‘Before’ the beginning there was nothing — quite literally no ‘thing’. As there was no thing, there was nowhere — again literally no ‘where’, because a ‘where’ necessarily requires there to be a thing, and a thing cannot exist without a where which contains it. Finally, as there was no thing and no where, there could be no ‘when’. The existence of time is only found in its passage, which can only be sensed by change occurring to some thing — without a thing to change, there is no time.
Over 13 billion years ago, ‘within’ all this nothingness there was a quantum fluctuation in the nothingness and a coming into being of the universe. This ‘just happened’ — it wasn’t caused, mathematical laws governed it. What isn’t known at present is which mathematics could have been involved in a nothingness, and why the mathemathical laws hold true. The universe evolved, and continues to evolve, from this one event — the event in which all matter, antimatter and all energy originated. There are mathematical ‘models’ which describe the evolution of the universe from almost the origin.
The earth is just one planet of several which orbit its sun and our sun is just one of countless billions. There are more stars than there are grains of sand on earth, and growing numbers of these stars we now know to have their own planets orbiting them. The elements which comprise all life — carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, etc were all generated in the explosions of stars formed from the energy and matter created at the origin. As the song said, “We are stardust… billion-year-old carbon”. All the carbon within me, you and the known universe is billions of years old.
The earth is in what is known as ‘the Goldilocks zone’ for life to have developed. Under many headings of “requirements for life to evolve and survive”, the earth has not too much… and not too little… of all of them. If we ever find other planets which match our conditions – being within a certain orbiting range of a suitable sun; of a certain size; with a preponderance of carbon, hydrogen and other elements – then we should not be surprised to find life there.
Life on earth began when complex carbon-based molecules began to replicate, possibly due to ultra-violet radiation or as a result of electricity from lightning strikes. Then, chance mutation gave rise to the amino acids — just 20 of which are involved in all known life forms. All life evolved from these early amino acids – chance genetic mutation which conceded some biological advantage to an organism in the face of environmental competition from its fellows.
Why do animals have eyes, ears, taste etc? Because having them is advantageous to survival, especially if another animal doesn’t. Anything which develops a method of sensing some aspect of its environment will be at an advantage. The ability to pass on these advantages to offspring is, in itself an advantage. Genes, and the information which they pass on, are an advantage. An advantage can be anything which helps an animal to fit into its environment. Given enough time, all life tends to fit itself into the environment in which it finds itself.
When humans evolved they found themselves phenomenally powerful, and terribly defenceless. Their ability to alter the environment far surpassed that of all other animals, they could and did eat a wide range of plants and animals. They might have seemed, to themselves, to be all-powerful. And yet they were helpless against much that the environment presented them with. Many phenomena were utterly unpredictable – lightning, flood, earthquake, disease etc.
They also found that the human mind is capable of thinking great evil and seeing that evil come to pass. They were helpless against human evil-doing. They saw that life ended with death, and were helpless against that too. To let their minds cope with both their power and their powerlessness they invented ‘Gods’. Rather than any Gods creating us, it is clear that humanity has repeatedly created Gods. Where are those who proclaimed Pharaoh Amenhotep was a God… or Lugh, or Zeus, or Nero, or the Emperor of Japan?
Powers were ascribed to these Gods which ‘explained’ life, particularly things we now know are natural phenomena. The Gods were also deemed to be both interested in, and to involve themselves in, human affairs. Gods accounted for humanity’s dark places – dark from ignorance of nature, and dark from lack of understanding of life. Gods gave meaning and reason to human existence — meaning and reason which were apparently lacking. But — inventing Gods doesn’t create them. And meaning and reason to human life don’t come into being just by stating them.
As human knowledge has grown, these Gods, and the ‘need’ for them, has dwindled. No angry Gods ‘cause’ volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, sudden death, or any of those things which our ancestors believed they caused. Priesthoods evolved which ‘interpreted’ the will of these Gods. Priesthoods – nowadays – can explain very little. The creation of these Gods made humanity feel itself ‘special’.
Many still see humans as ‘special’ in some way – but it is now known that other animals are self-aware, use tools, alter their environment to their will, come up with and follow a plan of action and communicate in ways we understand – and in ways we don’t. Many sense things we can’t – birds can see in ultra-violet, dogs can hear sounds we find too high-pitched. Many animals can literally feel the earth move, and are pre-aware when an earthquake is about to happen. We are not ‘special’ – and we are not bound for an afterlife, a rebirth, or any other form of existence. We die – end of story. Thinking we are special is either wishful thinking or a refusal to think the apparently ‘unthinkable’.
These things I think are backed by respected, scientific, repeatable experiment and factual evidence, but it might be being mis-interpreted. People who lived long ago contributed their thinking to this knowledge, and it will doubtless be refined by those who come after we are dead and by things they discover. These are some of the things I think. I don’t “believe” in these things as ‘ultimate truths’ – they are just things I think are true, but I am open to being proven wrong and to reasoned argument. I don’t attempt to convince anyone who won’t accept these things. I won’t fight or die for them. ‘Ultimate truths’ tend to be the writings of people who didn’t know very much, or think to deeply for themselves.
I may be wrong — but I think…