Heaven and Hell; do they exist? Yes, and no?
If you’ve read much of my stuff, you know I am an Atheist, and I don’t believe in Heaven and Hell as most religions define these two places. I certainly understand why this notion might have appealed to ancient humans in their life and death struggle for existence in a world and universe that was a complete mystery to them. I find it much harder to understand why so many people in the twenty-first century continue to perpetuate the myths created thousands of years ago.
But that’s not why we’re here today, is it? Well, it is, but not in the biblical sense. You are in heaven right now, and perhaps in hell at the same time. Science’s best estimate of the age of our planet earth is about 4.5 billion (4,500,000,000) years old, plus or minus 50 million years. That’s a long frigging time.
We humans, humans in our modern form, are only about 50,000 years old; that makes the earth 90,000 times older than modern humans. Some of our ancestors go back 400 or 500 thousand years; various homos and sapiens then went extinct, perhaps because of us, until our homo sapiens species was all that was left.
The Earth wasn’t always the Garden of Eden we are actively trying to destroy today. It was a violent and oxygen-deprived environment in the beginning. Cyanobacteria evolved at least 2.4 billion years ago and set the stage for a remarkable transformation. They became Earth’s first photo-synthesizers, making food using water and the sun’s energy and releasing oxygen. This catalyzed a sudden, dramatic rise in oxygen, making the environment less hospitable for other microbes that could not tolerate oxygen. These were simple celled microbes, but they kicked off the revolution. Clusters of specialized, cooperating cells eventually became the first animals, which DNA evidence suggested evolved around 800 million years ago and produced more complicated structures. There were still no humans, or anything close to us on the Earth, yet. https://naturalhistory.si.edu/education
As more and more life evolved in a more supportive oxygenated atmosphere, the age of the dinosaurs came along between 243 and 231 million years ago, during the Triassic period. When the dinosaurs arose, all the Earth’s continents were connected in one landmass, now known as Pangaea, and surrounded by one enormous ocean. Pangaea broke apart into separate continents during the Early Jurassic Period around 200 million years ago.
Dinosaurs mysteriously disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous Period, around 65 million years ago. Many other types of animals and many species of plants died out around the same time, and many competing theories exist for what caused this mass extinction. Besides the tremendous volcanic or tectonic activity occurring around that time, scientists have also discovered that a giant asteroid hit Earth about 65.5 million years ago. Landing with the force of 180 trillion tons of TNT and spreading an enormous amount of ash all over the Earth’s surface it devastated the Earth. Deprived of water and sunlight, plants and algae would have died, killing off the planet’s herbivores; after a period of surviving on the carcasses of these herbivores, carnivores would have died out as well.
Life on the Earth began to re-evolve with the absence of the dinosaur. It would take another 65 million years for some version of humans to appear. During this period, the Earth was busy becoming a garden of Eden, if you like. Oceans were teeming with sea life, birds, and creatures of all shapes and sizes covered our planet, each playing its role in the evolution of the Earth that would one day welcome the appearance of humans.
What we humans inherited was heaven. It was a lush, if sometimes harsh, environment bursting with fruits and edible plants, small and large game that sustained our human form and provided the fuel for our evolution to our modern state of home sapiens, the most potent life force the Earth has ever seen. We tamed fire and electricity and built safe buildings to live in and be protected from the harshest environments. We literally conquered the Earth, or a significant portion of it, while still getting bitch-slapped now and then by earthquakes, hurricanes, monsoons, tsunamis, and other natural events to remind us we haven’t entirely conquered the whole of Earth.
Today, we stand on the precipice of destroying our garden and turning it into a hot, barren, and lifeless wasteland, or hell, by our continuing use of fossil fuels, throwing our waste plastic in the oceans, destroying rain forests that provide our oxygen, damming rivers to generate electricity as the fish die; we are literally trashing the Earth we inherited.
When we talk of heaven and hell, we talk about the very Earth we live on, not some mysterious ethereal place. We are talking about what we want our Earth to be and what we want to pass on to our children and succeeding generations. Do we want to leave them living in heaven or hell?
When we talk about an afterlife, we talk about the life that comes after we are gone, not some fantasy imagined by ancient humans concerned with living eternally. We are talking about our children’s lives and their children and what they will either enjoy or have to endure because of how we treated the garden that we inherited from all the life that came before us.
If you want to read more and in depth about the evolution of our species and what the future might hold, I highly recommend that you read Yuval Harari’s book, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.”
Discussing life, politics, and philosophy in the language of the bar.