But in various religious traditions there were stories of global floods, mountains appearing suddenly, out of nowhere, and fire or ash raining from the sky.
Well, guess what? Religion was right.
Now we know Catastrophism is what pushed human evolution. The most recent example is the eruption of the Toba supervolcano (caldera) approximately 70,000 years ago. The human population dwindled under 100,000. Our species nearly went the way of the dinosaurs before it had a chance to get started.
Some argue the Yellowstone caldera is "due" for an eruption. In geologic terms that could be 10,000 years from now, 50,000 years from now, or tomorrow. Research has shown the caldera breathes, the land moving up and down in response to the magma chamber miles below. Yellowstone is just one of numerous supervolcanoes which dot the Earth.
How could a mountain appear from nowhere? Either volcanism or a large impact from outer space?
Global flooding? The end of an ice age or impacts again.
While humanity discovers more reasons to, and a catalog of means for, destroying one another, science is tending more and more towards evidence we needn't bother.
"Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep."
I'm not the granola-crunching, hold hands, give peace a chance type. I'm a realist when it comes to human behavior.
However, as the evidence mounts it's becoming increasingly clear our focus should have remained on survival, just as is must have been for our neolithic ancestors. Just when we thought we could conquer nature, science (the means for doing so) has proven nature's teeth are much larger and sharper than anything we can grow, or hope to grow, in the near future.
Conquering the Earth from other humans is a pyrrhic victory at best.
Iran can build nuclear weapons, but the fault lines which crisscross their land will never surrender. Portland's Greens can howl about global warming and saving the Earth, but the Cascades have already signed Portland's death warrant. Who will save Portland from the Earth? It's a question of when, not if.
Now that we are beginning to understand the nature and scope of these types of events for the first time in human history, in terms of science instead of religion, it would behoove us to take them seriously and factor them into our planning.
But short-sightedness is much less frightening and simpler.