|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
Part eight of a series. Read part seven.
In the original Star Trek television series, Captain James T. Kirk proclaimed this bit of revisionist history: Man wasn't expelled from Paradise. He left on his own, with head held high, because he was bored. Man wanted death and struggle. A recurring theme among New Atheists is that man will "walk out" again - leaving an Earth that has become uninhabitable, to continue an unending saga of death and struggle someplace else in the universe. But he will not take religion with him.
An Uninhabitable Earth
There is a growing connection between humanistic New Atheism and radical environmentalism. As we saw in a previous article, New Atheists like Daniel Dennett see belief in Darwinian evolution as the key to man's "salvation." The embrace of radical environmental positions is a logical consequence of the embrace of Darwinism. The print, broadcast, and electronic media are filled with prophetic, apocalyptic warnings of an impending uninhabitable earth that will be caused by "evolving man" himself, through his pollution of the environment, his overuse/abuse of technology, his inability to control population, his over-consumption of (allegedly) increasingly scarce resources, and dozens of other environmental "sins".
An April 2007 article titled "Timeline: The Frightening Future of Earth" is typical. The authors predict that thirty years from now, the Arctic sea will be ice-free in summer. Forty years from now, they say, there will be no glaciers in the Alps. Seventy years from now, much of Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and Staten Island will be under water. They prophesy the extinction of "a quarter of all species of plants and land animals - more than a million [species] total" in the next 90 years, by which time Earth's ecosystems will have been "pushed to the limit."1
The Future is in the Stars
In 2006, British scientist Stephen Hawking declared that "mankind will need to leave planet Earth to ensure the long-term survival of the species." Hawking is certain that some man-made environmental disaster, or some external force such as an asteroid collision, will make earth uninhabitable. "There isn't anywhere like earth in the solar system, so we would have to go to another star." Therefore, he says, industrialized nations should focus on developing vehicles capable of traveling just below the speed of light, so that human beings could reach some other inhabitable (but yet to be discovered) planet "in about six years" of space travel.2 In an April 2008 lecture delivered at George Washington University in honor of NASA's 50th anniversary, Hawking repeated his call for man to prepare to leave earth. He concluded by saying, "The human race has existed as a separate species for about two million years. If the human race is to continue for another million years, we will have to boldly go where no one has gone before."3
Hawking is among the growing number of Darwinists who are willing to admit that their desire to see increased funding for space exploration is not rooted primarily in a desire to expand scientific knowledge, but in their belief that intergalactic travel is the key to the salvation of the human species.
It is interesting to note that several prominent New Atheists (among them Richard Dawkins when interviewed for the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed) speculate that this is exactly how Earth was populated in the first place - by a race of intelligent beings who seeded life here from another part of the universe.
Give Us Enough Time
New Atheists see no problem with the future, except one - as we shall see shortly. Give man enough time, the New Atheist asserts, and he will solve every problem that ever confronts him. Man will go on, and will evolve onward and upward. In his book Breaking the Spell, Daniel Dennett says this:
Looking ahead, anticipating the future, is the crowning achievement of our species. We have managed in a few short millennia of human culture to multiply the planet's supply of look-ahead by many orders of magnitude. We know when eclipses will occur centuries in advance; we can predict the effects on the atmosphere of adjustments in how we generate electricity; we can anticipate in broad outline what will happen as our petroleum reserves dwindle in the next decades. We do this not with miraculous prophecy but with basic perception. We gather information from the environment, using our senses, and then we use science to cobble together anticipations based on that information. We mine the ore, and then refine it, again and again, and it lets us see into the future - dimly, with lots of uncertainty, but much better than a coin toss. In every area of human concern, we have learned how to anticipate and then avoid catastrophes that used to blindside us. We have recently forestalled a global disaster due to a growing hole in the ozone layer because some far-seeing chemists were able to prove that some of our manufactured compounds were causing the problem. We have avoided economic collapses in recent years because our economic models have shown us impending problems.4
Given the shape of recent events it is easy for even non-Christians to question whether "in Man we trust" is a sensible replacement for the too-little-honored words that we still find on America's coins and currency. But New Atheists think that their naturalistic worldview is man's only hope for a bright future.
New Atheism's Hope for Religion
New Atheists are also quite open about their eschatological hopes for religion in general, and Biblical Christianity in particular - in a word, extinction. They hope to bring this part of their view of the future to fulfillment sooner rather than later. Daniel Dennett offers several scenarios, including this one:
Religions transform themselves into institutions unlike anything seen before on the planet: basically creedless associations selling self-help enabling moral teamwork, using ceremony and tradition to cement relationships and build long-term fan loyalty. In this scenario, being a member of a religion becomes more and more like being a Boston Red Sox fan, or a Dallas Cowboys fan. Different colors, different songs and cheers, different symbols, and vigorous competition - would you want your daughter to marry a Yankees fan? - but aside from a rabid few, everybody appreciates the importance of peaceful coexistence in a Global League of Religions. Religious art and music flourish, and friendly rivalry leads to a degree of specialization with one religion priding itself on its environmental stewardship, providing clean water for the worlds billions, while another becomes duly famous for its concerted defense of social justice and economic equality.5
This sounds a lot like the Purpose-Driven Church Movement or the Emergent Church, does it not? Such movements hold no horrors for New Atheists. They actually welcome them as a step in the right direction. Dennett offers another scenario as a further step along the same deadly trajectory:
Religion diminishes in prestige and visibility, rather like smoking; it is tolerated since there are those who say they can't live without it, but it is discouraged, and teaching religion to impressionable young children is frowned upon in most societies and actually outlawed in others. In this scenario, politicians who still practice religion can be elected if they prove themselves worthy in other regards, but few would advertise their religious affiliation - or affliction, as the politically incorrect insist on calling it. It is considered as rude to draw attention to the religion of somebody as it is to comment in public about his sexuality or whether she has been divorced.6
This too is already happening - most notably in Europe, with Canada not far behind, and the United States rapidly catching up in the rush toward "freedom from religion." Dennett also offers what his book makes clear is the New Atheists' true hope for the future of religion in general, and for Biblical Christianity in particular:
Religion is in its death throes; today's outbursts of fervor and fanaticism are but a brief and awkward transition to a truly modern society in which religion plays at most a ceremonial role. In this scenario, although there may be some local and temporary revivals and even some violent catastrophes, the major religions of the world soon go just as extinct as the hundreds of minor religions that are vanishing faster than anthropologists can record them. Within the lifetimes of our grandchildren, Vatican City becomes the European Museum of Roman Catholicism, and Mecca is turned into Disney's Magic Kingdom of Allah.7
And the local Bible-believing Protestant church building is put to some better use, such as a local headquarters for the new thought police.
New Atheist (as well as theistic) environmentalists ring loud alarms to warn of impending environmental disasters or pandemics. But Richard Dawkins, in a speech accepting the 1996 Humanist of the Year award from the American Humanist Association, pinpointed what New Atheists consider to be at least as great an eschatological threat: "It is fashionable to wax apocalyptic about the threat to humanity posed by the AIDS virus, "mad cow" disease, and many others, but I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate."8 But for the New Atheist, it is worth every effort to try. Elsewhere, Dawkins speaks of Biblical Christianity as "the form [of religious faith] that impinges most threateningly on all our societies."9
Authentic Christianity in Contrast
Scripture-driven Christians understand how deeply flawed the New Atheists' eschatology is, based on the revealed Word of God. The Lord Jesus Christ is on the throne of the universe. He is omnipresent (Matthew 28:20, John 14:23, Ephesians 3:17, Colossians 1:27, Acts 7:55-56); omniscient (e.g., Matthew 9:4, John 2:25, John 16:30); omnipotent (e.g., Matthew 28:18, Mark 2:5-10); and immutable (e.g., John 8:58, Hebrews 1:12, 13:8). Jesus Christ is life itself (e.g., John 1:4, 14:6; 1 John 5:11). As a member of the Godhead He is the creator of the universe (Proverbs 30:4; John 1:3), and the universe "hangs together" at this moment because Christ Himself is the sustainer of it (Colossians 1:7, Hebrews 1:3).
Man apart from Christ will ultimately fail in all his attempts to exalt himself above God, and will make an ever greater shambles of this world. But the Christian understands the blessed hope and certainty that Jesus Christ will return, visibly and bodily, to gather believers to Himself for eternity, to judge all men, and to establish a New Heaven and New Earth wherein shall dwell untainted righteousness forever.
1. Andrea Thompson and Ker Than, "Timeline: The Frightening Future of Earth," LiveScience.com, as viewed on 01/21/2009 at http://www.livescience.com/environment/070419_earth_timeline.html. This website is directed and financed in large part by the Gannett Company, whose large portfolio of media holdings includes USA TODAY.
2. "We Must Escape Earth, Warns Hawking," London Daily Mail, November 20, 2006, as viewed on 01/21/2009 at http://www.metro.co.uk/news/article.html?in_article_id=27292&in_page_id=34.
3. Jason Socrates Bardi, "Stephen Hawking Renews Call to Colonize Space," American Institute of Physics, April 23, 2008, as viewed on 01/21/2009 at http://www.aip.org/isns/reports/2008/012.html.
4. Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2006), pages 37-38. Italics are in the original.
5. Dennett, pages 35-36. Italics are in the original.
6. Dennett, page 36. Italics are in the original.
7. Dennett, page 35. Italics are in the original.
8. Richard Dawkins, "Is Science a Religion?" as published in The Humanist, January/February 1997 and reproduced at http://www.thehumanist.org/humanist/articles/dawkins.html (as viewed on 01/21/2009).
9. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), page 36.
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