My regular ABC column is up today, 'Universe's magnificence without the narcissistic supernaturalism'.
It looks into the resurrection, and argues that the recent revival of a little campion flower is more inspiring - to this atheist, at least - than the revival of Christ. A sample:
The resurrection... cannot quite compete with recent news from Siberia. A research team led by scholars from the Russian Academy of Sciences research centre at Pushchino, near Moscow, reported that they had propagated and grown a campion flower. Dull headlines, until one reads the fine print: the delicate little blossom, with its halo of white petals, grew from placental cells taken from fruit stored by a Siberian squirrel over 30,000 years ago.
Scientists have yet to replicate the team's results, and some have questioned the report.
"It's beyond the bounds of what we'd expect," seed viability expert Dr Alastair Murdoch told the New York Times. But, if verified, it is an intriguing and impressive accomplishment. Plants dropped and buried when humans were hunter-gatherers have been reanimated 30 millenniums later.
Of course the cells were not dead in the same way Christ was allegedly dead. This was not a whole plant revived, but its cellular material, used to propagate a new plant with the same genetic heritage. The equivalent would be cloning Jehoshua from blood, discovered on a miraculously preserved nail. In this, the belated blossoming of the flower is not quite a conquering of death.
Still, it is explainable, plausible, verifiable, which puts it three ticks ahead of the resurrection of Christ. What makes this achievement so impressive is partly the intimacy with the past it suggests.
We are surrounded by ancient stuff: rocks that formed hundreds of millions of years ago; the iron in my blood, formed in a supernova before our sun was born. But we rarely encounter life with such a close connection with the past. These cells were dormant – literally lifeless. At best, potential but not actual life. They sat in the ice for 30,000 years. They were not eaten, burned, pulverised, sunk. With dumb luck and modern science, they are now blossoming.
There is a sublime character to this achievement, in the sense that Schopenhauer explained it in World as Will and Idea: confronting a universe that dwarfs one's small existence, but does so without the feeling of threat. It is the temporal equivalent of a desert or towering mountain.(Photo: Svetlana Yashina)