By Mike Gold, A retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwes
Sometimes, I get to thinking about the universe and how it seems to function. For example I wonder, how did Earth get formed, how did life begin, and how did life evolve from a single cell organism to mankind?
While there are no provable answers, and many would argue for some divine intervention, I am a man of science. I tend to look at hard evidence. Things I can see, or find evidence of.
Through carbon dating, radiometric age dating and other science, we have determined that the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. To me, a better question is why and how was Earth formed? If you look at this website, you see two competing theories about why and how Earth was formed.
Given the size of Earth, the most likely scenario is that approximately 4.6 billion years ago, the solar system was a cloud of dust and gas known as a solar nebula. Gravity collapsed the material in on itself as it began to spin, forming the sun in the center of the nebula. With the rise of the sun, the remaining material began to clump up. (One observation, what a clump it is!) Thus, Earth was formed. Now cosmic events take millions of years to happen. Still, a few million years is quite modest compared to a 4.5 billion-year-old planet.
So we have, basically, a rock, which because of gravity, started circling the sun. (We’ll leave the formation of stars – like our sun – for another discussion another time.) On this rock, there is no life. Almost all scientists will tell you that life cannot exist without water. In addition, an atmosphere is required to support any life that might develop. So let’s make some assumptions, as there are competing theories about all of this.
At one point, the theory is that water arrived on Earth through comets containing ice. All I can say is that would be a ginormous number of comets. If that were true, then even in four billion years, we would have expected to see many more comets (with ice) either hitting earth or bypassing earth than we actually see. Presently, most think the elements of water were already on earth as earth was formed.
So let’s start with having a planet with a reasonably temperate surface, water and an atmosphere capable of supporting life (oxygen). This alone makes one wonder why all of this happened. With these ingredients, at some primordial time, a single cell organism evolved from the biological ooze present in the sea. Over millions (perhaps billions) of years, that life evolved into more and more complex life forms at which at some point, some of them developed the ability to breathe air outside of water (i.e., lungs, not gills). Some crawled out of the sea onto dry land. Then once life started to exist on dry land, it continued to evolve until very complex life forms (like us!) arrived.
Other life forms, such as dinosaurs, evolved. For whatever reason, those life forms were eradicated, as we’ve determined, by a large meteor hitting earth.
It is, to me, astronomically unthinkable that mankind developed as it did. There are just so many physical reasons why it could just as easily not have happened. So here we are, about 200,000 years later. A mere spec of time compared to the age of Earth. It is almost impossible for an individual human, with a mere 80 or so years on Earth, to relate to the ions of time it took for most of this to happen.
Many, including most religious people, suggest that there was a divine presence to the form the Earth, and life including mankind. Let me say, for purposes of this column, that it is almost unknowable why this all happened. But I am very thankful that:
a. We have a consciousness.
b. We developed scientific reasoning.
c. We have been able to verify quite a lot with respect to why and how we developed.
It has, for me, created an appreciation for life as we know it. It also creates the juxtaposition of many things in daily life, that simply have no place in this history of our planet and life.
Included would be things like:
- Sitting in a car in traffic waiting minutes or hours to get someplace,
- Smoking tobacco., and
- Taming certain animals as pets.
When you think of the absolute randomness of how we came to be here, most things we do in daily life appear ridiculous.
I only hope I can be around for sufficient time to really appreciate all of this.