Armstrong’s famous words as he stepped on to the moon’s surface were historic for many reasons. Above all, it was the first time in the history of our species that the world’s human population was united in pride. It was a ‘we’ event of enormous proportions. Although an American expedition, inspired in large part by the propaganda war with Russia, it was a triumph for mankind; those watching the event live on television truly felt that Armstrong’s follow-on words — ‘a giant step for mankind’ were on the mark.
The optimists in that TV audience, 40 years ago, might have dared hope that ‘one day’ the Berlin Wall would come down and the ideological gulf between Russia and the U.S. would be bridged. Those dreams have been fulfilled — but that fleeting moment when we felt united as a species has passed, and, despite technological advances that have us more ‘connected’ than ever before, we have a very long way to go before we are truly united.
After the moon landing of 40 years ago the next most ‘together moment’, the 9/11 attack on New York’s twin towers, was in stark contrast to the Apollo landing triumph. This was a moment that most observers wish they could forget. While billions were united in grief — feeling that this was a human tragedy and not just an American tragedy, the message this time was that our species was deeply divided. Underscoring that feeling, the television news from the Middle East showed scenes of joyful celebration that fuelled anger as well as tears.
The reality is that ‘by nature’ we are divided. It is fair to say that a selfish outlook is ‘hard-wired’ into us. It is a product of the evolutionary processes that brought us into existence. As Richard Dawkins’ brilliant book “The Selfish Gene” vividly conveys, evolution is a selfish contest for survival that does not reward ‘the good loser’. In nature, distrust and selfishness rule.
And yet there is a glimmer of hope for us, because we have shown that we are capable of using our intelligence to overcome our selfishness and mutual distrust. In our earliest days, driven by the threat of extinction, we banded together into tribes — ‘group survival units’ — that cooperated to compete more effectively with other species (and, sadly, with other tribes of human beings).
While my distaste for tribalism is on the record (Tribalism – our fatal flaw?) I must concede that our move to tribalism was, in fact, the very first ‘small step’ for man. But now we must take the next step. Ironically, it is our very success, in evolutionary terms, that makes this an urgent need.
Growing in numbers from a population of less than 2,000 fifty thousand years ago we now number seven billion and are projected to reach nine billion by 2040. We have created threats to our survival (wars, terrorism, global warming, pollution, reduction of the ozone layer’s protection, and increased health threats from drug-resistant bacteria) that can only be overcome with programs that must be conceived and carried out on a global scale. We must become united as a species – or die.
We must come to a world view that will prepare us for a noble future that could span millions or even billions of years. All of the manifestations of parochial tribalism must go, including our tribally biased concepts of God. There is no room in our future for a ‘God of the tribes’ that divides us. There are no ‘chosen people’. Our concept of God cannot be rooted in our tribal past. It cannot be founded on books written by a particular tribe thousands of years ago. Our concept of God must be a new unifying concept that is consistent with modern man’s reason and knowledge.
There are those that hold that the belief in God, in any form, is an anachronism – a figment of our ancestor’s imaginations. Richard Dawkins, whose first book ‘The Selfish Gene’ I so much admire, has committed himself to an atheistic view, expressed strongly (if not cogently) in his book ‘The God Delusion’. In this we are at odds. Dawkins sees discarding our belief in a supernatural being as a necessary ‘growing up’ step. He packages belief in God with the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.
Dawkins would have us believe that everything in our universe is a product of a form of Darwinism. The stumbling block for his view, is of course, the creation of the universe – the ‘big bang’, for which there is no scientific explanation. Theories that have been advanced (multiverse theory, anthropic principle, etc.) are no more testable than the ‘God hypothesis’ (as Dawkins refers to it).
An individual’s choice in this matter is an ‘act of faith’ — you can either choose to believe in God — or not. But it is important for us as individuals to come to a position on such an important matter. Does life have purpose? If life has purpose, that implies intent. If there is intent, then one must attribute the intent to an omnipotent entity worthy of the name “God.”
Making the choice is simple. The answer is not in holy books written thousands of years ago. It is not in purported visions or miracles experienced by the chosen few — it is in the future. The answer, in fact, will come from the simple act of making a choice between two propositions:
Do we see our universe as godless, purposeless, and empty of meaning for humanity? (a nihilist, defeatist view),
do we see our universe as having been created by a supernatural entity for a meaningful purpose that assigns an important role to humanity? (an optimistic, activistic view.)
Whatever choice we make will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. We will have set a standard for ourselves that ensures the outcome. If we take the empty, nihilistic choice, we will live lives with negative expectations that will permeate our behavior and guarantee a short and cosmically meaningless existence. On the other hand, if we really commit to the optimistic, activistic view of believing that our existence will have importance—and are unified in our determination to make it so—we will have the opportunity to make a noble future for ourselves that will resoundingly answer any and all questions as to whether there is a higher purpose to our existence.
And that is how we come to the conclusion that there is a God and—even more important—that God has assigned to man a responsibility, a purpose, of immense proportions; a purpose that requires that we be united. We must come together as a united species . We must take the next ‘small step’ to become future man’.