Secularism and the Death of Dreams

I was listening to this talk by astrophysicist and science advocate Neil deGrasse Tyson recently about why we stopped dreaming about the future. As indicated by our unwillingness to fund NASA:

He makes his point very poignantly, and I sympathize with his view. I am old enough to remember my as a child my dad explaining to me the large graphic in the newspaper which showed the figure 8 flight path the astronauts would take to the moon and back again, his voice tinged with a rare enthusiasm. There is a very real sense that we have lost our hopefulness about the future. We have become obsessed with the present pleasures and need – science and technology is self-serving rather than humanity enhancing.

Science fiction writer Neal Stephenson has made a similar observation about our future, at least as it is depicted by current science fiction. Rather than providing inspiration for future physicists and engineers, the dystopian themed stories of our future instead inspire fear and caution about man’s eventual fate.

So what changed? Tyson vaguely blames the budgetary priorities of Congress, but that is really no explanation at all – budgetary priorities merely reflect our society’s priorities after all. I would think a better explanation would be found in the West’s increasing secularism. The reasons why are rather obvious – if we have arrived at the here and now as the result of purposeless physical processes beyond our control, and our ultimate fate at as humans will be determined by those same forces, then what future is there to dream about? If even our thoughts and dreams are determined by such forces, it’s better to devote one’s energies to that which gives immediate gratification than invest in some imagined future generation. Rather than making us captains of our own fates, atheism ultimately removes from us any say in our pasts or our futures, individually and collectively.

Nonetheless atheists often accuse Christians of thinking of eternity to the exclusion of the present needs, but in fact faith has the opposite effect. Because eternity exists, every day has eternal significance. Every action has the potential to be magnified infinitely – in short what we learn and explore and create today matters in a profound way. In the Christian schema, all creation has a purpose and part of the reason we have a mind and senses is to explore that creation as a means of understanding our Creator to the fullest extent.

A secularist mindset on the other hand kills these desires – the world only has the meaning we attribute to it and that meaning endures as long as we do. There is no intention behind our existenc, and the fact that we know anything about the universe at all is an incidental product of an otherwise indifferent universe. Tyson himself has said, “When I look at the universe and all the ways the universe wants to kill us, I find it hard to reconcile that with statements of beneficence”. Why would anyone devote their life to the exploration and understanding of something that only wanted to kill them? If he wants to understand what killed our hopes of the future, he look no farther than his own godless-materialist philosophy.

It is no coincidence that the engineers and rocket scientists who originated NASA were children of the 50s, which was not coincidentally a decade that prioritized science education, but also happens to be one of the most religiously devout decades of the 20th century. Unlike today’s atheists, scientific knowledge wasn’t an end in itself, but a means to an end – a means to explore God’s creation and secure the destiny for a nation that was seen as uniquely blessed by that same Creator. Their vision of the future was the product of that purposeful mindset.

The Christmas day message of Apollo 8, the first manned flight to orbit the moon reflects this hopeful view of the universe – an understanding that can only be derived from the book of Genesis from which they read as they move through space:

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6 Responses to Secularism and the Death of Dreams

  1. Mike D says:

    I gotta hand it to you Jack, you are a black belt in spin. You’re the kind of guy who could read an article about chemotherapy for cats and then tie it into an ill-informed tirade on evolution or some nonsense about how atheism is destroying everything you hold dear.

    There are really two ways to show that your entire essay here belongs on some atheist satire page like Betty Bowers’ website or the Landover Baptist Church. One is through statistics, and the other is to show just how badly informed your concept of purpose really is.

    It’s funny that you deride NDT, as he’s affectionately known, for his “godless-materialist philosophy” being the catalyst for destroying our space exploration dreams when he’s spent his entire career being one of the foremost advocates for space exploration. Ditto with Stephen Hawking, who has been advocating for decades the importance of getting humans into space, somehow despite his “atheist-materialist philosophy”, whichever typically misinformed caricature of atheism of yours that may be.

    It’s also funny because the religious statistics of scientists in the US haven’t changed that much. A random selection of US scientists found that 58% of them did not express belief in a personal god… in 1914. That survey was repeated in 1996, and the figure was at 60% [source].

    We can also simply look at demographics of belief in the US, and correlate that with support for space exploration. Do you have any statistical evidence that there is more support for space exploration in the politically and religiously conservative “Bible Belt” over the more secular and liberal coastal populations? I didn’t think so. Any evidence that NASA is made up primarily of devout Christians? I didn’t think so. And what about our competitors? Is China predominately Christian or something? No? Because, they’re pretty big on space exploration (or the ambition thereof) and have been for many decades. And wasn’t it those secular commies who beat the United States into orbit? Rejecting Jesus didn’t curb their spacefaring ambitions, did it?

    Then there’s your whole inane argument, yet again, where you somehow conclude that if there is no grand cosmic eternal purpose for all of humanity, then we might as well just kill ourselves since the universe is going to do it eventually anyway. You’re drawing a false equivalency between subjective purpose and nihilism, so to cure you of that misconception I’m going to direct you to a great discussion on the topic between the evil hopeless godless liberal atheist Shelly Kagan and the mighty Christian warrior for factiness and truthery William Lane Craig. It’s worth watching just to see William Lane Craig fumble for words and get lectured like a college freshman, but Kagan’s arguments in the first video there really do directly and quite soundly refute your argument:

    http://www.theaunicornist.com/2011/04/william-lane-craig-in-hot-seat-on.html

  2. Bettawrekonize says:

    Many of our early scientists studied science under the assumption that nature follows logical, consistent, meaningful and useful laws, predictive laws governed by mathematics. This makes sense if it’s created by a logical coherent designer. and if it’s created by such a designer then it also makes sense that perhaps the designer designed the universe for us to inhabit, for us to unveil its mysteries and utilize them to our advantage to better survive. It just might be possible.

    From an atheistic point of view, random chance is very unlikely to generate the physical properties to venture off into space, so why try? It would be a huge coincidence for the laws of physics and for our universe to generate anything useful and meaningful to our survival and to our understanding of the universe.

  3. Bettawrekonize says:

    Mike D, I find it interesting that your video cuts out many scenes, according to a message that pops up on the video, because the video is edited for time. Some of those scenes that it cuts out seem important yet when I click on the original video from that message it says that it’s been taken down because the account associated with it has been terminate due to multiple third party notifications of copyright infringement.

    Now, let me make one thing clear. While I try to follow the law, I do not judge people for copyright infringement and this especially applies to academic endeavors. I myself am sometimes willing to violate copyright law for personal use only for academic reasons (ie: I will not copy music or anything for entertainment illegally, yet I usually resist spending money on anything not released under a permissible license because that just supports the copyright cartels). I strongly believe our current intellectual property laws are purely self interested and they are not at all intended to serve the public interest. This is an area where I struggle with sometimes because while the Bible suggests we should follow the law (because laws can be good to serve social interests) I do not see these laws (or their intent) as publicly beneficial and I try not to buy non-permissibly/reasonably licensed content supports the existing structure of bad laws by supporting those who profit from these laws. In fact, about the only time I ever bought music was when Napster first came out, until the RIAA destroyed it, I don’t think I’ve ever bought music since. If I see some good independent, reasonably/permissibly licensed, music I like I might buy it one day.

    Having said that, it’s difficult to really judge the arguments when it appears important parts of that video have been truncated. While I do think the concept of an organized universe with coherent laws intended for exploration and technological advancement isn’t predicted from an atheistic perspective, that’s not to say atheists can’t have moral standards or that they can’t be willing to further explore the universe and advance our understanding of it.

    But from a biblical perspective, we should do good not to get saved, because salvation doesn’t come from works. Our works can not save us, just like atheists or anyone else, we are sinners and we are no better than anyone else. Christianity doesn’t make us any morally superior whatsoever, Christians merely accept that we are all morally corrupt and need salvation. We try to do good works because we are saved. and even then, our best works are not good.

    It’s kinda like if someone gives you a gift. Say someone gives you a million dollars. In return, you do something good for them, make a thank you card or buy them a gift. You don’t do it because of what you may receive from them in the future, you do it because of what you have already received. It’s the same thing. Salvation isn’t predicated on good works, we do good works because of what we have already received. Now, that’s not to say we should deliberately turn around and sin. If we do, there could be consequences (either in this life or maybe the next).

    Also, belief is not necessarily enough to get saved, Satan believes there is a God and that the Bible is true yet he is saved. You must side with God and accept him and if you are saved you will do good works because you are saved, not to get saved.

  4. Bettawrekonize says:

    Corrections

    yet he is not saved. *

    I try not to buy non-permissibly/reasonably licensed content because doing so financially supports the existing structure …*

  5. Bettawrekonize says:

    So we’re supposed to do works to show appreciation for what we have already been given and any ‘good’ works that we do pales in comparison to what we have been given. Is appreciation necessarily our real motivation for doing good works? No, because we’re flawed beings and tend to do good works for alternative, self serving, reasons. But our ‘good’ works, our ‘good’ motives are not why we are saved, our works and our motives are flawed, we are saved purely by grace.

  6. jackhudson says:

    It’s funny that you deride NDT, as he’s affectionately known, for his “godless-materialist philosophy” being the catalyst for destroying our space exploration dreams when he’s spent his entire career being one of the foremost advocates for space exploration. Ditto with Stephen Hawking, who has been advocating for decades the importance of getting humans into space, somehow despite his “atheist-materialist philosophy”, whichever typically misinformed caricature of atheism of yours that may be.

    You seem to completely miss the point here. Obviously he has been advocating for space exploration – that is the entire point of his video. The question addressed though is why is such advocacy apparently fruitless? Why do we fund NASA .48% of the Federal budget now as opposed to the nearly 5% in the mid-sixties? I was exploring what has changed, not attacking NDT.

    It’s also funny because the religious statistics of scientists in the US haven’t changed that much. A random selection of US scientists found that 58% of them did not express belief in a personal god… in 1914. That survey was repeated in 1996, and the figure was at 60% .

    Well again you seem to miss the point. The space program wasn’t primarily the product of a few elite scientists represented in these surveys; it is the product of a collaboration of scientists, politicians and the society as a whole. NASA (and most space research) doesn’t exist apart from the good will of the taxpayers – it is a reflection of the zeitgeist. The culture that produced the space program was a product of the children of the ‘50s, which was one of the most religiously devout in US history. There was a hopefulness and optimism that faded in the latter part of the 20th century. Science by itself can never regenerate this.

    To see how things have changed, one only need consider that in the 60’s we had astronauts reciting Genesis from the moon – toady we fire people at NASA for holding rather innocuous views on the origin of life.

    We can also simply look at demographics of belief in the US, and correlate that with support for space exploration. Do you have any statistical evidence that there is more support for space exploration in the politically and religiously conservative “Bible Belt” over the more secular and liberal coastal populations? I didn’t think so. Any evidence that NASA is made up primarily of devout Christians? I didn’t think so. And what about our competitors? Is China predominately Christian or something? No? Because, they’re pretty big on space exploration (or the ambition thereof) and have been for many decades. And wasn’t it those secular commies who beat the United States into orbit? Rejecting Jesus didn’t curb their spacefaring ambitions, did it?

    China’s spending on their space program is a fraction of ours as a percentage of GDP – and a fraction of a fraction of what we spent in the ’60s when we advancing technologically by leaps and bounds. China has a great desire to reach technological parity with the West, and so is motivated to pursue such programs – whether they will is yet to be seen.

    As far as support for the space program in the ‘Bible belt’ you don’t seem to realize that one of NASA’s primary centers is in the middle of the Bible belt, namely Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. And Homer Hickman (the primary ‘Rocket Boy’) depicted in October Sky cites the support he received from Rev. Richard of the Mudhole Church of the Distinct Christianity in Coalwood, West Virginia as instrumental of his pursuit math and the sciences which led to his career as an engineer at NASA. The space program was national effort, and the culture required to produce such an effort goes beyond mere scientific interest.

    Then there’s your whole inane argument, yet again, where you somehow conclude that if there is no grand cosmic eternal purpose for all of humanity, then we might as well just kill ourselves since the universe is going to do it eventually anyway. You’re drawing a false equivalency between subjective purpose and nihilism, so to cure you of that misconception I’m going to direct you to a great discussion on the topic between the evil hopeless godless liberal atheist Shelly Kagan and the mighty Christian warrior for factiness and truthery William Lane Craig. It’s worth watching just to see William Lane Craig fumble for words and get lectured like a college freshman, but Kagan’s arguments in the first video there really do directly and quite soundly refute your argument:

    I am not sure why you insist on wildly exaggerated straw men to make your point, but I made no such dichotomy between the two possible positions. I didn’t contend that increasing secularism leads to suicidal tendencies, just that one cannot expect that the hopefulness and optimism of the 50’s which manifested itself in the enthusiasm for the space program in the early 60’s could be so easily renewed today; especially given ‘advocates’ like Tyson hold the universe to be a fundamentally hostile place to humans. These are inherently contradictory notions, regardless of Shelly Kagan’s points in a debate with William Lane Craig.

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