The religious right has declared political war on people who do not embrace the ancient belief in a judgmental sky-god. It is time for those of us left to avail ourselves with the ultimate defense against liberty damning attacks by these bible-thumping zealots. That shield is effected by illustrating the natural, though unusual, conditions that led to the 'fear of God'.
It is not complicated; humanity's near ubiquitous apprehension over the power of a celestial entity comes from observing phenomena attending the break-up of a large, short period, Earth-orbit-crossing comet over several thousand years. This assertion is not speculative; much debris from this comet still orbits the Sun approximately three times a decade. Remaining fragments are no longer flamboyant enough to inspire fearful worship from contemporary earth dwellers, however, this entourage of stealth angels can still arouse our attention when one of their number slams violently into Earth as did happen early this century.
The Tunguska impact occurred in 1908 on the morning of June 30; it scorched and leveled 2000 square kilometers of dense Siberian forest with fire from above. Had this perhaps 50 meter across offspring of the almighty delivered its 20 megaton punch four and three-quarter hours later, few of the two million people then living in St. Petersburg would have escaped this celestially induced fire storm. Such events have certainly happened before, bringing much human misery.
The comet/sky-god connection has not long been recognized, for it is only within the past 15 years that large, dark components of the Taurid meteor complex have been identified; prior to this, only comet Encke and small meteors traceable to its orbit were known. Readers interested in the astronomy and physics of this still in process investigation should seek out a copy of The Cosmic Winter by British astronomers Victor Clube and Bill Napier.
This new found knowledge has several social ramifications for contemporary societies. Most obvious is that we are much more vulnerable to an externally caused catastrophe than was believed even a decade ago and that such a naturally occurring event could be very much like a nuclear war in terms of damage to civilization. For example, the September (92) issue of Popular Science contains an article on near-Earth asteroids and comets which claims that an object between 330 feet and 3300 feet across will crash into our planet once per 5000 years. A 330 foot hunk of rock slamming into Earth at an average impact velocity would liberate energy equivalent to 185 million tons of TNT into the environment, a kilometer or 3300 foot across object would release 1000 times this amount or 185,000 million tons TNT equivalent! In comparison the global nuclear arsenal is estimated to have the destructive potential of 20,000 million tons of TNT. Fortunately, we can probably prevent future impacts by developing the capacity to deflect these objects in space, years before they would actually come near Earth. The question is: Will we? and that is where politics enters the picture.
Perhaps the most immediate social ramification to arise from this new found knowledge will be a divisiveness similar to that which occurred when evidence for evolution was formally introduced. To mitigate social damage from this type of division it is helpful to point out that learning that our ancestors feared and worshipped a comet does not prove Life is the result of some cosmic accident. Quite the contrary, the knowledge that Earth has received horrendous impacts after which Life bounced back shows biological activity to be extremely tenacious and probably intrinsic to the whole of things.
A term I have used for over a decade to express this more robust view of Life is Grand Omniverse Design; this does not imply a designer, but acknowledges that we are part of an incredible web of continuous creation which we cannot now fully explain. Belief in Grand Omniverse Design does not evoke fear but rather marvel at the intricate relationships that allow our experience of Life.
To make conditions better for all Life on Earth we need to minimize the influence of people who cling to inherited superstition. We must strive to avoid the cost of a Secretary of the Interior who adopts a 'why save it the end is near' attitude as did Reagan appointee James Watt. For similar reasons we should seek to remove a person in that office who rejects the evidence of evolution while expanding the biblical grant of human dominion to include deciding, on the basis of economics, whether an at risk species is worth protecting as does Bush selected Manual Lujan, the contemporary Secretary of the Interior. These beliefs, as well as former first lady Nancy Reagan's devotion to astrology, are manifestations which lie rooted in our ancestors' attempt to understand the capricious and periodically destructive nature of a large Earth-orbit-crossing comet.
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