In the 19th century, Thomas Love Peacock, the author of numerous social satires, made the following observation. “I almost think it is the ultimate destiny of Science to exterminate the human race.” Approximately one hundred years later, having just witnessed the power of an atomic explosion, a famous physicist made a similar observation. The physicist’s name was Robert Oppenheimer. He said, “I have become death, the destroyer of worlds” (Sherwin 501).
Both men believed that Science, if left to its own devices, would probably annihilate mankind. Many others agreed, while still others disagreed. Literature is replete with end-of-the-world scenarios, in which humanity is responsible for its own demise. And of course, Hollywood picked up on the theme, producing myriad apocalyptic blockbusters. These books and movies reflect a simple proposition, that of cause and effect. The effect is the extermination of the human race. The cause is Science run amok.
Science is responsible for thermonuclear weapons, bio-chemical weapons, the slow destruction of the ozone layer, and the pollution of the earth. And even worse horrors are on the horizon. Science is already engaged in genetic experiments, bio-engineering of foods, time-space travel, and promises that nanotechnology will soon be a reality.
Religion, which is the opposite of Science, condemns such scientific advances as heretical. They are nothing more than mankind playing at being God. Religious thought presents a hierarchy of causes. At the top of the hierarchy is God. He is the governing cause. When mankind forgets his place in the pecking order, as he did in the Garden of Eden, the outcome is disaster. Religion names such hubris “sin.” According to Religion, the result of sin is death. In the Garden of Eden, the resulting death was spiritual in nature. In the modern world, because of the secular manipulations of Science, the result could be the extermination of humanity.
The debate between Science and Religion goes on and on, ad infinitum. Essentially, the debate revolves around humanity’s fear of death. Death is the ultimate effect. Science declares that it can, if given the time and resources, eventually conquer death. In other words, Science can eradicate all the causes of death. Religion declares that ‘the truth’ will set you free. In this case, the truth is faith, religious understanding. Or as Oswald Spengler put it: “God is man’s refuge from the Destiny which he can feel and livingly experience” (Spengler 320).
The two opposing viewpoints of the debate are evident in society’s attitudes toward the problem of old age. Religion’s methodology is to improve the quality of life. Thus, the elderly are encouraged to remain active, and to disseminate their wisdom to young people. In other words, the elderly should be venerated and tolerated, rather than tossed aside as useless. Once encompassed by death, the elderly, according to Religion, will experience eternal life, the gift of faith.
Science chooses to confront old age from the medical angle. Science, as it has already demonstrated, can increase the life span by means of ferreting out disease, by the application of drugs, and by improving nutrition. Eventually, Science will increase the life span of human beings to the point of virtual immortality.
Religion asserts that only God can offer eternal life and that when mankind, in the name of Science, assumes the role of God, death is the inevitable outcome. On its part, Science asserts there is no evidence of God, therefore Science is mankind’s only hope of defeating death.
As previously pointed out, the debate goes on and on. More than likely, it will never be resolved. For neither Science nor Religion can stop death. Myriads of people die every day, some from disease, some from warfare, some from starvation, and some from old age. Science is impotent to stop the cycle. And Religion operates on hope, the hope that there is life after death. Hope is all Religion has because Religion can’t stop death either.
In the end, Peacock’s observation was just that, an observation. Only time will tell if he was correct or not. Either Science will conspire to somehow wipe out mankind by means of a new-fangled biological or chemical contraption or, as Religion has warned, God will lose patience with his creatures and destroy them lock, stock, and barrel. Of course, there’s a third possibility. The situation will remain forever as it is now, with people like Thomas Peacock waiting for Science to exterminate the world.