Imagine a film about Earth from its birth to the present. Aeons of seeming inactivity interspersed with dramatic outbursts would eventually come to the exits and entrances of dinosaurs and “men and women merely players”.
Napoléon (1927), the epic silent French film directed by Abel Gance, only tells the story of Napoleon’s early years, but it still lasts five and a half hours. The film is far shorter than Out 1 (1971) directed by Jacques Rivette, which lasts twelve hours and forty minutes. Today, the average length of a cinema film is two hours, possibly a little too short to depict the evolution of planet Earth.
It used to be thought that the Earth was created by act of God some 5,700 to 10,000 years ago. Even today the Institution for Creation Research says, “Every honest attempt to determine the date, starting with a deep commitment to the inerrancy of God’s Word, has calculated a span of just a few thousand years, most likely close to 6,000 years, since creation.”
Scientists disagree. They say that the Universe came into existence 13.77 billion years ago and the Earth was formed 4.54 billion years ago. Siding with science, in order to make a movie of Earth’s evolution, we might equate 4.54 billion years to 120 minutes of film. That means 4,540,000,000 years/120 minutes = 37,833,333 years of actual time per one minute on screen.
D. W. Griffith eat your heart out! As the lights go down in the cinema, it is ± 4.54 billion years ago in the Milky Way and Earth gathers enough solar debris to form an oblate spheroid (meaning almost round to you and me). Less than half a minute and 13 million years later, the Earth gives birth to the Moon, which decides to tag along for the ride.
There follow some 4.52 billion years (accounting for approximately one hour and nineteen minutes of film) filled with assorted pyrotechnics, titanic gaseous exchanges and tectonic plate shifting. Now watch carefully:
- Somewhere between 22.5 and 16.7 minutes from the end of the film, a massive ice age produces “snowball Earth” and slows evolution to a crawl. Scientists believe this happened between 850 and 630 million years ago. It may have lasted more than 6 million years.
- 13.21 minutes from the film’s end – 500 million years ago – swarms of jellyfish rule the oceans. They are still with us.
- About 9.52 minutes from the end – 360 million years ago – ferns float majestically over the surface of the earth turning into a green planet.
- Nearly 8 minutes from the end – 300 million years ago – the deafening buzzing of myriads of insects fills the air.
- About 6 minutes from the end – 231 million years ago – dinosaurs begin their long trek towards notoriety.
- 1.7 minutes from the end – 66 million years ago – dinosaurs vanish from the Earth. Creationists please note: a gap of 61 million years follows, despite the best efforts of Steven Spielberg.
At long last, just 8 seconds from the end of the film and 5 million years ago, in a continent later to be called Africa, human beings take their first hesitant steps towards civilization.
The past 5,000 years, including the infinitesimally brief lifespan of William Shakespeare who wrote the play As You Like It from which the title of this blog comes, lasts less than one hundredth of a second. Blink and you’ll miss it.