A Not So Bright Future: Technology, Atheism & the Death of Man

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1900

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1900

It is widely believed that the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche ushered in the twentieth century with his famous phrase, “God is dead…”[1] Nietzsche himself died in 1900. Obviously atheism didn’t start in the twentieth century with Nietzsche. In fact, he was the culmination (the pinnacle) of a long line of thinkers which reached back into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[2] The European Enlightenment promised grand and wonderful things when human reason finally divorced itself from the shackles of faith.[3] Using the newly found tools of the “scientific method,” (via Bacon & Spinoza); a humanistic morality which was becoming increasingly devoid of God (via Nietzsche); and the burgeoning industrial revolution with its new technologies, the twentieth century was set take mankind to new heights never before dreamt of – a utopia of sorts. Some who were wise, however, could see that “wicked things were written on the sky.”[4] The next century (the 20th) would either be wonderful or it would be a nightmare. Enter H.G. Wells novel, A Modern Utopia (1905), the book which inspired Aldous Huxley’s vision of the future in Brave New World (1932), and later, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four (1949).

Both of these novels predicted a future in which mankind would be destroyed either by external oppression by a despot using technology (the big-brother of Orwell), or through technologies which would make us lazy and undo our capacity to think (Huxley).[5] In both instances, technology would somehow be used to lead to our undoing.

If there is no God (or at least since He died in the 19th century) then humans must put their hopes, dreams and aspirations for the future in something. Enter the Enlightenment 2.0 – 21st century edition – human reason, science and technology will surely help us solve all of the world’s problems. How are we doing 13 years into this century? Not very well. Do we ever learn? Usually not.

Neil Postman makes a brilliant observation in, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992). An observation that we should etch into our heads.

Our most serious problems are not technical, nor do they arise from inadequate information. If a nuclear catastrophe occurs, it shall not be because of inadequate information. Where people are dying of starvation, it does not occur because of inadequate information. If families break up, children are mistreated, crime terrorizes a city, education is impotent, it does not happen because of inadequate information. Mathematical equations, instantaneous communication, and vast quantities of information have nothing to do with any of these problems. And the computer is useless in addressing them.[6]

The scientific, atheistic and materialistic worldview is utterly incapable of ensuring civilization. It can’t be trusted. Why? Because the last century has been one gigantic experiment in what it is capable of and also of what it is incapable of.

In my next post A Titanic Failure: Never Learning from Our Past, we will take a look at some epic examples of the complete failure of the European Enlightenment and materialistic atheism and what it could teach us about our future – if anything at all.


[1] See, “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” in Walter Kaufmann, Editor & Translator, The Portable Nietzsche (New York: Penguin Books, 1982).

[2] For an excellent book on the philosophical battles which ensued between various German thinkers on the role of reason during the era of the Enlightenment see, Fredrick C. Beiser’s, The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987); for a Christian analysis of the Enlightenment see, James Collins, A History of Modern European Philosophy (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1954).

[3] Interestingly, the modern Internet & Wikipedia had its birth in the Enlightenment with the idea of the Encyclopédie which was published in France 1751-1772.

[4] To borrow line from Chesterton’s poem “The Ballad of the White Horse” – a poem about England’s Saxon king, Alfred the Great.

[5] I am indebted to Neil Postman for this observation in his excellent book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985). Postman’s thesis is that Huxley was right. History has proven that he was correct.

[6] Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), p.119.

 

10 replies
  1. Stephen B
    Stephen B says:

    There have always been bad people doing bad things through history. When bad people get in charge, they get to cause even more damage. Technology in the 20th Century allowed people to do more damage than ever before. However, it also led to a vast increase in crop yields, without which billions would have starved to death.

    None of the above has anything to do with atheism. The Nazis killed tens of millions, and they justified much of what they did with reference to religion. Other despots of the 20th Century used communism as their justification. But at the end of the day it generally comes down to a small number of people grasping power and using that power to do terrible things – the excuse they give is by-the-by.

    Reply
  2. Ted Wright
    Ted Wright says:

    Stephen, I certainly agree with you there have always been people who do bad things through history, but that wasn’t the point of my post. The main point is that at the beginning of the twentieth century there was an optimism about the possibilities of what new technology would bring. Yet as we look back on the twentieth century we see that “reason” (or the abuse of reason) & technology did not deliver what was promised. Sure, it has done great good (like medicine, etc…). But some of the most horrendous events in the twentieth century was mixture of atheism/materialism (the rise of secular humanism), and the belief that technology would save the day. I also don’t think this is an either/or situation, nor do I blame “technology” which is neutral (I am not a “Luddite”). What I am observing in the early-twenty first century is that we are following the same path as the twentieth. If this is the case – then the future doesn’t look bright. If atheists make theists “own” the middle-ages then by the same token, materialists & atheists need to “own” the twentieth century. It’s their mess.

    Reply
  3. Stephen B
    Stephen B says:

    “But some of the most horrendous events in the twentieth century was mixture of atheism/materialism”

    How do you figure that out? The great mass murderers were Hitler and Stalin. Hitler was motivated by several factors, including meglomania, Nationalism and his hatred of the Jews. None of that involved atheism or materialism, and the antisemitism seems to have been at least partially influenced by Hitler’s own religious feelings. Stalin was influenced by Communism, but even Communism alone doesn’t automatically lead to the mass slaughter that Stalin wrought.

    Either way, I don’t see what secular humanism has to do with it. It caused neither of the world wars, nor has it anything to do with communism.

    “The main point is that at the beginning of the twentieth century there was an optimism about the possibilities of what new technology would bring.”

    From some, sure. We still have optimism now about curing disease, increasing food production etc. But we also know that better technology brings more efficient ways of killing (and I’m pretty sure that was forseen by science fiction writers in the late 19th C too).

    “What I am observing in the early-twenty first century is that we are following the same path as the twentieth”

    Well, there’s certainly plenty of strife in the world. But much seems motivated by religion, and much down to straightforward fighting over resources. I’d predict that the latter is unavoidable in a world of growing population and dwindling resources. But that has nothing to do with atheism or secularism.

    “materialists & atheists need to “own” the twentieth century. It’s their mess.”

    Read the writings of Hitler – he talked an awful lot about spirituality or one form or another. He’s no-one’s idea of a materialist. Stalin tried to ban religion, which is no-one’s idea of secularism either.

    And the idea that either of them (or any other mass-murdering tyrant of the 20th C) had anything to do with humanism – which discusses the value of human beings – strikes me as very off.

    Reply
  4. Ted Wright
    Ted Wright says:

    Thanks for your feedback. All of your points will be covered in my next post, “A Titanic Failure: Never Learning from Our Past” – I would be interested in hearing your thoughts when I post it.

    Reply
  5. RA
    RA says:

    Atheists need to own the issues of the 20th century? Ok. Fine.

    If you are willing to say that the advancements made by secular societies in bridging gaps between people are to be owned by atheists, then I accept that. Take a look at the acceptance of people, whether that be their gender, race, political slants etc., all of that has been accomplished with little to no thanks to religious doctrine standing in the way. Gay marriage is just the latest lightning rod by the religious who are trying to suppress equality via scripture.

    You carefully exclude medical advances — why? Dr. Jonas Salk gave away his formula for the Polio vaccine solely on humanitarian grounds. Yet we have theocratic societies who refused to let the vaccine in to their country because it was “from the West”.

    Your point about technology is available to help alleviate suffering is valid, however what stands in the way of progress in a place like Syria? Egypt? Iraq? Afghanistan? Pakistan? Those countries, by all measures, are theocratic to the core, and yet for some reason, they’re in near constant turmoil. Perhaps they’re not praying to the right God?

    Reply
    • Ted Wright
      Ted Wright says:

      Thanks RA. Your’e actually making my point! As I have said in my previous comments – technology is not evil in and of itself and I am not “anti-technology,” – it has certainly brought the world much good, but “IF” a materialistic view of reality is true, then it cannot possibly solve the complex problems that we are facing today such as radical Islamic extremism, etc… Tell me how a materialistic worldview would solve the religious and moral problems we are facing on a global scale today? Morality is at the root of everything from science to business to politics. Materialism as a worldview, is limited by its very nature to address some of huge moral problems we are facing today (such as the Syrian crisis) – and while technology has brought much good – it is impotent (apart from military intervention) to address the core issues of value and of right and wrong. If atheism is true then all an atheist has is a materialistic outlook on all of reality. Don’t make absolute moral value judgements and borrow from theism – at least be consistent with your worldview and admit that morality is just a matter of personal preference.

      Reply
      • Stephen B
        Stephen B says:

        “Don’t make absolute moral value judgements and borrow from theism”

        Does every article on any Christian Apologetic website end up sooner or later coming down to the same ‘no morality without God’ argument? It seems that way. Why present any other arguments – this seems to be the only one that counts. The argument doesn’t work. Either the ethics of your God’s nature is based on a morality that stands apart from your God, or the ethics of that nature is arbitrary – it just so happens that, as far as you know, child torture is against your God’s nature. But it COULD have been different and child torture would be encouraged. In fact if you discover that you’ve been mistaken about your God’s nature (similar to all the American Christians who used to think Slavery was part of His plan), and your God actually DID like child torture, you’d have to conclude that child torture was moral.

        Finally, secularism WOULD solve a lot of problems in the Middle East. Remove religion from the equation and half the battles would stop. Saying that MORE religion is needed seems quite bizarre.

        Reply
        • Toby
          Toby says:

          “Finally, secularism WOULD solve a lot of problems in the Middle East. Remove religion from the equation and half the battles would stop. Saying that MORE religion is needed seems quite bizarre.”

          Agreed. You need the dropping of religion a big dose of education in the form of science to help break the ideas of tribalism—e.g. the knowledge of genetics makes it hard to continue thinking “our group vs that group” because we’re practically all the same aside from eff’ed up ideas and culture.

          Reply
  6. RA
    RA says:

    Thanks for the response.

    “Tell me how a materialistic worldview would solve the religious and moral problems we are facing on a global scale today?”

    The question you pose has, at its root, part of the problem embedded within it. Religious problems. Religion, at its core, is designed to shun those of other religions. You noted it yourself in your comment — Radical Islam. I would think that those who practise Islam look at your belief system and could denounce it as radical as well. Just as you discredit those who pray to Shiva or to any other deity. The point I made in my comment was simply that you point to relatively stable secular societies and claim that we’ve failed. Meanwhile, in reality, blatantly theocratic societies are stumbling.

    “The Golden Rule” existed long before Christianity. It is not hard for an atheist to see the suffering around the world and use very simple reciprocation to know that if we were in that position, we would want help. Compassion, empathy, and respect for your fellow human beings has nothing to do with God. It has everything to do with Humanism. I don’t need a God to know that people being blown to bits over religion, politics or any other issue is not right. Irrationality, oppression, fear, and lack of diplomacy cause the world issues we’re seeing. Syrians started to stand up for themselves, civil war started, and not long after, the religious aspect flooded in to the equation.

    If you remove dictatorship and religion from the equation, what would the Syrians be fighting over then? What I hear you proposing is that there must be a theological solution to all of this.

    I am looking forward to your next article so that I may be enlightened.

    Reply
  7. Luke
    Luke says:

    I’m a bit confused by this line: a humanistic morality which was becoming increasingly devoid of God (via Nietzsche).

    What is meant by via Nietzsche? It seems to suggest that Nietzsche was somehow the “way” for this secularization, rather than someone who commented on it, with what seem like quite strong feelings of lament.

    “Wohin ist G-tt? rief er, ich will es euch sagen! Wir haben ihn getödtet, – ihr und ich! Wir Alle sind seine Mörder! Aber wie haben wir diess gemacht? Wie vermochten wir das Meer auszutrinken? Wer gab uns den Schwamm, um den ganzen Horizont wegzuwischen? Was thaten wir, als wir diese Erde von ihrer Sonne losketteten? Wohin bewegt sie sich nun? Wohin bewegen wir uns? Fort von allen Sonnen? Stürzen wir nicht fortwährend? Und rückwärts, seitwärts, vorwärts, nach allen Seiten? Giebt es noch ein Oben und ein Unten? Irren wir nicht wie durch ein unendliches Nichts? Haucht uns nicht der leere Raum an? Ist es nicht kälter geworden? Kommt nicht immerfort die Nacht und mehr Nacht? Müssen nicht Laternen am Vormittage angezündet werden? Hören wir noch Nichts von dem Lärm der Todtengräber, welche G-tt begraben? Riechen wir noch Nichts von der göttlichen Verwesung? – auch götter verwesen! G-tt ist todt! G-tt bleibt todt! Und wir haben ihn getödtet!

    Who will wipe away the blood from us?

    Thanks,

    Luke

    Reply

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