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When Science Kills Hope
I never dreamed of flying through space. I have never sought to travel faster than the speed of light. I am not impressed by sightings of UFOs or the prospect of meeting aliens. I am not interested in changing the genomes of any of my offspring. I am not interested in refusing to age or refusing to die. I am writing this on an excellent computer, but I am not sure that I enjoy my computer more than I used to enjoy the effect of a newly sharpened pencil on a crisp white sheet of paper, or the feeling of making my way through the smooth pages of a mammoth encyclopedia, or the joy of recording favorite songs from the radio on a stuttering cassette tape or watching a classic movie on a flickering, whirring VHS bought at a car boot sale. The fact is, progress is ambivalent, it is not always 100% good and when it creates the new, it destroys the old. We may one day enjoy the thrill of a shiny new self-driving car, but will no doubt look back on the thrill of driving ourselves with longing. Even as we get excited about technological change, we miss many of the things that technological change wipes out.
Progress is a two-way street. What science promises with one hand, it takes away with the other. A cure for something may indicate a condition for something else. All medicines have side effects. All medical treatment is a balancing act between evils, as the current pandemic has clearly demonstrated. Which is fine as long as the patient’s interests come first. However, when medical treatment is based on money, it raises ethical dilemmas. And since science and private money always seem to go hand in hand now, it is a good time to ask: will the interests of patients take second place to corporate priorities? The recent rise in New Tech wealth does not bode well for the masses. If Bezos says that his customers always come first, this is only until he has won them and eliminated the competition, then the profit returns to pole position. Profit and a growing GDP are the modern foundations of hope: hope for riches, hope for new stuff, hope that one day science will save us.
There is some evidence that technological change is used for the common good, but much more that it is used as a springboard for the ultra rich. Just when we had the prospect of free mobile communication and free access to the Internet at our fingertips, wannabe billionaires intervened and turned these things into models for making extortionate profits. When an epidemic strikes, the first thing we ask may be “who can we save?” but this is quickly followed by “how much money can we make?” The Covid year proved that we are less interested in saving lives than in saving big companies. As we unlock the mysteries of the known universe, entrepreneurs hear the ringing of cash registers. This would be fine and dandy as profits are used to reduce national debt, or to improve public services, or to save endangered species, but there is little to no evidence of this. Pletny, however, to show that the market for luxury goods is inflated.
How does this affect our spirit, our human essence, our experience of life in general? I believe the impact is not negative. We are back at that point of civilization when people thought by building a tower high enough in the clouds, they would catch a glimpse of heaven. The Tower of Babel was the result of vain ambition rather than the desire to accommodate the masses, and its ultimate failure held science back for centuries. This raises the specter of an inverse connection between money and morality.
Our modern Babel is a space rocket for billionaires who are obsessively looking for new thrills and, don’t get me wrong, crossing new frontiers is a laudable goal. We are all curious about weightlessness and the curvature of the earth and Branson is about to satisfy that curiosity, at least for some. While some of us are on the back of the sofa searching for the odd £175k to pay for a ticket, millions more are curious not about weightlessness and the curvature of the earth, but about food and clothing themselves and getting a good education for their children, which is still beyond the ability of even the most adept politicians to provide. While climate change wreaks havoc with urbanization on Earth, Musk’s plans to build settlements on Mars have been greeted with excitement; what good is a mansion on mars if affordable housing on earth is still in short supply? Is science becoming an elitist exercise, designing products for the few while destroying hope for the many? To take this to the extreme, a group of scientists, funded by billionaires, consider discovering a formula for eternal life: who would benefit? Would the formula be rolled out to everyone the world? Or, somewhat more likely, if we one day rely on space rockets to escape our poisoned planet (poisoned by bad business choices), how many of us would be allowed aboard? There are a thousand other scenarios – self-driving cars, household robots, genetic modification – who will be able to afford these technologies?
A real heaven must contain everyone or no one at all, because otherwise it is a lonely kind of heaven. Only God’s salvation is for everyone. The only escape rocket we need is piloted by Jesus. The Bible tells us that “hope in the Lord will renew our strength” (Isaiah 4:31) and “the God of hope will fill us with joy and peace” (Romans 15:13). There is nothing to say that we cannot use science and money to help us on our way, because science comes from God (Psalms 111:2), just as wealth does (Deuteronomy 8:18) , but science is given from God’s hands. and hijacking by selfish financial interest is not only misguided, but dangerous.
Here is the problem in an existential nutshell: as far as science is concerned everything matters, but nothing has meaning.
Everything is important to science, because everything that can be observed is important to science, but nothing has meaning, because there is nothing outside of matter. Matter and money have become inextricably linked and a new article of faith has been built up between them: that nothing outside of money matters. Therefore, our hopes for peace and joy rest on the acquisition of goods in which we find short-lived satisfaction, while the real question of the general happiness of our species (and its ultimate salvation in eternity) is dismissed as unrealistic, unattainable, even mythical.
In divine faith the opposite is true. Nothing matters, but everything is meaningful.
Nothing fixed matters to the religious mind, whether it is the curvature of the earth or the arrival of ET, because to the religious mind matter is like nothing; it is dust. But everything is meaningful to the religious mind, because we know that beyond our mortal life is an eternity of peace in the presence of the Divine, who gives hope to everyone. Belief in God thus restores hope and is in fact the only real basis for hope. Those who place their trust solely in something else will end up disappointed.
So how does believing in God inspire hope? If I am a parent who cannot afford shoes for my child, but know that God is there for me, the lack of shoes no longer matters. I explain to my children that walking barefoot through the streets allows them to connect more viscerally with the world, enjoy creation more fully and find greater meaning in their lives. The sun, the stars, the moon, remain unattainable, but that is good, because unattainable things flourish in art, in romance and in dreams, all of which make life beautiful. Meanwhile, the combination of science and money continues to fuel an insatiable desire to create capital and create luxury goods for infinitely growing bank balances. But empty dreams of owning a superyacht, a racing car, or even a space rocket, will only satisfy the bodily senses for a brief spell before being discarded along with all the other spent toys of the past. Meanwhile, kids who run barefoot feel cheated if their trainers aren’t a designer brand.
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