For The One Life We Have

February 9, 2008 at 8:23 am 26 comments

clocksFor those of you who can count past ten, and are fundamentalists, I invite you to play a little game with me. (In the figures below, I have actually taken the most conservative estimate on dates and numbers.)

Imagine that one second represents a thousand years. We’re about to count, and count back in time. As you count, the years fly by in reverse order.

1

That’s all for now. One second. In the blink of an eye we’ve just skipped past every football match ever played, the landing on the moon, the first and second world wars, the invention of the aeroplane, the advent of guns, the renaissance; the germ theory of disease by Pasteur, the discovery of the circulatory system by Harvey, the skeletal structure by Galen. The works of Mozart, Beethoven, Handel, Bach. The beauty of masterpieces by Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Monet. The Dark Ages, the Crusades, the Black Death.

We’ve come a long way haven’t we?

Let’s look at things from a biological point of view. Count with me…

1…2…

We’ve just gone back in the time to the wolf, when there was no breed of domestic dog currently alive today. Every single variety and nuance of canine has evolved from the same ancestor. Except, in the case of dogs, humans have played the role of selector, as oppose to nature.

In that same time, just 2 seconds, we journey back to the supposed time of Jesus. Perhaps there was a real man who started the myths (actually there were probably many at the time!), or perhaps there wasn’t. Here we have a small frightened cult that preached brotherhood and salvation for all convertees, in its infancy.

1…2…3…4…4 and a half…stop!

4 and-a-half seconds takes us back in time to about 2560 BC. At this point in our travels, we’ve just seen the last stone being laid at the Great Pyramid in Giza. What a magnificent site. Can you imagine seeing it before you? Feel the sand on your feet. Feel the baking sun beat down on the back of your neck. As you stand here, in the time machine of our thoughts, you contemplate that you won’t exist for another four and a half thousand years.

Count to 20.

We’ve travelled back to a time where no record of writing exists. There are no major cities, no civilised cultures. The human race is largely nomadic. Language is very primitive.

Now, to count back to the emergence of the human race itself, you would need to keep counting for only 3 minutes! Does that not fill you with a sense of awe? Here we are, the human race, and everything we have ever done in our entire history, can be converted into 3 minutes of counting, if we take one second as a thousand years!

Is that an unfair scale? Not when we consider that to see Homo Habilis, our earliest ancestor, we must count backwards in time, one second for every 1000 years, for about 33 minutes. (And some say there wasn’t enough time for evolution.)

But 33 minutes days is just to see our earliest ancestor. What about the Earth itself? You would have to keep counting, every second of every hour of every day of every year, for the next 52 days to arrive back in time when the earth was just forming.

And if you wanted to witness the Big Bang in the time machine of our minds, you would have to keep counting for around 180 days!

What work of fiction or product of myth can compare with the wondrous facts of our universe? Isn’t it humbling to see man’s place in the timescale of the cosmos as less than a molecule of a drop of water in the ocean?

Indeed, if the entire age of the universe was spread across one solar day, one year would take place in 0.00006 of a second (6 nanoseconds). Another way of looking at it is for every second 160,000 years would pass. The human race would have existed for just the last 1.6 seconds.

There are those who say that science is arrogant, or doesn’t have all the answers. Or cannot find answers to deeper human needs. These are the same people who might believe the earth is only a few thousands old, or believe that all of this was made especially for humans. How provincial! How parochial! How conceited! In fact, how rather dull!

What New Age belief or holy book comes close to the wonder of the real world? What ancient text, metaphysical rambling, or liturgy compares to studying creatures millions of times smaller than us, or stars billions of times larger? From the beauty and terror in nature to the everyday usefulness of clean water and mobile phones, look at what science has to offer.

And our 1.6 second ephemeral presence in the Day of the Universe should make us feel lucky that we can see our real place in the cosmos, and understand it. There is plenty of wonder to be had just around you in things that are real, than in all the mystery and contrivances of things that are not. Your infinitesimally short lifespan is a gift from the universe. I think the least we can do is know more about our Cosmological Mother.

If the history of the entire human race is 1.6 seconds on our Universal Day scale, your life is 0.0004 (that’s four ten-thousandths) of a second long. Doesn’t that make every single real second of your life precious? Doesn’t that make every 86,400 seconds (one day) worth living, because they’ll never come again?

I’d like to close with the words of Richard Dawkins, quoting from his book Unweaving the Rainbow:

“We are going to die. And that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly these unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.”

- evanescent

Entry filed under: evanescent. Tags: , , .

A Short Blurb on Theism vs Atheism The True Origins of a Specious Argument

26 Comments Add your own

  • 1. nekouken  |  February 9, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    You goofed with the dogs. Otherwise, nicely done.

  • 2. nurserach  |  February 9, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    evanescent,

    A very awe-inspiring journey…thanks. I don’t think your comments are incompatible with Christianity at all, in fact. The psalmist had similar sentiments when he said, “The Heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” We don’t have to choose between going to liturgy and studying nature…we can do both!

  • 3. evanescent  |  February 9, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    I’m fairly certain that my 2000 years comes from no less than something Dawkins wrote actually, I don’t think he was referring to the very first domestic cannines, I think he was saying that all breeds of domestic dog we see today came from the one breed about 2000 years ago. I can’t find the source unfortunately. But if I’m wrong, I’m wrong.

  • 4. jerseys  |  February 9, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    There is a saying that there are those who want to live eternally…but yet they do not know what to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

    I cannot imagine living on infinitely, because I have just a hard time wondering where I am — or may be — going in the next five years.

    Man makes up the myth of immortality because he is one of the few creatures aware of his own eventual death. He created this myth to delude his fear of that death.

  • 5. karen  |  February 9, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    Thanks, evanescent.

    Putting things in perspective like this really helped blast through the walls of fundamentalism that had my mind in a vise for so many, many years.

    Understanding the universe helped me transcend the narrow thinking of religiosity so much, and I hope it helps others do the same.

  • 6. efrique  |  February 9, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    This is a great idea, but aside from the misleading way the dog thing reads, what’s up with the Homo Habilis thing?

    Homo Habilis is our “earliest ancestor”? So then H.Habilis just spontaneously “appeared”, without ancestors of its own?

    Maybe you meant our earliest known ancestor in the genus Homo?

  • 7. Pete  |  February 10, 2008 at 1:00 am

    Of course, you realize you had to stop at 6, because the earth is only 6000yrs old. Which is what you HAVE to believe if you are a fundy.

  • 8. Stephen P  |  February 10, 2008 at 5:08 am

    The idea is good, but the arithmetic went astray somewhere.

    Homo habilis dates back around 2 million years. On your scale, one would have to count to 2000. That’s less than an hour.

    And the earth formed around 4500 million years ago. On your scale that involves counting to four and a half million. 4.5 million seconds is just over 50 days.

    It looks like you switched somewhere to one second = one year. (May I modestly suggest that a scale of one second to a century would be an effective one for getting the message across?)

  • 9. evanescent  |  February 10, 2008 at 7:15 am

    Hi Stephen, in hindsight I think that might have been a better scale – I have still adjusted the figures above relating to human evolution. The maths is very simple, so I think i just switched scales when I was working this out on Excel! Cheers for the spot.

    And efrique, yes.

  • 10. orDover  |  February 10, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    This reminded me of Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, which never fails to get me a little choked up: http://youtube.com/watch?v=2pfwY2TNehw

  • 11. Blar  |  February 11, 2008 at 5:58 am

    Unfortunately, it falls on deaf ears if you believe that the earth began 6000 years ago. In which case, I’m surprised you can operate a computer.

  • 12. Bertrand Logan  |  February 11, 2008 at 11:27 am

    Very Inspirational, I just wish these annoying fundies wouldn’t try to ruin the whole thing with their the earth is 6000 years old comments.

    Anyway Very nice, oh and you have been stumbled.

  • 13. societyvs  |  February 11, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    “I cannot imagine living on infinitely, because I have just a hard time wondering where I am — or may be — going in the next five years” (jerseys)

    I thought about this sentence for a few seconds – and you have to admit – it is weird to not think in terms of living – but in terms of death (ie: no longer living at all – gone). It just seems so strange to me – it is very contrary to the whole human experience – we die once – we live for what – 70 odd yeas or so?

  • 14. smokey demon  |  February 11, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    Very interesting. I enjoyed your posting very much. The earth is not flat or square. An optomist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds: the pessimist is afraid he’s right.

  • 15. Yurka  |  February 13, 2008 at 10:16 am

    This is all emotional hand waving. I’m not sure what you’re trying to show. If I give a caterpillar enough time it will change into a butterfly, because that was in its nature to begin with. It will never change into a Buick. Are you really suggesting that mere passage of time creating miracles is more plausible than a personal being doing so? Please read C.S. Lewis’ essay ‘the Funeral of a Great Myth’ from a collection of his essays called ‘the Seeing Eye’, or the essay ‘Is Theology Poetry’ from ‘Weight of Glory’. He has thoroughly debunked this stuff.

  • 16. evanescent  |  February 13, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Yurka, evolution isn’t a miracle.

    No matter how unlikely you personally think evolution is, doesn’t change the fact that has and continues to happen.

    No matter how unlikely you personally feel evolution is, you still reject it on a notion that everything so incredibly complex had to have a cause – yet the most complex being of all that started it all apparently had no cause. BANG. That is the cosmological argument imploding.

  • 17. Yurka  |  February 13, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Only micro-evolution (evolution dependent on pre-existing information) continues to occur.

  • 18. evanescent  |  February 13, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    Yurka, there is no dichotomy between micro evolution and macro evolution. I don’t feel inclined to explain this in detail to you, since evolution is a readily and easily researchable topic and we both know the reason you don’t bother to study it is because of your religious prejudices, but evolution is change of gene frequencies in a population over time. When these gene frequencies occur within species the result is “micro evolution.” Over time however, gene frequencies do change to the point where a creature is no longer the same breed or even species as its ancestors were. The gene “makeup” (genotype) presents itself by how a creature looks (phenotype). Creatures that look similar tend to have a common ancestor (horses, donkeys, camels etc), but not always.

    All counter arguments to evolution basically boil down to this: “wow this creature doesn’t look anything like that one! I cannot possibly see how that could ever happen, therefore it didn’t!” It’s an argument from incredulity, and usually a strawman anyway.

    Since we both know you’re not open to reason, only faith, I leave you with two articles I’ve written which should help you understand evolution a lot better should you ever decide to learn:

    http://ellis14.wordpress.com/2007/08/01/my-evolution-elucidation-wed-1st-aug-07/

    http://ellis14.wordpress.com/2007/09/13/common-descent-uncommon-knowledge/

  • 19. LeoPardus  |  February 13, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    Yurka:

    Uhm… I hate to have to break this to you, but…. C.S. Lewis was an evolutionist. You really ought to read his stuff.

  • 20. Yurka  |  February 13, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    LP: he mentioned it as a possibility in Problem of Pain, but AFAIK he wasn’t a committed evolutionist. I will admit he did hold some far left views on things (inerrancy, inclusivism), but given his environment that’s probably excusable.

  • 21. LeoPardus  |  February 14, 2008 at 12:37 am

    Yurka:

    Go read the last chapter of “Mere Christianity”. Nothing equivocal there.

    Inclusivism? Of whom?

    And his views on inerrancy were far left? … Oh yes. You’re a Doug Wilson reformed sort. That puts you a long ways beyond the right wing tip. Baptists must look at least moderate to you.

  • 22. LeoPardus  |  February 14, 2008 at 12:43 am

    Yurka:

    Had to look up Lewis and inclusivism. It appears that you must be “exclusivist” in a Doug Wilson mode too. I.e. everybody goes to hell unless they heard the gospel of Christ and accepted Jesus explicitly as savior.

  • 23. burredbrain  |  February 15, 2008 at 11:03 pm

    Yurka:

    Exactly what mechanism is in place that prevents “micro-evolution” from becoming “macro-evolution”? And under what circumstances does this mechanism act? Please be as precise as possible.

  • 24. sal  |  February 16, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    thank you for defining the majesty of God’s creation by the uncreated first cause.

  • 25. Stephen Thomas  |  February 25, 2008 at 8:59 am

    Wow. What a beautiful story — the ability to live. Well said.

  • 26. Download (Website Category)  |  August 14, 2014 at 11:56 pm

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