10.I: Introduction

This book presents the history and natural history of human beings, the world, and the universe from a scientific point of view.  “Science” is a commonly misunderstood term.  Scientists are not people who think they know all the answers, but they do understand how to ask and answer questions.  Science has mysteries.  In fact, if all the mysteries were solved, then scientific inquiry would come to an end.    

Some of these mysteries are so deep and profound that they have an eternal hold on the human imagination.  I single out four specific mysteries as the great questions at the frontiers of science.  These mysteries are nestled inside each other.  In decreasing order, they are:

  1. The origin of the universe
  2. The origin of life
  3. The nature of consciousness
  4. The origins and workings of language

These are the fundamental questions that curious people can’t help being curious about.  So far, these questions have not yet been fully answered in terms of known natural principles.  That is why they are so subject to supernatural speculations.  The frontier questions are in fact the doorways that lead out of the suite of settled science, through the hall of hypotheses, and usually straight into the room of religion.  Today, these questions are all wrapped up in religious traditions that billions of people look to for solace, morality, and identity.  Religious people sometimes react very emotionally to critical questioning of their beliefs.  If you have grown up with a religious outlook on these frontier questions, I challenge you to find the courage to read what scientists have to say.  If you promise to read my book, I promise to respect your perspective – even if that means some respectful disagreement.  It might interest you to know that I started my life in a conservative American Christian community, and only through some very difficult years of confusion was I able to let go of beliefs that I came to find wishful.        

I’m warning you now, because the first two frontier questions are addressed in this chapter alone.  According to science, the universe and life appeared on the order of ten billion years ago.  This chapter will use “the B-word” (big bang) and “the E-word” (evolution) and will flat out contradict some accounts presented in religious scripture.  Later chapters will explore (again, according to science) how those religious beliefs, scriptures, and communities came to be. 

The double timeline below shows the ten-billion-year timescale.  The upper bar portrays some phases in the history of the universe, while the lower bar focuses on the Earth and solar system.  The eons of Earth’s long-term history appear only at the tail end of this timeline. 

Timeline of the Universe

Despite some lingering mysteries, science has answered millions of questions that had baffled the greatest minds until recently.  We now possess an astonishingly sophisticated understanding of events and processes that occurred well beyond our place or time.  Section II opens with the current understanding of the big bang.  The long history of the early universe is essential to understanding the origins of the Earth and what we are made of, so it is covered in Section III.  In section IV, we visit the sun and Earth as they were “under construction” during the hellish Hadean Eon, 3.8 – 4.5 billion years ago (BYA).  Section V is devoted to Earth’s Archean Eon, when rocks solidified and chemistry advanced to the first signs of life.       

Continue to Section 10.II:  The Big Bang

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