Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Tragedy is in the Eye of the Beholder

It is an awful thing when people die. But death is not the end; it is always a beginning. A great man once said, "Life will find a way." It is true. No matter what we do to destroy our planet, life will find a way. The issues of Global Warming aren't that we will destroy all life (we won't), or that we will severely limit the amazing diversity of creation (we will, and we are), but rather that we will create an environment that is completely inhospitable for us.

But in death there is life. Not a sparrow falls, that God is not with it, and not a creature dies that it is not returned to the web of life. In every death, there is food for others. In every birth, there is the survival of one sperm among millions, and that life resulted only through the death of those millions. Even in that theological dreadnought, the ichneumon wasp, whose larval children devour the living caterpillar from the inside, it is through death that we find life. This is the message of biology, and the message of Christianity. Without the central tenant of death bringing life, the religion has nothing to offer itself. But this message was woven in the very fabric of the last 3.5 billion years of life, in the thread of our DNA.

These thoughts are prompted by a long-term undersea study of a continuously evolving volcano near Guam. The researchers have found that the newly erupting vents are quick to be colonized by never-before-seen species. The oceans there heat up and acidify, killing thousands of creatures, who rain down as seemingly magical food to the waiting acidophiles below. As our penchant for fossil fuels increasingly acidifies the ocean, this study helps scientists understand how these organisms can adapt.

I am reminded of another recent paper, suggesting that volcanoes or artificial aerosols could be a helpful last-ditch attempt to stave off Global Warming. It may well be that we end up praying to God for great eruptions throughout the planet, as we once had, in order to reverse what we have done. These eruptions could destroy millions of lives, and have been viewed throughout history as the judgment of God- and yet we would be reduced to praying for their onset.

But God may not choose to answer those prayers. We may destroy the planet as a livable place for us, and most of the species. But the organisms left- they will find a way. There will only be a few, but given another hundred million years, and life will have evolved in glorious new ways. We will have destroyed the beauty of creation, but we don't need to be around to see how it rebounds. Who knows if this is not the Apocalypse spoken of by John? We will still enter the Kingdom one day, but we don't need to be the final species that God deals with. He can make the rocks cry out in praise of him- he doesn't need Homo sapiens to do it. Another intelligent species, looking far different from us, can evolve in a few hundred million years, to fill in the niche gap we left. And they may well do a better job of caring for the Garden than we did. It's hard to imagine them doing worse.

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