Is Earth Really a Place to Thrive?
By: Jim Virkler
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.”
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.