Chapter 2

Soil Is Scarce

Whether it was because of economics or hard labor, it appears that none of my uncles demonstrated a desire to maintain the intimacy with soil that has characterized farmers for millennia. For most of human history, to farm or not to farm was hardly an option. To eat, you had to kill an animal, forage, or cultivate the earth.

As the first book of the Bible indicates, farming was the original occupation. The second chapter of Genesis recounts a familiar understanding about our first parents, Adam and Eve:

The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. . . . Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it (Gen. 2:8,15).

On the Ohlman farm, passages like this were no doubt read aloud many times—an after-dinner Scripture-reading tradition my father carried on in our home.

Contrary to popular opinion, it’s clear from this passage that God gave us work even before the Fall. God required that Adam maintain the fruitfulness of the garden. On this original farm, however, tending the soil was not arduous or exhausting.

Contrary to popular opinion, it’s clear from Genesis 2:15 that God gave us work even before the Fall.

It’s fascinating to contemplate how gardening as an occupation may have differed from farming as it became after the Fall—one of hard labor. No doubt our attitude toward cultivating the earth then would have been significantly different. Any dirt farmer who has pulled thistles or hacked away thorny shrubs invading his cultivated land likely finds it difficult to imagine tending a farm as something he could enjoy.

A Common Miracle. Dirt is something we usually want to get rid of. To the fussy homemaker, it lurks everywhere, boldly making entrance with every child or, like Carl Sandburg’s fog, even creeping in “on little cat feet.” In terms of the cosmos, however, dirt— soil—is exceedingly scarce. To get an idea about the extreme rarity of soil, imagine the earth as an apple. Cut it in half and examine the flat side. A tiny rim of red skin barely shows at the outer edge. That slim arc represents the soil thinly spread across the surface of our planet.

What are the implications of this mental picture? Here are a few: The only life we’re aware of in the entire cosmos is what we see on earth. Billions of heavenly bodies are stretched across an expanse beyond our ability to imagine, and the only sign of life is here on our little apple. Further, all such life is concentrated at or near the surface. A skimpy skin on a little planet is home to all material life that exists in the universe! Aside from what exists in the realm beyond our consciousness (the dwelling place of God and the unseen angels and spirits), all thinking, all procreation, all music and art, all hating and loving, all laughing and crying, all joy and sorrow are generally confined to within a few feet of the earth’s surface— all because of soil.

Soil is the anchor of the biosphere, the segment of the earth and its atmosphere where all life exists. The peak of Everest at 29,000 feet above sea level marks the upper limit of the sphere, and the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean at about 36,000 feet below sea level marks the extreme lower limit. So the maximum area of our planet capable of containing all life is a lean layer hardly 12 miles thick. And at the extremes there is little life at all. If you could take a core sample from the earth all the way through its 8,000-mile diameter, you’d find that the biosphere is merely the top and bottom 350th of your core sample.

I find it interesting to note that astrophysicists can provide us no earthly explanation for the existence of carbon-rich soil on this planet. That much carbon, by their assessment, could not have an earthly origin. But they can detect huge clouds of carbon-containing molecules in space that seem to be the result of star explosions. Their most recent conjecture is that this key life-giving element in soil is extraterrestrial. Simply put, they say we’re all made of stardust— no surprise to Tinkerbell! These, and countless other findings, merely add more significance to the truism: Life is a miracle.

It Takes A Universe. When science first came to understand the vastness of the universe and began to inform the public of its findings, many people of faith were disturbed— especially when scientists suggested that the earth is merely an insignificant speck in an unfathomably large cosmos. They thought the Bible implied that the earth was the center of the universe, not just a minuscule planet floating in some “tiny backwater” in space, as asserted by Bertrand Russell. This outspoken English skeptic declared in his book Religion And Science that “the Copernican revolution will not have done its work until it has taught men more modesty than is to be found among those who think Man sufficient evidence of Cosmic Purpose.”

It’s ironic that Russell, no humble man himself, would admit the need for mankind to consider itself and its wee planet as next to meaningless. In his era, however, it indeed seemed that our planet had to be considered as nothing more than a “pale, blue dot” in the fathomless ocean of space. That was the picture painted by another agnostic, Carl Sagan, who dramatically highlighted for us on public television the fact that modern astronomy has revealed that there are “billions and billions” of galaxies in existence. Certainly, suggested Sagan, we can’t be the only intelligent creatures in so vast a universe. Hence he inspired the ongoing multibillion- dollar hunt for extraterrestrial life—which, so far, has been a fruitless search (see Discovery Series booklet Are We Alone In The Cosmos? Q1110).

Today the minds of scientists are reeling as they contemplate the significance of the earth. What’s becoming increasingly evident is that the earth is not the center of the universe and not even the center of our solar system. By all logical and mathematical appearances, it seems to be the center of attention for Someone with awesome intelligence and skill who indeed purposed the earth not just for life, but for human life. The facts now asserted about the physics of all the forces and objects in space are compelling scientists to grapple with a theory they refer to as the anthropic principle. In simple terms, this theory states that by all appearances, the nature and main purpose of the entire universe is to support life, especially human life, on this tiny speck of a planet. They now realize that it is for good reason that the earth is not the center of the universe or of our solar system. If it were, it could not support life. It needs to be exactly where it is, and the entire cosmos must have its exact characteristics for life to exist. Simply put, it takes a universe to make earth the sole “living” planet.

By all appearances, the nature and main purpose of the entire universe is to support life, especially human life, on this tiny speck of a planet.

While the psalmist David didn’t know such facts about outer space, he certainly did grasp the implication of human life in reference to it:

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. . . . O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth! (Ps. 8:3-5,9). The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard (Ps. 19:1-3).

And the marvel is that material life exists because of a layer of soil on this, our divinely privileged planet.