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Monday, March 16, 2015

What do mass extinction events tell us about God and life?

The Dino 101 class offered by Coursera (of which I've been a student) has also underscored the fact that the earth has undergone a number of Mass Extinction Events (MEEs). BBC Nature (http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/extinction_events) does a good job of summarizing these events, but I would encourage my readers to look beyond the statistics recorded below and try to imagine what a catastrophic impact these events had on all of the life on this planet (even the organisms that survived them):

Ordovician-Silurian MEE: Killed much of the Earth's sea life.

Devonian MEE: Devastated shallow sea life and the Earth's reefs.

Permian MEE: The greatest extinction event in the history of the Earth. It has been estimated that up to 96% of all species on this planet disappeared.

Triassic-Jurassic MEE: The event that killed off the dinosaurs' competition and led to their dominance of the Jurassic Period.

K/T MEE: Responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs, pterosaurs and much of the Earth's flora.

There is still much debate within the scientific community about what caused these events. Volcanic activity, climate change and meteorite impacts have all been postulated as causes. Whatever the truth of the matter, these catastrophes provoke some rather profound questions about the nature of God and the life that currently inhabits this planet.

Here are a few of the questions that came to my mind in considering these events (you could probably think of a few more):

Why would God allow such events to happen?
Doesn't the fact that they occurred suggest that God caused or at the very least permitted them to happen?
How could a loving God permit suffering and death on such a scale?
Could God have devised a more humane way of guiding the development of life on this planet?
Why would God design a universe where such disasters were possible?
Is suffering and death always a bad/evil thing?
Do these events prove that there is no rhyme or reason to the course of cosmic history?
Would the current life forms extant on this planet have been possible without these events?
If all of the organisms now living are descendants of those earlier life forms, does that mean that some part of them has survived?
What do these events tell us about the tenacity of life?
What do these events portend for our own future?
Were all of these events designed to arrive at the world that we now inhabit or is God and nature still working in the direction of some other kind of world?
If all of these events were random and the consequence of chance, what is the probability that a reasoning self-aware being would be inputting these questions onto his computer and posting them on something known as the world wide web?

Scientists know that these events happened over vast expanses of time that are barely comprehensible to us, but Scripture indicates that time is a created thing which does not have the same meaning for the Creator that it does for us. Scripture also informs us that YHWH's thoughts are not like our thoughts. Is it possible that we can't see the forest for the trees?


  1. Did God at least allow the extinctions to happen? Yes, but that's not necessarily saying a lot because every event that has *ever* happened has been something God allowed.

    Re death: I don't think death is really an enemy. It's a portal.

    No rhyme or reason? Maybe we can't fathom the rhyme or reason but that doesn't mean they don't exist and that somebody hasn't fathomed them.

    Have some part of lifeforms that died survived? Interesting question. I think so.

    In the broader sense I don't think anything dies. Even if our belief is in resurrections, the lifespans are only briefly interrupted when everything is taken into account.

    Arriving at our world? I think everything is still a work in progress.

    I think way more than randomness and what we like to call time and chance are at play here. There are patterns that we have the ability to figure out.

    --D. Cartwright

  2. We are the only creatures on this earth that can even answer these questions! I think the most important part of this article is the last paragraph. Yeah, I'm pretty sure we can't see the forest for the trees.