Science has determined that the universe is going to end eventually, either in a "Big Crunch" or in an ever expanding heat death. If I understand the current physics correctly (I do not, but may have a handle on the summaries), the odds seem to be in favor of an expanding universe piddling away the last of its energy in heat death. To summarize the findings of cosmology, there is nothing that we are going to do to stop that. Not on Earth, not in space, not in the future, no way, no how. We are along for the ride.
Even in the short term, science informs us that life on Earth could end abruptly from an asteroid, or via a passing star in some millions of years. Of course it will end eventually, upon the expansion of our sun past the orbit of our planet as part of its natural life cycle.
Science also informs us that we are driven to preen, to prepare, to want, to enjoy sex, purely for the reason that our ancestors survived better than their peers having those traits. Eat, survive, reproduce. That is all life has ever been about.
That view of the universe is less than uplifting for some readers.
Religion, on the other hand, asks us to believe in a mythology for the sakes of making ourselves feel better about the fate of the universe. The role of any mythology, to paraphrase Joseph Campbell again, is to put oneself in accord with the universe. That means to weather the fears of childhood and the hormonal storms of adolescence without self distruction and, at the other end of life, to accept death gracefully. How are we supposed to do those things, ask believers, when science tells us that life is ultimately meaningless?
I propose a new meme for the new century. Let's see the beauty of the universe for what it is. It really is an incredible place. Let's revel in it, for it is what it is and we, small and fragile, are who we are. We may try to change who or even what we are with our science, but we cannot finally escape the heat death of the universe itself. We are still along for the ride. We might as well care for each other. We might as well take care of our planet. We might as well make a heaven for ourselves, right here and right now, than to live in a hell of our own making.
Can science point us to a new morality? People have tried before and eugenics was the result. "Social Darwinism" was engendered by a scientific viewpoint, right? Yes, but I think we can do better this time. We can think the problem through, iterating the meme as we see fit. Consider some morality that might flow from scientific thought:
- If our lives are ultimately meaningless, shouldn't we watch after our own happiness while we are here? We should get to work on a culture of gardening; we have a lot of work to do to make Earth a nice place.
- If no gods are going to save us, should we not consider saving ourselves? Waiting for the Rapture should no longer be an excuse for inaction.
- If we recognize ourselves for what we really are, could we find a way to stop being ruled by greedy, power-hungry nutters? Perhaps the reason so many senior executives, politicians and religious leaders fail to live by their own standards is that it takes a badly broken person to want those jobs to begin with. They deserve our pity and our help.