08 February 2007

A short history of the human race

Background: About 15 billion years ago, a universe comes into existence, apparently out of nothing. It is not known whether a Supreme Consciousness, or Ultimate Ground of Being, was involved. Now read on.

5 billion years BC. Clouds of dust coalesce into planets around Sol, a star in the Milky Way galaxy.

4.5 billion years BC. Conditions on the third of Sol's planets develop to the point where liquid H2O (water) collects on its surface.

4 billion years BC. By unknown means, self-replicating molecules develop in the water of the third planet, and rapidly spread. They are subsequently replaced by nucleotide chain molecules which not only replicate but provide themselves with protein bodies. Occasional errors in the replicating process generate 'mutant' types, some of which have advantages and thus replace their predecessors.

400 million years BC. Protein replicators increase in complexity to the point where they develop "brains" — cellular networks which process and store information about the environment.

200,000BC. Human beings begin to develop from their ape ancestors.

c. 10,000BC. The human brain develops to the point where humans begin to ask certain questions about the universe, e.g. "why do things happen the way they happen?" (causation) and "where does everything come from?" (origin). The answers they develop include reference to "gods" — higher beings who are conceived of as quasi-human, but with greater knowledge and/or power.

c. 5000BC. Several "religions" (social movements involving the combination of ideas about origin/causation with complex social rituals) develop in Asia.

c. 5BC - 30AD. Approximate lifetime of human called Jesus, who has certain philosophical and psychological ideas whose precise meaning later becomes obscure.

c. 500-1700AD. A religion called "Christianity", loosely based on the ideas of Jesus, becomes dominant in Europe. It teaches that the universe was created by a supreme being c. 4000BC, though not all its adherents subscribe to this particular belief.

1859. Human being Charles Darwin publishes a work suggesting that humans are the result of "evolution", i.e. the processes of mutation and selection operating on a population of protein replicators. The work results in the heightening of existing tensions between rationalism and Christianity. Darwin himself claims to be an agnostic.

1882. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche announces that "God is dead", meaning that religious belief can be expected to die out in the face of scientific enlightenment and the confidence of humans in their own mastery of the environment.

1900-2000. Religious belief gradually declines in Europe, to the point where most Western intellectuals no longer subscribe to it.

2006. Biologist Richard Dawkins publishes a book called The God Delusion. He calls one of its sections "Why there almost certainly is no God", but does not offer actual arguments against the existence of a Supreme Being or Ultimate Reason, confining himself to mocking Christian arguments in their favour. The book resonates with prevailing anti-Christian ideology, and is a commercial success.