[Continued from previous page]
SA: Are you saying that science tells us the purpose of existence?
GA: Well, naturally, a scientist, speaking as a scientist, would never say it was the purpose of the universe to evolve life and consciousness. But a philosopher can. Obviously this purpose is utterly different from a human purpose. Yet in some strange way there are creative possibilities latent in the structure of the universe. Given billions of years in time and billions of light-years of space to play with, these possibilities spontaneously come to life. This is both mysterious and wonderful. I think it is all the religion the societies of the future, now being built here on the Moon and Mars, will ever need. It is an insight based on science, but it transcends science.
SA: So, let me get this right, you are saying that, billions of years ago, stars gave birth to planets, therefore we here and now ought to obey the law? And fly into space?
GA: Yes. Of course, if you miss out all the intermediate steps, all the context, you can make it sound ridiculous. It would be like a religious believer telling you that there is an ancient book containing a story in which a fanciful super-human alien being commanded his people "Thou shalt not kill", and trying to use this story to prove that we now, different people living in an utterly different historical context, ought never to kill. It sounds ridiculous, until he or she explains that they think the alien really existed, is still here, lurking around somewhere, that it still insists on giving us rules for living, and will do something very nasty to us if we disobey. Oh, and that we should ignore the fact that this biblical commandment turned out to be perfectly consistent with people inflicting capital punishment on each other within Israelite society, and with genocide perpetrated by the Israelites on outsiders. Personally, I think that even with all this explanation it still sounds ridiculous.
SA: How about when it is also explained that millions of people down the ages have drawn comfort and guidance from the Ten Commandments? Including people in industrial societies.
GA: Of course they have. That's what social software is for. But the Ten Commandments that most people advocate now are different from the biblical ones. They would say that Jesus of Nazareth had a better system, one which outlawed capital punishment and genocide as well as just "killing". They would be quite right to say so. But by the same token, we now have an even better system, one which improves on Jesus's ethics when for example it approves of lending capital at interest, and of capital formation, and disapproves of poverty. Must the fact that millions of people once wrote letters to each other by hand prevent us from inventing the internet?
SA: Is it wrong to kill?
GA: Of course it is. Not because a storyteller in a pre-industrial tribe once decided it was wrong, or an itinerant preacher in a Roman province, but because of the historical fact that a society which respects the individual human life is stronger than one which has no scruples about destroying it. Take your pick of historical examples. Most people can intuitively understand this.
SA: You seem to be saying that might is right.
GA: I am saying the exact opposite!
SA: That right is might?
GA: That if a society gets it right, the universe rewards it with more power. Just as if a species gets it right, the universe rewards it with more offspring.
SA: So the philosophy of Creative Evolution gives you at least some sort of intellectual foundation for your values. But I think you're very much out on your own with this -- one certainly doesn't hear much about Creative Evolution back on Earth.
GA: Have you visited the Institute of Creative Evolution here on the Moon?
SA: Is there one?
GA: It's high up in the wall of the crater Copernicus, with a stunning view north over the lunar Carpathians. But let's think about Earth. You're right, nobody talks much about Creative Evolution in the universities, the newsrooms or the corridors of power on Earth. What do they value? Freedom, democracy, tolerance, economic growth, human rights, and the stamping out of sexism, racism, war and poverty.
SA: As your religious critics say: all negative values, all amounting to a worship of the means with no idea of what ends they ought to serve.
GA: Are you so sure? I put it to you that all the values of modern society which I have just named are oriented towards enhancing people's creativity.
SA: Or, as the religious would say, their licentiousness, their freedom to enslave themselves to sin, whether in the form of prostitution, or alcohol, or hard drugs, or abuse of their elders.
GA: If this freedom is a totally negative one, why has modern society not already collapsed?
SA: The leaders of the world's major religions believe it is about to.
GA: Yes, and I suppose they expect at tomorrow morning, 9 o'clock sharp, the second coming of Christ, Mohammad and Moses, riding a bicycle made for three. Religious critics have been predicting the collapse of godless modernism ever since Darwin told them they were descended from apes, two and a half centuries ago. No doubt they'll still be predicting it when our explorers and colonists are building godless civilisations on the planets of Alpha Centauri. But the point I wish to make here is that the modern culture which has endured all the way through the past century -- in fact all the way from its roots in the 18th-century Enlightenment -- this culture is specifically oriented towards helping people exercise their creative talents, rather than repressing them in the name of some ideology. Since about the mid-20th century it has been specifically oriented towards changing society in a peaceful evolutionary way rather than destructively through war. It is therefore Creative Evolution in everything but name. The name will come as more and more people make the connection between the values that they feel inside them and the universe that they view from the windows of a spacecraft or a Lunar View settlement.
SA: So do you expect to see a long-term decline in religious belief?
GA: I take it you are referring to the traditional religions, not to the emotional insight which lies, with science, at the heart of Creative Evolution, and which some might call religious?
SA: Yes, the traditional religions, of course.
GA: I don't want you to think I am totally dismissive of religious belief. Some religions, notably Buddhism, but also some varieties of monotheism, have marked psychological benefits, and we wouldn't want to deprive people of those benefits. They also offer a personal sense of contact with one's cultural roots, which can be very valuable, especially in the multicultural setting of a space or planetary colony, which some people find disorienting at first. So I expect to see, not so much a decline, as rather a general movement of organised religion out of the public sphere and into a more private one. Less of religion in the crusading or even churchgoing sense, more of it in the sense of a personal practice or ritual, a system for private meditation.
SA: But what about religion as a social force?
GA: Any social philosophy or religion is, as I said before, part of the software which regulates society. Traditional religions in this sense are basically software systems for running pre-industrial societies. The reason why Creative Evolution is superior is because it is based far more closely on reality, as revealed by science, and is therefore suitable for running an industrial society which is moving up from a one-planet level of organisation to a multi-planet one, as ours is. Traditional religions were therefore appropriate for their time, and they still are appropriate for any society on Earth which aims to suppress creative freedom and economic growth. But of course if you do that, your society quickly falls under foreign domination. I can well understand why many religious leaders are very worried people. They can neither insulate themselves from the tide of godless consumerism, nor adapt their beliefs to its values. The terrorist attacks we have seen on and off throughout the past century are an inevitable expression of this.
SA: Would you condemn religious believers for the wars and colonialism they have perpetrated in the past?
GA: Not at all. War is a necessary function of pre-industrial societies, and also of early industrial ones. So is colonialism. These painful and unsavoury aspects of history came about because of the need to unify humanity under a single authority. Religions just happened to be a form of social software commonly in use at the time, but plenty of nations have waged war or settled colonies for more pragmatic reasons -- imperial Rome or China, for example, or the Soviet Union, or the British Empire. Now pre-industrial societies were never able to impose order for long, and never globally. So war continued. It was only when technology and economic growth acquired a momentum independent of human will that war began to be suppressed. I suppose the dividing-line came around 1950, with the nuclear stalemate of the Cold War. Here for the first time was a technology which made great power conflicts unwinnable. They were dangerous years, very dangerous, for it took several decades before people generally realised the destructive power of nuclear weapons. But we survived. And then the electronic information revolution started to bind the world ever closer together. By the end of the century all the great powers were at peace and enmeshed into a single economic system. War had been pushed to the fringes of society -- Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq -- where it could still cause immense suffering to the locals, of course, but could no longer threaten the stability of the world's great powers. Civilisation was safe. Fifty years after that, even an Iraq-type attack was impossible, and nowadays the distinction between military operations and police work is virtually non-existent. A huge reservoir of creativity has been freed up for human expansion into space, and these nuclear and information and other technologies are at hand to enable this new age of growth and confidence.
SA: Many people fail to understand your insistence on the relevance of spaceflight to the human condition. They say: isn't one planet enough for us? Don't we have enough problems here on Earth, without trying to export them to other planets as well?
GA: Would they say: I have enough domestic problems at home without trying to go out to work as well? Earth is our childhood home, but if we don't grow up and go outdoors, go out to find an education and opportunities for work and starting a new family, then our civilisation will quickly die, and our species a little while later. You may talk about the human condition, so let's discuss the human condition: one of extreme insignificance, yet surrounded by opportunities to grow towards extreme importance. Surely our whole species is like a single fertilised cell in a woman's womb, which may grow into an adult of a trillion cells, and one who affects the lives of millions more adults. Or, one whose potential may be flushed away in a spontaneous miscarriage.
SA: A horrible thought!
GA: The problem is that Earth looks so large when you are on it, yet in reality it is no more than an infinitesimal speck of dust in the perspective of universal reality. Another way of looking at it: would you describe a species of microscopic crab as amounting to much if it was confined to living on a single grain of sand on a sandy beach which stretched to infinity in both directions? Either the human species is a conqueror of galactic space, or it is the merest flash in the pan.
SA: Your critics would find that sort of language ridiculous. They would say you had an absurdly inflated, hubristic view of your own importance.
GA: And I would say that if you want to destroy someone's dreams, if you want to shackle them to a dead ideology which puts them at your mercy, you will first undermine their hope that their life will ever amount to anything! A strategy which is not unknown in religious circles?
SA: But do you not think there is a place for humility? Is it not valid to simply be thankful for the fact that one exists, to appreciate the little pleasures of life in the present, from minute to minute, no matter how insignificant that existence may seem to be?
GA: Of course it is. Did I ever say it was not? Have another scotch on the company! But in a society obsessed with enjoying trivia and totally blind to the greater significance of its own existence, more talk about our worthlessness and our refuge in little pleasures is not very helpful.
SA: Thank you! One final question, if I may. How are you planning to spend your second century? Will you be leading voyages of exploration even further afield? To the giant planets, perhaps?
GA: My companies are run by good and intelligent people. I'm sure they'll make a success of setting up flourishing new businesses in the asteroid belt and among the satellites of the giant planets. But for myself ... I've seen a lot over my past hundred years, and I feel the need to reflect on it for a while, to re-examine my roots, the cultural roots that caused the dynamic growth of Victorian Britain, and then two centuries later the closely analogous growth of newly republican Britain. So I may return to Earth for a while. I think I'll take advantage of the opportunity to do something I've always wanted to do, and learn to play the piano!
Culture on Earth is still sharply divided between those who have flown in space and those who haven't. The space generation, as they call themselves, look at all the suffering on Earth, the wars of the past, the poverty and disease which are still crippling a substantial fraction of Earth's teeming ten billion, the political power struggles, the cynical manipulation of people's hopes and fears -- they look at all this and compare it with the view from orbit or from the Moon, and they say, yes, this is where it has all been leading. The suffering and the destruction are the birth pangs of a new order of life, one which can spread freely throughout the astronomical universe, one whose creativity increases exponentially. For each individual victim of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, the same nuclear technology shall allow a dead planet somewhere in the Galaxy to be brought to life, and named after that victim. But those who have never been in space and never dreamt of going, they see no such connection. They see chaos and suffering and mindless consumerism and moral anarchy, but no compensating upside. They see the blood, sweat and tears, but not the creation of anything wonderful. So naturally they blame technology, they blame the doctrine of progress and the decline of religious belief. They imagine that if we could return to some supposed Garden of Eden in which nothing ever changed and everyone performed the rituals of their particular version of the truth, then they would have achieved perfection. But that heavenly society cannot exist.
It's the same with socialism and the modern liberal democracy loosely derived from it. These are in functional software terms analogous to religion, only with heaven translated into an ideal state of society on Earth, and god interpreted as the laws of social development. Yes, they serve the cause of the Creative Evolution of the universe by encouraging members of society to be creative and institutions to evolve together with technology and industry. But they are intellectually impoverished, because they have not yet learnt to place humanity in our true context in astronomical space and evolutionary time. This affects the rhetoric of all mainstream political parties, and leaves them open to just the charge that you mentioned earlier, that they are campaigning for freedom and so forth but do not understand why freedom should be so precious. Not much has changed here since I was born a century ago, when you had the spectacle of then prime minister Tony Blair loudly invoking a heroic narrative of progress and destiny, all the while comically ignorant of the fact that the narrative he longed for really existed.
I see it as my mission to help these people, whether religionists or socialists, to understand something about the real universe we live in. Above all they need to be told that almost all the natural resources, almost all the opportunities for growth and creativity and diversity and security are to be found beyond mother Earth, in space and on other planets. And that if we are allowed to say that the universe has a meaning, a purpose, then that meaning or purpose is that life should develop, should evolve, should explore the creative possibilities which are all around it, both on a personal level and as a species. For us humans at this stage in history, this means inevitably the astronautical enterprises in space, on the Moon and Mars, which I have led for nearly all my adult life, and which would have made my celebrated ancestor proud of me. He was there at the invention of the electric dynamo and the light bulb, he saw how technology transforms our lives for the better, and he would have understood. I want more people on Earth to understand this, too, even though most of them can't yet afford a flight into space, even if their only connection with almost all the universe is through a tiny back-yard telescope, or even no telescope at all, yet they can still understand and participate in this immense undertaking, this spreading and blossoming of life and civilisation from one world to the rest of the Galaxy.
After that, I think I may return to the frontier. I'd like to devote my third century to building the first starship and flying on the first voyage to another star. But that's still a very long way in the future, and there's a lot of work to be done before that can happen.
SA: Dr George Armstrong, once again, congratulations, and thank you very much.
GA: Thank you. And a note to your readers: don't forget to visit my website on http://www.lunarview.co.moon, where you can book your very own flight to the Moon. We do accept all major credit cards!
Last revised 29 December 2004 / 35th Apollo Anniversary Year
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