One Fifth of a Second image

One Fifth of a Second

One useful way to envisage history as viewed through the lens of evolution is to imagine the whole 4.6 billion year history of the earth as being crammed into a single day.

If we had a bird’s-eye view of the whole day, what would we see the Creator do, starting our 24-hour clock at zero and imagining that midnight is the present moment in time?

Simple forms of life would already be appearing by 2.40 a.m. with single-celled organisms (prokaryotes) flourishing by around 5.20 a.m. The great oceans of the world start to change colour as cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) spread cross the planet. At the same time the genetic code becomes established that will dominate the generation of biological diversity for the remainder of the day.

After this early-morning start, there would then be quite a long wait until single-celled organisms containing nuclei (eukaryotes) become visible around lunchtime. A further seven hours pass before multicellular organisms (living things with more than one cell) start appearing in the sea by 8.15 p.m. About half an hour later the planet changes colour as cyanobacteria and green algae invade the land.

From then on the biological pace picks up and there is a busy evening of observation ahead. The Cambrian explosion starts at 9.10 p.m. and in an amazing three minutes an immense diversity of phyla appear, each with a distinctive body plan, with many of the anatomical features introduced continuing in many of the phyla right up to midnight. Twenty minutes later plants start appearing on land for the first time, followed very soon afterwards by the earliest land animals. At 9.58 p.m. this is followed by the mass extinctions of the Devonian period.

At 10.11 p.m. reptiles start roaming the land, followed half an hour later by the mass extinctions that mark the end of the Palaeozoic period.

By 10.50 p.m. the earliest mammals and dinosaurs are appearing, but five minutes later there is further mass extinction at the start of the Jurassic period.

By 11.15 p.m. archaeopteryx are flapping around and within minutes the sky begins to fill with birds. Another mass extinction occurs at 11.39 p.m. in which the dinosaurs are wiped out.

Just two minutes before midnight hominids start to appear, and a mere three seconds before midnight anatomically modern humans make their entry onto the scene, the whole of recorded human history until now being compressed into less than one-fifth of the second before midnight, the mere blink of a human eyelid.

- Denis Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have To Choose?

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