Earth as Egg

There was a time, a long time ago, when families were all by themselves. [1] These families were very much like your family, but they were poor. They didn’t have phones, and they didn’t have cars. They didn’t even have water or houses. These families lived in caves, or in the trees, and were always hungry and afraid. They could fall out of the tree, and if they were hurt, they could die. There were no doctors. Wild wild animals always wanted to eat them.

We know a little about these families because we can find their bones, their fireplace, their food. We sometimes even find their poop. If we are very lucky, we can even find their art. These families lived over a thousand centuries ago. That’s a long time.

Way back then, those families might meet another family. They might fight, or maybe they would be friends. If they became friends, perhaps their children would like each other and start their own family. We know many of them started families, or else your family wouldn’t be here!

When these families met for the first time, it was a big event. Each family thought of itself as an island in an ocean of nature. They thought they were all by themselves, almost all the time. They liked it that way.

A hundred centuries ago a lot of families got together in little groups. We call these groups tribes, and tribes live in villages. They could live together like this because they had discovered farming. As a result, lots of villages sprang up all around the world.

Little by little, the villages started talking to each other. Each time a village found another village for the first time, everyone became excited. Would this village be a friend? If they became friends, many good things could happen. They could trade lots of things. Their children could get married. And together, both of their villages could grow.

Still, each village was separated by great distances from the other village. Each village felt like an island surrounded by nature.

Over time the villages grew. Many of them would like each other so much that they became kingdoms, and even nations. Today our world is full of nations, almost two hundred of them. Nations have been so successful that they touch each other on almost all sides. They touch each other so often that no one feels lonely any more. There is hardly a single village in the whole world that still thinks of itself as an island.

Some people say our Earth is too crowded. There are seven thousand thousand thousand people living today, and together we are using up a lot of natural resources. When families were the islands, all the natural resources around them were more than enough for their needs. These resources were things like fish, fruit, wood, and water. Clean fresh water always seemed like it would never go away.

Today, families live next to each other, almost elbow to elbow in some countries. Even fresh water may run out soon.  Don’t worry. People always find a solution to problems like this. Other people might not like the solution, but they will still work. This is not what this story is about, though.

About one century ago people finally figured out that nature is much much bigger than we ever imagined. Nature isn’t only our neighborhood of nations. It’s not even our whole world. Nature is an entire universe. Our universe is big. So big that even trying to describe its bigness would take another story.

In this universe there are other worlds, similar to ours. There may be hundreds, thousands, or even thousands of thousands. No one is sure.

If you pretend to be a god, you can stand far above your house, your nation, and even far above the whole Earth. If you are standing up there, you can see all those other worlds at the same time. Each one is an island, separated by nature. It’s not the same nature as what you see out your window, but it’s nature all the same.

Our Earth is an island. There are many other islands out there, some closer than others. Remember those families from a thousand centuries ago? Remember how they felt when they met another family for the first time? We are just like them. The idea of meeting another world like ours makes us feel excited, and afraid.

Ready for eggs?

Have you ever seen a bird’s nest, full of fresh laid eggs? Not all the eggs will hatch. Something inside the egg doesn’t happen, and the egg always stays an egg.

Inside the good egg, something miraculous happens. Life emerges from non-life. Everything inside the egg is transformed from being yellow and clear into something that eats, poops, talks, flies, and even thinks.

Each egg is an island, just like our Earth. Not all eggs hatch into life, and not all worlds come alive like ours. But, like the egg, now that we are alive, we must not feel bad about transforming our planet. Like our egg, we need its resources to break open the shell and reach out to new worlds.

So, the next time you see a bird’s nest, think about your Earth. Don’t be too sad if we use of lots of trees or eat too many fish.  Why? Because when we go to a new world, we’re going to have to take some of them with us. After all, we are all in this egg together. [2]

The end.  Or is it?

 

[1] A story for the young at heart. Perhaps at bedtime when they are thinking deep thoughts, or maybe when they are looking at the sky. May all of us always be young at heart!

[2] It’s okay to be a little sad. And it’s very okay to be angry if someone uses up all the resources so that they are all gone.

 

An Open Letter To Sir Richard Dawkins

Dear Dick,

You are an exceptional biologist with great insights into what makes evolution work. However, you’re quite the firebrand of late. Unfortunately, it’s in areas that don’t line up with your expertise. Please, forget your Quixote-like attack of God, and stick to forging better theories integrating genes with phenotype expression. Sir Richard, no matter how hard you try, God is going to be around as long as there are humans. Sir Richard Dawkins, you can’t kill God.

This mess started when your popular acclaim inflated your ego, such that you became an expert on so many things unrelated to your expertise. How you could do this to yourself is quite a trip of the imagination. Self annointment is the worst kind. In fact, any kind of ego-annointment isn’t good scientific practice. And, since you espouse the sanctity of science, why you should stoop to any kind of statement other than those in which you are expert is quite a stretch.

Let’s not dwell on your expertise in all things, instead let us dive right into what you seem to argue most stridently about, God. Now, to my mind, God, the big G, is everywhere. I’m not only talking about the big popular successful religions like Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism – but all other religions from every social group ever studied.

Pretty much even the remotest tribe has created a theory of their universe. They use the theory to answer a variety of questions. Where did our world come from? How did we get here? What is our place relative to all other life? Where are we going? Where do we go when we die?

Dick, whether you like it or not, the myths and legends and theories these people use to understand their world work for them. They won’t change, no matter what you think or say, no matter how many misionaries visit them. If their God, or Gods, live in rocks, wind, or some unreachable place in the sky, then there they will stay. Dick, this is proof number one. All those Gods are there to stay.

Need more God? Let’s look no further than our own backyard. Truly, your backyard, my backyard, they are probably similar. From my backyard I can hear the church bells wafting through the trees. There are many people in both our countries that hold their beliefs rather strongly.

Now, you and I live in nations where belief systems are being influenced constantly. True, those belief systems focus primarily on our sex appeal, the vehicle we drive and the liquids we drink. Our belief system is under a constant barrage of media messages trying to change our beliefs and our behavior. Granted, these beliefs are seemingly trivial in appearance to the nature of the universe, but arguably, people care more about their breath than their God.

The advantage of living amidst this media melange is that we have extremely good theories as to how beliefs are best influenced. These theories are used for breath fresheners, cars, beer, and selling books. They work. The best evidence of their validity is the billions of dollars in profits made by consumer products companies.

Distilling these theories of belief modification to their essence leaves these steps. Identify what is most important to your customer, like breath odor. Point out the shortcoming of the current situation, like bad odors driving your friends away. Offer your alternative, like “Bob’s Brilliant Breath Beads.” Finally, show the customer how much better off they will be. We should see some lonely person using Bob’s Brilliant Breath Beads, and then immediately being surrounded by beautiful people.

Let’s look at your message in our sophisticated marketing terms, crudely summarized above. First, since you are trying to knock off the big G, who exactly is your customer? Prophets and priests perhaps? Pretty tough sell, that one! Zealous parishoners? Infrequent dabblers? Hypocritical naysayers? You’re going to have to be specific, because a message sent to everybody is a message heard by none.

Secondly, what’s wrong with the current situation? Sure, you can point to the crazy anti-vaccinationists or militant martyrs in general, but what can you say to your customer as to how it affects them personally? Personally! Does it mean they’ll lose money? Prestige? Sex? Doesn’t it all boil down to power and sex, anyway?

Incidently, does your message have a catchy phrase and memorable brand name to go along with it?

Thirdly, your message may be beneficial. With better breath I bag more babes; that’s a powerful message. What does your product deliver? Can you compete against omnipresent love and omniscient advice? Dick, I’m waiting!

Sorry Dick, I’m not hearing anything from you, and I happen to agree with you! If I’m not hearing it, then your intended customer isn’t hearing it either. No message, no benefits, no change. Fail.

Let’s see. So far this means the score is God, 2, Dick, nought. Don’t care? Naughty Dick. Let me try again.

Within our species there is a sub-species that is even more primative than those scattered tribes mentioned in the first argument. This sub-species has unique genetic abilities that the rest of our species has lost. Can you guess who they are?

They, Sir Richard, were you, long ago. They are still with us, and God willing, they always shall. They are our children. These newborn lumps of loveable flesh continue growing and learning at rates far exceeding the most ambitious graduate student. These special humans have to go from knowing effectively zero on the synthetic knowledge scale, to our current average level of, let’s say, ten. And they have to do this within twenty years. Pretty damn good.

Now, Dick, I’m willing to grant you a synthetic knowledge rating of, oh, what the heck, let’s say you’re a sixteen. You’re a genius compared to the rest of humanity. Yet, you know you didn’t start that way.

You began as we all began, as an ugly baby. You ate, pooped, grew, and learned like the rest of us. You asked questions. Lots of questions.

There’s the rub. Eventually you asked your first questions about the universe, about your place in the world, and about death. You probably asked them very early in your life. Your teachers told you what was appropriate for you, and for them. There’s a very good chance that they explained the universe to you using, here it comes, God.

Dick, that’s my argument number three. If that doesn’t convince you that God is unkillable, nothing will. How smart is that?

My point is this; our Big Bang super-symmetric stringy law-driven universe may not contain any actual Gods, but does it matter?

No, not one wit. As long as there are backward tribes, lazy people, and children, Gods will, and must, exist. You are not only tilting at a windmill, but doing your reptuation as a scientist a disservice by venturing into thoroughly unscientific areas.

As a behavioral scientist, we know God and Science can coexist very well together. They already do, in a fashion. God offers an extremely simple explanation for why things work, and a straight forward knowledge acquisition formula; that is, “I say so.” Science, way more complex and formal. But each has its place. So, Sir Richard, please relax and let God live.

Wishing you all the best,