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Monday, December 01, 2014

I'm thankful for Oxygen

Thankful for Oxygen

I'm thankful for Oxygen. You should be, too.

Oxygen is found in most of the important molecules in our bodies. Water, proteins, DNA, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, hormones, and others. That, alone, would be cause for gratitude. But there's more.

Oxygen, well, oxidizes. So? Oxidation means that Oxygen has the power to combine with other atoms and give off energy in the process. Some such reactions are slow -- rusting of iron, for instance. But some are rapid. Fire is an oxidation reaction. (The sun is not on fire, in this sense. There's very little oxygen in it, and the energy from the sun comes from another source.)

Most of us burn gasoline in our cars. Gasoline is mostly a mixture of hydrocarbons, a molecule, for instance, such as octane, with eight Carbons and eighteen Hydrogens. When a mixture of octane and Oxygen is ignited, the resulting products are carbon dioxide and water. The production of water in this way releases energy, which is used to cause gas to expand, thus moving the pistons, which motion, with the proper apparatus, causes the wheels of the automobile to turn.

In living things, a somewhat similar process takes place, not in the cylinders, but in tiny energy converters called mitochondria. The process is called cellular respiration, and the reason we require Oxygen, and breathe air to get it, is because Oxygen is needed in our mitochondria, so that energy may be released. Red blood cells use hemoglobin to carry Oxygen from our lungs to all the cells in our bodies. Each cell uses that Oxygen to release energy.

Fuel, in this case food, is oxidized rapidly, and the energy given off is used to produce adenosine triphosphate. Most of the energy given off comes from the oxidation of Hydrogen, which produces water, one of the byproducts of the processes taking place in the mitochondria. The other byproduct is carbon dioxide. To summarize, food is oxidized, releasing energy and giving off carbon dioxide and water. There are a few living things that use different methods to get energy. Yeasts, for example, use a different process. But even green plants, which make their own food by photosynthesis, need to carry on cellular respiration when it is dark, in order to provide themselves with energy, which means that they need Oxygen.

Fire is important to humans. It has many uses -- in manufacturing, in providing light and heat. Fire requires Oxygen. The atmosphere is about 21% Oxygen. It has been suggested that that is enough so that Oxygen is readily available for breathing, and to keep fires burning, but that if the amount of Oxygen was much higher, fires would become harder to put out.

Here's a statement about the significance of fire as part of the worship of the Israelites:
Leviticus 6:12 The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it, it shall not go out; and the priest shall burn wood on it every morning: and he shall lay the burnt offering in order upon it, and shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. 13 Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out. (World English Bible, public domain)

God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush, and to the Israelites as a column of fire. Were these fires caused by oxidation, or was this some supernatural appearance of fire? We don't know.

We need Oxygen, for many of the molecules that allow us to live, for fire, and to provide our own bodies with usable energy. I believe, but cannot prove, that God designed Oxygen so that this would be possible. It can't be disproved, either. Thanks for reading!

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