Thursday, 12 September 2013

Catastrophism-Revisiting the theory

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An interesting article in the BBC Knowledge Magazine, (August 2013) titled, "Catastrophism" defines the phenomena as, “The devastating effect on life caused by events such as meteor impacts and great floods.” Different cultures and religious text have mentioned such catastrophes taking place way back in the past, things that have been lingering somewhere in the subconscious memories. The Bible mentions the inundation of the whole world by the great flood and Noah getting his family and two of all animals into his ark. This inundation could have taken place because of a Tsunami or tidal wave caused by a meteor crashing into  an ocean!  An immediate rise in sea levels would have inundated large tracts of land. Greek mythology speaks of the supercontinent, Atlantis, existing in the past, (and some of the well known Greek philosophers like Plato, might even have mentioned it in some of their treatises) and one can only wonder about what must have happened to it! Robert Mathews, the writer of the article on Catastrophism goes on to cite the example of the Epic Gilgamesh describing the great flood. In recent times too, we have been haunted by the fear of being struck by meteors and comets and this fear has been hyped by some of the more daring science fiction films which been screened so far!
Pictures of Halley’s Comet streaking across in space, fragments of a meteor exploding in the upper atmosphere causing windows of buildings in a town in Russia to shatter, the fear of what would happen if the derelict space-station, sky-lab fell on inhabited areas are all too recent to be forgotten! The 2012  Doomsday predictions suggested that the world would end on December 21, 2012 because the Mayan calendar ended on that particular day. There was a lot of frenzy and apprehension about the impending catastrophe which would bring life on Earth to a stand-still before the twenty-first December, what  with cult leaders, shamans, seers, and popular soothsayers adding to the frenzy through their speeches, advice and rites for preparing their followers for Armageddon that never came! The book of Revelation in the Bible  suggests that any future apocalypse would involve fire and brimstone falling from the sky. This could be the result of a  of a meteor strike, aggravating tectonic movement resulting in a series of volcanic eruptions throughout the Earth. Then if the first Apocalypse was the result of massive flooding then the final disaster would come from the sky!
It is quite evident through our myths and religious scripture that mankind has always been aware of the possibility of a Cataclysmic event taking place, and this could be because of what our ancestors might have once witnessed and then handed down the generations by word of mouth, and then in the form of written texts. It could also be possible that this memory of a catastrophe might have even been recorded in within our DNA! However to claim that an accurate prediction of a catastrophic  even might be possible with a very small degree of error would be rather farfetched. The book of Revelation warns us of what might happen by taking recourse to the Catastrophe theory and it apparently would defeat the very purpose of the warning to tell us when that catastrophe could take place.
Scientists and mathematicians have worked on the Catastrophe theory for quite some time now and they have predicted the possibility of the Earth being hit by a planetary object big enough to wipe out the entire mass of humanity! A small asteroid, Apophis is predicted to come close the planet in 2036 and it has a 1 in 45,000 chance of striking the Earth with the destructive power of 1000 Hydrogen bombs, according to the article, “Catastrophism” by Robert Mathews. Scientists have gone further to predict that a Near Earth Object could strike the planet in the year 2300 with the kind of energy that was liberated by the meteor crashing in Tunguska, Siberia in the year  1908!
Catastrophism can be linked to the  cataclysmic theory. The theory of Catastrophism according to Wikipedia deals with:  “the theory that the Earth has been affected in the past by sudden, short-lived, violent events, possibly worldwide in scope.[1] The dominant paradigm of modern geology is uniformitarianism (sometimes described as gradualism), in which slow incremental changes, such as erosion, create the Earth's appearance. This view holds that the present is the key to the past, and that all things continue as they were from the beginning of the world. Recently a more inclusive and integrated view of geologic events has developed, changing the scientific consensus to accept some catastrophic events in the geologic past. This held that there have been violent and sudden natural catastrophes such as great floods and the rapid formation of major mountain chains. Plants and animals living in those parts of the world where such events occurred were often killed off, according to the 19th-century French scientist Georges Cuvier. Then new life forms moved in from other areas. As a result, the fossil record for a region shows abrupt changes in species. Cuvier's explanation relied solely on scientific evidence rather than biblical interpretation.”  A theory which is deeply embedded in every human being’s mind irrespective of his or her provenance suggest that this is a common shared memory of an even that might haven affected all mankind in the past. This could be a memory that serves as a warning about to all mankind to behave lest they should unleash the catastrophic and cataclysmic event upon themselves. The theological aspect of the theory however suggests a certain degree of control over the catastrophic event, such that as long as you behave yourselves, God will protect you, but then once you don’t behave, then God will become so angry that he will destroy you with fire and brimstone raining from the heavens! The idea of a catastrophic event being the result of sin, is perhaps best described in the story about Noah and his ark. The world was filled with so many bad people,and sinners that God decided to wash them away and start anew with a small band of people and pairs of each species of living beings. The theory of Catastrophism received a big boost from the spectacular event pictures of Shoemaker Levy striking Jupiter on July 1994!
An interesting thought is whether Catastrophes have really benefited anyone! The dinosaurs were wiped off the face of the earth. Tiny rodents, mammals that lived in burrows and holes, too small to be taken notice of by the dinosaurs, survived the cataclysmic event of a meteor striking the Earth. Is it, then possible that catastrophic events like meteors striking the Earth might in fact kick-starting the process of evolution bringing out a different out come for life? We human beings are the result of a catastrophic wiping out all competition for us to gain the number one position on Earth. An interesting supposition is whether it would not be possible for all humanity being wiped off the face of the Earth, and to be survived by Cockroaches which would get a jump start in the process of evolution? In any case, while a Catastrophic event might lead to the destruction of a particular species, it however gives a new direction to life! Suffice it to say that a Catastrophic event is an event that brings about a change to life on Earth, it determines the direction in which evolution moves, it determines the future of the Planet, and ultimately it determines how long we live on this Earth. Whatever may be the case, we can not take our existence on this planet for granted, and we need to cherish each breath we take, each moment we live, and perhaps even pray to God to postpone such an event because we are good to each other and don’t indulge in chemical wars or even conventional wars between communities and countries across the globe!
File:MSH80 eruption mount st helens 05-18-80.jpg

File:MSH80 eruption mount st helens 05-18-80.jpg-Wikipedia

References:
1.BBC Knowledge, volume 3 issue 5, (August 2013)
                 

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