Imagining The End of the World

…to the old theistic question, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ we can… counterpose the findings of Professor Lawrence Krauss and others, about the forseeable heat death of the universe…. So, the question can and must be rephrased: “Why will our brief ‘something’ so soon be replaced with nothing?” It’s only once we shake our own innate belief in linear progression and consider the many recessions we have undergone and will undergo that we can grasp the gross stupidity of those who repose their faith in divine providence and godly design. (Christopher Hitchens as quoted by Skeptic Michael Shemer in Scientific American, Nov 2010. Emphasis mine.)

Let’s play a game of ‘just pretend.’ Just pretend that the world’s political leaders have just announced to the world that the greatest scientific minds have uncovered a horrifying truth: due to laws of physics not previously understood, our sun will burn out millions of years earlier than previously thought. Even now it is imperceptibly dimmed compared to historical measurements.

No one living today will be adversely affected by the dimming sun. We can go on living unaffected by it. Even two generations after we have all passed on, our children and descendants will still have enough energy from the sun to sustain life though by then it will be obvious that the sun is dimming.

Within three generations after that a global cooling cycle will have begun and the dreadful snowfall will signal a winter that will never end. People will be able to store up food, of course, but without any hope of new crops forming in the future no matter how many supplies are stored food will eventually start to run out.

No one wants to think about what life will be like after that. But in our darkest nightmares we know what will happen. By now, the ecosystem will be out of balance and probably only humans with supplies will still be alive on the earth. Those that wish to survive will be forced to kill each other for supplies and, of course, as a source of food. Within another generation the whole earth will be nothing but survival of the fittest violence. Those that would not accept this way of life were hunted and killed a generation ago. Morality plays no role any more but is nothing more than an unwanted relic of evolution that no longer suits the reality of our environment. Within another generation or two, not the least moral will have survived and natural selection is already on its way to eliminating our biological moral sense from the gene pool. Mankind has returned to the wild he previously crawled up from as we struggle with our last grasping breath to survive just a moment longer.

Ridiculous? Unthinkable? Of course.

Yet the only real difference between my story and Hitchens is the amount of time involved. I have essentially collapsed down the timeframe from the Hitchens’ quote to make it closer to us now so that we’re forced to think about it. If Hitchens’ is right, it is a fortunate thing that evolution has failed to impart us with the ability to think in terms of millions or billions of years. Because if we could, we’d see that there is no difference between what Hitchens’ just said and my made up example.

If atheists are right about our future then there is no hope for a better future. There is no hope at all.

It’s easy here to say “yes, but that may be millions or even billions of years from now and we might be able to make real progress until that point.” Maybe. But in the example above you and anyone you will ever meet was unaffected by the news and could live out their lives in peace. Did it make it less scary? Did it reduce your moral responsibility?

It’s hard to believe anyone would even bother to have children in such a situation since they’d be leaving their descendants to such a horrifying fate. And the simple truth is that the more progress you make prior to the reversal point the more horrifying will be the fall thereof. Therefore, my example above simply does not do justice to how truly horrific will be the heat death of some future civilization of humankind a billion years from now.

Now consider this: if the sun burnt out during the reign of Paleolithic man during the ice age, would we really see it as horrifying as the example above? Might not part of our horror be that we know a better way now – or thought we did?

4 thoughts on “Imagining The End of the World

  1. This heat death thing is really just a special instance of the Problem of Evil, and it suffers from the same problem as the Problem of Evil–the real problem with evil isn’t explaining its existence, its dealing with it, and atheism can’t. This doesn’t mean that atheism is false, just that it’s horrible.

  2. Adam,

    Yes, you are right that this is a special case of the problem of evil. That is where I am going with this.

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