The End of Civilization As We Know It? Part 3

BY HUGH ROSS – JULY 23, 2018

As I have explained in posts one and two, our present brief (13,000-year) warm interglacial and even briefer (9,000-year) period of extreme climate stability will end. Another ice age is coming. Though for a number of reasons (as I will explain) we cannot prevent the onset of an ice age, there are some things we can do to delay it.

Primary Natural Drivers of the Ice Age Cycle
As I describe in some detail in my book, Improbable Planet, the primary natural drivers of the ice age cycle are (1) cyclical variations in Earth’s rotation axis tilt (aka obliquity), and (2) cyclical variations in the elliptical shape or eccentricity of Earth’s orbit about the Sun.1

Earth’s obliquity varies from 22.1° to 24.5°. The predominant periodicity of this variation is 41,000 years. Presently, Earth’s obliquity = 23.439281°. It is decreasing at a rate of 47 arc seconds per century (0.0130° per century). Lower obliquity favors ice ages because summers are cooler and seasonal differences at high latitudes (where ice resides) are less pronounced, reducing the amount of winter snow and ice that melts. Earth’s obliquity is projected to reach its minimum value around 10,000 AD.

The eccentricity of Earth’s orbit varies from 0.000055 to 0.06792, where a value of 0.0 equals a perfect circle and 1.0 describes an orbit where the maximum orbital diameter divided by the minimum orbital diameter = infinity (that is, the minimum orbital diameter = 0.0). The predominant periodicities are 413,000, 125,000, and 95,000 years. Presently, Earth’s orbital eccentricity = 0.01670986, and it is decreasing. The last maximum (0.019) was about 10,000 years ago, and the previous minimum was 40,000 years ago (0.010). Lower eccentricity favors ice ages and a minimal value of Earth’s eccentricity is projected to occur roughly around 60,000 AD.

Delaying the Next Ice Age
If the primary natural drivers of the ice age cycle were the only significant factors driving the cycle, we should be in an ice age right now. Both Earth’s obliquity and orbital eccentricity are declining. Both are operating to cool our global climate. If Earth’s obliquity and orbital eccentricity were the only significant factors, the next ice age should have begun roughly 5,000 years ago.

Figure 1 shows the global mean temperatures over the past 300,000 years. Some unknown event or unique combination of obliquity and eccentricity cycles, circa 5,000 years ago, prevented the global mean temperature from rising high enough and long enough to melt the polar ice cap and bring on a subsequent ice age.

blog__inline--the-end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it-part-3-1Figure 1: Global Mean Temperatures for the Past 300,000 Years. The temperature scale (y-axis) is in degrees Centigrade relative to the present global mean temperature. Image credit:Adapted by author from image produced by Robert A. Rohde, Global Warming Art Project, CC by SA.

The domestication of cows began about 10,500 years ago but remained a small component of animal husbandry until 7,000–6,000 years ago.3 The dramatic rise in the domesticated cow population that began during the sixth millennium BC substantially enhanced the emission of greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere. This emission compensated for the cooling generated by Earth’s declining obliquity and orbital eccentricity.

Additional compensation for the cooling arising from Earth’s declining obliquity and orbital eccentricity came from the domestication of rice and the deforestation of Eurasia to make room for intensive crop cultivation and pasture land.4 Before the advent of the industrial revolution, the combination of the growth of animal husbandry, irrigation for rice farming, and the transformation of forests into cultivated fields and pasture lands raised the atmospheric carbon dioxide level from 245 parts per million to 285 parts per million, and the atmospheric methane level from 450 parts per billion to 700 parts per billion.

These three features of anthropogenic activity (human activity that affects nature) operating over the past 7,000 years played a major role, not only in delaying the onset of the next ice age, but also in producing an unprecedented period of extreme global climate stability. As figure 2 shows, the global mean temperature throughout the past 9,000 years has not varied by more than 2°Celsius (3.5°Fahrenheit). As I explained in Improbable Planet,5 it is due in large part to this brief period of extreme climate stability that humanity has been able to launch and sustain global, high-technology civilization and grow a human population numbering in the billions.

blog__inline--the-end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it-part-3-2Figure 2: Global Mean Temperatures during the Last 80,000 Years. The blue lines show the global mean temperature as determined from the GRIP Greenland deep ice core while the purple lines show the global mean temperature as determined by the NGRIP Greenland deep ice core. Image credit: adapted by author from image produced by Leland McKinnes/Wikipedia Commons, CC-by-3.0.

Since the advent of the industrial revolution and especially during the explosion of human wealth and technology that has occurred since the end of World War II, anthropogenic activity has overcompensated for the global cooling arising from the currently ongoing decline in Earth’s obliquity and orbital eccentricity. As I explained in my previous two blogs, it is this overcompensation that is threatening to accelerate the onset of the next ice age.

Many scientists and many more politicians are calling for draconian economic sacrifices in order to rectify this overcompensation of human activity. These scientists and politicians, in my opinion, are failing to fully consider the biblical principle of the universality of human sin and selfishness. In light of this biblical principle, as I explained in Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job,6 the only practical remedies for reducing the overcompensation are remedies that simultaneously boost peoples’ economic well-being and lower the impact of human activity. I discussed several such remedies in Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job, including restoring the whale populations,7 reducing the Sahara and Gobi deserts to the sizes they manifested two millennia ago,8 and substituting ostrich meat for beef.9

In addition to remedies achievable with existing resources and technology, there are a number of foreseeable technological advances that promise to reduce the over-compensation and restore the extreme climate stability we have been enjoying for the past 9,000 years. A prominent example is nuclear fusion. For several decades, physicists around the world have been working hard to develop nuclear fusion (as opposed to fission) reactors. If such reactors could be developed and produced in quantity, we would no longer need to use fossil fuels to generate energy to sustain the global economy.

While we can take steps to significantly delay the onset of the next ice age and restore extreme climate stability, such steps could have a severe impact on agricultural productivity. One reason why we are able to grow enough food to feed 7.5 billion humans, plus all the world’s domesticated animals, is that we depend on the melting of glaciers left over from the last ice age to provide the necessary water to irrigate our vast cultivated fields. Thus, a substantial delay in the onset of the next ice age could confront us with another potentially catastrophic problem—the complete melting away of the glaciers that currently are supplying water to our agricultural plains.

Preparing for the Next Ice Age
I am not saying it is infeasible for humanity to find a way to delay the onset of the next ice age by one or two millennia. Nuclear fusion reactors, for example, conceivably could provide a means to desalinate huge quantities of ocean water. However, to cite another biblical principle and a famous Christian hymn, this world is not our home.

In chapters 15 and 16 of Improbable Planet, I explain how the ice age cycle is a marvel of divine design. It is designed to enable our planet to sustain several billion people at one time. It is designed to enable these several billion humans to develop the wealth and technology to make possible the completion of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20) within the next few decades.

I describe how it is possible—with existing resources—for Christians today to take the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ to all the people groups of the world where, within each people group, a large minority of them would become disciples of Jesus Christ. With sufficient motivation on the part of existing evangelical Christians, I demonstrate in Improbable Planet how the task of “making disciples of all nations” could be completed in less than a few decades.10

The Bible promises (Romans 8Revelation 20–22) us that when the full number of human beings that God intends to redeem is in fact redeemed, the universe and our planet Earth will have fulfilled the purpose for which God created them. God will then replace them with a brand new creation—the new heavens and the new earth, a realm where “the old order of things” will pass away and where God says about the new creation, “I am making everything new.” As I explain in Beyond the Cosmos11 and in Why the Universe Is the Way It Is,12 the new creation will be governed by completely different laws of physics and dimensions. In the new creation we will not need to be concerned about the ice age cycle, global warming, or climate stability. God has promised to make the new creation a perfect realm for all eternity.

To be clear, I am not saying that because it appears the Great Commission can be fulfilled within a few decades, that we can ignore the climate problems we currently face. Many Christians, including myself, believe that the Bible teaches a literal reign of Jesus Christ here on planet Earth for a one-thousand-year period following the completion of the Great Commission. For Christians who do not hold to a millennial reign of Christ on Earth, there are still the exhortations from our Savior to “occupy until I come” (Luke 19:13) and the creation care mandate described in Genesis 1:28–30 and Job 37–39.

What I am saying is that God generously granted us an extremely beneficial ice age cycle and a brief period of extreme climate stability within that cycle so that we could not only enjoy a brief period of unprecedented wealth and technology but also, far more importantly, to use that wealth and technology to fulfill an eternal spiritual destiny. Yes, let’s do everything we can to wisely and economically sustain this remarkable period of terrestrial blessing in which we currently reside. However, let us do much more to partner with God to bring about the redemption of untold human beings, the eradication of all evil, and our preparation for eternal life and our careers in the new creation.

Endnotes
  1. Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity’s Home (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2016): 204–07, https://shop.reasons.org/product/283/improbable-planet.
  2. J. Laskar et al., “La2010: A New Orbital Solution for the Long-Term Motion of the Earth,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 532 (August 2011): id. A89, doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201116836.
  3. Benjamin S. Arbuckle et al., “Documenting the Initial Appearance of Domestic Cattle in the Eastern Fertile Crescent (Northern Iraq and Western Iran),” Journal of Archeological Science 72 (August 2016): 1–9, doi:10.1016/j.jas.2016.05.008.
  4. William F. Ruddiman, Stephen J. Vavrus, and John E. Kutzbach, “A Test of the Overdue-Glaciation Hypothesis,” Quaternary Science Reviews 24 (January 2005): 1-10, doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2004.07.010; Hugh Ross, “Overdue Glaciation,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, February 18, 2005, http://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2005/02/18/overdue-glaciation.
  5. Ross, Improbable Planet, 209–15.
  6. Hugh Ross, Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011): 53–54, 63–68.
  7. Ross, Hidden Treasures, 65–68.
  8. Ross, Hidden Treasures, 64–65.
  9. Ross, Hidden Treasures, 65.
  10. Ross, Improbable Planet, 225–30.
  11. Hugh Ross, Beyond the Cosmos, 3rd ed. (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2017): 185–94.
  12. Hugh Ross, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008): 193–206.

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Maybe We Are Alone in the Universe

BY JEFF ZWEERINK – JUNE 29, 2018

Back in the summer of 1950, famed physicist Enrico Fermi visited Los Alamos National Laboratory and discussed the possibility of interstellar travel with his colleagues as they walked to have lunch. In the brief exchange, some thought faster-than-light (FTL) travel was possible while others thought not. During lunch Fermi posed his now legendary question: “Where is everybody?” Remarkably, although the question came out of the blue, everyone understood its implications.

Fermi’s Paradox

At least one impetus for the conversation involved a query about how to explain a rash of UFO sightings. If aliens pervade the universe, some of them should have visited Earth already. However, all the observations at the time provided no substantial evidence for alien visitors (a conclusion still true today). Assuming the possibility of FTL travel, the existence of alien life and the lack of any evidence became known as the Fermi paradox.

The Drake Equation

Roughly a decade later, astronomer Frank Drake developed an equation that helps organize the scientific process by which we might determine the number of advanced alien civilizations in our galaxy. Known as the Drake Equation, it has 7 factors that break the huge problem of finding alien life into smaller, more manageable categories.

N = R* • fp • ne • fl • fi • fc • L

N:       number of detectable civilizations throughout the Milky Way Galaxy

R*:      rate of formation of stars suitable for intelligent life

fp:        fraction of stars suitable for intelligent life that have planetary systems

ne:       number of planets in those planetary systems

fl:         fraction of those planets that develop life

fi:         fraction of those life-forms that develop intelligence

fc:        fraction of those intelligent life-forms that send signals into space

L:        length of time those civilizations emit the signals into space

To determine all these factors will require research in disciplines including astronomy, physics, planetary science, geology, biology, biochemistry, and many others. In fact, scientists have formed a discipline called astrobiology that encompasses the specific aspects of all these other disciplines that pertain to life’s existence. A major component of astrobiology research entails the search for other planets that might host life. Until the discovery of the first exoplanet in the 1990s, this was a largely “data-free” endeavor. Research since then indicates that as many as 20% of stars might have habitable planets. We have no hard data driving the values of the last four factors and any one of these could easily be zero (meaning no civilization exists beyond Earth). Some research even suggests that as many as 22% of Sun-like stars harbor Earth-sized planets in some sort of habitable zone.1 However, scientists are likely underestimating the difficulty of making a truly habitable planet.

Resolving the Paradox?

Some people see that the number of civilizations predicted by the Drake Equation is zero (because the last four factors are really small). Others predict really large numbers by assuming, for example, that all the factors are around 0.1. These really large numbers lead to the paradox. According to the authors of a recent paper, replacing specific probabilities normally used for each factor with ranges that account for the uncertainty in each factor resolves (or rather “dissolves”) the issue.2 If one uses a uniform range between 0 and 0.2 for each number, the Drake equation predicts that we are alone in the galaxy over 21% of the time. With this relatively large probability that no other civilizations exist in the galaxy, Fermi’s paradox disappears.

I would point out that this analysis glosses over a more fundamental point: we have no idea what the values for the last four factors should be. And we have good reason to think some, like fl, are probably zero! In reality, most scientists consider the Drake equation, not as a tool to predict the number of detectable civilizations, but as a way to organize our approach to the search for life in the universe. We don’t know the answer we will find, but we can bear in mind that maybe life exists here on Earth (and anywhere else we might find it) because God created it to reflect his glory!

 


Endnotes:

  1. Erik A. Petigura, Andrew W. Howard, and Geoffrey W. Marcy, “Prevalence of Earth-Size Planets Orbiting Sun-Like Star,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110 (November 26, 2013): 19273–78, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1319909110.
  2. Anders Sandberg, Eric Drexler, and Toby Ord, “Dissolving the Fermi Paradox,” Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University (June 8, 2018): https://arxiv.org/pdf/1806.02404.pdf.

 

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Do Both Science and Christianity Require Faith?

BY JEFF ZWEERINK – MAY 4, 2018

In a New York Times editorial, Paul Davies made this provocative statement:

Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith—namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.

Davies basically argues that scientists must largely accept that the laws of physics work without having an adequate understanding of why they work. Nothing about the laws of physics specifies that they must appear the way they do or that they should exhibit the regularity, order, and understandability that they do. As you could imagine, the claim that science is founded on faith produced some rather strong reactions—which you can read in a conversation that took place at the Edge. The responses highlighted three important points.

First, many of the responses seemed determined to sever any connection between the practice of scientific and religious faith. For example, Jerry Coyne replies that scientists’ belief in the reliability of the laws of physics is “not a matter of faith. It’s a matter of experience. In contrast, the tenets of religion are truly based on faith, since there is no empirical data to support them.” He further states that “the lack of a current explanation for why the laws are as they are, however, does not make physics a faith. It only means that we don’t have the answer.”

Second, Coyne’s response (as well as others) shows that many scientists misunderstand the true definition of Christian faith. Lawrence Krauss echoes Coyne’s sentiments and declares that “the scientific method continually refines and changes our understanding of physical law, whereas religious ‘truths’ have remained largely unchanged.” Both of these scientists imply that science operates on logic and facts, whereas religion operates on feeling and belief.

However, as my colleague Ken Samples says, “biblical faith is confident trust in a credible or reliable source.” Testing and probing is part of the process of determining the credibility and reliability of a source. Contrary to Coyne’s assertion, the reliability of the Bible is supported by empirical data. For a couple of examples, investigate the big bang and early Earth.

Third, clearly many non-Christians have an inaccurate view of biblical faith. However, I think Christians should be responsible for articulating an accurate description of the Christian faith. Let me provide an example that clarifies how talking about God’s work in our lives can help dispel this misunderstanding.

A job interview brought me to California for the first time. Two months later, my family and I moved into an apartment I rented—sight unseen—over the phone. Before we even began the journey from the Midwest (where we were living at the time), we had some concerns. All of our family and friends lived in the Midwest. On top of all that, neither of us wanted to live in California, plus my pregnant wife was suffering back problems. Yet we made the move. One could call this blind faith since we were moving to an unknown place, dealing with significant health issues, and leaving the support of our extended family—all because God told us to.

However, this would miss the point that I had great confidence in God’s plan for our family. I had seen his work in my parents, and they trained us in the Christian faith. I had personally encountered God numerous times on mission trips and skiing trips, in my time at college, and during graduate school. I had studied under intelligent, knowledgeable Christians and had learned how to defend the reliability of the Bible. And I had seen Christ transform various aspects of my life as I sought to follow him. In other words, I had an abundance of evidence saying that following God’s direction in my life was the best way to live. Rather than blind faith, I was exercising confident trust in a credible source.

As I read the responses to the article by Paul Davies, I sense people rejecting Christianity, at least in part, because they see faith as ignoring the evidence. This provides an opportunity for Christians to show the rational, evidence-based nature of the Christian faith. And it allows us to make the case that God (and his revelation in the Bible) is a credible, reliable source worthy of our confident trust.

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The End of Civilization As We Know It? Part 2

BY HUGH ROSS – JULY 16, 2018

If an ice age is coming soon, how will our lives be affected? In my first blog post in this series, I described the latest scientific research that demonstrates how continued global warming will bring on the next ice age and approximately when we can expect its onset. In this post I will describe the consequences the onset of the next ice age will create for modern civilization. In the final post in this series I will briefly summarize our options for delaying the dawn of the next ice age and review what preparations we should make ahead of its arrival.

Ice Age Consequence #1: Too Much Ice
Right now, only about 10 percent of Earth’s surface is covered by ice. At the height of the last ice age, about 23 percent of Earth’s surface was covered by ice. Figure 1 shows the regions of the northern hemisphere that were covered by at least 3 kilometers’ thickness of ice. In the southern hemisphere, New Zealand, Tasmania, and the southern part of Chile were covered with similarly thick layers of ice.

blog__inline--the-end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it-part-2-1Figure 1: Maximum Extent of Thick Ice Cover of the Northern Hemisphere during the Last Ice Age. The turquoise-colored parts of the map indicate those regions covered by at least a 3-kilometer (2-mile) thickness of ice. Winter sea ice extended as far south as Mexico in the Pacific and North Carolina and Spain in the Atlantic. Image credit: John S. Schlee, United States Geological Survey and Hannes Grobe, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research.

In addition to those parts of Earth covered by ice 3 kilometers thick, there were many other regions covered by tens or hundreds of meters of ice. For example, in North America ice cover sufficient to prevent agriculture and the building of cities and transportation arteries extended south to Southern California.

Ice Age Consequence #2: Too Little River Water Flow
Regions of the world not covered by ice fields also would suffer. People there would find the water flow from rivers that they depend on to grow food largely locked up in ice that is not melting.

Ice Age Consequence #3: Depletion of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide
Growing food would be a huge challenge for another reason—the depletion of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The greater the percentage of Earth’s surface covered by ice, the less concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere.

This consequence occurs because greater ice coverage and lower global mean temperatures alter ocean currents. As a carbon isotope study revealed, these altered ocean currents remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and transport it to the deep ocean where it remains stored until ice coverage recedes and global mean temperatures rise.1

During the last ice age, the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration dropped down to 180–190 parts per million.2 The minimum requirement for plants to make any food at all through photosynthesis is 150 parts per million at sea level, 167 parts per million at 3,000 feet elevation, 187 parts per million at 6,000 feet elevation, and 210 parts per million at 9,000 feet elevation.3 At levels of 150–500 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, there is a direct correlation between that CO2 level in the atmosphere and the amount of food plants can produce through photosynthesis. Thus, it would be impossible to grow enough food to feed more than a billion humans under ice age conditions.

Ice Age Consequence #4: Extreme Climate Instability
It would be impossible to feed that many humans under ice age conditions for yet another reason. Only for the last 2.59 million years of Earth’s 4.566-billion-year history has there been an ice age cycle. Except for the past 0.009 million years, the ice age cycle has been characterized by extreme climate instability (see figure 2).

blog__inline--the-end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it-part-2-2Figure 2: Temperature Variability during the Last Ice Age. The blue and purple tracings portray the global mean temperature indicated by the GRIP and NGRIP Greenland ice cores, respectively. Image credit: Leland McInnes/Wikipedia Commons, CC-by-3.0.

This climate instability was characterized by unpredictable global mean temperature swings of up to 20°Fahrenheit (11°Celsius) on time scales of 2–3 centuries. Such radical climate instability explains why humans living during the last ice age were unable to launch and sustain any kind of large-scale civilization or sustain a large population.

Ice Age Consequence #5: Species Extinction
Because the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau are continuing to rise to higher elevations as a consequence of the ongoing tectonic collision between the Indian subcontinent and Asia, geophysicists confidently predict that the next ice age will be more catastrophic to life than the previous one. Specifically, they demonstrate that very likely the next ice age will result in even greater ice coverage, lower global mean temperatures, and lower atmospheric carbon dioxide levels than the previous ice age.

Most species of life presently on Earth, with appropriate human assistance, are capable of surviving these more dire consequences. However, many are not. The probable extinction of hundreds, if not thousands, of species of life will inevitably disturb ecosystems and eco-balances. Such disturbances will then impact human civilization.

Technological Fixes?
Today, we possess the technology to ameliorate some of the more dire consequences brought on by the next ice age. For example, we could build glass-enclosed greenhouses on top of the more stable ice fields. We could heat these greenhouses and, at appropriate time intervals, augment the carbon dioxide concentration inside them. Since soil would be in much shorter supply and difficult to transport, we could employ hydroponic technology to grow crops inside greenhouses. Since fresh liquid water also would be in short supply, we could use a variety of energy sources to melt the abundant ice. However, no matter how much technology we marshal toward food production, it is highly unlikely that we could produce as much food as we do today.

In my third blog post, I will discuss other possible technological fixes aimed at ameliorating the consequences the next ice age is bound to bring. I will also briefly summarize to what degree we can use technology to delay its onset and review the preparations we should undertake right now in anticipation of the arrival of the life-altering event.

Endnotes
  1. Jochen Schmidt et al, “Carbon Isotope Constraints on the Deglacial CO2 Rise from Ice Cores,” Science 336 (May 11, 2012): 711–714, https://doi:10.1126/science.1217161.
  2. Schmidt et al., “Carbon Isotope Constraints,” 711; J. R. Petit et al., “Climate and Atmospheric History of the Past 420,000 Years from the Vostok Ice Core, Antarctica,” Nature 399 (June 3, 1999): 433, https://doi:10.1038/20859.
  3. King-Fai Li et al., “Atmospheric Pressure as a Natural Climate Regulator for a Terrestrial Planet with a Biosphere,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 106 (June 16, 2009): 9576–79, https://doi:10.1073/pnas.0809436106.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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The End of Civilization As We Know It? Part 1

BY HUGH ROSS – JULY 9, 2018

Not a week goes by that I don’t get at least three questions about global warming. Frequently, what underlies these questions is a concern, and sometimes outright panic, that all the ice fields and glaciers in Antarctica, Greenland, and the Himalayas will melt and drown out all the coastal cities of the world where over a third of world’s population currently lives. Adding to this concern and panic is the worry that global warming will raise summer daytime temperatures in inland cities to such a degree that millions of people without air conditioning will die from heatstroke.

Ice Age Cycle Temperature Variation
My first response to global warming questions is to remind inquirers that we are in an ice age cycle. That cycle, driven by sinusoidal (wave pattern) variations in the ellipticity of Earth’s orbit about the Sun and in the tilt of Earth’s rotation axis, implies that inevitably the global mean temperature will rise and fall in response to the cycle.

My second response to global warming questions is that for the past 2.6 million years whenever the global mean temperature rose by 2–3°C (3–5°F) above the present value, Earth experienced a rapid temperature drop that brought on an ice age that covered 20–23 percent of Earth’s surface in ice hundreds of feet thick. Figure 1 shows how throughout the past 400,000 years such global warming temperature peaks has quickly and consistently brought on temperature drops that resulted in an ice age.

blog__inline--the-end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it-part-1-1Figure 1: Global Mean Temperatures throughout the Past Four Ice Age Cycles. The numbers on the Y-axis are degrees Celsius relative to the present global mean temperature. Image credit: Robert A. Rohde, Global Warming Art Project, CC by SA.

The data indicate that we should be much more concerned about an extended period of global cooling than we are about a brief episode of global warming. In order to better prepare for and ameliorate the impact of an extended period of global cooling, we should seek a resolution to the paradox of how brief episodes of global warming bring on long periods of global cooling. In the July 2018 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, researchers published two papers pointing to significant steps toward resolving that paradox and gaining the understanding we need for our future well-being.

How Global Warming Brings On an Ice Age
The first of these papers addresses the consequences of the looming loss of the Arctic ice cap. This loss is dramatic, owing to the fact that the ice cap is, at most, just a few meters thick and Arctic air temperatures have increased at double the average global rate. Surface air temperature over land north of 60°N has increased by an average of 3.5°C (6.3°F) since 1900.1Figure 2 shows that from 1982 to 2012, about half of the summer Arctic ice cap has melted away.2 Assuming the present rate of greenhouse gas emissions in the future neither increases nor decreases, the best climate models predict that by 2050 the summer Arctic ice cap will be completely gone.3

blog__inline--the-end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it-part-1-2Figure 2: Arctic Sea Ice Extent on September 16, 2012, Compared to the Average Minimum Extent over the Past 30 Years (yellow outline). Image credit: NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio.

As Arctic sea ice continues to disappear, the newly opened waters of the Arctic Ocean, with their much lower albedo (reflectivity) than ice and snow, will absorb much more heat from the Sun. This extra heat will increase the temperature and moisture content of the overlying atmosphere, which will deliver more precipitation to the landmasses adjoining the Arctic Ocean (primarily Canada and Russia). This consequence of the shrinking Arctic ice cap has been understood and confirmed since 2010.4

In a new study, a team of four geoscientists has demonstrated the much more remote response (in other words, what would happen closer to the tropics where most people live) to Arctic ice loss.5 The team investigated the global climate outcomes from the abrupt loss of Arctic sea ice using the computer simulation, Community Climate System Model version 4, in two different configurations: (1) a thermodynamic slab mixed layer ocean, and (2) a full-depth ocean that includes both dynamics and thermodynamics.

The team’s computer simulations showed that within 20–30 years after Arctic sea ice loss, the tropical oceans are greatly impacted. This time frame is much faster than what previous, less sophisticated models had indicated.6

In particular, the simulations showed that the surface and subsurface ocean layers down to a depth of at least 200 meters are warmed considerably. This enhanced ocean water warming is much more pronounced in the northern hemisphere than in the southern hemisphere. The simulations predict that precipitation over the northern mid-latitude Pacific Ocean and over the adjoining landmasses dramatically increases.

Outcomes from the team’s simulations were remarkably consistent with the events of the last ice age. The advent of the last ice age began with snow and ice accumulating over western Siberia and Labrador. Soon thereafter all of Canada and more than two-thirds of Siberia became covered with ice more than a thousand feet thick. At maximum extent, 23 percent of Earth’s surface was covered with a thick layer of ice during the last ice age (see figure 3).

blog__inline--the-end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it-part-1-3Figure 3: Maximum Extent of Thick Ice Cover of the Northern Hemisphere During the Last Ice Age. The turquoise-colored parts of the map indicate those regions covered by ice at least 3 kilometers (2 miles) thick. Winter sea ice extended as far south as Mexico in the Pacific and North Carolina and Spain in the Atlantic. Image credit: John S. Schlee, United States Geological Survey and Hannes Grobe, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research.

Today, both northern Canada and northern Siberia, in spite of a 3.5°C (6.3°F) rise in temperature since 1900, are more than cold enough for snow to remain frozen and accumulate to form large sheets of ice. The reason such ice sheets are not forming now is that both northern Canada and northern Siberia are deserts. Neither region gets more than the equivalent of 10 inches of precipitation.

The melting of the Arctic ice cap will dramatically increase the precipitation over northern Canada and northern Siberia. Much more snow will fall upon those regions, causing huge ice sheets to form there. Meanwhile, as the study produced by the four geoscientists demonstrates, within two or three decades after the melting of the summer Arctic ice cap, precipitation will dramatically rise over the landmasses adjoining the North Pacific Ocean and, to a lesser degree, the North Atlantic. Because of the global cooling that will result from northern Canada and northern Siberia being covered with giant ice sheets, much of the precipitation falling upon southern Canada, southern Siberia, northern United States, and Western Europe will be snow. This additional snow will extend the coverage of Earth by thick ice sheets to the degree displayed in figure 3.

According to the geoscientists’ research and the other studies cited here, we could see the dawn of the next ice age within a century and its full onset within a millennium. In the same issue of Geophysical Research Letters, three scientists at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research show that mineral dust deposition in the Arctic conceivably could bring about an even more imminent dawn of the next ice age.7 Because of this mineral dust’s low albedo (reflectivity), it warms up the snow and ice upon which it falls. The three Norwegian scientists calculated that mineral dust deposition warms up the Arctic ice and snow by 0.135 watts per square meter.8 This extra heat implies that the Arctic ice cap could melt away a lot more rapidly than what calculations based solely on enhanced greenhouse gases predict.

End of Civilization?
Obviously, the full onset of the next ice age will have dire consequences for Canadians, Russians, and other people living in northern latitudes. In my next blog post I will describe how the arrival of the next ice age will bring about multiple consequences for global human civilization. In the third post in this series, I will describe what steps we humans can take to prolong the onset of the next ice age and how we should prepare for the inevitable.

Endnotes
  1. J. Richter-Menge and J. T. Mathis, “The Arctic: a. Overview,” in D. D. Arndt et al., “State of the Climate in 2016,” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 98 (August 2017): S129, https://doi:10.1175/2017BAMSStateoftheClimate.1.
  2. D. Perovich et al., “5. The Arctic: c. Sea Ice Cover,” in D. D. Arndt et al., “State of the Climate in 2016,” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 98 (August 2017): S131–S133,https://doi:10.1175/2017BAMSStateoftheClimate.1.
  3. T. F. Stocker et al. (editors), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2013), Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis: Chapter 4—Observations: Cryosphere (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014): 317–82, https://doi:10.1017/CBO9781107415324.012.
  4. Clara Deser and Robert Tomas, “The Seasonal Atmospheric Response to Projected Arctic Sea Ice Loss in the Late Twenty-First Century,” Journal of Climate 23 (January, 2010): 333–51, https://doi:10.1175/2009jCLI3053.1; J. A. Screen and I. Simmonds, “The Central Role of Diminishing Sea Ice in Recent Arctic Temperature Amplification,” Nature 464 (April 29, 2010): 1334–37, https://doi:10.1038/nature09051.
  5. Kun Wang et al., “Fast Response of the Tropics to an Abrupt Loss of Arctic Sea Ice Via Ocean Dynamics,” Geophysical Research Letters 45 (May 16, 2018): 4264–72, https://doi:10.1029/2018GL077325.
  6. Ivana Cvijanovic et al., “Future Loss of Arctic Sea-Ice Cover Could Drive a Substantial Decrease in California’s Rainfall,” Nature Communications 8 (art. 1947) December 5, 2017, https://doi:10.1038/s41467-017-01907-4.
  7. A. Kylling, C. D. Groot Zwaaftink, and A. Stohl, “Mineral Dust Instantaneous Radiative Forcing in the Arctic,” Geophysical Research Letters 45 (June 2018): 4290–98, https://doi:10.1029/2018GL077346.
  8. Kylling, Groot Zwaaftink, and Stohl, “Mineral Dust Instantaneous Radiative Forcing,” 4290.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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Five Best Scientific Evidences for the God of the Bible

BY HUGH ROSS – JUNE 4, 2018

People we meet and audiences we address frequently ask us for brief descriptions of the best scientific evidences for God. Depending on individual backgrounds, what is best for one person will be different for someone else. However, in the more than 30-year history of Reasons to Believe, one or more of the following five have proven most effective in persuading modern-day non-theists that the God of the Bible really does exist:

  1. origin of space, time, matter, and energy
  2. origin of life
  3. human exceptionalism
  4. fine-tuning of the universe, Earth, and Earth’s life to make possible the existence and redemption of billions of humans
  5. Genesis 1’s predictive power to accurately describe, in chronological order, key events in Earth’s history leading to humans

blog__inline--five-best-scientific-evidences-1Image credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team

Origin of the universe: All our observations of the present and past state of the universe are consistent with a cosmic creation event that occurred 13.8 billion years ago. Some examples include (1) maps of the cosmic microwave background radiation; (2) past cosmic temperature measures establishing the universe has cooled from a near infinitely hot, compact state; (3) observed spreading apart of galaxy clusters and galaxies; (4) measures of the cosmic expansion rates throughout the universe’s past history; (5) absence of black dwarf stars; (6) abundances of radioisotopes; (7) stellar burning time measurements; and (8) white dwarf cooling curves. Space-time theorems establish that a causal Agent beyond space and time created the universe. Resources: The Creator and the Cosmos; A Matter of Days

blog__inline--five-best-scientific-evidences-2Image credit: Richard Wheeler (Zephyris)

Origin of life: Outside of living organisms and their decay products, scientists find no ribose, arginine, lysine, or tryptophan—molecules critical for assembling proteins, RNA, and DNA—either on Earth or elsewhere in the universe. No conceivable naturalistic scenario is able to generate the large, stable ensembles of homochiral ribose and homochiral amino acids that all naturalistic origin-of-life models require, affirming why no such natural sources have ever been found. Many of life’s critical building block molecules cannot last outside of organisms and their decay products for more than just days, hours, or minutes. Early Earth’s abundance of uranium and thorium (by their radiometric decay) would have split enough of Earth’s surface water into hydrogen and oxygen to shut down the chemical pathways to a naturalistic origin of life. The measured time window between Earth’s deadly, hostile environment for life and an abundance of life is narrower than a few million years. Even with high-tech lab facilities, biochemists cannot make RNA or DNA with genuine self-replication capability. Resources: Origins of Life; Creating Life in the Lab

blog__inline--five-best-scientific-evidences-3Image credit: Domenichino (1581–1641)

Human exceptionalism: A wealth of scientific evidence shows that humans alone, as distinct from Neanderthals, Homo erectus, and other species, possess the capacity for symbolic recognition, for complex language, art, and music, and for spiritual and philosophical engagement. Humans alone manifest awareness of God, sin, moral judgment, and life beyond death. Humans alone demonstrate technological advancement, including the development of agriculture and civilization. New evidence shows that even during episodes of extreme environmental instability, humans were able to maintain small mixed farms (with multiple species of crops and livestock) and to manufacture flour and clothing. Resource: Who Was Adam?

blog__inline--five-best-scientific-evidences-4Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Fine-tuning: More than 100 different features of the universe and the laws of physics must be exquisitely fine-tuned to make advanced life possible. More than 800 different features of our galaxy and planetary system must be fine-tuned for advanced life to possibly exist. The fine-tuning evidences rise exponentially as one proceeds from what is needed for microbes, to what is needed for plants and animals, to what is needed for humans, to what is needed for billions of humans to understand and respond to the Creator’s offer of redemption from sin and evil. The fine-tuning evidence also rises exponentially as scientists progressively learn more about the universe, Earth, and Earth’s life. Resources: Improbable Planet; The Creator and the Cosmos

blog__inline--five-best-scientific-evidences-5Image credit: Photo taken by the author from the NIV Bible

Genesis 1: Genesis 1:2 establishes the frame of reference for the six-day creation account as the surface of Earth’s waters, and it describes four initial conditions: ubiquitous darkness and water on Earth’s surface, no life, and unfit conditions for life. On day 1, Earth’s atmosphere becomes translucent (“let there be light”). On day 4, the atmosphere becomes transparent (“let there be lights in the expanse of the sky”). The Hebrew word for day, yom, has four literal definitions, one of which is a long, finite time period. That day 7 is not closed out by an “evening and morning” implies that the creation days are consecutive long time periods. Thus, Genesis 1 accurately predicted both the description, timing, and order of the events of creation. Resource: Navigating Genesis

In addition to the resource books, Reasons to Believe (RTB) scientists have written many articles and blogs on these five scientific evidences for God that can be accessed for free at reasons.org. RTB scientists also answer questions on these subjects on their personal Facebook and Twitter pages.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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Rapid Landmass Emergence Affirms Creation Day 3

BY HUGH ROSS – JUNE 11, 2018

When I first read Genesis 1 at age 17, the plate tectonics theory was in its infancy. Researchers were still not certain whether continents had always existed on Earth’s surface or if the planet had transitioned over several billion years from a water world into its present state, where continents cover 29 percent of its surface. I remember wondering at that time if, while science had not disproved anything written in Genesis 1, it would actually advance to proving that Genesis 1 got both the descriptions and the chronological order of creation events correct? Uppermost in my mind back then was whether or not the new science of plate tectonics would vindicate Genesis 1’s statements about the continental landmasses being formed on creation day 3.

Two years later, I had the privilege of taking a newly designed geophysics class from Jack Jacobs and Don Russell, two of the founders of plate tectonics theory. The course used the textbook they had written with J. Tuzo Wilson.There I learned about the emerging strong evidence that Earth has had a long history of powerful plate tectonics that gave rise to continents, mountain ranges, and volcanoes. I recognized that this model of Earth’s history was at least broadly consistent with the biblical description of creation day 3.

However, Genesis 1 implies that the majority of continental landmass growth occurred within a short time period when Earth was about half or a little less than half its present age, which could correlate to the first part of day 3. So the question becomes, does Earth’s geological history support such rapid landmass growth?

In 1982, geoscientists used major element chemistry of lutites (fine-grained sedimentary rock consisting of clay or silt-sized particles or both) to infer that much of the continental landmass formation occurred 2.1–2.5 billion years ago.Then in 2016, geoscientists used radiometric dating and the oxygen-18 to oxygen-16 (O-18/O-16) isotope ratio of shale deposits around the world to more accurately determine that indeed the bulk of continental landmass formation occurred about 2.5 billion years ago.3 Figure 1 shows the continental landmass growth as a percentage of Earth’s total surface area based on the O-18/O-16 ratio. I have been using this figure in my talks and books on the concordance of Genesis 1 with the established scientific record.

blog__inline--rapid-landmass-emergence-1Figure 1: Growth of Continents as a Percentage of Earth’s Surface Area Based on O-18/O16 Ratios Alone. Image credit: Hugh Ross

In the May 2018 issue of Nature, a team of geologists and geophysicists led by Ilya Bindeman provided the most accurate constraint, to date, on the emergence of continents over the past 3.7 billion years. They are the first team to use triple-oxygen isotope ratio analysis on shale deposits from all continents.4 Shales are useful for this kind of research because they are the dominant sedimentary rock on Earth and they are the products of chemical and physical weathering of landmasses. Hence, shales are an excellent proxy for how much of Earth’s surface is comprised of landmasses.

Unlike previous studies, Bindeman’s team analyzed both the O-18/O-16 ratio and the oxygen-17 to oxygen-16 (O-17/O-16) isotope ratio in the shale deposits. Theirs is also the most extensive sample of shale deposits. They analyzed shales from 278 outcrops and drill holes on all seven continents. The combined use of two isotope ratios enabled Bindeman’s team to determine exactly how the shale deposits were formed. This knowledge allowed them to accurately reconstruct Earth’s past surface conditions. Figure 2 shows the growth history of Earth’s continental landmasses based on the data presented in the Bindeman team’s paper.

blog__inline--rapid-landmass-emergence-2Figure 2: Growth of Continents as a Percentage of Earth’s Surface Area Based on O-18/O16 and O17/O16 Ratios. Image credit: Hugh Ross

blog__inline--rapid-landmass-emergence-3Figure 3: Continental Landmass Coverage at Different Times. Image credit: Hugh Ross and Wikipedia Commons

Figure 3 shows rough maps of the extent of continental landmasses on Earth’s surface at three different times. The full paper published in Nature includes a gorgeous image showing, in accurate detail, first the extent of Earth’s landmasses previous to 2.45 billion years ago, showing only two mini-continents or cratons, and second the extent of Earth’s landmasses after 2.32 billion years ago, showing the extent of Kenorland, the first supercontinent. The two maps show that in less than 0.13 billion years, landmass coverage expanded by about 13 times.

The formation of Kenorland permitted, for the first time, recycling of nutrients from the landmasses to the oceans and back sufficient enough to sustain longterm advanced life. Kenorland’s rapid formation also coincided with the Great Oxygenation Event, which I describe in detail in my book Improbable Planet.5 The Great Oxygenation Event was critical for paving the way for sustaining longterm advanced life.

The more accurately determined growth history of Earth’s continents is more consistent with the implication in Genesis 1:9 that nearly all continental landmass growth occurred within a short time period when Earth was about half or a little less than half its present age. The research achieved by Bindeman’s team affirms that the more we learn about science and the record of nature, the more reasons we gain to trust the Bible as the inspired, inerrant, authoritative Word of God.

Endnotes
  1. J. A. Jacobs, R. D. Russell, and J. Tuzo Wilson, Physics and Geology (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959).
  2. H. W. Nesbitt and G. M. Young, “Early Proterozoic Climates and Plate Motions Inferred from Major Element Chemistry of Lutites,” Nature 299 (October 1982): 715–17, https://doi:10.1038/299715a0.
  3. J. W. Valley et al., “4.4 Billion Years of Crustal Maturation: Oxygen Isotope Ratios of Magmati Zircon,” Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology 150 (December 2005): 561–80, https://doi:10.1007/s00410-005-0025-8; I. N. Bindeman, A. Bekker, and D. O. Zakharov, “Oxygen Isotope Perspective on Crustal Evolution on Early Earth: A Record of Precambrian Shale with Emphasis on Paleoproterozoic Glaciation and Great Oxygenation Event,” Earth and Planetary Science Letters 437 (March 2016): 101–13, https://doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2015.12.029.
  4. I. N. Bindeman et al., “Rapid Emergence of Subaerial Landmasses and Onset of Modern Hydrologic Cycle 2.5 Billion Years Ago,” Nature 557 (May 23, 2018): 545–48, https://doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0131-1.
  5. Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity’s Home (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016), 119–27.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

Support Reasons to Believe

Your support helps more people find Christ through sharing how the latest scientific discoveries affirm our faith in the God of the Bible.

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U.S. Mailing Address
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  • P (855) 732-7667
  • P (626) 335-1480
  • Fax (626) 852-0178

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