Geological Philosophy

While I am confident about evolution (the differential survival of variations) as the method by which we came into existence, the origin of matter that was necessary before evolution is another question altogether. Most of the discussions I have had on this topic go round and round without any conclusions.

The main problem is the idea of the “big bang”. We grow up with the idea of cause and effect. In life we can see that one event follows another. Every event has a cause. There is some evidence that the Universe was created by a big bang in that matter seems to be moving away from a single point. But if the big bang started from nothing and there was no matter, time or space beforehand, the big bang could not have had a cause. The big bang is an effect without a cause. This is different from our experience and almost seems like magic. In the back of our minds we keep thinking “what caused it?” and “how can something come out of nothing?”. Many scientists believe in the big bang even though most can’t explain it so it seems a little bit like the faith of religion.

Everywhere you look there seems to be contradictions. If we take “nothing” seriously, then as there was nothing before the big bang, there could not have been the laws of physics (such as having atoms of a particular size and how they work). Therefore laws must have been created in the big bang. And why would one law be created rather than another? But laws are meant to be universal and so independent of time.

If we go the other way and argue that every event must have a cause, then there could never have been a beginning and so the universe has existed back in time infinitely.

But is it also infinite in size? If not, it must have a boundary. No time or matter could be on the other side of this boundary. It is hard to us to imagine time and space just stopping. If the universe is infinite, then for this infinity to come from a single point is also difficult for us to understand.

I don’t know what to think of the big bang but it should not yet be taken as a complete explanation. How the world came into existence is still a mystery. But the evolutionist must be prepared to say “I don’t know”. It may be that the configuration of our minds will never allow us an answer. The reason why some people might accept the idea of the big bang without question could be that knowing is more comfortable than not knowing. The frustration of not knowing does not mean it is necessary to make some jump like “I don’t know therefore the big bang (or god) must have made it”. Accept “not knowing” as a way of life.

In this second part of “geological philosophy” I want to point out some parallels between science and religion. Some religions promote the idea that there is a “spiritual” world independent of the physical world where life is “everlasting”. This myth appeals to many people and they hope it is true. Some scientists are also guilty of promoting a type of life after death. They do this by talking as if the colonising of some planet with earth like properties is just a matter of time. It is similar to the religious idea of eternal life in some heaven but recreated in a scientific context. For travel to one of these planets, physics points out that the distances are so great that the time needed would involve many generations and so birth in space would be necessary. The logistics of food production would be a problem as plants would have to be grown in artificial light. The amount of fuel needed would be astronomical. The body suffers greatly from weightlessness and starts to waste away so there would have to be artificial gravity on the spacecraft created by some means unknown. So few people would be able to make the trip that inbreeding would be the norm. Those humans arriving at some distant planet would not be Earthlings as all they would know is space travel without ever experiencing life on Earth. I cannot see any possibility of our colonising the planets of other suns (although a station on a close planet like mars might happen). Colonising planets is as fanciful as the religious idea of life after death. Some scientists write science fiction.

The real science gives humans a much shorter lifespan. It is extremely unlikely that we will even make a fraction of the allotted lifespan of earth which is probably about one to three billion years. The Earth appears to have experienced both temperate and glacial phases in the past and we are now in a glacial phase. In this phase there are cycles of ice ages from twenty to one hundred thousand years. While Homo sapiens as a species is only about three hundred thousand years old, earlier ancestors like Homo habilis are about two million years old. This shows some resilience in our body type in that we have already survived a number of ice ages. But there are certainly many more ice ages to come and we have no chance of surviving these at our current numbers. In an ice age the population would be reduced to a more sensible level, and in any severe ice age there would always be the risk of extinction.

In contrast, excessive fossil fuel use has many people predicting today a run-away greenhouse heating of the Earth that will cause rising sea levels and temperature change. This could cause a disruption of the world’s food supplies and so a reduction of the population. A run-away heating could also make the planet uninhabitable.

An asteroid collision led to the extinction of the dinosaurs some sixty six million years ago. There are many craters on the earth and moon from past strikes and there is no reason why we should not be hit many more times in the next three billion years. If we are hit by a large asteroid every hundred million years (say) that would still mean thirty strikes before the end of the world. A strike could easily result in the deaths of all the people on Earth.

There are also other lesser events possible such as the super-volcano under the Yellowstone National Park today whose eruption is thought to be imminent. The resulting dust cloud would cover much of North America and food would soon be at a premium. Deaths could be in the tens or even hundreds of millions.

The human race is much more vulnerable than it thinks. We reduce vulnerability in our minds with “heaven” and “new planet” ideas. In geological time humans will certainly be in for a series of surprises with numbers significantly reduced, and extinction always possible, well before the end of the Earth. Fear of the unknown has led some religions and some scientists to paint a rosier picture of our chances of survival than can be justified.