George Will

He thinks it possible that Shiva and Chicxulub were created by portions of different asteroids that fragmented when they hit the atmosphere. The energy from the fragment that produced Chicxulub is estimated to have been equivalent to the explosion of 100 trillion tons of TNT -- 10,000 times the explosive potential of the world's arsenal of nuclear weapons. The much bigger fragment that created Shiva may have shoved India north. India was then an island moving three to five centimeters a year. Then came what has been a mystery to students of plate tectonics -- the surge of the Indian plate to the astonishing rate of 15 to 20 centimeters a year.

Dinosaurs, who were thriving in India, had lived a thousand times longer than humans have yet lived. Then they and more than 75 percent of Earth's plant and animal species died. Perhaps the two collisions, combined with a lot of volcanic activity in that era, some of it perhaps caused by the collisions, tossed up enough dust to block sunlight, creating perpetual night, and acid rain, impeding photosynthesis and causing the starvation of many creatures. Or perhaps by screening sunlight, the dust caused a glacial episode.

Or perhaps dust and water vapor had a "greenhouse effect," holding in heat and cooking much life out of Earth. The discovery, two decades ago, of a bed of dinosaur fossils on Alaska's North Slope suggests that temperatures may have been warmer long ago, before there were human beings to blame for that.

Before Darwin, many people believed that no species could become extinct because this would mean there had been an imperfection in God's original handiwork. Yet 104 years before publication of "On the Origin of Species," the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 had caused some people to doubt that God has ordained a benevolently ordered universe. Nevertheless, in 1787 other people -- Americans call them the Founding Fathers -- who were influenced by Newtonian physics and the deist idea of God as cosmic clockmaker, devised a constitutional system of separated powers, checking and balancing one another, mimicking what they considered our solar system's clocklike mechanics.

Today, we know there is a lot of play in the joints of the Constitution, and that every 40 million years or so asteroids of more than half a mile in diameter strike Earth. Yet the Constitution still constitutes, and the fact that flora and fauna have survived Earth's episodes of extreme violence testifies to the extraordinary imperative of life.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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