Orthodox America

  Brave New World

“The progress of science is destined to bring confusion and misery to mankind unless it is accomplished by progress in ethics." --J.B.S. Haldane, 1923

Research physicist Michio Kaku has written a science thriller: Visions-.--- How Science Will Revolutionize the21st Century. The book came to my attention upon hearing the author declare, on a local radio talk show, that he had discovered a theory -- the Final theory, The Answer, beyond Einstein -- that "will allow us to read the mind of God." If science delivers what Kaku predicts it will in the next twenty, fifty and a hundred years, one wonders who will be interested in reading the mind of God.

       "we are," writes Kaku, "on the cusp of an epoch making transition from being passive observers of Nature to being active choreographers of Nature... the Age of Discovery in science is coming to a dose, opening up an Age of Mastery." This shift is made Possible, he explains, by the quantum revolution, which unlocked the secrets of the atom; the DNA or biomolecular revolution, which unraveled the molecule of life, and the computer revolution. Thanks to these discoveries, which explain the basic components of matter, life and mind [computation), we now have the potential ability "to manipulate and choreograph new forms of matter, almost at will..., to manipulate lintelligence according to our wishes..." and the "nearly godlike ability to manipulate life almost at will."

        Based on the accelerating rate of scientific advances (evident to any computer user), Kaku forecasts a "weak in the Life" in 2020 which eerily resemble a scene from Huxley's Brave New World. Huxley, writing in 1932, set his novel six hundred years in the future; science now has the capability of bringing these fantastic scenarios into reality within our lifetime.

        "A gentle ring wakes you up in the morning. A wall-sized picture of the seashore hanging silently on the wall suddenly springs to life, replaced by a warm, friendly face you have named Molly, who cheerily announces 'It's time to wake up!' (Visions, p. 66) '

       The proliferation of computers (some already as cheap as and smaller then a dime) in everyday life already raises serious concerns. They ostensibly make life easier, but at what price to our spiritual lives? And what are the implications of other scientific developments -- visual reality, robotics, genetic engineering (in just five years the Human Genome Project will have produced a near complete molecular blueprint for the human organism), cloning (a kind of immortality), the laboratory manufacture of organs and tissues (forget about transplants; see ' Replacement Parts," Newsweek 1/27/97), germ-line therapy, bionics, fetal research...??

       The new technology is affecting the political landscape as well. We already speak of a global economy, while Kaku sketches out the "planetary civilization" of the future. Its development is foreshadowed in another book, The End of the Nation-State, by French author Jean-Marie Guehenno, who foresees a pervasive networking system that makes a virtue of teamwork, uniformity, and passivity. For advanced societies, according to Guehenno, "conformity is not an accident [or] a regrettable weakness ... but a necessary condition of their smooth operation." (see review by A.J. Bacevich in First Things, Aug/Sept 1996.) 

       Those of us who heaved a sigh of relief when we passed high school physics may be inhibited by quantum theory, but this should not keep us from asking if and how the various new technologies are going to impact our lives as Orthodox Christians. The advances in science are making possible a global imperialism -- and we all know who the ruler of that one-world government will be. Visions presents a Pandora's Box of issues that beg our undelayed consideration. Which technologies are benign? Which must we resist? Are there ethical limits to human creativity? What does it mean to be human, and to be created in the image and likeness of God? How are we to maintain a free will and avoid conformity to the programmed agenda o: the new age society?

       Resolving the ethical dilemmas sparked by new scientific discoveries poses a real challenge to the Church. Solutions to many of these issues are not found explicitly discussed in the patristic texts. We must therefore develop a well-grounded Orthodox consciousness. This alone will enable us to respond adequately to the challenges of our new environment and help ensure our spiritual survival. 

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