George F. Smoot on Cosmic and Human Time

Yesterday, I referred to Mike Wallace’s new book, The Way We Will be 50 Years from Today (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 2008). I now want to include comments on a few essays from this intriguing and frankly somewhat depressing look at where we are going as a human civilization.

George F. Smoot, an astrophysicist who in 2006 shared the Nobel Prize in physics, teaches at the University of California at Berkeley and conducts serious research. His work is primarily on the creation and long-term history of the universe. This leads him to say that fifty years is but a "dot" in cosmic time. But on a human scale it is will likely be a significant period of time, especially given the rapid rate of change and innovation we are now undergoing. He says predicting the future is "instructive and humbling to try" (7).

He predicts a major change in energy use and resources, which seems to me to be a safe bet. He suggests that since we are human beings we will seek to improve our lot and optimize our lives given better resources. I welcome this happily.

But will we see a change in the basic human being?

He suggests gene therapy will likely make a huge difference here. He writes about human cloning as if it will be a foregone fact. We will pick from a genetic pool and select those traits we want in our children. Thus Dr. Smoot thinks "designer children," as some have called them, are not that far off.

Smoot also believes that societies and groups will develop enhanced human beings; e.g., thinkers, wise leaders, great movie stars, etc. Thus he asks, "Is the wave of the future toward a more Utopian society or toward one with distinct economic and strategic advantages" (10)?

He concludes that we will not only have genetically modified human beings but, "In fifty years we will likely be at the start of a new, rapid evolution of mankind" (10). Humans and machines will compete and the jury, to his way of thinking, is really and truly out regarding who (what) wins. "It is interesting to speculate what will mark the turning point when evolution brings us from humans toward the next level" (10).

So The Brave New World is not that far off according to Dr. Smoot. I have my doubts, but I fear that we may well go down a road that has such perilous implications that God alone knows where it will take us. I think such a view, and it is widely held by serious scientists and thinkers, should challenge Christians profoundly to think more deeply and to consider ethics in general, and bio-medical ethics in particular. While we fight about religious dogmas, often unwisely, ethics will be where the real action is for humankind in the coming decades. This is not to say religion does not matter. It is to say that the ethical implications of faith are more crucial than we realize. In the world that is coming we cannot afford to fight about religion the way we could in the past. So far I am not deeply impressed that we take this seriously. While we are fighting a war on terror, are we also sleeping through a war on humanity that could come from a collection of technologies run amuck? Who is watching? Who cares? Where are the Christians who have good minds and care about creation on this issue? I know they are there but most of the rest of us do not care to listen.

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