The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Two quotes from H.G. Wells

I recently read two quotes by H.G. Wells, one written before World War II, and the other after.

Can we doubt that presently our race will more than realize our boldest imaginations, that it will achieve unity and peace, and that our children will live in a world made more splendid and lovely than any palace or garden that we know, going on from strength to strength in an ever-widening circle of achievement? What man has done, the little triumphs of his present state… form but the prelude to the things that man has yet to do. (from A Short History of the World, 1937)

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The cold-blooded massacres of the defenseless, the return of deliberate and organized torture, mental torment, and fear to a world from which such things had seemed well nigh banished—has come near to breaking my spirit altogether… “Homo sapiens,” as he has been pleased to call himself, is played out. (from A Mind at the End of Its Tether, 1946)

A few observations:

  • H.G. Wells must have had his head stuck in the sand in 1937 in order to think that the world was on the verge of utopia. Hitler had a firm grip on Germany and clearly had an expansionist agenda, Stalin was up to his knees in blood, and war was raging between Japan and China.
  • The Second World War was especially crushing to the hopes of those who held to an optimistic view of the future of humanity. Those who believe that humans are on a path to something approaching a utopia keep on running into a wall.
  • There is something fundamentally flawed about humanity. To say otherwise is, like Wells in 1937, to bury one’s head in the sand. We Christians call this fundamental flaw sin, which is rebellion against God. The failure to recognize the human sin problem is a reason why utopian systems, such as communism, turn out to be such bitter disappointments.

A few questions:

  • What areas do we (as Christians, as a society) have our heads buried in the sand? In hind sight, it is easy to list a dozen reasons why Wells should not have been so optimistic in 1937. Are there some big, flashing, DANGER signs that ought to be obvious to us?
  • How do we best communicate the dire straits we are in to those who are overly optimistic, and the hope that we have in Christ to those who are driven to despair by the world?

Grace and Peace

Source of quotes: Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, Chapter 10: The Problem of Sin

February 21, 2011 Posted by | Christianity, Future | , , , , , | 8 Comments

New England under water

From the ESRI Map Book Online volume 25: What if all the polar ice melted?

Credit: Paul Jordan, University of Rhode Island

The description from the ESRI Map Book:

This map is a depiction of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts/Cape Cod inundated by a 67-meter (73-yard) sea level rise resulting from a total melting of the polar ice caps. Although an unlikely scenario, the map was created as an attention grabber for display at the University of Rhode Island 2008 Honors Colloquium Lecture Series on Global Warming.

A good map can be artistic as well as informative; in fact the two often go together. The annual ESRI map books are available online or in book form (I am happy to own a couple editions).

Grace and Peace

February 1, 2011 Posted by | Art, Future, Geography, Geology, Maps | , | 7 Comments

Operation World — missions and the Earth and environmental sciences

One of the most significant influences that directed me into missionary service (my family served with ReachGlobal—the international mission of the Evangelical Free Church of America—from 2002 to 2008) was when we purchased a copy of Operation World back in the early days of our marriage. This book is a day-by-day prayer guide to the nations. For example, April 4 is Chile, and June 19-July 4 is India. This book helped open our eyes to both the needs and opportunities to advance the Kingdom of God through evangelism and related ministries around the globe.

The 7th edition of Operation World came out just a few months ago, and God is using it to get me thinking more about missions.

The first section (January 1-11) contains an overview of what is going on in the entire world. As on the pages for individual countries, the section on the world begins with answers to prayer:

  • “The unprecedented harvest of new believers continues across Africa, Asia and Latin America, in contrast to the relative stagnation or decline in the rest of the world.”
  • “The concept of Christianity as a European ‘White-man’s religion’ is demonstrably a myth. Though sometimes small in number, all but concealed, or mostly members of a minority people group, there are now Christians living and fellowshipping in every country on earth.”
  • “Evangelical Christianity grew at a rate faster than any other world religion or global religious movement.”
  • “The gospel took root within hundreds of the world’s least reached people groups.”
  • “Give thanks for… A more holistic understanding of evangelical mission within the Church. Ministry that cares for orphans and widows, uplifts the poor, brings liberty to the oppressed and sets captives free reflects the heart of God.”
  • And many other answers to prayer: the growth of non-western missions, cooperation between missionaries from different countries and denominations, Bible translation (95% of the world has access to the Bible in a language they know).

Being that this is “The GeoChristian,” I want to draw attention to some ways that Christian ministry around the world is affected by the Earth and environmental sciences (and thus how Christian Earth and environmental scientists can minister to the world). Here are some Earth and environment-related quotes:

Increased levels of consumption, especially when adopted by the billions of people in Asia, may push the already-stretched resources of the world over the brink. The world must be weaned off its reliance upon fossil fuels and extraction economies (mining, logging, fishing, others), and more sustainable alternatives must be developed, especially as massive new economies in the Majority World push hard to catch up to the West.

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Threats to human health, including disease. HIV/AIDS has been the high profile disease of the past 20 years, but treatments, increasing awareness and changing behaviour patterns see infection rates declining. Cancer continues to take many lives all over the world. New, resistant strains of old diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis, are spreading. HIV, SARS and H5N1 are examples of recent pandemics; fears abound of new ones, more virulent and deadly. Less glamorously, diseases associated with malnutrition, poverty, unclean water supplies and lack of sanitation are even greater threats to children—pneumonia, diarrhoea, TB and others. Included in this is malaria, which kills as many people globally as AIDS and has a similarly devastating effect on economies. Air and water pollution probably contribute to as many deaths annually as all of these diseases combined.

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Energy research is possibly the highest profile and most globally important area needing technological progress. Fossil fuels are highly polluting, nuclear power dangerous and alternative energies—such as bio-fuels, solar, wind and wave—are as yet inefficient and inadequate. More than ever before, finding efficient, safe, non-polluting, renewable energy sources is attracting greater research and investment. A breakthrough in energy technology would transform the world’s economy and ecology.

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Water will be among the world’s most crucial issues in the future. Given that sufficient fresh water exists globally to sustain humanity (even if the locations of water sources and human population do not match up well), the salient issues on a global level are more about ethics, equity, distribution and consumption.

a) Access to clean water. Already, around one in six people lacks access to safe drinking water; by 2025, it is estimated that three billion will lack access to fresh water. Additionally, nearly one in three lacks access to adequate sanitation, and this in turn contributes greatly to disease, malnutrition and mortality, especially among children.

b) Current wastefulness. The developed world uses more than 30 times more water per person than the developing world. And the vast bulk of water waste is through inefficient agricultural systems, which account for 70% of humanity’s use of fresh water. Even diets (such as high consumption of red meat) that require much more water are a source of inequitable water use; the aspirations of most of the world to Western lifestyles, consumption levels and industrial output will generate even more waste and place even greater stresses on water supplies.

c) Future societal and demographic changes. The large majority of future population growth will be in areas where safe water is in short supply. This, combined with ever greater industrialization (greater demands for water) and urbanization (population moving further from clean water sources), means that demands on water supplies will be even more intense in the future.

d) Over-exploitation of limited water resources is poised to become a serious problem in the USA, Australia, southern Europe, South Asia, China and much of Africa. Aquifers are overtapped and rivers are running dry. Water-rich countries such as Canada and Russia are moving to secure their own vast supplies of fresh water. Tension and even conflict already exist over:

i. The Amu Darya/Oxus of Central Asia.

ii. The Tigris-Euphrates (Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran).

iii. The Jordan (Israel, Syria, Jordan).

iv. The Nile (Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia).

v. The nations to the north and south of the Sahara Desert.

These factors combined spell out the inevitability of increasing tensions over limited water supplies, of greater pressure to reduce waste and make desalinization more efficient and of the drive behind massive levels of migration

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Demands for other natural resources, when combined with population growth and increasing levels of consumption, are at the core of what will make or break human civilization’s progress in the 21st century.

a) Energy consumption is still vastly dominated by non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels. Until greener and more renewable sources can be developed to a level that makes them feasible alternatives, nuclear power might be the only other alternative.

b) Food production is another area where great changes are afoot. Genetically modified crops, the environmental impact of current agricultural systems and current trends in global dietary patterns all raise serious economic, environmental and ethical questions—from organic foods to raising cattle to fishing. The existence of food is not a problem for the world’s masses; at the heart of most problems are the amount of waste and the cost and difficulty of production and distribution. Growing crops for fuel, rather than food, intensifies these troubles.

c) Other natural resources are also being rapidly depleted. Some resources, such as old-growth hardwood trees, can be renewed, though not nearly at the speed demanded by consumption. Others, such as minerals, are non-renewable, yet they are being extracted and used at increasing rates.

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Climate change is now generally accepted as having a human causal component. Population growth, rapid industrialization and increasing consumption have an undeniable environmental/ecological impact. The negative implications of possible global warming are: desertification, soil exhaustion, greater frequency of natural disasters such as flooding and drought, water table salinization, flooding in low-lying coastal systems, massive loss of habitat for millions of species and unprecedented human migration. The staggering scale of waste and pollution—from plastics to pesticides to hormones and more—affects our water systems, our climate and even our biology. Despite the fact that humans still know little about these complex dynamics, green ethics have almost become a religion in themselves, the adherence to which is demanded in much of the developed world. However, it has also fostered in the Church the rightful and necessary development of a theology of Creation stewardship and compelled Christians to reconsider how biblical our lifestyles are.

Water, energy, food production, climate change. These are critical subjects that will effect the church and the entire world in the 21st century. Will Christians be right in the thick of research, action, and advocacy, or will we leave that to someone else (while billions suffer)?

Operation World can be purchased from Amazon.com and many other places. Buy it and pray for the nations.

Grace and Peace

January 18, 2011 Posted by | Climate Change, Energy, Environment, Ethics, Future, Geology, Health, Missions | , , , | 3 Comments

Pleistocene Park

From Yahoo! News/AP — One scientist’s hobby: recreating the ice age

CHERSKY, Russia – Wild horses have returned to northern Siberia. So have musk oxen, hairy beasts that once shared this icy land with woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats. Moose and reindeer are here, and may one day be joined by Canadian bison and deer.

Later, the predators will come — Siberian tigers, wolves and maybe leopards.

Russian scientist Sergey Zimov is reintroducing these animals to the land where they once roamed in millions to demonstrate his theory that filling the vast emptiness of Siberia with grass-eating animals can slow global warming.

Unlike “re-wilding” ideas in the United States (e.g. Montana), where most land is used for one thing or another, this one is along the Kolyma River (of gulag fame) in Siberia, which is about as isolated as one can get.

Isn’t this a little taste of what nature was meant to be, with the earth, sky, and sea “swarming with swarms of living creatures?” (Gen 1:20,24).

Grace and Peace

Related news: Leaking Siberian ice raises a tricky climate issue

November 27, 2010 Posted by | Biology, Climate Change, Creation in the Bible, Environment, Future, Nature | , , | 3 Comments

Book Review: Beyond Creation Science (part 2)

BeyondCreationScienceIn part one of my book review of Beyond Creation Science by Timothy Martin and Jeffrey Vaughn, I stated that the authors succeeded admirably in one of their objectives, which was to present a Biblical case against young-Earth creationism, with its 6000-year old Earth and global flood. Their second, and perhaps primary, objective was to present a case for a position regarding eschatology (the doctrines regarding the future) known as “full preterism,” and though this was a key part of their argument against young-Earth creationism, I found their case to be far from convincing.

The basic idea of full preterism is that all of the “end times” prophecies of the Bible, including those in the Old Testament, the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25 and parallel passages in Mark and Luke), and in the book of Revelation, were fulfilled in the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem. In other words, Jesus has already returned and the resurrection has already happened.

I had not previously read any books on full preterism, though I had been exposed to the concept in conversations with a friend. As I read through Beyond Creation Science, however, I saw a number of problems:

  • The basic problem, of course, is that Jesus has not returned. Not in the way that is described in Acts 1:11, which says: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (ESV). The apostles saw Jesus physically ascend to heaven, and we should expect his return to be in the same manner. Martin and Vaughn have a 9-page Scripture index with hundreds of references, but don’t refer to this verse.
  • The full preterists describe Jesus’ second coming as a spiritual, rather than a physical, bodily return. According to full preterism, there were physical events associated with his return, but no Jesus descending bodily from heaven. This isn’t a whole lot different than the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ 1914 return of Jesus, other than the timing.
  • Those who hold to the various futurist eschatologies (e.g. premillenialism or postmillenialism) acknowledge that much of what occurs in the Olivet Discourse  is at least partially fulfilled by the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem, but view this event as a figure of the universal judgment to come. The full preterist position, on the other hand, seems to ignore the possibility of multiple-fulfillment of prophecy. Many Old Testament prophesies about Christ were fulfilled in multiple ways over the centuries. Often there was an immediate fulfilment, and then a complete fulfilment in Christ. Likewise, there is no reason to say that much of what is written in the Olivet Discourse had an immediate fulfilment in the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem, but that there will be an ultimate fulfilment of these prophesies in the future when Christ returns.
  • Most Biblical scholars place the writing of Revelation in the mid-90s, which was after the destruction of Jerusalem. This is based on the testimonies of early church fathers, not long after the apostolic age.
  • Christ’s work for our salvation was complete with his death and resurrection. It did not need the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in order to be complete.
  • The early church did not teach that Christ had already returned. Full preterism is in conflict with the ancient creeds of the church, such as the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds.

Most Evangelical theologians consider full preterism to be less than orthodox. The ESV Study Bible describes preterism (including partial preterism, which is within the historic, orthodox understanding of Christ’s return) as follows:

3. Preterism (from Latin praeteritum, “the thing that is past”) thinks that the fulfillment of most of Revelation’s visions already occurred in the distant past, during the early years of the Christian church. Preterists think these events—either the destruction of Jerusalem or the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, or both—would “soon take place” only from the standpoint of John and the churches of Asia. Some preterists interpret the order of the visions as reflecting the chronological succession of the events they signify, but others recognize the presence of recapitulation (that is, that distinct, successive visions sometimes symbolize the same historical events or forces from complementary perspectives; see Structure and Outline). Full preterism—which insists that every prophecy and promise in the NT was fulfilled by a.d. 70—is not a legitimate evangelical option, for it denies Jesus’ future bodily return, denies the physical resurrection of believers at the end of history, and denies the physical renewal/re-creation of the present heavens and earth (or their replacement by a “new heaven and earth”). However, preterists who (rightly) insist that these events are still future are called “partial preterists.” (p. 2457, Introduction to Revelation, emphasis added)

The authors focus their critiques on dispenational premillenialism, which in in its popular form (Hal Lindsay, The Left Behind series) has often been guilty of wild speculation and date-setting. Perhaps full preterism is an overreaction to nonsense such as 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be in 88.

While the book made a good case against young-Earth creationism, I was completely unconvinced by the authors’ arguments regarding eschatology. I will stick with the Nicene Creed, which is a summary of what the church has always taught regarding the return of Christ:

On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

Grace and Peace

P.S. Or perhaps author Timothy Martin thinks Christ has already returned because he lives in Montana. Lucky guy.

November 17, 2009 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Creation in the Bible, Future, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , | 3 Comments

Book Review: Beyond Creation Science (part 1)

BeyondCreationScienceTwo popular topics among Evangelical Christians for the past several decades have been origins—especially young-Earth creationism—and dispensational end-times eschatology (eschatology is the doctrine of the last things, including the return of Christ and the final judgment). Young-earth creationism has certainly been the prevailing dogma in Evangelical Christian education and in many churches and Christian colleges. Go to a Christian home school convention or book fair, and books presenting any kind of old-Earth perspective will be difficult or impossible to find. At the popular level, books on the end times, such as Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth and Tim Lahaye’s Left Behind series, have been mega best sellers. Many look at these two viewpoints as grounded in Scripture, and as firm evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible. Other Christians look at them as questionable, harmful, or at times downright goofy.

The premise of Beyond Creation Science (subtitle: New Covenant Creation from Genesis to Revelation) by Timothy Martin and Jeffrey Vaughn is that Evangelical Christians are wrong about both ends of the Bible. They do an excellent job of laying out a Biblical case against young-Earth creationism, with its 6000-year old Earth and global flood. People who only read materials from the young-Earth organizations, such as Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research, are generally quite unaware that there is a vast amount of conservative, Evangelical Biblical scholarship that shows that the Bible requires neither a young-Earth nor a global flood, and Martin and Vaughn do a good job of presenting this case.

I’ll give my thoughts on Martin and Vaughn’s full preterist eschatology in part 2 of this book review.

I have many positive things to say about the authors’ Biblical analysis of young-Earth creationism. They point out that modern geology, with its view of billions of years of Earth history, was not devised as an attack on the Bible or Christianity. Few Christians voiced opposition to an ancient Earth while the concept was being developed in the 1700s and 1800s, and many of the most eminent geologists of that time were themselves Christians.

The authors of Beyond Creation Science tackle the “three pillars” of young-Earth creationism:

  • A 6000-year old Earth
  • A global flood
  • No animal death before the fall

For the sake of brevity, I won’t look at each of these, but will focus on the strong Biblical case they make for the flood being local, rather being global.

Those who only read material from the young-Earth organizations think that a global flood is a given in Scriptures, not being aware that there are a multitude of Biblical arguments for a local flood somewhere in the area around Mesopotamia. The authors believe Noah’s flood was restricted to the descendants of Seth, rather than killing all of humanity. Not all old-Earth creationists would agree with this position; Hugh Ross for example teaches that the flood was geographically limited but humanly universal. Martin and Vaughn write:

If the subject of the account is planet Earth, then does this text [Gen 8:13-14] not teach that the oceans dried up at the end of the flood? Did the entire globe become dry? The plain statement of the text makes much more sense if it refers to a particular local place or “the land” where Noah lived.

If we use our imaginations to visualize the events of a global flood, many logical problems would come to mind. These are some of the most obvious:

  1. If the Genesis flood created the geologic column and radically reshaped the topography of the earth, why do we still have the same rivers in Mesopotamia that Genesis references? The Tigris and Euphrates have been known by those names since millennia before Christ. Would not a global flood, which lays down thousands of feet of strata around the world, obliterate those rivers we see referenced earlier in Genesis?
  2. Why would the ark land in the same part of the world after drifting on a worldwide ocean for many months? Noah appeared to find his world familiar after he landed. He certainly knew how to grow grapes after the flood. A local flood explains why the ark landed in the same part of the world Noah originally lived, i.e., somewhere in the Middle East.
  3. How could one flood event sort out unique fossils to specific layers of strata? A worldwide flood which created the fossil record all at once would leave a chaotic mix of fossils throughout the entire geological column. Outside of a few geological “hotspots,” geologists find specific fossils in each layer of strata. Would one chaotic flood event place fossils neatly in order?
  4. How could Noah fit all the species of animals from around the world into such a limited ark? Realize that he would also have to take the specific foods unique to each animal in amounts that would have to last the entire voyage. The hay required to feed one pair of elephants would have filled the entire ark. Noah would also have to take water for after the rain stopped, at least. He could not use the waters of the flood for drinking because it would be contaminated and briny. Consider what the water would be like with all of the violent churning/eroding action and death flood geologists maintain took place during the flood. [I’m not sure the authors are correct on the hay and elephants statement. And having adequate drinking water would have been a problem only after it stopped raining.]
  5. If the fossil record is a result of the flood, then it means that the number of animals alive in Noah’s day were vastly more than today. Noah was commanded to take a pair of every animal on board, which means a pair of all the animals documented in the fossil record (which are now extinct) on top of all the animals we are familiar with today! They would need food water for these as well, dinosaurs and all.
  6. This logically means that most of the species of animals that God originally created and Noah put on the ark went extinct after the flood. There is a tremendous amount of life documented in the fossil record which is not alive today. More than 95% of the animals that have lived on earth are now extinct. Why would God order Noah to preserve all the animals by bringing them on to the ark and then cause their extinction shortly after the flood? For example, did Noah take dinosaurs (whether eggs or mature) onto the ark only to have them all go extinct? If so, then the explicit reason given for the ark was almost a complete failure. Only a tiny percentage of the animals really survived. No wonder Noah took up drinking!

As others have done, Martin and Vaughn point out that if one translates the Hebrew word erets as “land” rather than “earth” in Genesis, the flood account takes on a completely different feel. For example, Genesis 7:17 would read

“For forty days the flood kept coming on the land, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the land. The waters rose and increased greatly on the land, and the ark floated on the surface of the water.”

This translation is every bit as legitimate as translating erets as “earth,” and presents the flood as a local, rather than global event.

The authors focus on Biblical rather than scientific arguments for an old Earth and local flood, but when they discuss geological concepts they get their facts right, something that is not done even by some other advocates of an old Earth.

I’m not as impressed by their eschatology, which I’ll take a look at in part 2.

The book’s website is: Beyond Creation Science. One of the authors graciously sent me a copy of the book for review.

Grace and Peace

P.S. Part two of my book review is a critique of the authors’ position on eschatology known as full preterism, which is a deviation from what the church has always taught regarding the return of Christ.

November 6, 2009 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Creation in the Bible, Future, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , | 9 Comments

A cheaper way to get humans to Mars: One-way tickets

MarsAstronauts

Credit: NASA

NASA’s Astrobiology Magazine has the text of a presentation given by physicist Paul Davies: A One-way Ticket to Mars.

The greatest expense in sending a group of astronauts to Mars is actually getting them back to Earth. Davies estimates that we may be able to save up to 80% of the costs by sending a group of four astronauts to Mars and then just leaving them there.

At first, this might sound crazy, but how different is it than when my great-grandparents left Norway for the United States, never to see their families again? Granted, Minnesota had oxygen and farmland (but my grandparents eventually ended up in Ekalaka, Montana, which may not have been all that different than ending up on Mars).

The astronauts would end up staying on Mars as the first members of a colony, with the hope that more astronauts would arrive every few years.

“As Bob Zubrin [founder of the Mars Society] has pointed out, Mars is the second-safest place in the solar system. And so it’s the one place humans can go where we could actually make a living, because it’s possible to use material on the martian surface, and crucially, Mars has water and carbon dioxide. So you’re not saying to the people who are going on this one-way mission: you’ve got three days’ supplies and that’s it. You could also protect yourself from some of the worlds hazards, such as the hazard of thin atmosphere.

“I would envisage probably four people would go in the first instance. But a one-way mission to Mars would not just be a one-off exercise. They would be trailblazers. It would be the first step to establishing a permanent human presence on another world. Although they would go without the expectation of returning, they would have the expectation that sooner or later they would be joined by others and that this Mars base would grow and eventually become a permanent Mars colony that might take hundreds of years to establish.”

Anyone want to sign up?

Grace and Peace

May 25, 2009 Posted by | Astrobiology, Astronomy, Future, Space Exploration | , , | 2 Comments

The Earth has a future

This item was originally posted in June 2006. I have added it to my blog recycling program. Because I have new readers of The GeoChristian, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my favorite blog entries (with some editing).

Additionally, this is being submitted to the January 2009 Accretionary Wedge Geoscience Blog Carnival, in which a number of geology bloggers are writing on the topic of speculation about future Earth history from a geological perspective. The first part of this post contains no original thinking on my part, but is a summary of an article that appeared in the online journal Geosphere.

For those of you who have gotten here who are not regular readers of The GeoChristian, welcome. I write primarily for a general audience rather than for a geological audience. One of the primary objectives of The GeoChristian is to promote geoscience literacy in the Evangelical Christian community, and so I have a number of posts on issues that are controversial within that group, including the age of the Earth and Christian attitudes toward the environment.

I close this post with a few thoughts on Christian perspectives on the future of the Earth.


The Accretionary Wedge #16: Pondering the geological future of Earth is now posted.


We usually think of the science of geology as being about the past: geologists often reconstruct events that happened thousands, millions, or even billions of years in the past. Sometimes geologists are called upon to project into the future as well. Examples of this include earthquake prediction and finding sites for long-term (>10,000 years) storage of radioactive waste. Geologist Steven Ian Dutch takes a look at the prospects for the next million years in “The Earth Has a Future”, published by the Geological Society of America in the online journal Geosphere. I’ll summarize the article and then give a little commentary on it.

The article is available online in two versions:

Dutch starts with processes active on the surface of the earth—erosion, uplift, volcanic activity, plate movement, changes due to human activities—as well as the more rare events such as eruptions of supervolcanoes and meteorite impacts. He calculates the rates at which these occur at various places on the earth, and makes predictions as to what the earth will be like in one thousand, ten thousand, one hundred thousand, and a million years from now. He acknowledges that there are many uncertainties in these speculations, but it is still a worthwhile exercise.

One of the most difficult things to predict, in Dutch’s mind, is the future impact of human activity. Will humans become extinct? Will technological civilization collapse? Will humans modify the surface of the earth beyond recognition?

Some things that will happen in the next 1000 years:

  • 5-7 magnitude 8 earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault, with total movement of about 25 m.
  • 40 eruptions of Vesuvius
  • 5-10 eruptions of Fuji
  • ~12 eruptions of Cascade Range volcanoes
  • Perhaps smaller volcanic eruptions in areas with lower-frequency eruptive histories: cinder cones in the SW United States, Puy region of France, or Eifel region of Germany
  • 200 eruptions of Mauna Loa on Hawaii, building it 5 m higher
  • Probable death of Old Faithful Geyser, as its geothermal plumbing shifts over time
  • Several world-wide large volcanic eruptions (on the scale of the 1815 eruption of Tambora in Indonesia, which caused “the year without summer” in the United States and Europe)
  • Little change visible in mountain ranges as they simultaneously uplift and erode
  • The Mississippi River and its delta will change its course. Its delta naturally changes position every 1000 years or so, and is overdue (thanks to the Army Corps of Engineers)
  • Niagara Falls will have cut back 900 m upstream from its present position
  • A good chance of a meteorite impact with a crater of 100 m or more
  • Most steel structures (Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate Bridge) will survive only with careful maintenance
  • Humans will still be using coal and natural gas, but not much petroleum

Some things that will happen in the next 10,000 years:

  • 50-70 magnitude 8 earthquakes on the San Andreas Fault, with displacement of 250 m
  • Kilauea, on Hawaii, will be about 100 m higher
  • Several hundred eruptions of Vesuvius
  • 100 eruptions of Fuji
  • 100 eruptions of Cascade Range volcanoes
  • 90 m uplift of the Baltic Sea and 100 m uplift of Hudson Bay as they continue to rebound after the removal of Pleistocene ice sheets. These bodies of water will, therefore, be smaller
  • By natural cycles, we would be nearing the end of the present interglacial, looking to the beginning of a new ice age
  • Niagara Falls will retreat upstream by 9 km
  • Higher probability of a 1 km crater formed by meteor impact, with considerable destruction up to hundreds of km away
  • Without considerable care, the only human structures that will still exist are large highway cuts and large monuments
  • No present human cities are 10,000 years old. Will any of our present cities exist 10,000 years from now?

Some things that will happen in the next 100,000 years:

  • 2.5 km slip along the San Andreas Fault. Not enough to close the Golden Gate
  • Kilauea will be 1 km higher, and Loihi (an underwater volcano SE of the island of Hawaii) will be above sea level
  • Some mountain ranges will have had 1 km of uplift. In most cases, this will be accompanied by close to 1 km of erosion, so the net result will be exposure of deeper rocks, not higher mountain ranges
  • Earth could be in an ice age
  • Niagara Falls will stop retreating as rock types are different further upstream. A new waterfall will start forming near the outlet of Lake Erie
  • There could be a meteor impact with global effect

Some things that will happen in the next 1,000,000 years:

  • The San Andreas Fault will have slipped 25 km, perhaps blocking the entrance to San Francisco Bay
  • The highest points of the island of Hawaii will be Kilauea and Loihi. Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea will be old and eroded
  • Several enormous catastrophic landslides will have occurred on the slopes of Hawaii
  • Many current volcanoes will have become extinct, being replaced by others
  • One or more eruptions of “supervolcanoes” such as Yellowstone or Long Valley, California. (The last large eruption at Yellowstone, 640,000 years ago, had a volume of 1000 km3, as compared to 0.5 km3 for Mount St. Helens 1980)
  • Some rivers will have changed their courses
  • Ten or more major periods of glaciation
  • Hundreds of meteor impacts
  • The earth’s day will be 20 seconds longer (due to tidal effects)
  • The moon will be 38 km further away
  • The solar system will have traveled 750 light years in its orbit around the center of the galaxy
  • The only present human structures to survive will be large and made of earth and stone: open-pit mines, large road cuts, mine waste piles, the Pyramids. (Even the Pyramids might not make it if the climate becomes more humid in that area).

Commentary

This kind of reasoning is increasingly important in the Earth sciences: trying to figure out what has happened in the past and what is going on at the present in order to make predictions about what is likely to happen in the future.

Some issues that come to mind as I as a Christian geologist think about the future of the Earth:

  • This paper puts our human achievements in a good perspective. All that we create is of a very temporary nature. Compared to the universe and the potential vastness of time, we are rather temporary. The purpose of this isn’t to magnify the creation, but to magnify the Creator. God is to the universe as the universe is to us. And that is an understatement.
  • In Christian understanding, God is sovereign over the events of the future. This does not rule out the type of investigation that has been done here—we can seek to understand how the earth works and then project that into the future. This is the geological principle of uniformitarianism properly applied to the future. It has its limits, but it can also be a powerful tool.
  • As a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ, who ascended to heaven after his resurrection, will return to Earth some day. I don’t know when that will be. First century believers thought that it would occur in their lifetimes, and probably couldn’t imagine a delay of at least 2000 years. I don’t know if Christ’s return will be tomorrow, or 3000 years further down the road. I am just told to always be ready.
  • One reason that we need to use our natural resources wisely is what I just stated. We don’t know the future; we don’t know when Christ is returning. Our water, mineral, soil, and energy resources may need to last us a very long time. There are a number of other reasons, of course, for us to pursue a sustainable future.
  • The Biblical view of eternal life (yes, as a Christian I believe in life after death) is not living in heaven. The Earth has a future, at least as a new Earth (Revelation 21:1). Biblical scholars disagree as to the exact relationship between the present Earth and the New Earth; whether it is just a makeover or a complete re-creation. But eternity for the believer will not be spent strumming harps on clouds, but on a real, physical Earth that is in many ways like the one we live on. It will have rocks and trees and bodies of water. It may be different in some ways than the present Earth, but it will still be “earthy.” The primary difference will be the removal of sin and its effects, such as disease, war, famine, and death.
  • Will the new Earth have volcanoes? Earthquakes? Uplift and erosion? Plate tectonics? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it will. We tend to think of things like volcanoes and earthquakes as “bad,” but I believe these things could fit under the phrase “it was good” from Genesis 1. Volcanoes, for example, renew the surface of the earth, and provide us with rich soils. “Good” isn’t the same as “safe;” in fact, dangerous things have a way of showing God’s glory to us.

Grace and Peace

January 30, 2009 Posted by | Blog Recycling, Future, Geology | 3 Comments

The future ice age

Irregardless of what we do to the planet now, the long-term climate prospect for sometime a few thousand to a few tens of thousands of years in the future is cold: Earth may face freeze worse than Ice Age. This is nothing new to geologists, recognizing that Earth is presently in a short interglacial period (the Holocene Epoch), squeezed in between longer glacial deep-freezes. What may be new to many is the idea that it appears that each freeze is getting a little deeper.

If catastrophic global warming is occuring, it will hopefully go away in a few thousand years, sometime after we burn the last chunk of coal and oil shale. Then it could get really cold. Our few centuries of fossil fuel short-sightedness will just be a blip in history.

Our response: Be frugal, and don’t worry about an Ice Age. It isn’t going to happen for a while.

Grace and Peace

November 17, 2008 Posted by | Climate Change, Environment, Future, Geology | Leave a comment

Futurology

I always find books and articles about the future to be fascinating. Here are some quotes from Futurologist Richard Watson’s 2050 vision: goodbye Belgium, hello brain transplants in the Telegraph.

[T]he environment will remain vitally important, but climate change won’t be the only game in town – the approach of peak oil, peak coal, peak gas, peak water, peak uranium and even peak people (a severe shortage of workers in many parts of the world) will also have an impact, and require a profound shift towards sustainability.

All of these have an Earth-science link! Sustainability is a key concept that we, as a society, are rather slow to grasp.

In Japan, the percentage of people aged over 75 is forecast to increase by 36 per cent between 2005 and 2015, meaning that taxes would have to go up by 175 per cent in a generation to maintain current levels of benefit.

What if the young people rebel against paying for us in our old age? I’ve heard it said that the generation that chose to be pro-choice in their 20s will regret it when they are the unwanted ones in their 70s.

In political and economic terms, the shift of power to the east, and the rise of countries such as China and India, will continue.

India and China are rising in science and technology as well.

It is estimated that by 2020, only 10 per cent of financial transactions will be in cash. We can safely predict that the idea of money as a physical object might well become extinct not long after – especially if a global pandemic starts us thinking about all the germs on those grubby notes. Instead, digital transactions will be made through computers, or cell phones, or even chips inserted into our forearms.

What would Hal Lindsey say? [Side note: Coins carry fewer germs than paper money]

Grace and Peace.

September 19, 2008 Posted by | Environment, Future, Population | 1 Comment

Maybe the Sky Isn’t Falling

From Christianity Today: Maybe the Sky Isn’t Falling: New UN study says that reports of the world’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

My previous post was about Al Gore and the Nobel Peace Prize. Some environmentalists look as global warming and a dozen other ecological crises that face us and say, “The sky is falling.” This CT article points to a United Nations study that highlights what is going right in the world:

  • The U.N. study states, “People around the world are becoming healthier, wealthier, better educated, more peaceful, more connected, and they are living longer.”
  • Much of the improvement in these areas, according to the report, is due to increased freedom, capitalism, and free trade.
  • The numbers of people living in extreme poverty continues to drop at a fast rate.
  • World population should peak around mid-century, and may even start to decline.

These are all good things.

The article, however, points us to a glaring fact of human nature. We have an incredible ability to mess things up. At the beginning of the 20th century, many were making the same sorts of optimistic predictions. Then came two world wars. We could easily repeat this folly. In our sin, and with our biotechnology and weapons of mass destruction, we have the potential of making the 21st century into one of misery and suffering.

Let us pray for our world, and work for the good of our neighbors.

Grace and Peace

October 12, 2007 Posted by | Environment, Future | Leave a comment

Faux Futures

Paleo-Future has a collection of paintings from 1910 envisioning what life would be like in the year 2000. Here are a few of my favorites:

Go to Paleo-Future for more.

Grace and Peace

September 23, 2007 Posted by | Fun, Future | 1 Comment

The World Without Us

A new book is out: The World Without Us. This isn’t some left-wing or Islamo-fascist book about how much better the world would be without the United States. This is speculative science, and I don’t use the word “speculative” in a negative sense. The book asks the question: “What would happen to the Earth if suddenly, all people were removed?”

There is a serious side to this speculation, and that is the question of the extent of the impact of human activities on the environment. How long will toxic organic chemicals persist in groundwater? How long will it take for plastics to decompose? What will happen to the structures we build if we don’t maintain them?

This doesn’t seem to be a book of the hyper-environmentalist humans-are-a-disease genre. Some on the vocal fringes of the environmental movement view humans as a cancer that is destroying the pristine Earth, and that the planet would be better off without us. The book doesn’t seem to be advocating anything of the sort.

The July 2007 issue of Scientific American has a full-length article on this book, which includes an interview with the book’s author, Alan Weisman. Here are the first two paragraphs from the article:

It’s a common fantasy to imagine that you’re the last person left alive on earth. But what if all human beings were suddenly whisked off the planet? That premise is the starting point for The World without Us, a new book by science writer Alan Weisman, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Arizona. In this extended thought experiment, Weisman does not specify exactly what finishes off Homo sapiens; instead he simply assumes the abrupt disappearance of our species and projects the sequence of events that would most likely occur in the years, decades and centuries afterward.

According to Weisman, large parts of our physical infrastructure would begin to crumble almost immediately. Without street cleaners and road crews, our grand boulevards and superhighways would start to crack and buckle in a matter of months. Over the following decades many houses and office buildings would collapse, but some ordinary items would resist decay for an extraordinarily long time. Stainless-steel pots, for example, could last for millennia, especially if they were buried in the weed-covered mounds that used to be our kitchens. And certain common plastics might remain intact for hundreds of thousands of years; they would not break down until microbes evolved the ability to consume them.

Here’s a few items from Weisman’s timeline for Manhattan without Man:

  • 2 days — New York City subways flood.
  • 7 days — Nuclear power plants melt down or burn.
  • 5 years — Much of New York burns.
  • 100 years — The steel in skyscrapers corrodes to the point that buildings begin to topple.
  • 300 years — New York’s suspension bridges collapse.
  • 15,000 years — Last stone buildings fall.
  • 10,000,000 years — Only human relics that have survived are bronze sculptures.

Even if you don’t read the Scientific American article, it is worth going to the site for the video and timeline.

Jesus said:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV)

All the great works of man will eventually turn to dust. Some of the stuff we want to last a long time doesn’t last; and some of the stuff we want to go away quickly is going to be with us for a long, long time.

Grace and Peace

June 27, 2007 Posted by | Environment, Future, Scientific American | Leave a comment

Shift Happens — The world is going to change a lot in the near future

Technological changes in our society tend to be exponential rather than linear. Some examples of this include:

  • The density of transistors on integrated chips doubles every 24 months.
  • Hard drive capacity increases about 40% per year (do you remember when that 20 MB hard drive seemed huge?)
  • Computer RAM has gone from kilobytes in the 80s, to megabytes in the 90s, to gigabytes in the 00s.
  • Etc…

What does the future hold? Check out the short video Shift Happens.

How will we as Christians respond to the technological changes that await us? What is the potential for good? What is the potential for evil?

(I thank Glenn at Be Bold, Be Gentle for this link).

Grace and Peace

March 1, 2007 Posted by | Future, Technology | Leave a comment

The Earth Has a Future

We usually think of the science of geology as being about the past: geologists often reconstruct events that happened thousands, millions, or even billions of years in the past. Sometimes geologists are called upon to project into the future as well. Examples of this include earthquake prediction and finding sites for long-term (>10,000 years) storage of radioactive waste. Geologist Steven Ian Dutch takes a look at the prospects for the next million years in “The Earth Has a Future”, published by the Geological Society of America in the online journal Geosphere. I’ll summarize the article and then give a little commentary on it.

The article is available online in two versions:

Dutch starts with processes active on the surface of the earth—erosion, uplift, volcanic activity, plate movement, changes due to human activities—as well as the more rare events such as eruptions of supervolcanoes and meteorite impacts. He calculates the rates at which these occur at various places on the earth, and makes predictions as to what the earth will be like in one thousand, ten thousand, one hundred thousand, and a million years from now. He acknowledges that there are many uncertainties in these speculations, but it is still a worthwhile exercise.

Continue reading

June 1, 2006 Posted by | Future, Geology | Leave a comment

   

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