The Book Of The
History Of The Earth

Graphic Rule

Cliff's reply:

It is just this style of thinking that the II Peter experience helped me to outgrow. We are fallible agents, at best capable of a dim perception of our world. The mistake I made as a Bible enthusiast was to think that there was any such thing as being 100 percent right about anything.

Now, being an adherent of liberal scientific method, I speak in terms of "this is my current understanding" and realize that all claims of knowledge are subject to being overthrown by new evidence.

This is why I always speak with theists in terms of god-claims. They almost inevitably want to speak in terms of a "God" whom they tell me "exists," but I must often say, "Wait a minute! You are here making a claim and I am your listener. All we can agree on at this point is that you're telling me that a god exists. Thus, the conversation must continue along those lines or it is not a dialogue at all but a mutual shouting match.

So, if the theist wants to convince me that a "God" exists, that person must first provide me with an understandable description of what she or he means when uttering the sound "God." Then she or he must give me strong reasons for believing that the theist's existential claim is a truthful claim. Without both of these things, I have no business going along with the theist's claim.

To bandy about words like truth is often to introduce confusion into the conversation. So, when I use the word truth I usually explain that by it I mean "truthfulness." In fact, where many would simply say "truth," I will deliberately say "truthfulness" just to increase my prospects for being understood. When I say "truth," at minimum I mean the opposite of falsehood. In this sense, and am using the word to distinguish an innocent mistake from a deliberate lie. There's a difference between someone believing a lie and repeating it and someone deliberately lying (even though the result is the same: falsehood has been spoken). But to use the word truth in a metaphysical discussion can be tricky, so I try to avoid it.

This is too bad. I at least know enough about historical method to be able to distinguish what is probably a truthful account from what is likely to be a canard. Sometimes you can tell a canard simply by the style of presentation: you don't even need to know the facts, because many hoaxes have tell-tale signs of their being frauds. But at least I can know I'm not in total darkness: having exposing myself to numerous historical accounts plus having compared newspaper accounts of incidents that I've witnessed plus being very familiar with comparative mythology, wherein one compares earlier accounts of an incident to later ones that often have had embellishments added to them plus having not only watch various charlatans at work but also having been taken in by them. I have worked hard enough to be able to know that I am not at the mercy of whatever tale someone decides to tell me.

I also know how to deal with controversy, such as when one group, the Christians, who controlled what the history books have said for almost 1,700 years, tells us that a man named Paul had spectacular supernatural visions telling him of events for which there now exist no contemporary corroborating accounts, versus when another group, the Ebionites, tells us that the Paul who claimed to have had spectacular visions was actually a charlatan and a huckster and an opportunist, had a violent streak and a tremendous hard-on for the Jews, and remained a Gentile his entire life -- except when it was convenient for him to claim, to an audience who did not know any better, that he was a Jew.

I know when not to draw conclusions: As tempting as it is to say that a Jesus Christ existed, there simply is no evidence that he did. Everything we have was written at least 40 years after he is alleged to have died, contains fantastic tales of the supernatural (pointing to the strong likelihood that the stories are purely mythical), is extremely anti-Jewish and pro-Roman in its bias, has an agenda along the lines of establishing a loyalistic political group, and contains monstrous errors in both geography and history. Though the belief is almost universal that at least a historical Jesus lived, who might be the basis of the myth we all know about, there simply is no reason to believe that even a historical Jesus lived -- there is not enough to warrant coming to that conclusion.

Finally, I know how to distinguish crucial historical claims from frivolous ones. Whether or not Franklin Pierce was a pious Christian is of little consequence to anybody. But whether or not George Washington or Abraham Lincoln were pious Christians is of moderately significant consequence because so many Christian history revisionists have, through the years, portrayed both men as pious Christians when all the evidence points toward their not having been Christians at all. Now, whether or not Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt to conquer the land now occupied by the nation of Israel is of extremely significant consequence: If it can be shown that the entire Exodus story is true, then Israel has at least some grounds for claiming that land today; however, if it cannot be shown that the Exodus tale is even close, or if it can be shown that the Exodus story has all the marks of a pagan myth, then Israel's claim to the turf that she currently occupies vaporizes completely. This explains why the Israeli government is known to be sponsoring the "archaeological" digs of fundamentalist Christians who are more likely to report that the Exodus story is probably historical, and thwarting any archaeology that might damage the integrity of the Exodus story. The research being done here impacts her very right to exist as a nation, so is of extremely significant consequence.

Is the Jesus story of significant consequence? It is to me, because if it is true, then I'd better drop everything and do whatever I can to avoid spending eternity in the Christian Hell. So, I've given the Jesus story much more of my attention than most stories. Needless to say, I have concluded that there is nothing being said today that warrants even my consideration, much less my assent to that treacherous myth.

How do you know? Have you seen the originals? If nobody has seen the originals, then how can you say that they are inerrant?

And if you don't know that they are inerrant, then why do you assert that they are?

It sure looks like it. It does not overthrow any well-established scientific knowledge, and is entirely feasible. It requires no outside creative energy or organization (for which there is no evidence anyway), so we don't have to explain where the creative energy or organization came from.

That this could have happened is not in question today, the only question that remains is whether this is what happened. Much of the newer evidence points toward this being what did happen, and very little of the newer evidence throws a wrench into that possibility. On thing's for sure, it does not have any of the problems that even the idea of supernatural creation has, much less the ancient Hebrew creation myths themselves.

There seems to be much less controversy amongst physicists about the specifics of the Big Bang (where one would expect controversy) than there is amongst Christians over the even the main gist of the Hebrew creation myths (where one would expect there to be no controversy whatsoever, the Bible supposedly being infallible and all).

This is because you're dealing in the realm of Newtonian physics, which still applies at our experiential level of day-to-day living, but does not apply at the particle level. And I've heard that when you get past the particle level and down to Planck space and Planck time, all bets are pretty much off. That's probably an exaggeration, but from what little I know about quantum mechanics, it's not much of an exaggeration.

When you deal in the realm of quantum mechanics, the Newtonian notion of "cause" is not valid. Thus, it is not proper to apply Newtonian "causality" to the realm of subatomic particles. Something else is going on.

It is possible for a pair of particles (known as an actuality) to manifest themselves out of nothing and to return to nothing. This pair consists of one positron and one electron. It's not a question of causality, because that's not an issue at the particle level (neither is time or space as we know them).

If an actuality can come from nothing and return to nothing without anything resembling what we call causality, then the notion that the Big Bang started from nothing can be.

A "fluctuation" consists of this very type of event (among others). When they talk about "fluctuations" they are talking about such things as an actuality manifesting itself from nothing or assimilating itself back into nothing or doing things such as going backwards in time (or so it appears from our perspective) or going from point A to point B without having spent any time in any positions between points A and B ( very small jumps, but jumps nonetheless -- or so it appears from our perspective). This is because in the realm of particles, Newtonian physics no longer applies: such things as causality get defenestrated and it's become a whole new ball game.

This is the case in the realm where Newtonian physics applies, which is not the case at the particle or Planck levels.

How can this be, when "cause" isn't even the same thing that we think of in the Newtonian realm of objects that are larger than the molecular level?

Nice pun, but you're having an infatuation with flatulence. I'm talking fluctuation, which occurs at the particle level but does not occur at the Newtonian level of gastric distress.

You mean right through the air? without Stenger having come in contact (Newtonian physics-wise)? How could your butter get churned without cause?

You appear to never have read even a comic book about physics and quantum mechanics. There is a good comic book out that does a wonderful job of explaining quantum mechanics so you wouldn't have these questions! It's not a simple matter, but at least the comic book format makes it that much easier to grasp this very puzzling

Of course, if you didn't have these questions, then you wouldn't be able to object to the Inflationary Big Bang model.

I can see how scary it would be to believe in God because you don't see how the Universe could have come to be without a God, and then find out that science has just answered this question and there needn't have been a God for the Universe to come to be. It must have been scary when people believed in God because they couldn't explain the marvelous design of the human body -- only to have Charles Darwin and his associates come along and show natural selection to be an entirely legitimate explanation for the apparent design of living organisms!

No it isn't.

If you had studied physics, you'd understand what Stenger is saying. Quantum mechanics is tough, and it's weird, but it is by no means unfathomable. Same with Relativity. The reason Newtonian physics makes sense to most people is because it describes the situation in which we spend all our time -- that realm wherein the objects we detect and interact with are all at least as big as a molecule and usually much larger than that. If we could directly experience events that occur where objects are the size of an atom or smaller, our experience would differ vastly from what it is to us today.

The teaching of the Cross does that to some people. It is one of the most brutal concepts in all of religion.


Evolutionists note that even certain clays are self-replicating, in that dust (either in air or water) settles on the clay and the molecules arrange themselves according to how the clay's molecules are arranged, and then the wind blows this converted dust off to another part and then dust settles on it, etc. The concept of self-replicating molecules is not difficult -- surely not so difficult that we're forced to posit magic and the supernatural in order to explain it.

Now, had these self-replicating molecules consisted of atoms that don't normally form into complex atoms, such as helium, neon, and argon, then I might be tempted to think something's going on.

But the atoms we're talking about naturally form into any number of very complex molecules under certain circumstances. So, just because atoms would form molecules that one can expect to form from such atoms (they aren't like neon and argon) is no mystery that forces us to scratch our heads in bewilderment and scramble for cover with an explanation that involves the waving of wands and the chanting of mumbo-jumbo.

But no, the changes are being made to the molecule called DNA. The DNA is self-replicating and has the properties of replicating in such a way that it becomes a recipe, so to speak, on how the molecule's housing, the cell, will divide. At first, it was just the molecule itself. Then a mutation formed that gave one molecule an advantage because it was better protected from its environment, having a small membrane. This is the prokaryote. Mutations kept happening to different species and eventually the part with the membrane became the nucleus, protecting the replicating molecule from the rest of the cell itself. This was the eukaryote, which now had the potential to display a widely varied array of forms, whereas all the prokaryote looked pretty much the same (worm-like, in that it was a long molecule with a casing around the molecule that was made of much smaller molecules). Having set the precedent of splitting to divide into two organisms, it is a simple matter to see how a mutation could cause the cell to split and not become two separate organisms, but remain a single organism for a while until it split again. Then it becomes easy to see how an organism could simply split and remain attached, and grow into a collection of cells, which, when cut into two, would then become two organisms. Having grown up near two tide-pools and several large bays (San Diego), we had occasional opportunities to, with our knives, help the tide-pool organisms to, shall we say, procreate. We kids couldn't get over the fact that if you cut one of these guys in half, it didn't die, but became two of them!

But I think you're referring to one cell that keeps changing. No. You get a group of organisms called a gene pool, because they all have the same basic DNA structure (with variations within that gene pool, of course). What often happens is that part of the gene pool will pick up the mutation and will branch off into a new species, while the parent species does not pick up this mutation and remains the same. As often as not, both species can still interbreed. If one or the other species changes location, though, and then one or both picks up additional mutations, often they cannot successfully interbreed and you have two distinct gene pools. This is the answer to that classic old trick question, "If we evolved from apes, why are there still apes?"

I don't understand what you're trying to say, here.

Comparing written history to the geologic ages is like comparing a broadsheet pamphlet to the Library of Congress.

I already covered this above. There was this species of snail (we can find their shells) and it became wet and the river formed so that part of the gene pool was to one side of the river and part to the other. Both snails developed mutations over the thousands of years that the river flourished. However, when the river dried up again, the species could not interbreed. We have the original shells and we have the records of the offspring species. I can't remember where to look this up to tell you the name of the snail so you can look it up yourself, but this snail is a classic example used in teaching the basics of evolutionary theory to youngsters.

I don't know what you mean when you say it is not what it has always been -- especially when there are so many variations within even the human gene pool that we even have people who are biologically both male and female. It's rare, but it happens.

The Book of the History of the Earth.

Let's write the history of the Earth. We'll condense each year down to a double-sided 8½×11-inch page. When we're done, the ink and wear has thickened each page so that a ream of 500 pages is now three inches thick. That makes four reams per foot, or 2,000 years per foot. So from now to the time of Julius Caesar, we move back about a foot on our shelf. Let's go back to beginning of the Bronze Age, 6,400 years ago: that's three feet and about two-and-a-half inches.

Agriculture, having started about 12,000 years ago, is mentioned on at least six feet of pages in this story. That's a pretty long for a bookshelf, so we'll make our bookshelf out of strong hardwood (it's imaginary so we can still save the forests), and keep it at five feet (for easy calculating) and we can fit ten shelves (for easy calculating on about a nine-foot bookcase if we lay the pages on the long (11-inch) side. So each bookcase holds ten shelves of five feet each, or 100,000 years. So, we can probably fit the advent of anatomically modern humans on a single bookcase. Homo Heidelbergensis reached Europe about 800,000 years or eight bookcases ago, and Homo Erectus appeared about 1,800,000 years ago, or 18 bookcases back. The Stone Age began about 25 bookcases back. In other words, anatomically modern humans have existed for only about one-twenty-fifth (four percent) of the time since the Stone Age began. Australopithecus, the first to stand on two feet, appeared about four million years ago, which is 40 bookcases of our history -- of which we humans have been around for about two percent of that history.

You see where I'm going with this? Follow me through on this one, because I don't think you have much of a concept of just how much time we're dealing with, here.

The last great extinction of mammals (not counting the extinction of the large mammals that took place during the most recent Ice Age of 10,000 years ago) occurred about 40 million years ago, about the time the Cascades (that I can see out my window as I type this) were forming. That's 400 bookcases, and we're going to have to figure out how to store these things. If we get a skyscraper that sits on a 300-foot block, and it takes up a quarter of that block, we're looking at a floor-plan of 150 by 150 feet. If we line the bookcases up five at a time, and space them just under feet apart, we can fit, let's say, 25 aisles of 25 bookcases on each floor (pretty cramped quarters) or 625 cases per floor. That makes 62,500,000 years per floor. One year is on each sheet of paper, remember: How long does it take for a bacterium to multiply and become two bacteria? and how many bacteria can fit on the head of a pin? In other words, with an ocean full of bacteria, how many chances are there per year for one of them to mutate? Think about this for a bit!

Well, on about beginning of the second aisle of the second floor, an asteroid or comet struck Mexico's northern Yucatán Peninsula, creating a basin about 120 miles in diameter. The dust from the impact blocks the sunlight for years and is blamed for the extinction of the dinosaurs. This is one of the greatest catastrophes life has seen in the history of the planet -- not because it was the greatest cataclysm (it wasn't) and not because it took out the largest percentage of species (it didn't), but because biological life had been living long enough to produce plenty of resources (including oxygen in the atmosphere) to support what was by then the greatest diversity of life the Earth had yet seen. One hundred million years ago, about two-thirds through our second floor, Japan began to form from volcanoes. A few more aisles back, at about 114 million years ago, India completed its separation from Africa due to continental drift -- a branch of geology that was discovered during my lifetime.

About halfway through the third floor, the Rocky Mountains began to form. Several aisles back, Australia separated from Antarctica and a few more aisles back, the Gulf of Mexico opened. We are still in the Jurassic Period of the Mesozoic Era. On the fourth floor, 220 million years ago, the fourth largest mass extinction of marine plants and animals occurred during the late Triassic Period. Most land animals and plants survive. The story of the existence of mammals, beginning with a tiny, rodent-like animal, living in Europe, some of its bones like grains of rice, covers almost four complete floors. Halfway through the fifth floor, the largest mass extinction in Earth's history occurred at the end of the Permian Period, around 240 million years ago. Perhaps this catastrophe is what left enough room for mammals to evolve. Halfway through the sixth floor, at 270 million years ago, 95 percent of the land mass was one giant continent that scientists have named Pangaea, surrounded by one huge ocean called Panthalassa. Coal began to form on this land mass about 320 million years ago, on the sixth floor of our book.

So we've got six-and-a-half floors of bookcases with 626 bookcases on each floor to cover just the history of mammals on this planet, the most recent class to emerge. Of this, the history of the anatomically modern human takes up only the last bookcase. Recorded history takes up about half a shelf at most, and recorded science, as science, is less than a foot long. Our awareness of the Theory of Evolution takes up less than an inch of pages in our book.

So let me get this straight: you want to talk about humans being able to directly observe the so-called macro-evolution of multi-celled species?

Let's continue. This is fascinating!

About 370 million years ago, the first land vertebrates joined the invertebrates already on dry land. You can read about this event on our sixth floor. Toward the other end of the sixth floor, sharks made their appearance. Ice covered much of the continent of Gondwanaland, covering much of the Southern Hemisphere and situated over the South Pole, about 440 million years ago, causing 85 percent of the species to become extinct. As a result, a large variety of invertebrates and soft-bodied animals are preserved in what is now a fossil bed in Canada known as the Burgess Shale. The Burgess Shale tells a priceless story of how evolution has worked, and you can read about its formation it in our history at the late end of the eighth floor.

At 570 million years ago, the Phanerozoic Eon began with the breakup of the supercontinent Rodinia. The northern landmass is called Laurentia and is situated near the equator. The Phanerozoic Eon is the eon we are currently in, so this eon stretches from ground level to the tenth floor of our history book. One of the richest diamond deposits in the world formed in Argyle, northwestern Australia, about 1.18 billion years ago, a story told on the twentieth floor. At about 1.8 billion years ago, single-celled organisms began to develop which placed the DNA in the nucleus. This was an important improvement over having a membrane simply cover the DNA molecule. This "innovation," if you will, provided for almost limitless diversity among cells themselves, and opened the door for cells to divide for purposes other than procreation: the development of multi-celled animals which themselves procreated by dividing the organism. Read about it the advent of the nucleus on the 30th floor of our book.

At 2.5 billion years ago, the oceans contained oxygen but the atmosphere did not. The entire oxygen content of our atmosphere was produced by single-celled organisms which thrived in the ocean. In other words, by the time we reach the 40th floor of our book (going back in time), animals had thrived in enough abundance and for long enough time to have filled the ocean with enough oxygen to eventually support oxygen-breathing animals, fish, and invertebrates.

Remember, each floor contains 625 bookcases, and each bookcase contains the story of 100,000 years, about the length of time biologically modern humans have lived. We've gone back 25,000 times the length of humankind's existence. But we're not back to the beginning yet: we've barely crossed the half-way point. In fact, at 3.2 billion years, we have the oldest known diamonds, possibly the carbon from earlier life-forms; read about these diamonds on the 52nd floor of our history book. The archaebacteria, the first cells on earth, were probably simple reproducing molecules, which probably evolved at least 3.5 billion years ago. This is somewhere around the 56th floor, perhaps higher, which is about a billion years after the earth was formed. The first to thrive were the prokaryote which is basically a DNA molecule with a membrane of sugars surrounding it. These thrived with enough abundance to produce a substantial oxygen level in the ocean.

Jump up to the 72nd floor, at 4.5 billion years or so ago, and the Earth's core is forming from the tremendous pressure from accretion of matter, remaining solid despite the tremendous heat caused by the force of its own gravity, which causes the outer part of the Earth to melt and form a global ocean of molten rock. The Earth's first, atmosphere keeps being swept away by strong streams of gases that blow out from the sun. As the sun's size stabilizes, these streams quiet down to a continuous stream of charged particles called the solar wind. It had taken about 50 to 100 million years for the matter floating around space from a previously spent star to accumulate and form the Earth. Before that, in the densest region of a disk-shaped nebula of gas and dust left over from a spent star that had already lived, thrived, and died, what will eventually become our sun begins to contract, as do the outer planets from icy matter and the inner planets from matter that doesn't evaporate from the heat generated by the matter coming together under its own gravitational pull. All this on the 72nd and 73rd floor of out history book -- give or take -- but approximately two floors contain the story of this dust and matter beginning to condense through the forming of the Earth's core and its becoming a solid planet that would eventually have the properties to support life.

Now, let's take all our books out of their shelves and cart them to the freeway so we can lay them end to end: 500 years, we said, was three inches. Well, a book covering the 4.5 billion year history of the Earth would occupy just over 426 miles of bookshelf space. That's a book stretching from Tijuana, Mexico, just south of San Diego, California, to San Francisco, California, with each year representing a single page. In 1986 I walked from Tijuana to Santa Barbara -- about half the distance to San Francisco, in just over three weeks. So, I suspect it would take just under seven weeks to walk the thickness of our book -- one page equalling one year.

What you have been trying to tell me is that science hasn't observed any species changing into other species. But the time frame you've been talking about is, perhaps, 2,600 years of recorded history of biological science since Aristotle catalogued his sea creatures -- a book about 16 inches thick. But they weren't looking for creatures to evolve back then. Only since Charles Darwin and his contemporaries and immediate predecessors have we even been looking for evolution. So, let's reduce that to 150 years, or a book that's just under an inch thick (0.9 inches). We know that anatomically modern humans have been around, unchanged, for 100,000 years, which is a set of books taking up 50 feet of shelf space, or a tad more than the end-to-end length of 666 copies of your book detailing the length of time since we began studying evolution as a science. So we have a 666:1 ratio of the length of time since any changes have occurred to our own species to the amount of time we've been watching for those changes.

Let's go to the other end of the scale: If the first life forms appeared 3.5 billion years ago, that 330-mile book would stretch from San Francisco, straight down the coast highway to Downtown Los Angeles. That's a ratio of over 23 million to one of the time we organisms have been changing to the time we've been looking for that change. But next time you go get a flu shot, remember that it is the Theory of Evolution which allows them to predict which strains to prepare months in advance so they can first manufacture large quantities of them so we can have them already in our systems weeks or months before this year's model hits. How's that for the predictive power of a theory?

So, if you say we haven't observed any changes, I first wonder what kind of chance you are willing to give to those who are looking for those changes. Secondly, I wonder what you think goes in to the process of developing successful vaccinations.

You lost me.

When you put it that way, it doesn't make sense to me, either. This is why I'm glad I get my science education by talking with scientists instead of preachers.

Besides, I would have loved to have been the first successful two-celled animal: Just look at all the fresh food I'd have!

Graphic Rule

Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.