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The Carbon Cycle

You are probably familiar with the water cycle. Water evaporates into the air and condenses to fall as precipitation filling the rivers, lakes, and oceans to be used by plants and animals. Eventually it evaporates again to complete the cycle. There are other important cycles in the creation as well that reveal the wisdom of God in creation. The cycle we look at in this article is the carbon cycle.

Carbon atoms, like the other kinds of atoms in creation, can attach together like building blocks to make many different things. When carbon atoms are linked together into thin sheets, we have something called graphite that can be used to lubricate squeaky door hinges. When carbon atoms are linked together in a crystalline three-dimensional pattern, we get diamonds.

Carbon is an element of God’s creation that is also crucial for our life on earth. When carbon atoms link together with other carbon atoms, hydrogen atoms, and oxygen to form long chains we eat them as carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are found in most of the food we eat. When our bodies digest the carbohydrates, the chains are broken up and the energy that is released is used by our bodies for the work we do. The left over carbon atoms have two oxygen atoms attached and are exhaled as carbon dioxide.

When the carbon dioxide is exhaled from our lungs, the carbon is floating around in the air ready to be used by another creature of God: the plant. Plants take the carbon dioxide into the leaves. The plants also take water (oxygen + 2 hydrogen) and nutrients from the soil. The sun then supplies the energy necessary for the plant to break the two hydrogen atoms off from the water and link the carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms back up into more carbohydrates. In this process called photosynthesis, 6 carbon dioxide molecules + 12 water molecules + energy from the sun makes 1 molecule of sugar (carbohydrate) with 6 molecules of oxygen and 6 molecules of water left over. The oxygen atoms float back into the air again to be used by another person or animal. The carbon stays in the plant until it is eaten, decays, burns, or is otherwise destroyed.

When the carbohydrate is eaten, the cycle comes full circle. The carbon atoms are then broken apart, the energy in the carbohydrates is released and the carbon is exhaled into the air as carbon dioxide. The process of photosynthesis is reversed. One sugar (carbohydrate) + 6 oxygen molecules makes 6 molecules of carbon dioxide, 6 molecules of water and some energy.

Sometimes the carbon becomes trapped for many years in a tree. Sometimes it is trapped for thousands of years in the ground. During the flood of Noah’s time, a tremendous amount of plant life was buried under mud and silt and compressed into coal, oil, and natural gas. The carbohydrates within the plants were broken into smaller parts and arranged into something different: hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons are like carbohydrates except they do no not have any oxygen atoms. They are made only of carbon and hydrogen. We cannot eat hydrocarbons but we can burn them and use the energy to heat our homes, power our cars, and supply the industries that make all of our cars, telephones, and aluminum cans, etc.

Burning the hydrocarbons breaks up the carbon chains, just like our bodies break up the chains, and releases carbon dioxide into the air. In fact, hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide are released into the air each year with all of our burning. So much is released that the plants cannot use it fast enough. It is building up to levels never recorded before, making the insulating blanket around the earth thicker and keeping the earth warmer. Scientists call this warming the greenhouse effect and warn that it could cause catastrophic problems on the earth.

When we look at the carbon cycle through the spectacles of Scripture we see first of all the great wisdom of God. “And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food” (Genesis 2:9b). God is the one who made the plants and He caused them to grow and make carbohydrates as they do. God also made the moving creatures to breathe in the oxygen produced by the plants and breathe out the carbon dioxide necessary for the plants to grow. The plants themselves also serve as food for man and the other creatures. God taught the importance of plants and trees for man when he commanded Israel: “When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against them: for thou mayest eat of them, and thou shalt not cut them down (for the tree of the field is man’s life) to employ them in the siege” (Deut. 20:19). Every part of creation is useful for the other parts and together all things glorify the Creator.

When man looks at the carbon cycle, he imagines that plants and animals evolved together in such a way that they needed each other. Looking at the enormous oil, coal, and natural gas supplies, natural man with his evolutionary mindset can only explain it in terms of millions of years of dead plants building up and getting buried and compressed somehow. How so much coal and oil could be deposited in one place will forever remain a mystery to the wicked who refuse to deny the flood sent by God. The Scriptures, however, reveal the almighty power of God in the flood which saved His church. The flood also disrupted the carbon cycle by taking the carbon found in the abundant plant life out of the cycle for a time and burying it.

Today man is taking that carbon out of storage, burning it to run his machines, and spewing it back into the atmosphere. Some fear that the rapid burning of this stored carbon will lead to another global catastrophe—not of water but of heat. It is true, God will burn up this present creation as we read in II Peter 3:10. “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” How God will do this is not important. What is important is the fear which the ungodly have. God puts a fear of global destruction in the heart of the unbeliever even though he denies the Scriptures. We read in Romans 1:20: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:”

The storage of carbon laid up in the flood is an enormous resource of power for man. We cannot forget that God is the one who gives this power to man. Wicked man uses it to hasten his development in wickedness, but God uses even the inventions of wicked men as a means to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth.

The wonders of the carbon cycle reveal the wisdom of God. Man has only begun to understand the intricate details of photosynthesis and digestion. He sees the wonder of God but denies the power of God. He brings upon himself the wrath of God and the disruption of the carbon cycle. Sin has thoroughly corrupted man and the creation, but our hope is in Christ. “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (I Cor. 2:9).