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 clichĂ©:   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).               


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Galveston or Houston?

In three weeks we have transitioned from the summit of natural wonder, a total solar eclipse visible over a 70-mile swath of the US from coast to coast, to the depths of tragedy in coastal Texas. Hurricane Harvey is projected to be the most costly national disaster on record. Experts estimate the Houston cataclysm will require up to $180 billion in costs. In comparison, Hurricane Sandy required $160 billion and Hurricane Katrina $70 billion. Harvey has tragically taken the lives of 60 people. As I write, we are threatened by Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm. 

When such an event strikes many people justifiably focus on the natural disaster at hand. Notwithstanding journalists’ citations of comparable past events, the present catastrophe overwhelms public attention. People desire detailed reporting of the present event and many journalists oblige them eagerly. Interest in the current disaster overcomes public desire to discover realistic historical perspectives of our planet’s long history of natural catastrophes. We do not minimize the present disaster in any way. Rather, we encourage analysis of historical records of hurricanes to acquire an overview of their past frequency, intensity, cyclicity, causes, and effects.

Hurricanes have been a feature of planet Earth’s weather throughout its long history. Bible students may be familiar with the account of Euroclydon in Acts 27. The Apostle Paul was caught in what might have been a Mediterranean tropical-like depression similar to an Atlantic hurricane. During an extensive sea journey lasting two weeks, the apostle was wind-driven around the Mediterranean, finally landing at Malta. His fourteen day saga was testament to the unpredictability of hurricanes. Some travel fast. Others travel slowly and even divert or reverse course. Hurricane Harvey’s 52 inches of rainfall at one Houston location was the result of its slow movement.

In North America, east coast hurricanes are generated in the broad expanse of the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Their formation and strength is dependent on many factors over the ocean. The impact of landfall is dependent on a great variety of other factors. Hurricane science is exceedingly complex as are many weather and climate phenomena. In the aftermath of the tragic impact of Hurricane Harvey, there have been many ambitious reporters who have joined the rampant cadre of modern climate change enthusiasts. Global warming enthusiasts have convinced a large segment of the population that climate change, formerly more often described as global warming, exacerbates the severity of these great storms. For example, a small increase in ocean surface temperature (0.85ÂșC from 1880-2012) has been cited as likely increasing the wind speed in hurricanes by a few miles per hour. A number of commentaries on Harvey have focused on climate change as causative. Much less attention is given to the fact that climate has changed naturally hundreds of times in the history of our planet.

As we composed this post, Hurricane Irma was threatening the US with potential for another meteorological tragedy. We quote Dr. Calvin Beisner, founder of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. He addressed the question of increased hurricane severity resulting from anthropogenic climate change in an email he sent on 9/5/17. Beisner accounts for the additional CO2 added to Earth’s atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. He states, “…Of the 175 mph maximum sustained winds of Hurricane Irma today, 173.3-174.6 mph would have occurred anyway, and of the 50 inches of rainfall that fell on some places from Hurricane Harvey, 49.5-49.9 would have fallen anyway.” Most journalists do not cite such specifics, but many people are persuaded by the claim of “increased severity” without knowledge of such statistics. It has been twelve years since a major hurricane (Category 3 or larger) has struck the United States mainland. Dr. Roy W. Spencer, NASA award-winning climatologist, reports, “This is the longest ‘drought’ in landfalling major hurricanes since records started in 1850…It goes to show how variable nature is.” Attributing the severity of Harvey to climate change illustrates the logical fallacy of “oversimplified cause:” an effect has multiple causes, but only one cause is identified.

The Galveston TX hurricane of 1900 claimed about 8000 lives. Some estimates are much higher. More lives were lost in that tragedy than in all US hurricanes combined since that time. We counsel readers to pray for those impacted by Harvey and Irma. We encourage readers to search for websites under topics such as “historic hurricanes” in order to lend valuable realistic perspective to the lively current topic of climate change. Our planet is a beautiful place to thrive, but subject to potent meteorological forces and effects on occasion. Hurricanes are but one destructive weather event. In perspective, they do not occur often enough to transform our planet from a place to thrive to a place of disaster. In this light we remain convinced that during the present age, Earth is still a wonderful place to thrive.

Passages from Job 37-38 relate many frightening but wondrous meteorological events. The lofty poetry of these chapters does not conceal some of the tragedies such weather events may cause. Many other scriptural passages describe the overall beauty and abundance provided by the planet. The Earth may still be described as “very good.” For this, we offer thanks to the God of Creation.