If you were to get into your car and drive to the moon, observing the speed limit of 75 mph, it would take 133 days to get reach it. More than four months. If you were to drive to the sun–and I think it’s safe to say you’d have to use your sun visor–the trip would take 142 years. Decide on a lark to take a drive to the end of the solar system? The edge of the solar system is a little open to interpretation, but safe to say, at 75 miles an hour you’d be stuck in the car for 10,000 years.
The ancient revolutions of the earth have brought forth its first Gods, new revolutions would produce new ones, if the old ones should chance to be forgotten.
— Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d’Holbach, The System of Nature, v.2, p. 120, 1770
Writing began some 5000 years ago; its invention was a revolutionary threshold which opened the door to collective learning, the recording of history and the sharing of ideas across geography, cultures and the ages. Writing is an enduring legacy that outlasts cities, nations and empires; it often outlasts the ideas that inspired the words written. Witness the Genesis tale of Noah, which was adapted from the Babylonian story of Utnapashtim, which itself was taken from the earlier Sumerian tale of King Ziasudra; this same story was simply re-purposed with different gods and different agendas for different audiences several times over two thousand years. The oldest elements of the Hebrew Bible are thought to have been penned during the 10th Century BCE, about 3000 years ago.
But 3000 years ago–even 5000 years–is but a drop in the bucket of the history of our species. Ninety-eight per cent of our history as a species is unrecorded. This leaves some 200,000 years of Homo sapien religion/deities unaccounted for. Who knows how many gods we’ve worshiped and forgotten in the tens of thousands of years before the written word? To paraphrase cosmologist/astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss, we as a species have worshiped some 1000 gods in just the past five thousand years of documented global history. Consider: Of those 1000 above, to 999 of those gods we are all atheists today… 999 we no longer believe in; we freely admit we were wrong 999 times. Okay, now think about this: if you had a friend who was wrong 999 times in a row, really, how much stock would you put in him insisting he was right the 1000th?
It is only be hearsay (by word of mouth passed down from generation to generation) that whole peoples adore the God of their fathers and of their priests: authority, confidence, submission and custom with them take the place of conviction or of proofs: they prostrate themselves and pray because their fathers taught them to prostrate themselves and pray, but why did their fathers fall on their knees?
— Percy Shelley, The Necessity of Atheism, 1811
The pertinacity with which [a man] clings to blind opinions imbibed in his infancy, which interweave themselves with his existence, the consequent prejudice that warps his mind, that prevents its expansion, that renders him the slave of fiction, appears to doom him to continual error.
— Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d’Holbach, The System of Nature Preface, 1770
Okay… so we have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and sixteen great-greats… but few people think beyond those 3 or 4 generations of ancestors closest to us and whose pictures might be found while dusting in the attic. In short, every generation doubles the number of ancestors, across the board and without exception.
- 1st generation — 2 parents
- 2nd generation — 4 grandparents
- 3rd generation — 8 great-grandparents
- 4th generation — 16 great-greats
- 5th generation — 32 great-great-greats
- 6th generation — 64 great-great-great-greats
After 32 “great-great-greats” and 64 “great-great-great-greats” the number really accelerates. By the 10th generation there are 1024 direct ancestors mixed into your DNA, and by the 15th generation, 32,768. By the 20th you cross the million ancestor mark at 1,048,576 and are looking for a bigger house just to display the family album… by the 30th 1,073,741,824 and by the 40th generation a staggering 1,099,511,627,776 grandmas & grandpas (Yes, for the record, that’s a TRILLION… it’s a lot of cards and anniversaries to keep track of… and a lot of grudges against you should you forget).
But here’s the paradox: the further back in time the smaller the ancestral pool. In other words… one trillion is impossible without some serious genealogical overlap.
Given that this journey through 40 generations of time takes us back to the 9th century (+/- several decades) — a time when the world population hovered near 250 million and the European population is estimated on the generous side at 30 million — it is be safe to say that everyone in the Western World who is derived from any European or Scandinavian stock is descended from EACH and EVERY successful child-bearing line of 9th century Europe — and not just once… but on average, 36,650 times over. (And this number is conservative, in that 30 million represents the entire population, not just successful child bearing lines.) Some ancestors would be represented more often while others less, but regional and cultural isolation (Jewish enclaves, Moors in Spain) offers no exception to the rule…all it takes is one ancestor, a “gateway grandpa” to bridge the narrow into every nook & cranny in the genealogical atlas. In the end, the odds average out to 36,651 to 1 that you are NOT directly descended from every man & woman who walked European soil in 800 AD and who happened to have a child, who had a child, who had a child….
Everyone is familiar with the term needle in a haystack. Well, if the observable universe (and to be clear–that’s not the whole universe, just the universe we can SEE from here…) were scaled down to the size of our planet Earth, our entire solar system would be smaller than a single grain of sand lying on a beach somewhere on the planet. One 50th of a millimeter, according to my math.