Back to the Past

Why look at the past on a website entitled 'In the Future?'. Well, the answer is, to get a good idea of what the future may bring or may 'look like', clues can be gleaned from the past. The more we know about the past and understand it, the more we can know about the future. The same is true of the present.

For instance, if we know that in the past, the human life span has been increasing gradually, then we could expect that this trend would continue or level out. If we had no knowledge of this past phenomenon, we may not speculate it or think about it when considering the future. And if we know, at the present, that the Milky Way is just one a huge cluster of local galaxies, then we could anticipate at some stage in the future ours could collide with another. If we thought the Milky Way was the only galaxy, then we would not postulate this. Summary: the more knowledge we have of the past and present, the easier it can seem to make predictions about the future.

And what of the past? The timescales are astronomical, literally. It is thought that the Earth was formed a few billion years ago, and the Big Bang itself is dated to have been billions of years before that. We are not thought to occupy a special place in the Universe. And this knowledge has been used to predict that there must be, out there in the depths of space, not only life, but life which has reached or exceeded our advanced culture.

Going even further, if it turns out that there is good reason to speculate there is an infinite number of universes out there, we reach the interesting conclusion that there could be another world that is exactly like ours in every way, and another where things are only slightly different. This idea is much exploited in sci-fi films and books. We need to be careful here - most would say that in an infinite universe there is another world exactly the same as ours (that this has to be true). But that's not right - it is entirely logically consistent (if extremely unlikely) that in an infinity of universes there is not another world identical to ours. In an infinite universe, does the concept of uniqueness have any part to play?

When looking to the past, understanding human origins seems of particular interest from our point of view (putting any privileged position on the human condition often carries the charge of speciesism but it is so entirely natural that this charge is ridiculous).

The concepts of evolution and natural selection, post Darwin, are now generally accepted through the scientific world, if not the whole world. Significant numbers of people are creationists, and it is often thought that the two theories cannot be held together, although this is entirely wrong and they can be entirely compatible.

It is an interesting thought that, if we look at any theory, it always seems to be modified or changed or proved incorrect in the future. Just look at Newton's theories - held to be correct for a longer time than Darwin's - and then along comes Einstein and changes everything. It would be inprudent for the Darwinist to expect that Darwin's theories will prove to be entirely true but rather that something else will come along. Indeed, there are many doubts on Darwin's theory.

Commonly, people wonder if there has just been enough time for the diversity of creatures that now inhabit the earth to have occurred. Can random mutations, natural selection and response to the environment really account for the change from single-celled creatures to the baffling array of multi-celled creatures we see today (including humans), and those that have inhabited this planet at various times in the past? Does a one-celled organism 'accidentally' mutate into one with two cells, then that into one with four, eight cells and so on and so forth? If so, does it require two to mutate at the same time in species that rely on sexual reproduction to carry on the new lineage?

Indeed, some have wondered if Darwin's theories are held to have more explanatory power than they actually do - and can they be reduced to a tautology - that those species that exist now exist because they exist now (is this a fair version of the survival of the fittest - that those which have the best fit to survive at time t and conditions c are those that are naturally selected to survive at that time?)

It is interesting that many Darwinist's ridicule religion or at least creationism as ridiculous, but all the facts with evolution don't stack up. Furthermore, on sociological grounds not only is it entirely natural for people to look to some higher power to believe in, on explanatory grounds there is nothing fundamentally ridiculous to posit an argument along the lines of:
- There is something that exists in the universe (matter)
- Most things that exist have been created (to be provocative, my watch)
- Therefore the universe (and in turn we) were created

And, implicitly, if the universe was created, it was created by something, let's call it God (though the qualities we ascribe to that entity are entirely up for grabs). It is up to the discretion of the individual to choose between accepting a universe with a creator or that something (a very massive something) could come from nothing. If, indeed, those are the only two choices we have. Perhaps there are more yet to be thought of, or facts in nature to be found to lead us in another direction.

But I digress. The key point is simply that, by looking to the past, we can glean useful facts about how the future may appear. And indeed for a determinist it may be possible, if we knew everything about the current state of the universe, to predict the future. Then we could all play God and be omniscient.