Long Evolution: Universe Emerging
The vast universe within which we and our world have existence unfolds with no urgency. Ever expanding toward infinity it takes its time, and nothing we small humans do or wish we could do is going to change that one iota.
Over nearly fourteen billion years, gaseous nebula, galaxies, suns and planets have been birthing, maturing, aging and dying, their component atoms coming together into meaningful shapes with different properties and functions, then returning to the universe whence they began, since time and the universe began. They’re still at it, oh so slowly evolving, every moment, over long, slow billions of years. This is long evolution.
Long indeed. Long evolution includes our own small planet. The changing of the Earth seems quite slow to us – so slow that we, in our brief little eight-decade lives, often misperceive that the earth hardly changes at all. Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes surprise us with their exceptional suddenness, but the norm consists of slow changes –small, sure and steady – unremittingly carried a little further each day by wind-blown sand grains gently scouring the surface; flowing water cutting out tiny trenches and great rivers; agelessly slow drips building stalactites in caves; and the ponderous slowness of tectonic plates moving the continents around. This is Earth, over 4.5 billion years of long evolution.
Look at a map of the Atlantic Ocean, noticing how the nose of Brazil fits snugly into the great dent in the coastline of west Africa, and consider: How many millions of years did it take for those two continental land masses to drift as far apart as they are today? That snug fit is even snugger if your map happens to show underwater contours of the continental shelves, for the world’s oceans have not always been at the same levels they are today. Sea levels too keep changing over time – rising, falling, rising again – sometimes as much as several hundred feet, and usually as long slow evolution. But not always. Imagine how a sea level rise of a mere ten feet would affect your favorite coastal vacation spot – or back yard if you live near a coast. Then imagine it happening “really fast” over, say, the coming century. Could such a thing actually happen? Emphatically yes. It has done so many times in the past, and will again. It is now starting to rise again.
Life on the earth is changing too. All living things continue birthing-germinating-hatching, then maturing, reproducing, aging, dying – even whole species sometimes going extinct, exactly as they’ve been doing since life began here. We humans happen to be a prominent feature of life on Earth, and we too continue changing in a great variety of ways, irrevocably, never to be the same again. When you change, you’re changed. Physically. Culturally. Every day. Nature has never stopped changing us, and now we are changing ourselves. We’re also quite significantly changing the earth that feeds us.
We have now moved into fast evolution, a quite different thing than the long slow kind. Have you yet lived long enough to notice some of the changes in human culture – human health disorders, human relations – that have occurred during your own lifetime? Did you notice when new songs, new personalities, new diseases and new wars came into being, passed their moments on the stage, and did you happen to notice when they passed on by, replaced by other, yet newer things to claim our distracted multitasking attention? Do you remember when the human population was six billion something, and then suddenly it was seven? Have you noticed how the pace of change in human cultural affairs seems to keep speeding up?
Fast evolution contrasts markedly with long, slow, universal and planetary evolution, but the word itself at any speed simply means “change.” The slowly evolving universe, the Earth and most living things on it, all seem to change so slowly that we don’t notice. Nor, where our own human affairs are concerned, do constant small daily changes to the Earth and its millions of life forms seem to matter one way or the other. In the long run of course they do, but not to us – not tomorrow, next year, in this lifetime. Or so it seems.
In this book I’ve referred to universal, planetary and all-life-on-Earth changes as “Long Evolution.” Most people share a common mindset that such slow-moving changes don’t matter, are of no consequence and hence no interest to us. We feel we can afford to ignore them. However, understanding a bit about these slow changes – and the controversies surrounding them – is essential background for grasping the importance of “mindset” in its fuller implications.
Mindsets are deeply involved in the story of long evolution.
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IN THE BEGINNING, most scientists believe, the universe began with a big bang. That bang set off a sequence of events: first the universe, then stars, eventually Earth and life on Earth, quite recently humanity. To tell the great story of long evolution, we must begin at the beginning. But, of beginnings, there are multiple versions. In many peoples’ minds, the scientific theory of a big bang is not all that inconsistent with a very ancient story which arose among primitive tribes subsisting in the Fertile Crescent several thousands of years ago. From those ancient times the story was handed down, without very many serious changes so far as we know, as it passed through multiple translations into different languages such as Greek and Latin. The Latin version lasted a long time.
Then an almost-modern Scots-English king, James, commanded that it be translated yet again into his own language so he could read it himself without being dependent on others to tell him what it said and meant. The job was done between 1604 and 1611. A few hundred years later that King James Version, expressed in the peculiar “thee, “thy”” and “thou knowest” idioms of James’ day, remains even today the most popular telling of the ancient story despite largely futile attempts to get modern people to accept various further translations into more modern idioms of English. We will here use the language of that ever-popular King James Version because it has such remarkable staying power.
Creation of the universe: the Biblical creation story
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. The earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
Genesis 1, 1-5
Three major “separations” or “dividings” occurred in quick succession, and the first just happened: God divided the light from the darkness. The Old Testament’s first chapter then goes on to describe God’s creational activities over a period that is called “six days.”
Now this isn’t Sunday school, but every citizen of the American body politic who purports to be literate really ought to be well informed about the Genesis version of how things reportedly proceeded over those first days, for the ancient story has peculiar potency here in modern America. Let’s briefly review it before returning to the big bang version. I have italicized certain words and inserted quote marks where I think special notice should be taken. Here is the second day and the second dividing:
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
That God created “a firmament [which he called Heaven] in the midst of the waters” so that it might “divide the waters from the waters,” with the result that he “divided the waters which were under [Heaven] from the waters which were above [Heaven],” is evident in the words as translated, but their meaning is somehow not perfectly clear. They can mean whatever you say they do. Modern minds tend to conceive “heaven” as some sort of “dimension” that is in some unknowable way “separate,” not normally perceivable by our mortal senses. In antiquity, thousand of years before anyone had seen a photograph of Earth taken from a camera in space, the “firmament” called Heaven was popularly and simplistically conceived by the intellects of the day as somewhere “up,” above the cloud cover. Vertical – “up” – literally. Not really so very far away.
Read literally, as many modern people still do, the Biblical story states that a large body of waters located under (below) Heaven became Earth’s oceans (this verse doesn’t actually say that, but the next verse does). The other large body of water, the one “above” Heaven, therefore, presumably was “divided” away to some other place that was “way up” – far up somewhere beyond heaven, certainly not on planet Earth. The Biblical words don’t clarify this. We are told only that that this other portion of the divided water was “above” heaven, so it therefore could not be anywhere near earth.
Perhaps these “upper” waters were sent to Mars and certain moons of Jupiter and Saturn, which exploring satellites have verified to possess fairly large quantities of water and ice both on and below their respective surfaces – though this would place heaven between those planetary bodies and earth, which is doubtful. Thus an old question arises anew: how shall we understand what the Bible is saying? Regardless where heaven is, it makes little modern sense to envision such a presumably big place being arched over by a vast sky made of water – as the words literally state – just floating around somewhere in outer space. If Biblical words mean exactly what they say, as we often hear, then surely they don’t speak in metaphor. Except that, as we see, they do. If not metaphor, what?
The third division came on day three when God separated the seas from the land:
And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
With dry land newly available, God proceeded to occupy it with plant life:
And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day.
With grass in place upon the land (but as yet no animals to eat it), day four backtracked to fill in some details:
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light [sun] to rule the day, and the lesser light [moon] to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
Stars seemingly were an afterthought. They appeared so very small to the ancient naked eye, those distant stars and galaxies, that they received no assignment to rule anything. To be clear about what’s being described here, recall: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And those only – first heaven, and then earth plus such things as went with earth, such as a sun and a moon. The ancient tribesmen who wrote these things down on sheep hide were not aware that other planets are orbiting out there, much less that earth and sun are in a galaxy among a universeful of galaxies. Or if their writings were inspired by God, as is claimed, God didn’t bother to tell them about all the rest.
To find out what happened next, days 5-7, you’ll have to wait until the next chapter, dealing with the origin of life on earth.
This very ancient tribal origin story from the middle East would in time turn into the Judeo-Christian sacred version of how the universe and the bodies within it came into existence. Familiar to most American readers, it is simpler to understand than the science-based version we shall review next. But let us first pay tribute to those dozens of other ancient creation stories which originated and survive in tribal cultures from Borneo to Bolivia. Australian Aborigine, Japanese Ainu, !Kung, Native American – all have their own very interesting origin tales and all are sacred in their original contexts. They are many and so, being impractical to review here, I have selected one to represent them all.
Certain peoples around the earth revere the turtle. Books about the origin of planet earth and its people often tell one of Old Turtle’s several versions, and I consider it obligatory. A slow-witted but know-it-all modern man is questioning a native shaman concerning how the world began and continues to exist in the universe:
Shaman: Nobody knows how it began, but it continues to exist by being carried around on the back of a great turtle.
Modern Man: But how can that be? What is the turtle standing on?
Shaman: Another turtle.
Modern Man: You don’t seem to get it. What’s under that turtle?
Shaman: Another turtle.
Modern Man (exasperated): And under that?
Shaman: You don’t get it, man. It’s turtles all the way down.
The shaman is precisely right – in point of hard fact, nobody “knows” how it began – it being quite certain, after all, that no human was there watching The Beginning. But let the record show: this absence of factual certainty does not in the least inhibit a great many well-read and otherwise know-it-alls (religious, scientific, whatever) from holding forth on their personally favored “factual” alternatives to Old Turtle – of which there are quite a few. When you become familiar with the Genesis (religious) “first” version and the big bang (scientific) “second” version in their full implications, it becomes a bit hard to argue that Old Turtle’s “third” version doesn’t quite well hold his own against both. And don’t forget, Old Turtle is standing in here as representative for a hundred and more ancient origin myths not yet gone extinct among native peoples around the world.
As to that, not all creation stories of the non-material kind are ancient or derive from native peoples. A great many are very modern indeed, like the following example reported by a woman who died during a traumatic accident with horses and, despite severe injuries, her heartbeat was subsequently restored and she was revived to life. She later wrote down the events she remembers experiencing – during and after the accident – while her conscious self looked on painlessly from outside her body, very alert and very much alive. Condensing her long story to feature the point of this example, from the accident scene she – as her non-material self – moved into a completely non-material other realm where she met other conscious entities and had many profound experiences. She ultimately decided she should return to her body and resume the life purpose for which she had chosen to live this mortal life. Her description of the last event just before returning to her body is reminiscent of turtles all the way down:
Looking back one last time I noticed something different. The deep blue sky looked as if it were a glass ceiling. Something filmy separated us and through it I saw other realms. The top of our world appeared to be the floor of another. It brought to mind a cluster of bubbles, all of them stacked one on top of the other. These realms sat one upon another yet were transparent. Additional faint patterns floated within the other realms. I marveled at the multitude of dimensions above us and asked Ra-u a question. “Is this world the final destination for our souls? Or can we go beyond into those other…what are those? They almost look like bubbles.
Ra-u smiled as he glanced up. He watched the movements for a moment then replied, Do you think this is the last stage? There are many realms above us and they make up other dimensions. We can go up, turn around, and come down again. The levels are infinite and get subtler and weightless as they ascend. Then he chuckled and I laughed with him like it all made perfect sense. (Source: IANDS quarterly newsletter Vital Signs, Vol. 35, No.2, Summer 2016).
We shall explore near-death experiences (NDEs) at some length in a later chapter. As we proceed now, consider thoughtfully this matter of what is truly credible as we turn to the second of the major options, science’s version of the origin story. That is to say, science’s current version, for this story too evolves over time as our telescopes and scientific instruments keep getting better and we keep learning more.
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Creation of the universe: scientific creation hypotheses (plural)
The modern story of creation represents scientific understandings which have arisen concurrent with the birth and growth of science itself, mainly over the past three hundred years – especially over just the few decades between the early twentieth century and right now. The science-based story, like the Biblical, is subject to differing interpretations.
The first thing to know is this: scientists, like churchmen, often disagree with each other according to their mindsets. In both cases some mindsets can remain open even while disagreeing, whereas others – possibly a majority – can become hardened as granite and truly detest those who disagree. On the churchmen side, such disagreements historically have resulted in organized religions perpetually breaking apart, ever subdividing into new denominations with new names and very slightly differing nuances of dogmatic belief over which men (it’s always men) endlessly argue, sometimes becoming so inflamed they may kill each other over a fine point of Christian doctrine. If it’s Islamic doctrine they tend to suicidal exits which will take others with them. Believers in Hebrew doctrine seldom slay their opponents because it would degrade the scope of their beloved arguing.
With scientists it works pretty much the same way though there are probably fewer killings overall. Disagreements over new findings and scientific observations perpetually give birth to new interpretations of reality, while older mindsets are abandoned only as their tight-holders gradually die off. Disagreements among geologists and anthropologists are notoriously awful, for example, whereas astronomers and physicists seldom grow bloodthirsty until question arises as to who discovered a thing first. It often arises.
Among scientists the big bang is by far the most widely accepted hypothesis for the origin of the universe, and it will accordingly receive due prominence here. Even so, the version I will present is a composite of the variously nuanced theories that have best stood the test of time, experiments, and the ongoing scrutiny of observational astronomy. The field is littered with theories that got overturned, or modified, or just faded away as this composite version gradually emerged. In science, as in religion, there is no one single prevailing interpretation of just about anything. If the Genesis story had evolved the way science does instead of being locked in a written-down mindset, no one would any longer recognize those famous ancient verses.
To illustrate this point, we shall presently note here a few other “scientific Genesis” theories – interesting because of their oddness – to accommodate some prominent scientific egos who hold or held other ideas about how everything began. Getting one’s mind around these non-bang theories is less difficult in some cases than in others. I look forward to telling you some details about them at the end of this chapter. They’re a hoot. You won’t believe it.
Our contextual arena for exploring all science-based ideas about beginnings will be the phenomenon known as “evolution.” For gaining awareness and understanding of the impact of mindsets in today’s world, there could scarcely be a richer arena – but this is true only if evolution is truly understood, by you dear reader, in its full reach and implications. You may think you already understand evolution, but few people really do.
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…to be continued in one week…
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