The Good Earthquake

From Christianity Today’s Books and Culture section, oddly enough on UFOs and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. But this nugget is fascinating:

Some of the environmental features increasingly understood as required for life to thrive can also, in certain settings, be catastrophic for life. Consider this: plate tectonics, responsible for horrific earthquakes, devastating countless lives, are now considered essential for recycling the atmosphere and regulating the temperature of “living” planets like Earth.

Oceans “lubricate” the system, allowing surface plates to slide. Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere gets deposited to the ground by rain and dissolves into rocks and minerals that are carried to the sea, ending up in the sediments on the sea floor. As plates move, one plate can get subducted under another, carrying the sea floor sediments deep into the hot mantle of the continent. The hot material is eventually vented out into the atmosphere through volcanoes, completing the cycle.

Without oceans, rain, and the motions of plate tectonics, the atmosphere would get overburdened with carbon dioxide. This is why Venus, it is posited, is an unbearably hot greenhouse planet, overburdened with thick atmosphere and unsuitable for life, even though it is also in the “habitable zone” around our Sun, as Earth is. Venus, however, has not had the benefits of oceans and plate tectonics to the extent that Earth has. In short, Earth life has needed plate tectonics, the same dynamics that also spawn the earthquakes that cause so much suffering.

It is an interesting answer to the question of where was God in the disaster? Apparently, he was ensuring life for the rest of the planet. Perhaps this is a needless spiritual overlay, and perhaps it raises other disturbing theological questions.

But science is his creative handiwork, and the more we know the more there is of which to wonder, and if we choose, to worship.

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