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Making It In The Big Time

By Allan Eastman

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A Time To Gather Stones Together

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors and resulted from a process that he called natural selection.

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These early Scientists – they called themselves Natural Philosophers – were obsessed with measurement. They wanted to know the defined limits of everything from the smallest creature to the size of the Universe itself. The key areas of study in applying a time line to existence were the burgeoning sciences of geology and astronomy.

Isaac Newton’s observations led him to believe that the Earth was something like 50,000 years old but he ultimately rejected this idea because it didn’t line up with his Christian religious beliefs.

The extravagantly named Frenchman, Georges Louis Le Clerc de Buffon, working in the mid 18th Century, believed that the Earth was formed from a piece broken off from the Sun and thought that by measuring rates of cooling of molten rock that he could date the Origin. His figures put creation back some 74,832 years, a major upping of the ante from Ussher’s number. Buffon was also the first to suggest that all life may have derived from a common ancestor.

Inherent in religious belief is the idea that God had created a well ordered universe, a perfect world – as it was in the beginning, so it is now and ever will be. But the Natural Philosophers were developing a great interest in the fossils discovered in the geological strata which seemed to demonstrate that there were a great number of plants and animals that had once existed but were now extinct. They reasoned that if God had created a perfect world, how is it possible for some species to die out?

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The geologist, Charles Lyell in the early 19th century, studying deeply into the fossil record concluded that change must occur slowly and stated that the Earth must be “Millions” of years old.

His work greatly influenced the young Charles Darwin, who on his epic voyage of discovery in the 1830’s saw ample geological evidence to support Lyell’s theories. Darwin was also startled by the great variety of life he observed, especially in the Galapagos Islands and he struggled to find an explanation. Finally, he developed the Theory of Evolution to explain it, saying that all Life participated in a struggle that resulted in the survival of the fittest – that species change slowly over time due to natural selection and that many species fail and become extinct. His book, The Origin of Species published in 1859, also argued for a creation that stretched back Millions of years.

Ernest Rutherford in the early 20th Century discovered that some elements are unstable and give off energy as radiation. By measuring the rate of decay in certain rocks, Rutherford reasoned that they were 100’s of Millions of years old. Following from this, in 1927 the physicist Arthur Holmes declared that the Earth was 1.6 to 3 Billion years old.

Science was getting in the ballpark. All the great scientific advances of the 20th Century have ultimately dated the formation of the Sun at about 4.7 Billion years ago with the Earth forming about 200 Million years after that. The simplest Life – single cell bacterium – emerged about 3.8 Billion years ago, and multi-cellular Life about 1 Billion. Really complex animals only appeared about 550 Million years ago and mammals about 200 Million.

The great Dinosaur extinction from the meteorite hit that gouged out the Gulf of Mexico was only 65 Million years ago and the important Human ancestor, Australopithecus, around 4 Million. Genus Homo, our true ancestor, emerged about 2.5 Million years in the past and our own species, Homo Sapiens only comes on stage some 200,000 years back. Recorded Human history - at best - covers all of 8,000 years.

There is an interesting visual example to illustrate our own history. If the whole age of the Earth is represented by the Empire State Building in New York where King Kong made his final stand, with the formation of the Earth at street level – then all recorded Human history would be represented by a postage stamp laid flat on the top of the radio tower at the summit.

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