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.


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