Creation Walk

THE CREATION WALK INTRODUCTION

Brian Grogan SJ

The Creation Walk is the story of the Universe, a story full of mystery, wonder and awe. It includes the story of our Common Home, Mother Earth, and the story of you and me. Because it is a divine story, appropriate scriptural quotations accompany the scientific account.

The story of the Cosmos has remained unknown until our own time, although it was talked about ever since humans sat around campfires 100,000 years ago and tried to understand where they had come from. Less than 100 years ago, in the 1930’s, astronomers discovered that the Universe is expanding: this enabled them in the 1970’s to work back to the moment when the Universe began, roughly 13.8 billion years ago. Only 50 years ago, in 1969, photos from the Apollo 8 spacecraft showed humans the whole Earth for the first time.

We then are the first generations to know the history of our home and our own remotest origins. The articles that follow will help you to walk through time, from its beginning until today: with the interplay of science and divine revelation, you will learn the extraordinary story of how we came to be where we are today. Knowing how the Universe has unfolded will bring us closer to the Creator, because God is author both of the book of Scripture and the book of Nature.

We are told that God walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the evening (Genesis 3:8). God still walks in the garden we call Earth, our Common Home, and will be with us till the close of this world’s history and beyond. Each successive step described in this series is a divine total surprise and unpredictable, because ‘my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord’ (Isaiah 55:8). When we fear that all will end in catastrophe, the story gives hope of one more unpredictable divine twist whereby ultimately all will be made well.


‘The universe is a single, gorgeous celebratory event!’ – William Berry.

Note that all ‘facts and figures’ in the series are open to amendment in the light of ongoing scientific exploration. A primary sourcebook is Brian Swimme & Thomas Berry: The Universe Story; from the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era, 1992. The Internet provides immense data–sometimes conflicting–on every topic touched on.

‘Wow! What happened next?’ come walk with us through time by visiting our website www.lovingsisterearth.com/creation-walk/

1.The Great Emergence 13.8 billion years ago.

Some 13.8 billion years ago, our Universe flared into existence: we call that moment the Big Bang. Time, space, and energy begin to exist. All that would ever come to be was already there, within the miracle of hydrogen and helium. The Universe expanded and cooled rapidly. Energy condensed into matter.

We belong to one another: We now know that the sacred community of the universe is a single interconnected web of life emanating from the creative energy of God. Before the beginning, 13.8 billion years ago, there was silence. No time, no space… nothing… only God, who is Spirit. ‘The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters’ (Genesis 1:2). Suddenly everything burst forth from a single point—energy erupting with the brilliance of a trillion stars and the combined speed of a million hurricanes. This fireball flared forth in every direction, creating time and space. All the matter that exists now was present then in embryonic form. This means that every particle in the universe is at source connected to all others.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1)

The Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 
In whose hands are the depths of the earthand the heights of the mountains. 
The sea is God’s, who made it, and the dry land, which divine hands have formed (Psalm 95:4)

 ‘Wow! What happened next?’

2. One billion years later, galaxies emerged.

Galaxies came forth as billions of stars made of hydrogen and helium. Larger stars in their death throes exploded and become supernovas. As they blasted out into the cosmos, they created in their wombs the heavier elements from which life will emerge.

What are galaxies? We used to think that our Earth had a privileged place at the centre of the Universe, but recent astronomy shows that our solar system is only one among a vast number of others: our planet has been reduced in status to an infinitesimal speck in the galaxy to which we belong, because that galaxy is a vast cloud of one hundred billion stars. And there are more shocks: in the 1930s astronomers found that the nebulae—those small whitish clouds which we can see between the stars—are in fact clouds of galaxies, each one containing a hundred billion suns similar to ours. The majority of these suns are orbited by planets. ‘There are therefore in the universe thousands of billions of billions of billions of planets such as Earth’ – Carlo Rovelli: Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, 2014.

We can’t comprehend such figures, but we can allow ourselves to be amazed at the size of the universe in which our brave little planet finds itself… and be amazed at God who looks after our little home so carefully.

God said to Job: ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth, when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7)

‘Wow! What happened next?’

3. Two billion years later interstellar dust produced molecules.
Within the interstellar dust the chemical gifts of the supernovas were nurtured into simple organic molecules, vital components for the later emergence of life.

Molecules: What are these molecules, made from stellar dust? The world around us appears infinitely varied: just look at the substances around you, with their shapes and colours. As I type these words, I see wood, metal, glass, paper, plastic, flashing light-bulbs and more. Things seem solid, like my keyboard, or soft like my chair. We naturally think: that’s the way things are: bump against a wall and you see how solid it is. Rock is dependable and durable, so we are safe building a house on it.

But students of particle physics find a different world: behind all visible and tactile things are elementary particles which act as bricks in a gigantic Lego set: it is from these that all material reality is constructed. Think of a Russian doll! Each layer opens to reveal a smaller one, down to the tiniest. The components of the reality we see are atoms, but every atom is a nucleus surrounded by electrons; each nucleus contains protons and neutrons which in turn are made up of even smaller particles called ‘quarks’, and the force that ‘glues’ quarks inside protons and neutrons is happily called a ‘gluon’.

Think now about all the particles you ate for breakfast! And then ask yourself, ‘Am I composed of atoms too? Did I originate—literally—in stardust?’ If you go back far enough, say 11.8 billion years– the correct answer to both questions is Yes!

‘The heavens are telling the glory of God’ (Psalm 19:1)

‘God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world’ (Ephesians 1:4)

‘Wow! What happened next?’

4. 4.6 billion years ago, birth of the Sun and our solar system.
It took nine billion years for our solar system and our Earth to emerge. An old star, our ‘grandmother’ star, exploded and the matter released gave birth to our Sun, to the planets and to the other members of our solar system. Here begins the story of what became the blue and white planet, our Earth. Earth is some 4.6 billion years old, and astronomers predict it will last for another 4.67 billion years. So it is now middle-aged—and currently in a mid-life crisis which we humans have caused!
To illustrate, let’s drop the billions and imagine that Earth is 46 years old. Humans have been here 4 years; the Industrial Revolution began just one minute ago, and in that time we have destroyed 50% of Earth’s forests. This is not sustainable. We love trees, but why should trees love us? Hence the emerging worldwide concern which we call ‘ecological conversion’.

The Future of Earth: Earth is beautiful, fragile and finite. Born out of massive explosions and collisions as described above, it will be subject to further change. Within the immense ocean of galaxies and stars we are in a remote corner, and all are on the move. But whatever Earth’s time-span we are designated by God ‘to till it and care for it’ (Genesis 2:15). Nature is friendly to us, and looks after our innumerable needs. In return we must care for Nature just as nature cares for us. Creation reveals the goodness, care and beauty of God, who has plans for the Universe and for ourselves of which we know so little. But we can trust God to ‘make all things new’ (Revelation 21:5) in ways that we cannot now imagine.

‘I look at your heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars that you have established’ (Psalm 8:3)

‘Wow! What happened next?’

5. 4.3 billion years ago, the Moon was born.
A recent theory proposes that Earth, while still a fluid molten ball, was impacted by a Mars-sized planet that caused some of the outer layers of the molten Earth to splash out and solidify into the Moon. That would answer the question of why so much of the Moon’s makeup is similar to that of Earth.
The Moon’s distance from Earth is 239,000 miles. It is 2,160 miles in diameter, one quarter of the diameter of Earth. It orbits Earth every 29.5 days. Travel time to the Moon by Apollo 11, is three days; by car 135 days at 70 miles per hour (113 km/h).

Thanksgiving: On July 21, 1969, Niall Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the Moon. Edwin Buzz Aldwin, a devout Presbyterian, took communion on the Moon’s surface. He quoted texts from John 15:5: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’ and Psalm 8: ‘God, what are humans that You are mindful of them?’ He invited those watching from Earth to give thanks, each in their own way. Every day we can give gratitude for our existence and life. Each Eucharist blesses God, ‘Lord of all creation’.

The Earth’s relationship with the Sun and Moon will choreograph its exquisite dance of life.

 ‘God made the two great lights, the sun and the moon, and the stars’ (Genesis 1:16) ‘There is one glory of the sun, another of the moon, and another of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory’ – (1Corinthians 15:41)

‘Wow! What happened next?’

6. 4.1 billion years ago, the miracle of rain.
Earth slowly cooled and formed an atmosphere. As steam condensed above the Earth, the miracle of rain and weather cycles began. Torrential rains fell until rivers ran over the land and merged into oceans.

Water: The origins of water on planet Earth has long been a scientific puzzle not yet fully resolved. A 2018 study concluded that most of our water came from wandering waterlogged asteroids, and that other water molecules, hydrogen and oxygen, came from the solar cloud of gas left over from the formation of the Sun. These soggy asteroids had begun developing into planets while the solar nebula still swirled around the Sun, so they had some water on board. When these baby asteroids collided the bigger ones grew rapidly and eventually a chance collision introduced enough energy to melt the surface of the largest embryo into an ocean of magma. This largest embryo would eventually become Earth.

This recent study, if verified, has profound implications for both the origins of life on Earth and the possibility of life elsewhere in the Universe.

All life depends on water. Indeed the wars of the future may be Water Wars, because the volume of water on Earth is limited.  Our National Holy Wells Day in mid-June is an effort to raise consciousness about water both locally and globally. Pope Francis in Laudato Si defends the right of all people to have free access to water.

‘The rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there until they have watered the earth’ (Isaiah 55: 10)
‘Your Father makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’ (Matthew 5:45).

‘Wow! What happened next?’

7. 4 billion years ago, the first cells were born and life began.
Within the newly formed oceans a rich variety of chemicals gathered together in the form of bacteria. Earth awoke into life.

Life: Where did life come from? Whence the genetic code? The Royal Society’s Evolution Prize for 2019, worth 10 million dollars, will be given to the first person who can bridge the gap between physics and biology. The winner must use only materials and conditions such as would have been to hand 4 billion years ago. Scientists give their lives trying to build even a single living cell. There are some 100 billion cells in your brain, and 37 trillion in your body!

What about bacteria? All living things are made of “cells”, tiny bags of living matter that come in different shapes and sizes. Living things are made of pretty similar kinds of cells, but by far the most numerous forms of life are microorganisms, each of which is made up of just one cell. Bacteria are the most famous group, and they are found everywhere on Earth. The shape of the scientists’ ‘tree of life’ suggests that a bacterium was the common ancestor of all life. In other words, all living thing – including you – are ultimately descended from humble bacteria. Their fossil remains date back 3.7 billion years.

God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures’ (Genesis 1:20)

‘I will praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14)

‘Wow! What happened next?’

8. 3.7 billion years ago, cells invent photosynthesis.
Bacteria invented ways to capture energy from the sun, thus creating new sources of food from water and simple minerals. In the process, however, they give off oxygen, a deadly gas that threatens life. But the dynamics of our little planet are self-correcting.

A delicate balance:

Had the supernova not exploded five billion years ago,

had the earth not maintained a certain temperature so that water would flow and life emerge,

had the ozone not processed out certain levels of radiation,

had the original fireball lasted just a few seconds longer or shorter than it did over 750,000 years of time,

or maintained a temperature just one degree hotter or colder over that long period of time,

we humans would not exist.

We were indeed loved by the cosmos from the beginning’ (Matthew Fox).

God asked Job, ‘Have you entered into the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? ‘ (Job 38:16)

‘Wow! What happened next?’

9. Two billion years ago Bacteria and Nuclear Cells
Bacteria invented ways to capture energy from the sun, thus creating new sources of food from water and simple minerals. In the process, however, they give off oxygen, a deadly gas that threatens life. But the dynamics of our little planet are self-correcting.

The simplest forms of life began 3.5 billion years ago. Bacteria invented breathing, a new source of energy for Earth. They gradually entered into communion with larger cells. This relationship begot the nuclear cell, the basis for the evolution of all complex life.

What is life? While we know it when we see it, scientists cannot yet define it.
And what is human life about? Is it for family, achievement, renown, wealth, longevity, bodily pleasures? Is there something overarching all these, or must we live, as Thoreau suggests, ‘lives of quiet desperation’? Samuel Beckett asks the penetrating question, ‘What are we meant to mean?’
Aristotle in the 4th c BC, offers a surprising answer: ‘Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and goal of human existence.’ To live as befits human beings, he says, can bring that happiness for which we are endlessly searching.

The approach of the Bible is also surprising. It has rightly been called ‘the Book of Suffering’ but this eclipses its unequivocal message that happiness is indeed our destiny. Scripture speaks endlessly of blessedness, gift, glory, gratitude, happiness, joy, life, love promises, rewards and salvation!
Why this emphasis? Because we are made by God and for God; but God is happy—so happiness is at the core of our DNA! We are created to be happy, and as we grow in love of God we grow in happiness. ‘To be near God is my happiness’ (Psalm 73:28). The Holy Spirit guarantees God’s love given to us (Romans 5:5), and the Spirit is life, joy and radiant happiness. It was for the joy set before him that Jesus endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2) and he says, ‘May my joy remain in you and your joy be full’ (John 15:11).
We are to be happy even now because as pope Francis puts it, ‘When everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved’.

‘Well done! Enter into the joy of your lord’ (Matthew 25:21, 23)

‘I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord’ (Philippians 4:4).

‘Wow! What happened next?’

10. 1 billion years ago Multi-celled Life
Life is mysteriously drawn toward union: the first single-celled organisms learnt to share their genetic heritage by becoming multi-celled sexual creatures. They bequeathed to their progeny an extravagance of possibilities. Creativity expanded rapidly throughout Earth’s waters, while worms and jellyfish appeared.

The Human Body: From conception through to embryo to fully-formed fetus to mature adult, our bodies are extraordinary achievements of nature. The body has 78 organs—including the brain, heart, hands, stomach and reproductive organs. We are made up of 11 essential chemicals—including oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, calcium, phosphorus. We are 60% water, and have 200 bones, framed to hold us together and protect our organs. The body is somewhat like a well-run city, with the brain as the City Manager operating a highly efficient information network through our nervous system. The brain has 86 billion nerve cells (neurons) – our ‘grey matter’. These connect to billions of nerve fibres by trillions of connections (synapses). The body itself has 30 trillion cells, each with its own structure and function.
Our energy comes through our respiratory and digestive systems. Lungs take in air, extract life-giving oxygen, and expel carbon dioxide. The mouth takes in food and drink and with the help of a 30-foot digestive tract, converts it into energy. The cardio-vascular system circulates the blood and provides nutrients. The immune system is always on standby to come to the aid of areas that need help.
While eventually the whole body system breaks down and we become a handful of dust, we believe that God transforms our dust and raises us to new and everlasting life. How this will be we do not know. But the gospel writers have left us two resurrection images to play with: we are to be born again and we are to be raised up in glory, and in this glory all creation will share.

‘God said, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you, and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything”’ (Genesis 9:3)

‘We are fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14)

‘Wow! What happened next?’

11. 525 million years ago

Sight and Fish

The Human Body: From conception through to embryo to fully-formed fetus to mature adult, our bodies are extraordinary achievements of nature. The body has 78 organs—including the brain, heart, hands, stomach and reproductive organs. We are made up of 11 essential chemicals—including oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, calcium, phosphorus. We are 60% water, and have 200 bones, framed to hold us together and protect our organs. The body is somewhat like a well-run city, with the brain as the City Manager operating a highly efficient information network through our nervous system. The brain has 86 billion nerve cells (neurons) – our ‘grey matter’. These connect to billions of nerve fibres by trillions of connections (synapses). The body itself has 30 trillion cells, each with its own structure and function.
Our energy comes through our respiratory and digestive systems. Lungs take in air, extract life-giving oxygen, and expel carbon dioxide. The mouth takes in food and drink and with the help of a 30-foot digestive tract, converts it into energy. The cardio-vascular system circulates the blood and provides nutrients. The immune system is always on standby to come to the aid of areas that need help.
While eventually the whole body system breaks down and we become a handful of dust, we believe that God transforms our dust and raises us to new and everlasting life. How this will be we do not know. But the gospel writers have left us two resurrection images to play with: we are to be born again and we are to be raised up in glory, and in this glory all creation will share.

In the oceans light-sensitive eyespots evolved into eyesight. Earth saw herself for the first time through the first fish forms, whose backbones encased the earliest nervous systems.

Eyesight: By studying the light-sensitive structures in existing species, scientists constructed hypotheses about how complex eyes like ours evolved. Eyes may have first evolved from the simple light-sensitive spots on the skins of some creatures, whereby outside information was taken in. Successive changes created a depression in the light-sensitive patch, a deepening pit that made ‘vision’ a little sharper. At the same time, the pit’s opening gradually narrowed, so light entered through a small aperture, like a pinhole camera. Eventually, the light-sensitive spot evolved into a retina, the layer of cells and pigment at the back of the human eye, and over time a lens formed at the front.

It took millions of years for the human eye as we know it to emerge in Homo sapiens. But some other creatures developed sharper sight than ourselves. Some owls can pinpoint a mouse at a distance of a kilometer even when only candle-light is available. Pythons and boas have our eyesight but also can see in infrared: in the dark they can pinpoint prey from their body heat. Bees see ultraviolet light and can navigate from the position of the sun even when it is cloudy.
Other insects see a riot of colour beyond anything we can imagine. Dragonflies have the best vision in the animal kingdom. Whereas humans can see colours as a combination of red, blue and green, dragonflies have up to 33 different types of light sensitive proteins. This keen eyesight enables them to be the most successful predator on the planet. Their bulbous eyes are made up of up to 30,000 facets, each pointing in a slightly different direction, enabling them to see in many directions at the same time.

‘God created every living creature of every kind, with which the waters swarm’ (Genesis 1:21)
Jesus said: ‘The Lord has sent me to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind’ (Luke 4:18)

‘Wow! What happened next?’

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