Monday, November 13, 2017

Our Miracle Immersed Planet

We observe our planetary home’s beauty and functionality with awe and wonder. We consider how this world came to be with its many complex interlocking systems. Our planet functions for the benefit of humanity and all life forms as a marvelously dynamic machine. Older generations hark back to early Sunday School flannel graph visual lessons where teachers informed us that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” As children, perhaps we did not thoroughly understand the meaning of create, but we embraced the lessons with simple childlike faith. In later years teachers taught us about miracles in connection with God’s creative work in the production of our home planet. God’s act of creating the world and its living things was a miracle, our teachers stated.

Sometime between teens and adulthood we experienced a discussion of miracles. Did this term always refer to the physical production of something which did not previously exist? or the change in molecular structure of organs of sight to permit a blind person to see? or even the immediate healing of some other bodily ailment unaccompanied by any time-dependent healing process? In Christian theology Jesus was resurrected from the dead—the ultimate miracle. We frequently hear acquaintances proclaiming that certain events indicate the occurrence of a miracle. Belief or disbelief in miracles may relate to belief or disbelief in the existence of God. Our understanding of the multidimensional meanings of the term miracle, however, is often inadequate.

We introduced the topic of existence of different sorts of miracles in a recent post:  We listed three types of miracles from Hugh Ross’s volume More Than a Theory. Below we quote  additional defining passages from that work:

  1. Transcendent miracles involve acts God performed outside or beyond the limitations imposed by the laws of physics and the space-time dimensions of the universe.
  2. Transformational miracles involve God’s direct actions to refashion a particular aspect of his created realm to produce something of much higher complexity and functionality. These miracles took place within the laws of physics and space-time dimensions of the universe.
  3. Sustaining miracles involve God’s continuous work throughout history to ensure that everything in the universe maintains the just-right delicately balanced conditions necessary to support human life.

In the history of Earth God has performed relatively few transcendent or transformational miracles. Our analysis proposes that transcendent miracles are rare. Transformational miracles are unusual events often resulting in extraordinary results. Finally, Sustaining miracles occur every moment of our lives. The Apostle Paul may have had this truth in mind when he penned Colossians 1:16-17: “For by him (Christ) all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…and in him all things hold together.” In a theological sense the truth of this passage holds and its scientific application extends to the framework of our physical existence. 

Each instant we are sustained by coherent natural laws affecting every aspect of our physical lives. These are principles governing the behavior of atomic matter surrounding us moment by moment. For example, there are forces by which charged particles in the nucleus of every atom consistently and predictably hold together. Charged nuclear particles are constantly moving, bathing the cosmos in unlimited quantities of electromagnetic radiation. We are governed by hundreds of physical laws such as the force of gravity. The Creator established these working forces and laws when He created the heavens and the earth—forces and laws which exist constantly and unalterably. We are describing inherently present sustaining miracles. They need not be renewed each moment.

Sustaining miracles undergird our physical existence. Such miracles are not less impressive than more spectacular transforming and transcendent miracles, but the latter two types of miracles reap more public attention. This may be explained by their relative rarity.

A favorite scripture we have quoted many times is Acts 17:28: “For in him we live and move and have our being…” The Apostle Paul presented this truth as an apologetic for the very existence of God, the Creator, to the men of Athens who worshipped “AN UNKNOWN GOD.” The writer of Hebrews states, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3 NIV). Knowledge of sustaining miracles is an important foundation of our daily worship and devotional experience. Moreover, the knowledge of these different types of miracles serves as personal affirmation for God’s existence as Creator and Designer. We encourage discussion in our churches concerning the nature of miracles. 





Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Humanity's Home Preparation

Skillful preparation of a residential homesite is a complex process. There are many layers of preparation sequences as a home is constructed in anticipation of owner occupancy. Many families have documented the steps of building their new home. This includes the initial search for a physical site, architectural planning, financial accountability, ground breaking, and step by step physical construction. Builders and owners check to insure all correct steps are carefully implemented. When the home is completed and the new owners take possession, there is a feeling of pride and excitement. Our family experienced the beginning to end home building process on two occasions. The building lot was initially selected. We devoted several months to observing and “supervising.” We preserved the historical process with paperwork and photography. Now that we have lived in our home many years these records compose a valuable family historical archive.

Earth, humanity’s home, preserves a record of its construction process. Our planet was not prepared for human habitation with a metaphorical snap of God’s finger. God could have created Earth with all its millions of species, thick sequences of rock layers, and a functioning atmospheric and hydrological system in one millisecond, a virtual timeless instant. He is the creator of everything, including dozens of physical constants and thousands of laws of nature. Physical constants and laws of nature join to comprise our temporal reality. He supervises the production of our world in cause and effect manifestations over the extended time frames He also created. Many believers in creation feel endorsing long time periods over which God has worked somehow diminishes God’s creative activity. This is not so! Instantaneous creation would be considered a transcendent miracle. The Creator could have worked that way. More often God works in Earth history through transformational miracles. Such miracles are not instantaneous events. Nevertheless, they manifest works of God, who created ALL things, including physical constants working hand in hand with physical cause and effect laws.

Planet Earth is currently humanity’s home. In the past 200 years geologists have discovered plentiful information about Earth’s historic building processes. Several generations of earth scientists have discovered a valuable human family historical archive revealing how the Earth has been prepared to support the current 7.5 billion person throng of human residents. Ice Ages—their advance and periodic retreat, have played a major role in the building process.

Cutting through the current politically correct vocalizations of climate change, aka global warming, is the scientific truth that the Earth has experienced numerous ups and downs of temperature and atmospheric composition from natural causes throughout its exceedingly long history. While not denying that some current warming may be related to increased CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, we counsel that a detailed look at Earth’s climate history in the last 2.8 million years (the Quaternary era) should dampen enthusiasm for the current cause célèbre of dreaded climate change in connection with nearly every current weather event. It is certainly true that many of Earth’s glaciers are melting. They have been melting ever since the Little Ice Age came to a close about 1850. More important, early glacial melting since the end of the Wisconsin glaciation event makes our present glacial melting appear almost insignificant by comparison. It is true that sea level has been rising since 1900—a total of about 8”. Historically, sea level from the Cambrian Period until today was much higher. During the greatest extent of global glaciation during the Wisconsin Ice Age of the last 100,000 years, sea level was hundreds of feet lower than today. This occurred only 20,000 years ago.

Presently we exist in what is termed an interglacial period. In the past 800,000 or 900,000 years there have been eight glacial periods during which ice covered large portions of the globe. They were separated by interglacial periods such as the one in which we presently exist. There is evidence that fully human beings likely lived in the warm climates of the previous interglacial. Their lives were difficult. Their existence was even harsher during the last extended Ice Age. The onset of civilized humanity began with the conclusion of the Wisconsin Ice Age about 12,000 years ago and continues to the present.

Our current interglacial is unusual in the history of interglacials of the past million years. Most interglacials have produced a rapid temperature spike of 5-7ºF higher than world temperatures occurring in our day. Had such a temperature spike occurred, our modern globally distributed, technologically advanced human population would be impossible. The Earth’s last glacial period from 120,000 to 12,000 years ago was one of the most intense of all known glacial periods of the past million years. It peaked at maximum ice volume about 21,000 years ago when sea levels were an incredible 410’ below the present level. 

Our current interglacial beginning about 12,000 years ago enabled significant population growth, but nothing like we have experienced from 1800 to the present when human population expanded almost eight-fold. We are historically privileged to live in an unusually stable interglacial period. No previous interglacial has ever been appropriate for the thriving of a large, human population. We envision our unique planetary home in the current stable interglacial period as a special God-ordained provision for the benefit of humanity.     




Friday, November 3, 2017

What Sort of Miracle?

Miracle is a term with many meanings in different contexts. When the term is used in connection with radical or unexplained improvement in one’s medical condition—miracle is frequently applied. Seldom do people comment on what type of miracle has occurred. Most people tacitly understand and approve characterizations of such events as miraculous. For example, recently a local newspaper reported on the startling recovery of a young boy from over a half dozen separate serious injuries suffered when he dashed across the road without first looking for oncoming traffic. We concur with this use of the term miracle with the caveat that the term has multidimensional meanings.

When God fashioned the Earth with its present functionality we could apply many instances in which miracle describes a series of highly remarkable events. We launch our discussion by referring to our previous post on the cause of Earth’s distinct seasons. The tilt of our planet’s axis, currently 23.4º from a right angle relationship to Earth’s orbital plane, is theorized to result from the collision of Earth with another planetary body shortly after our satellite became a solid body. The hypothetical collision caused an orbital deflection which resulted in our planet’s seasonal characteristics even to this day. Most Solar System planets have seasons related to the period of their orbits, (length of time for one revolution) but the presence of life on any of them is not evident.

The presence of warm and cold seasons on our planet is the cause for speculation: Are Earth’s seasons a miracle? or are seasons merely the result of one of many natural “occurrences?” Earth’s seasons have given rise to a multitude of unique planetary characteristics. For starters, scientists acknowledge that the existence of 7 1/2 billion Earth residents on an Earth without seasons could not be sustained. Contrasting seasons have supported and continue to support a diverse and expanding human population! Is the presence of seasons and numerous other life-enabling features of our planet a miracle? If so, we ask, what sort of miracle?

In common public perception, a miracle is sometimes described as highly remarkable, wonderful, unlikely, or coincidental to a high degree. Recovery from an illness described medically as “terminal” causes us to speculate on the possibility of a miracle. The birth of a baby, given the occurrence of a multitude of wondrous circumstances immediately following conception followed by incredible prenatal events in the womb, inspires many to exult in the manifestation of a miracle as described in Psalm 139:13-16. We frequently meditate on the wondrous Old Testament Book of Job, especially chapters 36-41 where Job was questioned whether he appreciated the many works of Almighty God as manifest in the natural world. Many events described in these Book of Job chapters could be described as miracles.

Hugh Ross, in More Than a Theory, (Baker Books, 2009) describes three different kinds of miracles. Generally, his scheme for outlining miracles matches distinctions among miracles made by other authors. These miracles are Transcendent miracles, Transformational miracles, and Sustaining miracles. Ross’s categories range from events truly above and beyond ordinary physical laws contrasted with ordinary physical events events but considered unusual or noteworthy. We contemplate additional posts to help define miracles of different types.   

In the writings of Scripture and in the world of nature we experience many different examples of events which could be described as miracles. Secular scientists attribute natural explanations for every phenomenon they investigate. They resist using the term miracle in any context in their fields of investigation. In contrast, for Christians who believe in the supernatural God of Creation, many phenomena may be considered miraculous. Our blog has discussed many topics dealing with God’s actions which may be described as miraculous. The subject of miracles has many dimensions in the related topics of science and faith.          


Friday, October 27, 2017

Earth without Seasons

Planet Earth’s annual sequence of seasons is a defining characteristic. Weather and climate manifestations are intricately related to conditions generated by our seasons. As we travel north or south from equatorial regions, seasonal variety becomes an all-important factor in describing earth’s weather and climate. Mid-latitudes between 30º and 60º have well defined periods of gradual spring warming or progressive autumn cooling. Sandwiched between these intervals are more or less consistent warm summer or cold winter conditions for several months. Much of our world’s population is embedded in mid-latitude seasonal variety. 

High latitude regions and equatorial regions have less seasonal variety. In the Arctic and Antarctic seasonal variety exists, but cold frozen conditions predominate all year. Weather at low latitudes is generally warm continually. In contrast, seasonal changes in mid-latitudes are more spectacular and fascinating. Temperatures alternate above and below freezing. Mid-latitude weather idiomatically packs a lot of wallop related to the presence of seasons.

What would Earth without seasons be like? We know that the current 23.4º  tilt of the earth’s axis with respect to the plane of our planet’s orbit is the cause of seasons. If the axis were not tilted at all there would be no seasons. A greater tilt would result in more extreme seasons; with a smaller tilt seasonal effects would be less extreme. Planet Earth without seasons would be unable to support the seven billion population of Earth. Conclusions of scientists are based on observations of currently operating weather and climate systems.

Without seasons every latitude would experience only one set of weather conditions all year long. Those who currently abide permanently in warm climates such as southern Florida may relish their lifestyle with little need for an overcoat and plentiful opportunities for outdoor bathing all year long. The benefits of mid-latitude seasons with alternating seasonal periods separating cold and warm, however, should not be overlooked by residents of year-round warm regions such as southern Florida. Even low latitude locations have a modicum of seasonal variation in their weather conditions on our planet. This variation diminishes as we approach the equator. For example, the average daily high temperature fluctuates by over 50 degrees F from warmest to coldest months at typical mid-latitudes. We cite our personal experience living in northwest Illinois. In southern Florida the typical average daily high temperature varies only about 20 degrees F from warmest to coldest months. Statisticians have supplied weather “junkies” with an almost unlimited set of detailed information on variable conditions at multiple locations to describe effects of the healthy grip of Earth’s seasons. We resolve to counsel our southern Florida relatives to appreciate the cold winter regions to their north. We invite them to pay a mid-summer visit to mid-latitude agricultural states such as Illinois and Iowa to observe the extensive fields of lush cornfields, prolific soybean plots, and numerous other crops thriving in alternating seasons of summer heat and winter cold.

Research into the outcome of loss of seasonal variations in Earth’s climate, especially in mid-latitude regions, yields interesting results. Mainly, food production would be significantly reduced. Many of the world’s essential food crops such as wheat, corn, potatoes, oats, and barley, grow far better where cool or cold winters persist. Humanity learned to innovate agriculturally at the close of the Ice Age. This occurred roughly 10,000 BC, the beginning of the Neolithic period—“Antiquity’s Agricultural Revolution.” Man learned to domesticate plants, working within warm/cold seasonal cycles which intensified as the Ice Age waned. It was an exciting time in the history of humanity.

In a world without seasons, ecological anthropologist Don Atwood claims, “Humans would probably never have advanced past a stage of living in small, scattered settlements, scrounging for survival and often dying of horrific insect-born diseases.” Remove Earth’s seasons and Atwood asserts humanity world suffer in a sorry state. It is certain that our Earth’s population would not have burgeoned from one billion to over seven billion in the past 200 years.

The catastrophic effects of removing Earth’s seasons is hypothetical. We will never be able to test the hypothesis. Earth’s axis tilt is not about to change significantly. Astronomer/climatologist Milutin Milankovitch (1879-1958) has proposed that three earth motions change and affect climate over long periods of time. Axial tilt is one feature which changes slightly—from 22.1º to 24.5º—over a period of 41,000 years. The other two features are eccentricity (elongation of orbit) and axial precession (a “wobble” of the axis similar to the wobble of a toy top). Both of the latter conditions vary over long time periods. These factors affect long term climatic conditions, but axis tilt has the greatest effect on seasons year to year. Currently the tilt of our planet’s axis is very slowly decreasing within the above range of change without significantly affecting conditions on earth.

We briefly address a few other environmental conditions inherent in a hypothetical “Earth without seasons.” The habits of animals and plants would change. There would likely be altered reproductive habits, no hibernation, changed adaptive responses, and minimal migration of animals or insects. Living things would change in their ability to cope with a non-changing environment. Tree rings would not exist. There would be no deciduous plants. Mid-latitude weather would differ considerably. Changing seasons produce mixing of moving air masses on a seasonal basis. Seasonal hurricanes, thunderstorms, and snowstorms may not form. Instead of blessings, these changes may result in less precipitation, perhaps even droughts. Some scientists propose that thick ice caps would form at the north and south poles, lowering sea level around the world. These scenarios are not all testable but inspire thoughtful speculation.

Why do we have axial tilt and why do we have seasons? A sound theory is that the Earth’s Moon was formed by a giant impactor, a protoplanet which collided with Earth early in the history of the Solar System. The impact of the smaller protoplanet imparted a tilt to Earth’s axis. Debris from the monstrous collision later became the Moon. Currently our companion Moon stabilizes the axial tilt of the Earth. Without the Moon, chaotic forces would disrupt Earth’s consistent axial tilt to the detriment of Earth’s population.

The timeless God of Creation created all things In the Beginning. Hundreds of physical constants and laws of nature, present from the initial creation, have fashioned our universe according to His divine plan for this created sphere. The presence of Earth’s seasons is the result of a transformational miracle. We delay detailed discussion of this type of miracle for another post. Scripture records dozens of environmental events and conditions on Earth such as rain, snow, thunder, wind, cold, and heat. These events are intricately connected with the presence of seasons which characterize our planet. Hundreds of beneficial yet awesome seasonal events have the unmistakeable handiwork of God’s intelligent agency.   




Friday, October 20, 2017

Sustained by Seasons

The seasons of Planet Earth sustain humanity in several ways, including supplying emotional needs. Seasonal changes are enjoyable to many Earth residents, especially those who choose to live in regions where changes are more pronounced. We revel in delightful seasonal variety. 

Seasons are welcomed by some and scorned by others. For example, springtime is generally a time of enjoyment and optimism as is autumn. Complaints about oppressive summer heat or bitter winter cold tend to balance the ledger for some mid-latitude residents. Of course, every season possesses unique appeal. Although autumn is a time of astronomical decline and cessation of plant growth, most people enjoy the refreshment of slowly declining temperatures. In select geographic regions autumn is graced by splashes of color around the countryside. Fall hues enhance decorations for parties and social gatherings. Harvest of pumpkins, gourds, Indian corn, vegetables, fruits, and grains communicate a reality statement: Summer is over; harvest has arrived. It is a time for joy and thanksgiving.

During autumn, the weather shifts slowly from summer heat to winter cold. In extreme northwest Illinois, the average daily high temperature declines from early July (82ºF) to early February (27ºF), a drop of 55º. Average daily low temperature declines a similar amount from the warmest to coldest months. Sunrise times slowly become earlier from December to June while sunset times slowly become later during that six month time frame. From June to December the situation is reversed. Sunrise times become later; sunset times become earlier. In December and June sunrise and sunset times change hardly at all for a few weeks. Hours of daylight slowly increase from winter to summer. From summer to winter hours of daylight slowly decrease. In northwest Illinois summer has 15 hours of daylight and 9 hours of darkness. In winter the situation reverses—we receive 9 hours of daylight and 15 hours of darkness. Sun rays strike Earth at a much lower angle in winter, spreading themselves out over a much greater land area. Therefore, we receive less heat. In summer, of course, we receive more heat because sun rays strike Earth more directly. In addition, northwest Illinois receives six more hours of intense sun rays.

We cited extreme northwest Illinois by way of illustration. At higher latitudes to the north seasonal effects are even more extreme. In mid-summer we recall walking on the streets of Fairbanks AK at 10:30 PM in daylight. At lower latitudes to our south the effects are less extreme. Near the equator the amount of daytime heat and length of daylight vs darkness is not very significant from one time of year to another compared with latitudes farther north or south. By coincidence, the five US locations where this blog author has lived were each located at approximately 41ºN latitude. Seasonal changes described in the above paragraph were embedded in personal experiences throughout my life. When our family visited Fairbanks AK in the summer or Aruba in the winter differences in the effects of seasons depending on latitude became apparent.

Thriving, healthy animal and plant populations and their unique adaptive behaviors depend in large part on Earth’s phenomenon of seasonal changes. If Earth were not tilted on its axis there would be no seasons.  Our planet’s life forms, including human life, and their current population levels would be impossible to sustain. Environmental scientists have explained in detail why this would be true. In future posts we will deal more extensively with the beneficial consequences of our changing seasons.

We close with one well known example of the reward of seasonal changes. We are created with emotional and psychological needs and the means to satisfy them. Our Creator supplies the sensory and intellectual ability to identify wonders of nature and its design features. Many readers may remember our teachers and science texts touting the presence of chlorophyll, a green chemical pigment to aid plants in using the energy of sunlight to synthesize their own food from water and carbon dioxide. When the autumn season descends on our countryside, the reduced intensity of light is not sufficient for plants to continue to produce or retain green chlorophyll. As a result, many leaves lose their green color and display other colors formerly visually masked by the plentiful presence of chlorophyll. Eventually, the lifeless plant leaves drop away, giving up food synthesizing until new leaves are produced the following spring. Many motorists flock to regions where autumn leaf colors are most vivid.

Changing seasons supply multiple opportunities to discover wonder-producing processes of our environment. Together, awareness and intellectual understanding of these processes nourish our sense of wonder. God has given us “all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Spectrum of Weather Events

Our focus in recent weeks has been the destructive impact of hurricanes in the southeast quadrant of the United States. Hurricanes form when sufficiently warm oceans join with steering prevailing winds and other meteorological factors to produce just-right conditions for cyclone formation. Billions of Earth residents never experience hurricanes, including populations in South America, Europe, Africa, and most of Asia.

Tornadoes are even more violent than hurricanes. They occur over a much smaller area. Most form when large, cold air masses from the north collide with warm southern air masses already in place. Many prerequisites must be favorable for tornado formation. A tornado is one of Earth’s most awesome meteorological events. The likelihood of a tornado striking a given town in any specific year is small. Residents in tornado prone areas should keep a “weather eye” on forecasts. The United States is more vulnerable to tornadoes than any country in the world. A large area of the midwestern US is known as “tornado alley.” Many regions of the world never experience a tornado.

Thunderstorms, droughts, floods, and blizzards are part of the plethora of weather events. Over long periods these events comprise the elements of climate. We devour media reporting of both gentle and harsh weather events. Climate change is the topic du jour among many journalists who relentlessly link out of the ordinary contemporary weather events to this enormously complex topic, especially when they are unusual or destructive. Our Earth experiences harsh meteorological events to balance beautiful and beneficial weather events over the decades, centuries, and millennia of man’s sojourn. Our blog message has offered weather and climate issues in a balanced perspective in order to understand the world God created. He created our climate system with a purpose. When destructive storms destroy property and even human life on occasion, some attribute the events to God’s higher purpose.

The Creator has provided our physical Earth with its climate system as an abode for humanity. It is a wonderful home for over seven billion souls. The climate system is a product of God’s higher purpose, not only when weather disasters occur, but also when the weather and climate conditions supply bountiful food and joie de vivre. We are thankful that scientists have uncovered new knowledge of how Planet Earth has been geologically prepared for bountiful life and how its weather and climate system supports our planetary array of life. The causes of some nuances of weather and climate cycles remain unclear. We must search for wisdom and understanding of divine higher purposes from our heavenly Father.

Matching the profound deadly impact of the four recent landfalling hurricanes of 2017 was the tragic tornado super outbreak of 2011 primarily in Alabama and Mississippi on April 25-27. Those tornadoes took the lives of 348 people, second only to the deadly tornado outbreak of 1925 which killed 747. In contrast, the four recent US hurricanes cost 177 lives. Monetary damages from the hurricanes exceeded property damage costs of the tornadoes by multiples, but deaths from the 2011 tornado outbreak were double those from the hurricanes. Damage from the tornadoes totaled $11 billion while hurricane damage from this year’s hurricanes may total upwards of $300 billion.

When the tornado super outbreak occurred we were moved to submit serial commentary about weather events, both destructive and beneficial. We have attempted to analyze the issue of weather and climate with a balanced perspective. Weather events, both beneficial and harsh, are opportunities to revel in both the goodness and power of the Almighty God of creation. Our planet remains “a place to thrive” despite recurring inauspicious weather events.


Monday, October 9, 2017

Coping with Problems and Tragedy

Humans propose diverse rationale for believing or not believing in the the existence and actions of an omnipotent Creator. One of the most common reasons is personal belief that God, loving, powerful, and all-knowing, would not or should not permit evil to exist in this created sphere. This includes natural evil such as the three recent hurricanes generated in the South Atlantic which have devastated Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Moral evil is on a different causal plane. Degenerate, depraved, deviant, and debauched seem inadequate terms to describe the actions of a mass killer who murdered 59 souls and injured hundreds at the Las Vegas country music festival. ISIS killers reinforce their hate for divergent ideologies with senseless brutality. There are myriad examples. Moral evil has been a feature of human experience since Adam’s original sin.

Moral evil may be easier to explain than natural evil. It is caused by sinful actions of conscious human beings. Our response to both outcomes of “evil” is often similar. It is tempting to ask, “Why does God permit these events to happen, regardless of the cause?” The outcomes of moral evil relate to freedom of choice with which God created humanity. Man may accept or reject the tenets of natural law—the intuitive moral perception of right and wrong. Worse, he may deliberately disobey the Creator’s explicit commands.  

The outcomes of natural evil result from a different sort of freedom. Tragic meteorological or geological events are examples of natural evil inflicting hardship and loss of human life. Such events cannot be blamed on moral failures of any human or group of humans. Our physical system functions according to laws of nature—scientific principles under which our universe operates. For instance, the Second Law of Thermodynamics controls the flow of heat energy driving events during prime hurricane and tornado generating seasons. Planet Earth is “free” to manifest the sometimes violent results of energy flow in the production of its destructive hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards. The results of this freedom are sometimes unpleasant and destructive. More often the outcomes of energy flow and energy conversion are highly beneficial in distributing water resources and heat energy. One example: Remnants of the latest 2017 Atlantic hurricane, Nate, quickly moved up the east coast to deliver beneficial rainfall to the dry northeast after striking the Gulf Coast. 

The Creator of all things is fully capable of installing “stop signs” to prevent moral and natural evil. He originated the created order with its current conditions. He designed a “very good” world but it was not “perfect” according to some human standards of perfection. Many define perfection to include no pain, no inconvenience, and no concerns—perhaps a work-free set of conditions. Scripture does not indicate the Garden of Eden was a work-free zone.  

Our planet’s early Eden Garden residents were instructed to “work it and take care of it.” After the Fall they were expelled from the unique Garden location and thrust into the hazards of Planet Earth in the outside world. The Fall resulted in a “sea change” in human nature, but not in different manifestations of the Law of Decay. Scripture does not instruct us as to the length of their Garden sojourn prior to the Fall. We imagine that events of the Fall and the expulsion from the Garden may have occurred quickly. Scripture is not explicit concerning time frames.

What motivates our questions about Law of Decay events? Many of these events are actually beneficial to life on Earth. For example, we could not exist without consumption of fuels to supply energy, including the benefits of consumption and digestion of our food and heat energy flows which drive beneficial weather events.     Virtually every human activity is dependent on the Second Law. We “…live and move and have our being” in God (Acts 17:28) who “made the world and everything in it” (Acts 17:24). Some events, however, cause human grief and pain in varying degrees. Second Law events could be placed on a spectrum of expected events—the beautiful and beneficial events at one end of the spectrum, the painful and destructive events at the opposite end, with many other events of varying impact distributed along the spectrum.

Human problem-solving and work-related events have been established by God as strengthening and beneficial. Harsh and difficult events serve an even greater strengthening role. The Apostle Paul frequently referenced hardships, including physical hardships, as factors in personal strengthening. He writes, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (Acts 12:10). Tragic or fatal events call our attention to God’s wisdom or “God’s higher purpose.” No mortal is able to discover or understand the depth of “God’s higher purpose” with respect to tragic events. Some individuals use this human inability to “discover” as an excuse to reject the wisdom or even the existence of the Creator.

Some of the deepest theological concepts related to human reaction to tragedy in our sphere of existence and how we deal with it are cited by Job, the ancient Old Testament figure. From a human standpoint we cannot explain Job’s statement after his unspeakable family and personal loss: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). At the conclusion of the Book of Job, both Elihu and God comment on the omnipotent, omniscient God of Creation in chapters 35-41. Finally, Job exclaims, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” Job 42:2-6.



Friday, September 29, 2017

Is Earth Really a Place to Thrive?

Our recent posts on the Atlantic hurricanes of 2017 have triggered serious reflection on the meaning of thriving. Does the recent spate of destructive hurricanes and earthquakes strengthen or weaken our description of Earth as “a place to thrive?” We acknowledge that thriving is a value-laden word. We are ill-advised to use the term thriving in every context related to our planet. If our personal definitional scheme includes the absence of pain or hardships of any sort and the absence of human responsibility in caring for our planet, the term thrive is inaccurate. Our characterization of Earth as “a place to thrive,” however, remains realistic, but we cite appropriate caveats.

In Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job (Baker Books, 2011) Dr. Hugh Ross eloquently describes Planet Earth as “A Place to Thrive” notwithstanding other passages in this and other volumes where he discusses the realities of “hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanoes, earthquakes, fires, floods, and droughts that bring pain and loss to themselves or others.” From a scientific perspective, Dr. Ross states “…it is important for people to understand how the seemingly destructive natural phenomena that befall humanity and the rest of life on Earth actually serve beneficial purposes…” Later Ross posits, “Observing Earth’s beauty, abundance, diversity, and grandeur, people of all generations and cultures have been struck by the extravagance of it all. The Creator provided humanity with so much more than a place to merely survive. He presented us with a place to thrive.”

Scientists have explained in much detail the workings of our physical cosmic system. The Creator of All Things designed our universe to be governed by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The Law provides that energy always flows from higher concentrations to lower concentrations, from more useful to less useful, from highly ordered to less highly ordered. Examples abound. Heat energy naturally flows from warmer to cooler. Our cup of hot coffee soon becomes a cup of cold coffee—the heat energy naturally spreads around the room into a less useful form. Structures like wooden decks on our homes deteriorate and call for remediation or replacement. The homeowner must maintain the deck with paint or repairs to slow the process of deterioration. The Second Law, also known as the Law of Decay, governs all our activities in our present sphere of existence.

In most cases the Second Law enables our lives to be successful. Our daily food, highly energy-concentrated, breaks down by our digestive processes into less concentrated energy of motion and body heat. Thousands of Second Law processes enable us to operate our lives in an advantageous manner. An unused tank of gasoline in our garage is not useful until we start the automobile and drive away. To our benefit, virtually all our daily activities are governed by the Law of Decay. We abide in a Second Law of Thermodynamics world.

Does this Second Law overlay relate to the tragedies of hurricanes and earthquakes?  We answer in the affirmative—hurricane genesis is related to our weather system’s tendency to distribute heat energy from warm regions to cooler regions and high pressure areas to low pressure areas of earth’s surface. Professional meteorologists could relate many Second Law physics phenomena to weather events. Some weather events are violent and destructive. Some weather events tragically result in loss of precious human lives and have been doing so since humanity in God’s image appeared on Earth.

There are innumerable evidences that the universe is very ancient. Old Earth Creationists do not dispute the overwhelming evidence that the Big Bang occurred 13.7 billion years ago, that Planet Earth became a solid body about 4.5 billion years ago, and biologically complex but morphologically simple life appeared suddenly on the planet nearly 4 billion years ago. Evidence that the Second Law of Thermodynamics operated  since the Big Bang creation event is scientifically beyond doubt. The Law of Decay has operated since time began. God created our universe to operate in this way. Humanity’s sin did not change the laws of physics in operation from the beginning. Many Christians believe that Earth was created perfect and that Adam’s sin in the Garden brought about the Second Law—the Law of Decay. We do not endorse this belief. 

In Romans 8:20-22, we find a passage used to substantiate the initiation of Second Law phenomena at the initial creation event. The Apostle Paul wrote, “The creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (NIV) Scientifically this Romans passage was ahead of its time.

The universe operates under the Second Law of Thermodynamics very successfully. Every human activity is enabled by the law. Without its operation our lives would be impossible. When humanity’s fall into sin resulted in alienation from God, their lives became much more difficult in multiple ways with his expulsion from Eden. This was not because the Second Law suddenly became operational. Scripture does not discuss in detail man’s experience in the Garden. It may have been supernaturally insulated from ordinary perils outside the garden. Bible students do not often consider that an entire planet existed outside the garden realm. Adam was commanded “to work it and take care of it.” The activity of work and the consumption and digestion of food from the many trees in the garden occurred under the umbrella of the Second Law which was the foundation of the operating system of the universe since the initial creation of time, space, matter, and energy. The Creator did not install a “Plan B” operating system at humanity’s Fall.

The Creator has gifted humanity with ability to care for our planetary abode and use its resources for our benefit. This includes many fossil fuel and mineral resources which could not develop unless the Second Law had enabled their formation. God has also gifted humanity with ability to understand how physical laws operate both for our benefit and, less ideally, for our potential harm. More often the Second Law acts to enrich our human experience. In modern times man has learned to avoid some disasters of violent natural events by prudently selecting locations for homes and businesses, by adhering to appropriate building codes, and by heeding forecasters' warnings. Human fatalities from harsh weather events have dramatically decreased as we have learned and applied additional knowledge. The Genesis 1:28 command “Fill the earth and subdue it” may be broadly applied to current and future wise management of the environment.

Readers must be aware of God’s purpose in creating our Second Law universe. His purpose is not diminished by the events related to recent hurricanes and earthquakes or by any other present or past weather events. God could have chosen to design a universe with a completely different physical operating system. Our Second Law universe serves as a launch pad for the future New Creation of Revelation 21-22. Details of the New Creation are unimaginable in terms of our current dwelling—the Second Law cosmic operating system. We offer our prayers to the Heavenly Father for the victims of recent natural disasters and for recovery efforts now in progress. When all is said, we humbly repeat our judgment that Planet Earth is “A Place to Thrive.”







Friday, September 22, 2017

Universal Perfection

“In a perfect world there would be no hurricanes.” Does this pithy aphorism involve a universal truth? Depending on how we define perfection and, in particular, what a perfect world would be, we acknowledge there may be truth to this aphorism. Some skeptics who reject the existence or work of a Creator of our universe may challenge people of faith that a “perfect” God should have created a “perfect” world in which destructive hurricanes did not occur. There would be no disasters or human experiences of any type accompanied by discomfort or pain, they claim.

Both skeptics and Christians idealize what a perfect world would be like. Skeptics  believe they are challenging the notion of God. Within the broad variety of Christian viewpoints, we mention two: (1) Young Earth Creationists believe the Garden of Eden was initially a perfect home for humans, not impacted by weather disasters causing discomfort or injury. Our present world is often described by YEC as a place of brokenness and despair because of the spiritual fall of Adam. (2) Old Earth Creationists and theistic evolutionists generally see the world as imperfect yet “very good.” There are many commentaries about God’s purpose for allowing hurricanes or other disasters. Such phenomena are examples of “natural” evil. 

“Natural” evil is defined as evil for which no human can be held morally responsible. Hurricanes, earthquakes, and diseases causing suffering and death are examples of natural evil. In contrast, “Moral” evil is caused by human activity and needs little explanation. It is the product of the human race’s proneness to sin. Since the onset of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and more recently, Hurricane Maria and destructive earthquakes taking lives in Mexico, we have many powerful examples of natural evil and its impact on human life on Planet Earth. We make no secret of our grief at the results of natural evil from recent severe hurricanes and other profoundly disastrous events. We could cite many quotes from analysts, including theologians who ask, “Is God punishing us or trying to tell us something?” Or, “Are these events forewarnings of Biblical end-times events?” 

We do not condemn people who suggest God’s punishments or forewarnings. They may be correct. God may be telling us something. He has forewarned us concerning many end-times events in early Christian New Testament writings. Some Old Testament writings are also prophetic and relate to our day. In this sense we do not require further warnings. The error occurs when prognosticators set dates for specific end-time events. As we write, a Christian “numerologist” has predicted the world would end on September 23. A very well-known radio commentator, Harold Camping, wrote a book entitled 1994 proposing detailed rationale why the world would end that year. When the event did not materialize he began to promote a day in May 2011 for the return of Christ. After this also failed to come to pass, he finally         confessed that, “Of that day and hour knoweth no man” (Matt 24:36). Camping later stated his attempt to predict a date was “sinful.”

Many commentators have been moved to offer their input concerning the meaning of these natural disasters. We must guard against oversimplifying our responses. Secularists often envision a better universe. They fantasize idealistically about a “more perfect world”—the human conception of a “perfect” reality. The perfect creation is a scriptural concept yet to be revealed. According to the opening chapter of Hugh Ross’s Improbable Planet, Baker Books, 2016, our “present universe serves as a launchpad for the New Creation to come—a reality more perfect than any of us can think of or imagine, one that fulfills all our greatest hopes and deepest longings.” The New Creation is described in the New Testament Book of Revelation, chapters 21-22.

Planet Earth is a special place, but not a perfect place where there is no sorrow, pain, or inconvenience. Moreover, Earth may hold the potential for significant sorrow and even death. To explain the sorrow and death, we must understand that there is a “higher purpose” in God’s order and plan. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV) This is sometimes a difficult reality.                


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hurricane Genesis

Genesis: the origin or mode of formation. In the context of hurricanes, two of which devastated the Caribbean region and the US mainland in late summer 2017, we wonder about the sequence of events which results in a fully mature hurricane. The energy of a hurricane exceeds by 200 times the electrical generating capacity of the entire world according to US Department of Energy figures. What sorts of forces could generate such powerful storms?

Scientists have informed us of constant powerful forces operating in our worldwide weather system. Some are explained by familiar terms we may have learned in weather units in middle school, high school, or college. We have heard that evaporation of liquid water is a cooling process. This is illustrated by the fact that when our bodies perspire a large quantity of heat is removed from our body surface. When water vapor condenses back into liquid water, a large quantity of heat is returned to the air. These processes are more formally called latent heat of evaporation or latent heat of condensation. In terms of the scope of total energy flow on our planet, the quantities are unimaginable.

After receiving heat from radiation of the sun, heat energy spontaneously flows from warm to cold regions. Most Earth weather phenomena are driven by this flow. Warm regions and cold regions are characterized by different air pressure conditions. Generally, cold air is denser than warm air because atoms and molecules are packed together more closely. Movement of air spontaneously occurs from high pressure regions to low pressure regions. Weather events are powerful forces of heat movement and pressure equalization producing mighty environmental effects. Some of these effects cause serious inconvenience and pain albeit they are relatively infrequent. In perspective, Earth’s weather more frequently provides seasonal warmth for human enjoyment, growth of food crops and beautiful ornamental plant varieties for human enjoyment and even pleasant spring warming for family picnics or Little League baseball or autumn cooling for high school football or soccer matches. Our blog has more often characterized Earth as “a place to thrive” rather than “a place of brokenness and despair.”

Humanity is embedded in a wondrous collection of weather phenomena. Consider the term cyclogenesis. Two parts of the term are cyclone, a rotating low pressure area in which air spirals inward from high pressure toward low pressure, and genesis, meaning formation. Cyclogenesis explains the formation of tropical hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean and other storms in mid-latitudes. In other parts of the world hurricanes are known as typhoons or simply, cyclones. They form over warm water where there is much moisture in the air. An organized region of thunderstorms forms over the ocean and these regions are later called tropical waves. A tropical depression develops and the air begins to spin around the low pressure center at a speed above 39 mph. If the storm strengthens to 75 mph, it a Category 1 hurricane. Wind speeds sometimes increase to 157+ mph—a Category 5 hurricane.

On our spherical earth there exists a phenomenon called Coriolis effect. Large moving objects, including moving air, are deflected to the right in the northern hemisphere, away from an expected straight line path. Air rushing from high pressure to a low pressure center as in tropical depressions and hurricanes are deflected from their direction of travel owing to the different speeds of rotation on a spherical earth. This causes a counter-clockwise rotation of storms in the northern hemisphere (clockwise in the southern hemisphere), and forms a well-developed “eye.” Heavy rains, severe winds, and sometimes tornadoes are generated many miles from the hurricane’s eye.

The God of Creation is author of the orderliness of matter. In terms of Earth’s weather, this includes the predictable, uniform characteristics of air molecules—several quintillion of them in each cubic centimeter of volume. Latent heat, the tendency of energy to flow from warm to cold regions, the tendency of air to flow from high pressure to low pressure, the constant forces of gravity: We affirm, in concert with the scriptural statements such as “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3 NIV), that God originated the concepts of an orderly universe. The truth of God as Creator of all things seems discoverable intuitively.

Foundational principles of energy flow, pressure phenomena, and hundreds of constant characteristics of matter form the framework for understanding the genesis of hurricanes. With the passage of time humanity has discovered more information on knowing a hurricane is approaching and how to prepare for it. The two recent hurricanes produced relatively few fatalities. Beyond this some are not sufficiently aware of strategies for risk aversion and willing to act on the information. For example, many are unwilling to obey heroic building codes or locate their homes and businesses away from flood prone areas. Humans still have much to learn.    

God created a very good but not a perfect world according to the idealism of some people. Many religious people and skeptics question why God permits hurricanes and other natural disasters to occur. In a future post we will address these questions in more depth, but not as an effort to present final answers. Some questions may be unanswerable in human terms.    




Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Pondering Hurricanes

The onset of two deadly hurricanes in late August and early September 2017 broke a twelve year stretch of relative calm with respect to the most destructive Category 3 or stronger hurricanes. We acknowledge that many Christian and secular commentators are searching for answers to the difficult problem of horrific destruction. The apparent paucity of destructive hurricanes for the past twelve years does nothing to mitigate the questions of why God “permits” such tragedies to occur even today. The two observations about hurricanes, (1) no severe ones struck the US mainland for twelve years, and the question of (2) “Why does God permit such devastating storms?” are entirely peripheral to the multifaceted primary questions about hurricanes.   

Many Christian theologians have offered explanations for horrifying tragedies which have punctuated our planet with regularity even before written records. Hurricanes are part of a family of weather and climate events. These include tornadoes, violent thunderstorms, hailstorms, straight line windstorms, floods, droughts, heat waves, extreme cold spells, and blizzards. Add to this catalog other impactful environmental events such as volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and other upheavals. Some analysts energetically vocalize, “Earth is a chaotic place of brokenness and despair.” We do not concur with this generalization. 

What would imaginary visitors from outside our Solar System discover as they approached Earth for the first time? Would they discover a wonderful “Blue Marble” suspended majestically and beautifully in space? (The Apollo 17 astronauts snapped a famous picture of Earth from 28,000 miles during their lunar journey in 1972. Their famous photograph was reassuringly dubbed the “Blue Marble.”) As we consider our “Blue Marble” planet, what do we see? We offer a trite cliché:   The answer depends on whether we view the glass half empty, or half full. The underlying purpose of our science/faith blog is to call attention to the works of God in the physical realm in order to relate them to strengthening our faith. The Creator is the author of the physical creation. He is also the author of truths in the spiritual world, imparting to his people the gift of faith.

At this time of tragedy and destruction brought upon the victims of the hurricanes, we  are challenged to blend concepts of tragedy and triumph. The hurricanes have imposed an overwhelming dose of tragedy on their victims—tragedy which may take years to repair. We stare in horror at the graphic images on news channels on a near constant basis. At the same time, we long for the relief which inevitably comes as repair and restoration progress in the future.

In August and September 2017 US hurricane victims may be forgiven for temporarily viewing the glass as half empty, even close to completely empty. When life circumstances change, we see the dividing line between empty and full becoming variable, even on a daily basis. Hurricane victims hope and pray for a rapid positive trend in the levels within the glass.

We search for opportunities to view the glass as more than half full. In our vision of Planet Earth, there are many opportunities to reinforce our view of “fullness.” Guillermo Gonzales and Jay Richards DVD Privileged Planet enables us to rejoice in Earth’s “very good” quality. Gonzales and Richards present Earth as a wonderful place specifically designed by God for human habitation. Their DVD describes in graphic detail a planet (1) having the proper distance from the sun (2) having liquid water (3) that is terrestrial (a rocky planet of our size and composition)(4) having tectonic plates (5) protected by large planets (6) orbiting the correct type of star (7) having a large moon (8) having a magnetic field and (9) being oxygen rich.

Our obligation to be positive and work to remedy the brokenness brought about by these storms is a gift we may achieve with the help of God. We do not live in a perfect world. God has higher purposes in permitting suffering of humanity in the earthly sphere. Some of those purposes will remain unknown until the onset of the New Creation if the Creator chooses to reveal them.

My father passed into eternity at age 90. He endured the destruction of several east coast hurricanes in his farming operation in the 1960s and later. In each case there were remedies for damage and inconvenience. As he approached the end of his life he often expressed satisfaction for the blessings he experienced during his long, earthly journey. He lived according to the instructions in I Thessalonians 5:16: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (NIV).