Friday, January 20, 2012

The Ubiquity of Cycles

As a science educator I was called upon, to the best of my ability, to make my subject matter accessible and interesting, even fascinating. Because of their curiosity, we are told children are natural-born scientists. That is true to a great extent. After children develop into teenagers and later morph into adults, some become more self-conscious about expressing wonder concerning the surrounding world. Their ever expanding social awareness and need for personal fulfillment sometimes dampens their science appreciation, not to mention their science literacy.

Suppose a teacher is called upon to teach the water cycle, a topic found in most earth science textbooks. Depending on the age of the students, it would first be appropriate to instruct them what a cycle is. A dictionary definition would be a definite conversation stopper, but the student may identify with examples of cycles from his everyday experience. For instance, night always follows day and day always follows night. The seasonal cycle of summer, autumn, winter, and spring repeats over and over. Their wake/sleep and work/rest cycles conform to day/night successions. Planting, harvest and dormancy repeat with the cycle of seasonal progression.

Our world functions continually within a bath of repeating cycles, some obvious, some not so obvious. Even young children understand and value the cycles of everyday occurrence. On a different level of experience, a young boy will see the advantage of constructing his toy vehicle tracks so the moving cars return to their starting point. A few similar examples will help answer the question, “What is a cycle?”

Further use of imagery and demonstration are necessary to teach the ubiquitous nature of cycles. Our world manifests thousands of interlocking cycles which maintain the balance and complex interactions between our physical planet and its many life forms. Because multiple cycles operate, the earth constantly renews itself. The renewing cycles operate and are superimposed and dependent upon the general tendency of things to “run downhill” according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, better known as the Law of Decay. Paradoxically, without conformance to the Law of Decay, the cycles of renewal could not operate.

A thoughtful study of the Romans phrase translated in many versions as the earth system’s “bondage to decay,” helps us appreciate the value of this tendency toward decay. Many wonderful Christians in my past experience have bemoaned this “bondage,” suggesting that even earth’s currently operating physical systems are corrupted by sin. Some imply that all death in our sphere of life is an outgrowth of sin and a cause for morbid pessimism. It is true that in the New Creation there will be no experience of death, but it is also true that other experiences in that new realm will be unimaginably different and superior.

The earth’s many cycles, including the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the oxygen cycle, the nitrogen cycle, biological life cycles, and multiple other natural cycles are all dependent on the Law of Decay for their successful functioning. We could call this dependency a form of “bondage,” without which none of earth’s many cycles could even begin to operate. Bondage in this context is clearly not a pejorative term of usage. Even the death of quadrillions of earth creatures since life was first created on earth 3.8 bya falls into the category of a beneficial, life-sustaining, life renewing cycle.

Ubiquitous cycles have been present on earth since the creation event. Our present earth is wonderfully sustained by hundreds of interlocking cycles. An understanding of these cycles helps us understand the proclamation of God after finishing His work of creating on Day 6: “Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was excellent in every way…” (Genesis New Living Translation)