In any debate about evolution or existential threats to the survival of the human species we are inclined to under-estimate the time-frame of the Universe.
Most people know that the Big Bang was about 13.8 billion years ago. But that’s such a long time that it is hard to give it full weight.
Wikipedia has a Cosmic Calendar (it’s not as “hippy-trippy”as it sounds. It was popularized by Carl Sagan). It compresses the history of the Universe, from the big Bang to the present, into 12 months. You can see it here.
What is truly remarkable is to recognise that, if you take the Big Bang as 1 January and the present as midnight on 31 December, life on earth did not emerge until November. And that was just pond-slime. Dinosaurs appear on 25 December and disappear on 30 December: they survived 130 million years. Homo Sapiens emerges about 6 minutes before midnight on 31 December.
Think about it: if dinosaurs existed for 5 days; we have existed for 6 minutes, and agriculture began just 21 seconds ago. On the same scale, Christ was born about 5 seconds ago.
Those of us who grew up in one of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) are taught that the Creation took 6 days. Here’s how the days went:
Day 1: “Let there be light”
Day 2: “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” (The sky)
Day 3: “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear. … Let the land produce vegetation”
Day 4: “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night…”(The Sun and the Moon)
Day 5: “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”
Day 6: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals…”
So we grow up with the idea that we have been here from close to the beginning, that we are made in God’s image, and that we are in charge.
In the 17th century, Bishop Ussher of Armagh added up all the events recorded in the King James version of the Bible, and calculated that the creation happened on 23 October 4004 BC. As it happens, that is about 8 seconds before midnight on 31 December.
Taking the most generous view of the Creation story in Genesis, human beings emerged on the last of the 6 days of Creation. If you divide the actual history of the Universe into 6 parts, the last day stretches back a bit more than 2,000,000,000 (2 billion) years. But Homo Sapiens emerged about 200,000 years ago.
But these details do not matter much: the Creation story has us believing we were here from the start, and it’s not too bold to reckon we will be here to the end. After being around for 130 million years, dinosaurs probably thought something similar (if they thought at all).
We should step back and ask whether our place on this planet is as secure as we think. Maybe we need to take better care of it.