I have been teaching a class where we have been discussing the Big Story, the new Big Story of the creation of the universe and the ongoing creation. The old story told about the Big Bang, and an expanding universe of star systems careening away from each other for the rest of time, a very depressing prospect indeed! We were taught that the old expanding universe was most likely a dead issue, Star Trek notwithstanding. Earth was unique. Our vision of the universe was pretty much an extrapolation of what our own solar system seemed to be saying -- that everything about Earth, that made it so ripe for life, was a miraculous coincidence, like winning the lottery where the odds are one in infinity. The Christian narrative of Genesis dovetailed with the old scientific narrative. The origin of life was copyrighted by an Earth-centric God. We can look all we want, but there are no other Earths in the universe to be found, said the old story. All we will find is super hot places like Venus, arid rocks like Mars, gaseous giants, like Saturn and Jupiter, or icy outliers, like Pluto. The universe is just a vast proof that God is not a creator of worlds, but the benevolent father of one world.
Now we know differently. Our spiral galaxy, one of over a trillion galaxies, is a star-incubator and it is still incubating stars to add to the 100,000,000,000 stars that are already in our galaxy. And it is not uncommon for suns to birth planets, nor is it unusual for those planets to be incubators of life.
It happens that Earth is about 1/4 the age of the universe or about 4.5 billion years old. For 1/5 of its life it was just a cooling rock collecting water from collisions with asteroids. When it was just a baby, a mere 500,000,000 years old, life began to appear, in the form of single cells. The moon showed up 500,000,000 years later. 3 billion years after that, dinosaurs and flowers appeared. About a hundred million years after that, birds. 100,000,000 years after that, mice, then monkeys, then elephants, then horses.
Our human story (which I summarized in the title of this post) goes something like this: Our first ancestors appeared just the other day, cosmically speaking, that is, a million or so years ago, in central Africa. There was a climate shift, an epic drought. A small group of apes left the forest to try their luck on the ground. They quickly evolved larger brains and the ability to create weapons to help them hunt and defend themselves. These aboriginal ancestors of ours migrated to other continents, domesticating animals, building fires and developing languages.
7,000 years ago people started farming to be able to feed larger populations. And they began living in larger and larger cities. Cities needed armies. Urban societies required organized labor. Powerful countries colonized weaker countries and enslaved people. Labor was cheap. 200 years ago the steam engine was invented and industry took off. Countries with stronger economies could build strong armies to protect their monopolization of resources. Countries battled or traded with each other. They formed alliances. Industry produced enormous waste. The environment was polluted, air, earth and water. Nature was mined and resourced, animals were hunted to extinction or lost their habitats to creeping development. People kept proliferating. The Earth could no longer support the number of people who lived on it. Eco-systems began to fail, governments to destabilize.
This story is essentially over. It was a page turner, but we've come to the end of it. We are at a threshold. What we do next hasn't been written. All we have is prophecies and predictions. But, if you look at the timeline of the Big Story, and you look at the whole story that tells us that our sun is only one of a trillion trillion suns, many of which probably support living planets, it becomes clear that the whole story of the human race amounts to little more than a hairline threshold on an infinitesimal point in the Milky Way. That is to say, the history of the human race is a hair-thin line of time; a super-intelligent species appeared shortly after horses and they behaved badly. There have been other thresholds, mostly caused by anomalous cataclysms, but in our case, we are the anomalous cataclysm. But we are made of the same stuff that everything on earth is made of -- star dust. Our entire solar system and everything in it, even our minds, originated from a super nova. The horse, the butterfly and flowers are all of the same stuff. We all came from the explosion of a giant star.
What are we going to do now? Let's not take too much time to answer.