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How did we get here?

Mormons proselytized for a new tradition that stressed individual free will. American Jews largely resisted evangelism while at the same time winning converts to Judaism. Converts to Catholicism chose to opt out of the system of religious choice by turning to the authority of the Church. By the early twentieth century, religion in the United States was a system of competing options that created an obligation for more and more Americans to choose their own faith.

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Religion had changed from a family inheritance to a consciously adopted identity. For a billion years, the only life on Earth was single cells. Then something happened which created the template for all complex life. Two single cells merged together.

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They got inside each other and, instead of dying, formed a kind of hybrid, which survived and proliferated. And because every animal and plant today shares the same basic building block — the same type of cell structure — we are very confident that this only happened once, somewhere in the oceans of the primordial Earth. Brian explains how an energy source called a proton gradient may have helped life form at hot underwater vents. How unlikely was the moment when life first began on Earth?

That remains one of the greatest mysteries about the origins of human existence. We still don't know how life arose, but it may well have happened at hydrothermal vents - underwater hot springs dotted across the ocean floor.

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They churned out a potent mix of chemicals and energy, that may have combined to create the first life. Whatever the truth, many scientists believe that with the right conditions, the chances of life arising are surprisingly high. But if those conditions had not existed on Earth, our planet today would be a watery soup of complex chemicals, but no more.

Two thirds of the surface of this unique planet are covered by water, and it was here indeed that life began.

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  6. For life to begin and thrive, it needed water. But the young Earth was a ball of molten rock, and any surface water quickly evaporated into space.

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    So where did water come from? Some was probably trapped deep in the Earth as the planet formed, saving it from evaporation. It could then be released by erupting volcanoes, as the Earth cooled.

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    And some came from beyond our planet, from icy comets crashing into Earth. Without this water from beneath the Earth's crust and from space, Earth would have been a lifeless ball of rock. The Moon's gravity changes the way the Earth moves through space. That affects our planet's climate, helping to shape the evolution of life. But Earth was born without a Moon — and was almost destroyed in its creation.

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    Both were almost blasted to pieces in the collision. The other young planet did not. A huge amount of rocky debris was thrown into space. Gravity made this debris coalesce into the Moon.

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    He is also a celebrated translator from the Chinese, and released The Silk Dragon: Translations from the Chinese Copper Canyon Press in About his work, Jackson Mac Low has said, "The word 'compassion' is much overused—'clarity' less so—but Arthur Sze is truly a poet of clarity and compassion. Speaking about Sze's contributions to the art of poetry Naomi Shihab Nye has said, "Arthur Sze's work has long been a nourishing tonic for the mind—presences of the natural world, wide consciousness, and time, combine in exquisitely shaped and weighted lines and stanzas to create a poetry of deep attunement and lyrical precision.

    Sze's ongoing generous exchange with Asian poets and devotion to translation in collections such as The Silk Dragon , enriches the canon of world poetry immeasurably. I drive south in fading light.