EN6: Water — A miracle in every molecule!

In this Educational Note we’ll discuss three major topics:

1. The importance of water in the Bible – literally.
2. The importance of water in the Bible – symbolically.
3. The creatively brilliant design of water – physically – and its unique properties.

Water is the primordial substance of creation — the very first matter mentioned.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was
without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And
the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” — Genesis 1:1,2

Water plays roles in Scripture historically and symbolically. What is less obvious is that water itself — the physical nature of H2O and, by necessity, its subatomic constituents — is so designed as to make life possible and vibrant on planet Earth. The design of water reflects most favorably on the Great Designer, as we will explore below.

What are some of the Biblical uses of water physically? Let’s list a few:

– Genesis 1:6-8 . . . The establishment of the water vapor canopy provided the pre-flood Earth with a markedly different atmosphere compared to modern times. Considerable evidence of a globe-wide tropical environment includes fossils of flora and fauna from Antarctica to the north polar regions. Also, extinct varieties of huge tropical plants — plus huge reptiles — abounded throughout the globe, fairly independent of latitude.
– Genesis 1:9-10. . . Establishment of the seas separating the continents.
– Psalm 148:4-6 . . .
“Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created. He hath also established them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which shall not pass.”

These waters might simply refer to the vapor canopy or today’s atmospheric water. But such an interpretation tends to lift reasoning above the simple sense of Scripture. Now, this is somewhat speculative, of course, but the passage here seems to indicate that there are substantial waters above the heavens — not just above the first heaven, that is, the atmosphere. Perhaps — although the psalmist couldn’t have possibly known through any human agency — the heavenly waters refer to the “sea of glass like unto a crystal” found in Revelation 4:6, a sea fed by “a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb” — Revelation 22:1. We can’t know for sure, of course, until we get there!

– Exodus 14:26-31 . . . God reshapes the Red Sea to destroy the Egyptian army and to deliver His people.
– Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:11 . . . Water is miraculously supplied to the sojourning Israelites.
– Judges 15:19 . . . Water is miraculously supplied to Samson.
– 2 Kings 3:16-29 . . . Water is supplied to entice Israel’s enemies.
Let’s turn to symbolic applications of water.
– Numbers 19 and Numbers 31:23 . . . The “water of separation” involves an elaborate procedure to signify repentance and separation from sin.
– John 4:13-15 . . . The water of life represents everlasting salvation. See also Isaiah 12:2-3, 49:10, 55:1-2.
– John 7:37-39 . . . The Holy Spirit manifests Himself in “flowing rivers” of good works.
– Ezekiel 36:22-36 . . . Note the progression in this passage. God will provoke repentance and salvation for his own sake. Recall that this whole universe belongs to him! God’s purity is emphasized while he is restoring his people to a condition where they can have fellowship with the Lord AND be a witness to the heathen nations.
– Revelation 21:6 and 22:17 . . . God’s final pleas in Scripture, imploring lost souls to come to him and receive eternal life.

Let’s turn now to the physics of water. The more we study any aspect of God’s creation, the more we find that He is worthy of praise. So what’s so special about water?

Fluids “normally” involve molecules moving randomly around each other with no long-range order (like a crystal displays) or even short-range order. Water molecules exhibit short range order, however. The water molecule is shaped as a triangle, with the oxygen vertex making a 105 degree angle with respect to the two hydrogens. This is in contrast to many triatomic molecules which are linear — CO2 for example.

In the water molecule, the two hydrogens produce a local positively charged area. The oxygen “end” has a net negative charge. This charge separation (polarity) allows adjacent water molecules to lightly bond with each other in the so-called “hydrogen bond.” This is what makes water sticky, resulting in dramatically high values for surface tension and the energies required to melt and vaporize water.

The molecule’s charge separation results in a dielectric constant of about 80. What this means is that if you put an electric charge in the middle of some water, the effect of that charge will be reduced by a factor of 80. The nearby water molecules line up to oppose the electric force emanating from the “guest” charge. Eighty is a marvelously big number for this effect. Most materials have dielectric constants less than ten.

One fascinating application for water is as an electrical insulator! Specialized devices like particle accelerators or huge flash x-ray experiments often make use of room-sized pulsed power equipment. Pure — very pure — water is often used to insulate the various high voltage devices to prevent arcs and sparks. Don’t try this at home! The water must be ultra-distilled. But when it is pure, water is the most marvelous insulator.

Water is commonly used as a solvent — for everything from Kool-Aid to sulfuric acid. Water is effective because of its polarity. It reacts strongly with materials to pull them apart and dissolve them. That’s why it works so well as a cleaning agent, too.

Water is wonderfully effective in heating and cooling systems. Its heat capacity is high so that it can store enormous amounts of energy.

One of the oddest (compared to other fluids) properties of water is that it expands as the temperature drops below 4 C. It then expands further as it freezes at 0 C. Except for these expansions, life on earth would not be possible. If ice were denser than liquid water, lakes, rivers, and the oceans would freeze from the bottom up. Instead, water around 4 degrees Centigrade sinks to the bottom and colder water rises to the top and freezes. The ice floats with an underlying layer of cool water which is insulated by the ice from the environment. Ice is wonderfully low in heat conductivity. This property keeps the water below from freezing rapidly. Ice never gets more than a few meters thick in a large body of water.

When ice melts or liquid water evaporates, considerable “latent” heat is absorbed from the environment. Oppositely, heat is released when water condenses or freezes. This effect makes climatic changes far more mild than they would be otherwise. Note how so many snowfalls keep the air temperature close to 0 C. If water were a more “normal” fluid, lakes and rivers would vanish and reappear continually. For example, consider a lake during a hot summer. Atmospheric heat begins to vaporize the lake, but considerable heat is “sucked” out of the air in order to make it happen. The atmosphere cools accordingly. The lake survives. This negative feedback makes our planet not just habitable, but comfortable!

Let’s look at biological effects . . . The stickiness of water produces surface tension that enables plants to draw water upward. The water molecules arrange in symmetrical triangles on a flat plane holding stronger than the layers underneath — much like a lattice. When a plant grabs one, others tend to follow so absorbing water is more efficient. Large plants would be impossible otherwise. Surface tension also draws water into the cracks in rocks, weathering them — especially upon freezing, whereby the ice cracks the rocks, releasing minerals into the environment which enter the water table and ultimately, the oceans. Such minerals are necessary for the biochemistry of life.

Water has a low viscosity compared to other liquids. Denton (see reference) points out that tar is 10 billion times more viscous than water, glycerol one thousand times, olive oil about one hundred times, and sulfuric acid twenty-five times. Water’s low viscosity is essential in our bodies so that our heart can effectively pump blood through our systems. But a lower viscosity would be harmful. Water is viscous enough to mechanically insulate our muscular systems to prevent harm in delicate structures.

Also, if the viscosity were higher, fish couldn’t swim! Denton suggests that we imagine a fish swimming in molasses. Worse, our bodies couldn’t work. A man’s body is 60% water by weight. A woman’s body is 50% water by weight. Over half of this water is within cells. Water is the crucial medium wherein all the chemistry of life takes place — including all the wonders of metabolism derived from interconnected chains of hundreds of chemical reactions involving thousands of enzymes and delicate membrane structures. Water has just the right viscosity to allow both small and large molecules to diffuse into and throughout the cells.

Recall that the only way that large bodies (like our own and other large mammals) can function is that a circulatory system transports nutrients in and waste out. Insects can get by without one because their structures are thin enough so that diffusion works directly from the outside world. In mammals, however, arteries divide into capillaries which reach into all cellular structures. Capillaries are tubes narrow enough that you could run 10,000 in parallel through a pencil lead.

But capillaries won’t work unless the viscosity is low enough. If water’s viscosity were higher, the capillaries would have to be much bigger. Flow resistance goes as the inverse fourth power of tube diameter. Halve the diameter and the resistance goes up sixteen times! But large capillaries would take up all the real estate, leaving no room for the muscles they feed! So capillaries must be small, and viscosity must be low.

Also fascinating is that blood is a so-called non-Newtonian fluid. Its viscosity actually decreases as the velocity increases. This is not common in nature. But when your body goes into high gear and your heart pumps hard, you want lots of flow to provide oxygen and fuel to your subsystems. Your blood’s viscosity cooperates!

The discussion above is not exhaustive, by any means. But it’s enough that we should give the Creator, the Designer of water and all of its applications, due credit.

“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made:
marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.”

Psalm 139:14

References:

“Chemical Compounds,” article in Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed., 1989.
“Water,” article in Van Nostrund’s Scientific Encyclopedia, 6th ed. 1983.
Michael Denton, Nature’s Destiny, How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe, Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Definitions:

Viscous — thick like syrup or glue.
Viscosity — the resistance of a fluid to the motion of its molecules among themselves. The ability of a solid or semisolid to change its shape gradually under stress.
Surface tension — the tension of the surface film of a liquid that makes it contract to a minimum area. It is caused by molecular forces, and measured in terms of force per unit length.

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