a sphere 860 miles in diameter.
  • Water covers more than 70% of the planet, but 97% of it is in the oceans.
  • 70% of the Earth’s fresh water is bound up in glaciers and Antarctica, leaving only a tiny percentage accessible.
  • Fresh water may become a more valuable commodity than petroleum in the 21st century.
  • Hydrogen literally means “water maker.”
  • Digestion of glucose produces 6 molecules of H2O.
  • The glucose reaction occurs six septillion times per day in our bodies, but that doesn’t produce enough water for our needs.
  • The surface tension of water is so strong that some premature infants cannot inflate their lungs without a surfactant to reduce it.
  • Since a snowflake contains 10 quintillion water molecules, it’s understandable why no two snowflakes are alike.

He ends with his “miracle” story:

A saying often misattributed to Albert Einstein claims there are two ways to lead a life. The first is as though nothing is a miracle, and the second is as though everything is a miracle. Water is entirely natural, hugely abundant and so necessary to life that our cells are bathed in it. Yet it is also so remarkable that, as a physician and scientist, I regard it as little short of miraculous.

The word miracle can mean different things, as C.S. Lewis explains in his book, Miracles.  Perhaps the greater miracle is that, while all other organisms simply use water, only human beings explore its properties and ponder its significance.

It’s good to be reminded of this subject.  What could be simpler and more familiar than water?  Yet Gunderson says that “scientists are still striving to understand many of water’s remarkable properties, and the 21st century will force us to think about water like we never have before.” Here’s a way we recommend scientists think about it like they never have before, or haven’t for a long time: intelligent design.

Intelligent design explains things that would otherwise be miraculous. Consider just the order of letters in this article. The probability they would come together by natural causes to be meaningful is astronomically small, yet one person with a mind sitting at a computer can order them for a purpose. Similarly, the chance that unguided nature would so fine-tune a universe to permit the existence of a liquid with water’s properties is unthinkably remote. If the Creator, with infinite power and wisdom, made it to be inhabited, that makes sense.  Minds can achieve things that unguided nature never could. Minds, therefore, can explain miracles.

Take a drink of fresh water; take a swim; hike through a forest, and as you perspire, observe the trees lifting water high into the air against gravity. Think about how for each of these common experiences, in a rational sense, you are experiencing a miracle. How amazing it is that they also produce pleasure.



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