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: