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naturalism

Materialists: Where is hope? Look to the stars!

“[T]he Universe may harbor civilizations more intelligent than our own. Perhaps one day, through interstellar communication, some advanced civilization will help us resolve such age-old problems as war, famine, disease, overpopulation, misuse of natural resources, and human aging.”- John Oró, “Historical Understanding of Life’s Beginnings” (40, cited below).

Such is the hope of materialism. I’ve argued elsewhere that if all we are is matter, then there is no meaning. The pervasive response was that “we make our own meaning.” Leaving questions over the tenability of such a view aside, I have turned to a different, and interesting phenomenon: Where is there room for hope, within materialism? 

It didn’t take long to dig up some quotes. One of the classes I’m taking this semester is on the Origins of Life. A few books we were assigned for this class were from a materialist perspective. The quote above is from one of those books. It resonated deeply with me. Consider this: If all we are is matter, having arrived here by unguided, biochemical processes, living on a dying planet in a dying universe–where is our hope? One cannot turn to transcendence with such a worldview, but one can attempt to emulate it.

Such is the case found in materialistic literature. Such is the grand materialist hope:

We can look hopefully for our saviors from the stars. There must be more intelligent life out there, and they will usher in a new era, a near utopia wherein disease, death, war, and hunger are all eliminated. Our alien saviors will rush to our aide once they’ve found us on this dying rock, and we will worship them as we used to worship the mythic gods of old. 

But it is not just hope for the future which must guide us. Our realization that we are but one among many (and many who are probably smarter than us) must lead us to a new set of ethics. Oró writes of new ethical principles we must embrace: “Humility: The life of all cells descends from simple molecules… Hope: Someday we may communicate with more advanced civilizations… Universality: We come from stardust and to stardust we shall return… Peace: We should change our culture of war into a culture of peace” (Oró, 40-41 cited below). Humility, hope, peace, universality–these are all things Christians embrace also, but the materialist has redefined them. Our hope is not int the transcendent but in the here-and-now. Our hope, again, reaches for the stars.

But is this really a hope? We know the universe is dying. We know that, even were we to escape death, eventually the cosmic heat death of the universe would occur, and our ultimate doom is sealed. Should we hope that our alien saviors are also inter-dimensional travelers? Should we hope that they transcend space and time? I leave these questions open.

But the most interesting phenomenon in all of this is that the materialist has abandoned their presupposition. Rather than hoping for what is they hope for what we know not. They look to the stars, grasping at things unseen. Iris Fry, a professor at both Tel Aviv University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and author of The Emergence of Life on Earth writes honestly and lucidly of the philosophical commitments of the materialist in this sphere:

[T]he realization that many non-empirical factors are involved in determining scientific positions and in the adoption of scientific theories leads to the notion of theoretical and philosophical decision, or commitment. Research into the origin of life and the search for extraterrestrial life are a clear case in point, because here the weight of the philosophical commitment is much greater than in more conventional scientific fields. As long as no empirical evidence of life beyond Earth has been found, and as long as no scientific theory has succeeded in providing a fully convincing account of the emergence of life on Earth, the adoption of an evolutionary point of view toward the question of life’s origin and the rejection of the idea of purposeful design involve a very strong philosophical commitment. -Iris Fry (283, Cited Below)

Ultimately, I think she is quite right. There is a philosophical commitment being espoused here, not a scientific commitment. Too often, materialists forget that, but kudos to Fry for honestly admitting it while also espousing the very commitment.

Where is our hope?

The materialist answers: The stars.

Is this really rational?

Sources:

John Oró “Historical Understanding of Life’s Beginnings” in Life’s Origin ed. J. William Schopf (Berkeley, CA: University of California, 2002).

Iris Fry The Emergence of Life on Earth (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers, 2000.

SDG.

——

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

9 thoughts on “Materialists: Where is hope? Look to the stars!

  1. Very nice post, J.W.! The comment is definitely revealing. These implications are often not fully recognized.

    Posted by Arthur Khachatryan (@ArthurAuthor) | September 3, 2011, 9:25 AM
  2. Hey, JW!

    Is the quote about the “saviors from the stars” an actual quote? (Woh.) If so, what is the source?

    Enjoyed this post, especially since I just recently watched 2001: A Space Odyssey for the very first time. I saw reflections of evolution and materialism and the sort of “saviors from the stars”-type themes in it…

    Joshua

    Posted by "No Apologies Allowed" Weekly Apologetics Cartoons | September 3, 2011, 11:45 AM
    • To my knowledge it’s not an actual quote. I derived it from materialistic writings based upon the utopian ideals. The aliens will usher in an era without death, poverty, or sickness. It reminds me very much of the book “Scientific Mythologies” which you recommended and I finished reading not too long ago. I’ll have to throw a review for that book up sometime.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 3, 2011, 11:50 AM
  3. Hm, I wouldn’t think that all that many people look specifically to aliens. (I could be wrong.) But to technology, the stars & space travel, things like transhumanism, if you add that to the people who look to aliens it may come to quite a few especially among hard-core science-oriented atheists. And the reason I clicked on this is that your title reminded me strongly of this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXteSV8rBwY (Hope Eyrie by Leslie Fish.) I think it’s worth a listen. It’s about the moon landing. I actually think it’s an incredible piece of artistry, I’m a poet myself and her language (especially about the relentless march of time) moves me, but when I stop to think about where the hope lies in the song it’s just utterly alien to me. I can understand theoretically how that would be viewed as hope in a world without a God… but actually, given the state of the world, I don’t think I’d find much hope in it at this point even if I were an atheist.

    Dropped by b/c I liked your piece in Arise, BTW. That was really good. I’m a stay-at-home mom and author, and you’re right, people don’t tend to act awkward about that. Way to go. I’m so glad you’re finding language to talk about the profundity of those little developmental moments. I’ve heard even women, and even mothers, dismiss excitement over those moments as sentimentality. I find that really unfortunate.

    Posted by Heather Munn | December 10, 2015, 10:00 AM
    • Thank you for stopping by and for your kind words about the article in Arise.

      I also agree about the hope not being only/exclusively in aliens, but in technology and future discoveries. What is interesting is how often correctives to this very kind of thinking is found in, for example science fiction. How often are AIs attempting to kill all humans; how frequently does a transhuman movement backfire and destroy the nature of humanity itself? At bottom, though, I think all people need hope. If there is no firm foundation for that hope (i.e. in the resurrection of Christ), substitutes will be offered. It’s the “God-shaped hole” so often discussed.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 12, 2015, 1:33 PM
  4. I just commented with a youtube link that felt related to this post, then saw your comment policy–if you wouldn’t mind checking the spam filter? Thx.

    Posted by swallowfeather | December 10, 2015, 10:01 AM

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: A Solar System and Cosmos Filled With Life? – A reflection upon Ben Bova’s “Farside” and “New Earth” | J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - April 7, 2014

  2. Pingback: Sunday Quote: Aliens and Paganism? | J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - September 21, 2014

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