The Paradox of Christian Environmentalism

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On many political and social issues, there is often a predictable split between traditional / conservative and so-called progressive wings of the Christian church, at least for certain denominations. Environmental activism, pursuit of clean energy, and concerns about climate change tend to be found more among the ‘Christian Left.’ Liberal-minded Christians emphasize the role of humanity as caretakers and stewards of God’s creation while conservative-minded Christians emphasize the call for humanity to exercise dominion over creation. The former are accused of worshiping a false god of Mother Nature; the latter of raping the Earth and denying science.

Paradoxically, both sides are wrong and right. Where the Christian environmentalists err is in failing to realize the total eschatological destruction of the creation they are trying to preserve. Scripture is clear that “the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire” (2 Peter 3:7) and that “the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). Again, “the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!” (2 Peter 3:12). Some physicists argue that our universe is permeated by an ocean of Higgs field. If the value or energy state of that Higgs field changes, the Biblical scenario referenced above would indeed happen.

So no matter how hard we work to preserve the environment now, all of it will inevitably be erased from existence. The Great Barrier Reef? Gone. The Amazon Rainforest? Obliterated. The African Elephant? Extinct.

But the ultimate promise is of new heavens and a new earth, a return to the paradisiacal Edenic state – Earth 2.0, if you will. Although all physical matter in the entire universe in this current stage of reality will be gone, yet we are told that the “glory and honor of the nations” will be brought into the future heavenly city of God on the renewed planet (Revelation 21:26). But what glory and honor will remain if everything is wiped out? The Mona Lisa and Crown Jewels won’t be around. Godiva chocolate won’t be there either. What is this verse referring to?

I interpret this in part to mean that the knowledge and expertise Christians gain in this life will be carried over and useful in the age to come. Although the skyscrapers we build will not endure, our engineering and construction experience will. Although our spaceships and satellites will be long gone, our understanding of astrophysics and rocket science will be preserved. Although your favorite pizza place won’t be there, our understanding of making incredible, authentic Neapolitan-style pizza will endure (if anyone with that knowledge makes it into heaven). This same principle applies to environmentalism.

Christians should become experts in clean and renewable energy and sustainability now, because that knowledge is going to hugely benefit us in the life to come. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past. Who wants to be told to stay out of the ocean due to high bacteria levels? Who wants to walk around their city wearing a breathing mask because of air pollution? Who wants to suffer the consequences of radiation poisoning when a nuclear reactor fails? Who wants to see a Garden of Eden paved to make room for gaudy strip-malls? If you love fishing, sustainable fishing matters to you. If you love books, you are going to want sustainable forestry for the printing of paper. If we have the opportunity of Earth 2.0, let’s get it right from the start, especially if we are going to live there forever.

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Simulated Worlds and Harmonizing the Age of the Earth

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Elon Musk believes that we live inside of an advanced computer simulation. Spoiler alert: we don’t. However, the concept of the simulated universe is a useful tool, perhaps the tool, to drive the next leap of theological advancement. See my related posts here, here, and here.

This is not dissimilar to other secular origin theories that have arisen out of skepticism and dissatisfaction with traditional Darwinian evolution, Big Bang cosmology, and philosophical naturalism that can actually be leveraged in favor of Christian creation theories. For example, Directed Panspermia is a theory that early lifeforms were deliberately transported and planted on Earth by advanced beings (extraterrestrials). Compare this to the Christian concept of life being purposefully created on Earth by an advanced being (God). Another example, The Black Hole at the Beginning of Time theory basically argues, “that our universe may have emerged from a black hole in a higher-dimensional universe.” Compare this to the Christian concept of matter and energy appearing in nothingness, originating from a higher-dimensional source outside of our physical universe.

But I digress. The age of the Earth is a point of Christian contention between Old-Earth Creationists and Young-Earth Creationists and, at times, between Christians and non-Christian scientists. In my current thinking, the only two coherent arguments that have been advanced which satisfy evidence found in both General and Special revelation is the Day-Age Theory and the Ideal-Age Theory (or Apparent-Age Theory) of creation. The Day-Age Theory states that each day or “yom” of creation is really a period of time, so that creation is then completed in six periods of time or stages rather than literal 24-hour days in a calendar week. The Ideal-Age Theory states that the universe was created with all the hallmarks of age: Adam had the body of an adult male, trees had rings, distant stars as well as the light particles between them and the Earth were created simultaneously, etc. For a good discussion from Wayne Grudem on this debate, go here. Both views have adamant advocates and detractors, and neither are without difficulties.

Using the concepts of Simulated Worlds or Simulated Universes, we can actually harmonize these two conflicting views. Let’s look at the world generating process of the computer game, Dwarf Fortress. I am pulling the next section whole cloth from Wikipedia:

The first step in Dwarf Fortress is generating a playable world; only one game can be played per world at a time. The player can adjust certain parameters governing size, savagery, mineral occurrences and the length of history. The map shows symbols representing roads, hills, towns and cities of the various civilizations, and it changes as the generation progresses.

The process involves procedurally-generated basic elements like elevation, rainfall, mineral distribution, drainage and temperature. For example, a high-rainfall and low-drainage area would make a swamp. Areas are thus categorized into biomes, which have two variables: savagery and alignment. They have their own specific type of plant and animal populations. The next phase is erosion—which the drainage simulates. Rivers are created by tracing their paths from the mountains (which get eroded) to its end which is usually an ocean; some form into lakes. The salinity field defines oceans, mangroves or alluvial plains. Names are generated for the biomes and rivers. The names depend on the area’s good/evil variable (the alignment) and though in English, they are originally in one of the four in-game languages of dwarves, elves, humans and goblins; these are the four main races in any generated world.

 After a few minutes the world is populated and its history develops for the amount of in-game years selected in the history parameter. Civilizations, races and religions spread and wars occur, with the “population” and “deaths” counters increasing. The ticker stops at the designated “years” value, at which point the world can be saved for use in any game mode. Should the player choose to retire a fortress or gets defeated, this world will persist and will become available for further games.

So, here you have an example of a simulated world that does not pop up instantly, but rather develops algorithmically and procedurally. But this process, which covers an incredible stretch of in-game time, takes only a few minutes of outside-game time or real time. To put it another way, in our higher-dimensional world, we experience the acceleration of lower-dimensional time for a set period, and then a more normalized lower-dimensional passage of time when the world generation ends and the game begins.

So, a harmonization of the Day-Age and Ideal-Age theories of Christian creation might be as follows. During the process of creation, the universe did not appear pre-fabricated, but rather developed procedurally. For example, light emitted from distant stars had to travel through the vacuum of space, the Grand Canyon slowly eroded, etc. However, all of these events occurred at an accelerated pace. We might say that a higher-dimensional measure of time (the Transcendent Time’s Arrow? Multiversal Standard Speed?), was increased, while all the processes remained at the same relative speed to one another within the physical universe. For example, the speed of light stayed the same relative to other physical processes, such as radioactive decay, but all were greatly accelerated relative to a measure of time external to this physical universe.

In this way, you could have what would ordinarily take millions of years accomplished in a much shorter period of time, and the higher-dimensional acceleration would go unnoticed in the lower-dimensional world because of in-universe relativity. I am not saying that I personally hold to this view, but hey, if an old PC running Windows 98 with 256 ram can do it, why not God?

The Psychological Need for Aesthetic Beauty

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Sometimes it is hard to reconcile the natural beauty of creation with the spiritual call to not love the world or the things of the world, and to instead long for a heavenly country. Now, not to say anything about natural disasters, corrupt civilizations, or human depravity and suffering, there is within most of us a deep reaction to the remaining beauty of the created world: a breath-taking sunset, autumn colors at their peak, the vista from a mountaintop, etc.

In the creation story found in Genesis, what God created at the beginning of human history was good. More than that, it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). As part of God’s original design, he “planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed” (Genesis 2:8). Sometimes we assume that this was a wild, sprawling rain forest – we picture Adam being fully in touch with primordial nature like Tarzan. However, cultural studies of the Ancient Near East indicate that such concepts of Paradise have more in common with walled-in private (even botanical) gardens. Indeed, being left out alone in the wild of our planet as we know it today is not usually a pleasant experience – it is a struggle for survival against the elements.

Rather than untamed jungle in the Garden of Eden, we see the intersection of Nature and Design. “And out of the ground Yahweh Elohim made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:9). The Creator not only provided physical nourishment for the first humans, but also aesthetic pleasure – perhaps we could consider this psychological nourishment. Research does indicate that colors can affect our mood. The concept behind ‘seasonal affective disorder’ is that seasonal changes such as cold, gray, short winter days can impact our emotions and behaviors. Whatever the case may be, scripture notes that God specifically chose flora “pleasant to the sight” to be in the Paradise of his design. There is a human need to experience beauty.