Science and Winston Churchill’s ‘Nightmares of the Future’
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Across the world, one of the most common and interesting subjects of discussion these days is the effect of science and technology on mankind and our future. Do Google and Facebook help or hurt? Will artificial intelligence technology generally help or generally hurt society? The list of questions born from this subject is long.
I’m not going to share my thoughts on these questions. Instead, I want to share an article that informs my thoughts on this subject. “Fifty Years Hence” was written by Winston Churchill and published in the Strand in 1931. Don’t let its age fool you. In many respects, it could have been written yesterday.
Near the middle of the article, Churchill wrote: “There are nightmares of the future from which a fortunate collision with some wandering star, reducing the Earth to incandescent gas, might be a merciful deliverance.” Read that again if you have to; it’s sobering and profound.
What were these “nightmares of the future,” these problems so acute and dreadful that Churchill wondered if it might be better for mankind to suddenly be destroyed? The worst nightmare he described was nuclear warfare. These weapons hadn’t yet been created, but Churchill knew they were coming. The age is approaching, he predicted, when “explosive forces, energy, materials, machinery will be available upon a scale which can annihilate whole nations.”
What was the cause of the “nightmares of the future”? According to Churchill, science. He recognized, even in 1931, that the unleashing of the latent and terrific forces of “science” was transforming human civilization. Civilizations that for millennia had been empowered by “muscular energy” were beginning to rely instead upon “molecular energy.” New discoveries produced new technologies and inventions, which in turn revolutionized every facet of human existence, from the structure of society to industry to politics to economics to war.
“Immense new sources of power,” he wrote, “made possible novel methods of mining and metallurgy, new modes of transport and undreamed-of machinery. These in their turn enable the molecular sources of power to be extended and used more efficiently. … Each invention acted and reacted on other inventions, and with ever growing rapidity, that vast structure of technical achievements was raised which separates the civilizations of today from all that the past has known.”
Again, Churchill wrote this in 1931. And science today continues to transform human existence. Science and technology continue to break down national, cultural and religious barriers; open new and unprecedented capabilities and opportunities; and reconfigure cultures, institutions and human relationships. All for the betterment of mankind, right?
Read “Fifty Years Hence” and you’ll see that Churchill’s problem with science and technology had little to do with science and more to do with the nature of man.
The problem, he explained, revolves around the character of humans. ”Certain it is that while men are gathering knowledge and power with ever increasing and measureless speed, their virtues and their wisdom have not shown any notable improvement as the centuries have rolled” (emphasis added throughout).
Science had bestowed unprecedented power and opportunity, he wrote, but the selfish and cruel nature of man “remained hitherto practically unchanged.”
Churchill worried that mankind’s acquisition of the powers of science and technology was rapidly outpacing mankind’s acquisition of the character, discipline and “nobility” needed to refrain from using those powers to hurt human civilization. Despite all of its contributions to human civilization, Churchill worried that the foremost contribution of science would be equipping human beings with the means of destroying culture, society, government and, eventually, the entire human race.
Churchill warned: “Under sufficient stress—starvation, terror, warlike passion or even cold intellectual frenzy—the modern man we know so well will do the most terrible deeds, and his modern woman will back him.” Look at politics and culture today: There is evidence of a “cold, intellectual frenzy,” most notably among the radical left.
Churchill was so concerned about the forward progress of science of technology—and the lack of forward progress in human character, morality and discipline—that he believed it would be safer for man to “call a halt in material progress and discovery.”
There are secrets, he wrote, “too mysterious for man in his present state to know, secrets which, once penetrated, may be fatal to human happiness and glory.”
No one can dismiss Winston Churchill as a man ignorant of the extreme value of science and knowledge. As a historian, he made a living acquiring, distilling and communicating knowledge. As a military and political leader, he encouraged scientific development and was the architect of more than a few inventions.
Unlike most intellectuals, however, Churchill recognized many of his intellectual limitations—and, more significantly, the limitations of science.
Despite its splendid virtues, science, he concluded, “does not meet any of the real needs of the human race”!
What good is scientific development, he asked, if it cannot answer the “simple questions which man has asked since the earliest dawn of reason—‘Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? Where are we going?’”
“Fifty Years Hence” thus concludes by resurrecting questions and discussions that have perplexed mankind for thousands of years, questions that even Winston Churchill—an intellectual giant never afraid to venture an opinion on virtually any topic—simply could not answer.
Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? Where are we going? These questions lay at the core of every meditation and discussion about science, its impact on mankind, and its role in our lives. But these questions are generally ignored. Why? Because we don’t have the answers. We have plenty of ideas, guesses and speculations, but no hard, demonstrable truth.
Aren’t you interested in learning the answers to these questions? To learning why man was put on this planet, to learning about the purpose of life, to discovering where human civilization is headed? Wouldn’t you like to understand why science—despite its many fantastic contributions to human civilization—has only brought mankind to the brink of extinction?
Despite his incredible mind and intellect, Churchill grappled with these questions. But you can have them explained to you clearly, logically and with plenty of biblical proof. How? It’s simple: Request, then study, Mystery of the Ages. Written by the late Herbert W. Armstrong, this book could be your “merciful deliverance” from our nightmarish world.
Take the opportunity now to obtain a free copy of this, the book Winston Churchill needed most.