A World in Crisis
Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island
This is an excerpt from David Sprintzen's "Critique of Western Philosophy and Social Theory" which can be purchased online or in book stores.
"The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me," wrote Pascal, commenting insightfully on the pervasive human need to domesticate the world. We need to see it as a place that speaks our language, and in which we can feel at home. From earliest childhood, we humanize animals, and spiritualize the natural world. Whether benign or malignant, spirits are at work in the world. From Santa Claus for children to God for adults, we need to believe that good behavior will be rewarded, evil punished, and all will be right in the end, if only we follow the "true path."
But the facts are against us. Located on a minor planet in an average solar system on a peripheral arm of an average galaxy among billions of galaxies stretching off into a practical infinity of space and reaching back some 13.7 billion years to a so far inexplicable Big Bang, the scientific understanding of our conditions of existence render our traditional (religious) creation stories as little more than children's fairy tales. They show no understanding of the processes at work in nature, nor any ability to honestly address the challenges confronting humans sequestered as we are on this innocuous planet far from the center of anything.
When thinking of our contemporary situation, I am reminded of the airline pilot who sought to provide his passengers with a progress report. There was good and bad news, he said. The good news is that we're cruising at 600 miles per hour at 34,000 feet, encountering only normal and expected pockets of resistance, and making good time. The bad news is that we're lost.
As civilized humans, we used to know or thought we knew where we were, why we were here, and where we were going. To answer precisely these questions for us was the main point of religion. Answers to which seem to constitute a vital human need. But the traditional answers are no longer adequate. Not only are there many competing religious stories to choose from, but the advances of modern science and technology have raised serious questions about the adequacy of each of them, thus generating serious doubts about the intellectual assurance that any can offer. Increasingly, the more intellectually astute among us are subtly driven to inquire about who and where we are and where, if anywhere, we are going? And the vast majority has at least an inkling of the problem and experience a troubling, if often inarticulate, sense of unease.
A dawning sense has thus emerged on the horizon of contemporary consciousness that we are not here for any particular reason and are not going anywhere! This seems to be the obvious and unsettling reality revealed by modern science. Human beings have never before possessed such knowledge and power to direct their collective destiny. Yet, never in recorded history have we been so uncertain about our direction and purpose.
The "existential" drama at the heart of modernity is the recent result of a truly cataclysmic transformation in our institutions and modes of belief that at least rivals in scope and significance, if it does not surpass, the transformation occasioned by the "Scientific Revolution" of the sixteenth and seventeenth century.
As with the emergence of modernity, all our major institutions, practices, and belief systems are now undergoing fundamental transformation.
Few can still doubt even if they do not yet appreciate the comprehensive and global scope of this "Second Scientific Revolution." It is one of the central theses of this work that we are currently in the midst of a global cultural and metaphysical transformation at least equal in scope to that which began to transform the planetary culture four centuries ago.
We are thus confronted with a world whose structures of meaning and corresponding institutional foundations are being undermined, thus presaging a revolutionary transformation the import of which, however unclear at present, cannot fail to be radical and comprehensive. My task in this work will be both to critically evaluate the contours of that transformation, and then to outline the structures of an alternative metaphysic and sketch a frame for the social and institutional order it suggests.