Dr. Michio Kaku, a popular Theoretical Physicist from the City University of New York, remarked in a May 2011 interview that the human society on planet Earth was steadily progressing from a “Type Zero Civilization” – the old world of tribal, sectarian conflict embroiled in war because of cultural barriers – to a “Type One Civilization”: a globally integrated, “multicultural, scientific, tolerant society.” If we can communicate with someone across the world in an instant, initiate trans-national economic programs such as the European Union, and speak a near-global language (English), then Kaku believes we are on our way to a truly global society – in his mind, a scientific utopia in which rationality and tolerance trumps the bitter exclusivity of religion, and war becomes but a memory.
At first glance it’s difficult to determine the proper reaction to this revelation: should we be filled with hope for a potential future in which everything that marked the human race as fallen – conflict, strife, corruption, greed, vanity – could be eradicated in a completely transformative scientific revolution? Or should we be troubled at the thought of man’s brilliance unleashed, determined to “fix” the world? I suppose it depends on the sort of tools required for such a task.
It is a question as old as the human conscience, as old as the ability to peer beyond ourselves and see that something is wrong with the state of things. Perhaps we were too content in our old world of savagery and passion – perhaps we were not determined enough, like the brightest scientists of the modern age, to not only understand the workings of the world but also seek to improve it. Perhaps even when the course of human existence was changed in the moment of the Incarnation, when the one true God became flesh, we were not yet disturbed or moved enough to change things. But that would be operating under the assumption that man, in all his ambition and brilliance, can endeavor to change the human condition.
In accordance with the online knowledge forum Big Think, several scientists were asked to envision a world without religion. Robert Wright, author of Evolution of God, offered that the moral progress “required to save the world” could exist without religion, but was quick to say that the perfect society need not shed religious ideas per se – merely that any religion allowed to exist must be perfectly tolerant of other beliefs. The famed evolutionary biologist (and self-avowed enemy of religion) Richard Dawkins commented, in his customarily sardonic way, that in the godless world “we could get on with our science as science and not have to worry about whether we are giving offense to people who get their beliefs from holy books rather than from evidence.” Dawkins also pointed out that our public discourse would move away from anything dependent upon absolutist criteria, but rather those criteria that are based on suffering. This latter idea is not a pleasant one, particularly if it indicates a movement away from an absolute moral code. Nevertheless, Dawkins perceives this movement not as an abolition of morality, but rather a redefinition.
According to these brilliant men, we could still achieve a healthy and moral world should the dangerous evils of Islam, Christianity, and other world religions happen to fall away. In fact, according to Kaku we might even have a better shot at it were all the cultural barriers to disintegrate. If only the human race could rally together and forget those things that divide us; if only we could be like the truly enlightened men who understand the inevitable triumph of scientific reasoning. Of course, it only takes a single person to reject the utopian philosophy and embrace his own, to make himself a god over other men, for the system to fall into chaos. We need only look to such individuals – Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, and countless others – who have proven the incurable illness in man’s soul.
In listening to the theoretical musings of the world’s smartest men, I sometimes feel as if I had fallen backwards in time, rather than forwards. It would appear that we are trying to recapture the philosophy of the Enlightenment – that man is the undisputed master and corrector of his world, capable of self-perfection. And what of the philosophical shifts that occurred in that movement’s wake? The rational naturalists gave way to the Romantics, who wrestled with the heart as well as the head, who began to observe a beauty in the world and a tragedy in the human spirit. The rise of Industrialism gave us hope in the machine, and a chance at betterment at progress – until the machine was twisted into weaponry and used to slaughter men. Since the rise and fall of our two great wars and the ruinous aftermath, we are still locked in philosophical struggle to understand why, in the words of Dr. Janusz Bardach, “man is wolf to man.” Were we to deny the crippled state of man’s conscience, of his inexplicable aversion to the moral, his amazing capacity to abuse his own life and the lives of others, or his clinging to hatred and rejection of compassion, we would become fools indeed. But then again, “Has God not made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (1 Cor. 1:20).
As the believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have a distinct advantage. We know that man’s condition is not that of the material which the enlightened have endeavored to mend, but that of a spiritual fabric unraveled and unworthy before the Holy God. Not only this, but we know the one true cure, the one thing that fixes the broken man and makes him whole. This beautiful knowledge is no secret to us, though it may be a mystery, and we are not burdened but rather privileged with the task of setting it loose upon the world. Perhaps this issue, like all other issues of the earth, comes back to faith – do we believe that God can fix man’s condition? Perhaps we will never see the laying down of arms in the world of men, but we are promised that sight in the Kingdom of God. That is a braver, newer, and more wonderful world than we could ever hope to imagine.