Unjustified Pessimism and Accusations

So there has been a quote attributed to Ben Stein makings its way around the internet in various forms. The quote claims that the “world’s going to hell” and that this is related to secularism or Christian’s getting “pushed around.” As about.com explains Mr. Stein did say some of these things, but much of the quote is added. I think the “quote” (see what I did there) is however indicative of how many people feel. The amount it has been spread through email and on Facebook in various forms would certainly seem to indicate that this is the case. I would like to counter this notion that the world is so terrible and “going to hell” and the belief many people seem to have that the bad things that do happen are somehow related to secularism or a lack of Christianity. To be clear I will be referencing the top article from here. I shall start with this whole “going to hell” business.

I would just like to start by saying that I have an app on my iphone that has a database of all the exoplanets discovered so far and notifies me whenever a new one is confirmed. There are so many awesome things about that sentence. Let’s start with the exoplanet bit. We have discovered planets orbiting other stars! According to my app as off 1-12-2013 there are 855 confirmed exoplanets, and we are discovering more all the time. We are finally getting some real data on that question likely as old as humans (and possibly older) are we alone? Someday soon we may even be able to get some evidence of whether there is life on some of these planets! The rate of new planet discoveries is truly amazing. Just earlier today my app let me know that five new planets had been discovered.

Now let’s turn to the device and how it receives its information. There are millions of people around the planet with near constant near instant access to a powerful computer and a mind boggling huge (not to mention rapidly growing) body of information a.k.a. a smart phone connected to the internet. I think this is bound to have all manner of uses, and we are really just getting started in discovering what is possible. Computers, phones, and internet connections are becoming faster and more powerful every year.

It’s not all about the science and technology either. You may have heard of the so called rise of China and other developing countries. China’s economy has grown by an average of 10% over the last thirty years! To put it another way China’s GPD per capita (adjusted for inflation as it always should be) is more than 39 times what is was in 1970. I think the rapid economic growth of China and other developing countries over the last few decades represents one of the largest and most rapid improvements in human well being in history. Millions of people around the world are becoming engineers, entrepreneurs, scientists etc. instead of engaging in subsistence farming. I would hardly call that “going to hell.”

I think I have covered well enough why I think the world is not “going to hell” and is in fact awesome and getting better. I would now like to address this particular part of the article

“Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her ‘How could God let something like this happen?’ (regarding Hurricane Katrina).. Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, ‘I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?’”

 According to about.com this was actually in reference to the 9/11 attacks. As far as I can tell the way that it was incorrectly portrayed seems to imply that Mrs. Graham is saying that Hurricane Katrina is a direct result of secularist actions. I find this not only ridiculous, but incredibly insulting. The logical conclusion of what she says would seem to be that secularists are responsible for the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. Does this mean that secularists or atheists should feel responsible and guilty for the deaths caused by the 9/11 attacks or Hurricane Katrina? That would seem to be the logical conclusion. Is the implication that God will not protect counties that have too many atheists or don’t have enough discussion of religion in every public setting? God seems to have treated the Chinese quite well in spite of the Communist Party’s explicit atheism. To be clear this is not intended to be an attack on Ben Stein or Mrs. Grahm. It would be easy to find a poorly constructed argument someone made on the internet and to make them look ridiculous. That is not what I am trying to do. I am addressing this article because I think it resonates with many people, and it gives me something specific to counter rather than some vague idea such as a loss of “values” or “spirituality.”

Perhaps I am too optimistic about the future. It is entirely possible global economic growth will slow, natural disasters will get worse due to climate change, or some unpredictable event will truly make the future worse, however I think much of the pessimism is unjustified and based on vague notions that have little or no basis in reality. These ideas that bad events and trends are somehow related to secularism, atheists, or too few mentions of the almighty in the public sphere are particularly frustrating. I wish those that held these views would explain what exactly they mean. Perhaps in doing so they would realized that it doesn’t really make much sense, or maybe some good point would be revealed that we could actually discuss (you can probably guess which I think is more likely). I think that as long as we continue to invest in science, technology, our fellow human beings, and promoting secularism that collective Minnesotan, American and global human well being will continue to improve, and maybe people will realize a more secular world isn’t so bad after all. It’s gonna be the future soon, and I can’t wait.


3 comments on “Unjustified Pessimism and Accusations

  1. I agree. It is strange to me how people want to be negative about the world. I constantly hear people say things like, our generation is the worst off yet, we are poorer than our parents for the first time in history, I don’t want to have kids because the world is getting so bad, etc. All I think about is how much more accepting the world continues to become of people with different sexuality, race, or views. I also think about how an internet connection provides hours and hours of entertainment, information, and research for a relatively small amount of money. I feel much better off than my parents 30 years ago. There have been some major breakthroughs globally between the Arab Spring, social media, and globalization, and I can’t wait to see what else is in store. Hopefully better public transportation!

  2. To play devil’s advocate, I can see how easy it is to have negative views on where we are and where we are heading. As a civilization, we rarely learn from our mistakes, and these “exciting things” we have developed, while exciting, also stand just as much of a chance of hurting us. (We are not too young to remember the Atom bomb, are we?) So while it is good China continues to evolve and are turning out more engineers, doctors and the like, we will always need farmers. Could you guys explain more on these breakthroughs in technology, and why they make the world a better place. I know these make our lives easier, but does social media really make our world better? If anything, I think it has made us more disconnected, more depressed and more alone than we ever have been before. Carrie, what major breakthrough has come from the Arab Spring? (serious question)

    Sorry, definitely not trying to be a spoiler here. I do agree with the main point of this post in that secularists or atheists are not to blame for the world going to hell. I think all of us as a whole collective are to blame. I also find it amazing the number of exoplanets that are constantly being discovered, and feel that it is not entirely unrelated from this subject. I’m sure many of the worlds that exist within those exoplanets are not going to hell.

  3. Perhaps I should have made this clearer, but my point was more that many people have poor reasoning for thinking things are getting worse rather than that there is no reason to think the future will be worse. For instance I think many people are under the impression that the world is getting more violent, yet in the U.S. violent crimes are at historical lows and we are probably living through the most peaceful period in human history[1][2]. Certainly there are many reasons to be concerned about the future. Personally I am concerned about climate change and other environmental concerns, increased energy costs, and the potential for some sort of nuclear disaster.

    And there is certainly nothing wrong with farming. For reasons I will never understand some people even enjoy it. But the smaller the portion of the population that farms the more people can do other things leading to economic growth. Economic growth certainly isn’t everything, but it is about much more than just having more stuff. Its about things like not dying from easily curable diseases, having a government with the expertise and resources necessary to provide disaster relief, and not expecting to live through multiple famines in your lifetime as has probably been the case for nearly everybody for nearly all of human history. The majority of the world’s population lives in South-East Asia, Africa, and Latin America which are all seeing strong growth. I think this alone practically guarantees average human well being will improve, especially considering that a large portion of those populations are still very poor. I think I may live to see the day when poverty and a lack of medical care is a global rarity. The world will probably always have its political conflicts and some countries with just atrocious government, but overall things are improving year by year.

    Smart phones, scientific discoveries, 3d printers, driver-less cars, and robotics may seem like they will add little real value to your life, but as R.A. of the Free Exchange blog [3] explains such innovations take years to see their full potential. When I think about how my life or the world has changed over the last year I am often disappointed, but when I think about how things have changed over the last ten years I am amazed. As I said I could be wrong, but 20 years from now I fully expect to live in a happier, stabler, more productive world and to often think to myself how did I ever live without ____.
    (Sorry this got so long)


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