Bob Bates —
The age of our universe is about 13.8 billion years old. Our solar system began forming about 4.5 billion years ago, with planet Earth being a part of this process. These are big numbers and signify eons of time that has passed.
The initial stages of life on planet Earth began about 3 billion years ago. Our genus, homo, began its development about two million years ago. Current estimates of the origins of our species, homo sapiens, is about 400,000 years ago. What a long process to get to our precursor ancestors?
Modern humans are somewhere in the neighborhood of 180,000 years old. In the context of time, we who are living today are merely a blip on the cosmic radar! But in terms of the universe’s developing—evolution—clearly we do matter, at least in how we understand ourselves to be a higher life form in this larger big scheme of things. Before we analyze this, let’s consider the composition of the universe.
We’ve probably all heard the term “Big Bang” used to designate the very beginnings of the universe. Astrophysicists refer to this initial event as a “singularity.” It is so incomprehensible that there are only theories to try to explain it. What is known is that this Big Bang exceeded and operated beyond all known “laws” of forces scientists are able to study within our universe.
Consider just a few features of this whole Creation. The initial (tiny fractions of a split second) Creative Forces were so powerful, and so unimaginably hot, that this event defies description. But it must have been something like an incomprehensibly fast fireball, in its inflationary stage exploding at speeds and dimensions we cannot begin to imagine. We know that light travels at 186,000 miles per second, yet this event likely made light speed look comparatively snail-like.
It took an estimated 400,000 years before things settled down and cooled enough for the processes of annihilation to moderate and the first atoms could form. Prior to this, everything had been a dynamic chaos of hot “soup,” called plasma, in which no material form could stay intact. But once atoms were on the scene, scales and dimensions of order became possible. Look around you. Everything you see (or cannot see) is composed of atoms: yourself, your home, and all that is in it—dirt, trees, plants, birds, air, water, sky, stars, galaxies. All are made up of the same basic atom, but in different arrangements, combinations, and numbers. In that sense, it can be observed that all of creation is, in a very real sense, “family.”
The first atom was hydrogen, the second helium. These two would serve as the “building blocks” of the universe. Analyses show that 99.96 percent of our physical universe remains comprised of these two atoms. (But try to go to Home Depot and get some hydrogen or helium atoms to do a project.) Yet there are now 108 identified elements of specific atomic structure. (Products of some of these are available at Home Depot.)
There is credible evidence that bacteria and other microorganisms contributing to simple and, later, more complex life on Earth came from elsewhere in the universe (“outer space”). If this occurred after our planet formed, this would make us, in effect, “aliens”on Earth! By now, you are probably grasping that the universe and life in it are profoundly awesome!
Want a factoid beyond our capacity to even imagine? Try to wrap your mind around this one: Our known universe—the vast expanse of space and all that is encompassed within it—makes up only about 5 percent of all that is “out there.” The other unseeable-but-detectable-and-somewhat-measureable 95 percent is “dark energy” (~72 percent) and “dark matter” (~23 percent). Can our best-and-brightest scientists even begin to understand and explain this “deeper reality”? No, they haven’t a clue.
Right about now, it’s probably appropriate to acknowledge that the whole of Creation—and its creator, God, for a naming of this Grand Mystery?—is profoundly inscrutable. But to get back to a reality we can rationally grasp, let’s return to our familiar universe and do a little brain and index finger/thumb exercise. Some basic math and rhythm are needed here.
First, let’s make every span of 2000 years equal to one second of time. So, snap your fingers for a second, and this represents two millennia; snap them for five one-second intervals and you’ve covered 10,000 years. Now, start snapping … keep it up … keep going … more … more … more … (Sorry, I’ve got a life, so I’m gonna get back to you in about eight weeks; but you just keep snapping til then).
Grasp this: After you have kept snapping one-second intervals for about 57 days, you have covered the time span between the Big Bang and the formation of planet Earth. To continue on through the initial phases of primitive and developing life, through epochs and ages of evolutionary processes, and on to our homo predecessors and then to human beings, this will require you to keep snapping for another three-and-a-half weeks.
So, at long last we arrive at “the Biblical era.” Make two final snaps and you will have encompassed the rise of the ancient Hebrew tribes, the time of Jesus and on into our here-and-now.
Pause. Deep breath. Try to let your journey sink in. … How do we even begin to comprehend all this? Can we draw some applicable implications? What? Why these? Any others?
Bringing in organized religion, what can we discern? To begin with, if we look at the Judeo-Christian tradition, was Yahweh, the God of the ancient Hebrews as reported in the Old Testament—in his personified authoritarian, punitive, vengeful, and wrathful aspects—any valid or persuasive part of the Big Picture journey you just took? Does it seem to you that the Awesome Mind that designed and created this very real, incredibly wondrous, and intricately complex cosmos would be so petty and savage after interminable “finger snaps” of time?
Something also to consider: Within a fractional frame of just three-tenths of a finger snap (600 years), would Yahweh/God/Allah—remember, the three major monotheistic religions tell us this is one-and-the-same God—act in these ways: 1) dispense with Judaism as the one true religion, 2) replace it with Christianity, and 3) further modify by declaring Islam the final and genuinely true religion?
In conclusion, dear brother and sister passengers on this journey of life, does it not seem to you that we, blessed with living in the 21st century, are capable of assessing challenging concepts and realities, earnestly trying to understand what are common essentials, and genuinely communicating with one another in a spirit of mutual compassion and respect? Through this, cannot we arrive at some practical conclusions that we can apply cooperatively and collaboratively with life-affirming reverence? Does not the creative process continue within, and through, us all?