I’m currently reading about the early fossil hunters – Mary Anning et al, and the huge shift in consciousness they caused. Until the 1800s, the Christian west had understood creation as perfect and unchanging. Awareness of extinct dinosaurs, mammoths and so forth brought into question the whole story. Why would God make things and then not keep them? A perfect God could not make imperfect creatures and have to give up on them! A perfect God would know exactly what he was doing from the start! Why would God make things and allow them to become extinct? It made no sense.
Taking on the implications of the past – that the Earth is older than the Bible suggests, that extinction happens, that things are created imperfectly and can change, that there is evolution, rocked the Victorian world. More than a hundred years on and there are still people who prefer any explanation for fossils but the most logical one. Everything we once thought we knew, was wrong. We went round similar cultural upheaval dealing with the idea that it isn’t a flat Earth, and the sun does not go around the Earth. We killed people as heretics over that, I believe. We struggled with recognising that people are people, no matter their skin colour and that we all evolved from ape-like ancestors.
It is worth looking at how in the past, we resisted new thinking. We fought against feminism and women getting the vote, insisting for decades that women are too silly to handle anything much. As with the folk who haven’t got to grips with evolution, sexism and racism still hold sway in some minds. Often the same minds. Every good idea, every moment of progress has been accompanied by fervent denial, ridicule of the new stuff, through to actually murdering people for daring to disagree. The first guy to translate the Bible into English died for that. We’re so frightened of having our old stories challenges that we kill to protect them rather than accept change, or new insight. That’s not a glowing endorsement of us as a species.
So we’ve spent decades adamant that climate change science isn’t real, and isn’t happening. We’re still having the same maddening debates about equality and tolerance on all fronts and there are still people who think God put the dinosaur bones in the earth to test our faith. Assuming we get our acts together and face up to the challenges of our times – climate change, pollution, poverty, resource allocation, our whole relationship with the natural world… Assuming we get that right and there are future humans who can look back, they will no doubt line us up with all the other idiots of history who refused to read the writing on the wall, and who preferred death to changing the story. The only difference between us and our reactionary ancestors, is that this time if we get it wrong, there may be no one in the future to look back at us in bemusement and wonder how on earth we failed to grasp the blindingly obvious.