Cosmology Culture Intelligent Design

“The end is far” bumps “the end is near”

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You need to believe this, whatever it is

For one thing, “The end is far” is “scienceTM,” not “religionTM.”

Here, The Atlantic‘s Graeme Wood reports on “What will happen to us?: Forecasters tackle the extremely deep future” (Boston Globe, May 1, 2011), featuring recent Templeton winner Martin Rees and others on deep and distant futures, the theory being that it is now possible to be much more certain of the distant future than in the past:

The community of thinkers on distant-future questions stretches across disciplinary bounds, with the primary uniting trait a willingness to think about the future as a topic for objective study, rather than a space for idle speculation or science fictional reverie. They include theoretical cosmologists like Sean Carroll of the California Institute of Technology, who recently wrote a book about time, and nonacademic technology mavens like Ray Kurzweil, the precocious inventor and theorist. What binds this group together is that they are not, says Bostrom, “just trying to tell an interesting story.” Instead, they aim for precision. In its fundamentals, Carroll points out, the universe is a “relatively simple system,” compared, say, to a chaotic system like a human body — and thus “predicting the future is actually a feasible task,” even “for ridiculously long time periods.”

Past is past now … 

While an essential part of the toolkit of a futurologist is knowledge of the past, science is now crossing a line where the past may be less helpful as a guide: It has moved beyond replicating the work of nature, and begun introducing eventualities never before seen on earth. A seemingly benign example is chilling materials to within a fraction of absolute zero, many times colder than the coldest place in the universe. Potentially less benign are certain types of high-energy physics research, or DNA experimentation that creates beings unknown on this planet.

For Rees, then, and many other thinkers about the future, a central preoccupation is making sure that humans survive to see it. Only 0.01 percent of all species that have ever existed continue to do so. We happen to be one of them, for now. When Rees looked at the myriad ways in which the present is more perilous than the past in his 2003 book “Our Final Hour,” he set the odds of human extinction in the next century at 50 percent.

Now the money shot:

So if we really understood the future, how would we behave? “It turns out that the reduction of existential risk turns out to be one of the most important things we can do,” he says. “It turns out, if you act and consider all good — including that of future generations — you could outweigh the good you can do today by eliminating world hunger, say, or curing malaria.” Saving a billion from famine today is, by this calculation, a minor concern compared with making sure no extinction-level event snuffs out the opportunity for a trillion more to live in the centuries to come.

Traditional religion has frowned on attempts to predict the future because one ends up predicting others’ demise rather than one’s own. That can lead, in the hands of powerful people, to feeling okay about, for example, letting people die in a famine. Whereas all fruitful philosophy is learning how to prepare for one’s own death.

18 Replies to ““The end is far” bumps “the end is near”

  1. 1
    uoflcard says:

    I really wish I understood why this blog has just become a news dump for items that either have zero or little to do with ID. There are 15 articles a day, it feels like, and 14 of them have zero comments. That should tell you something. It is impossible to keep up with the interesting posts and conversations. These are also interesting, usually, but there are just WAY too many of them. I just don’t get it. Does anyone else feel like this? This used to be my favorite website on the Internet and that is no longer the case, strictly due to spamming

  2. 2
    Upright BiPed says:

    As long as request are being taken 😉

    Could UD dissect the core assumptions within the RNA World hypothesis and discuss their weaknesses?

  3. 3
    Mung says:

    Does anyone else feel like this?

    Absolutely.

    Fewer posts that relate only tangentially to ID (if that) please.

  4. 4
    Mung says:

    Taht sdaid, in light of a discussion going on elsewhere on this blog, this is an interesting post.

    How different would things be with more “the end is afar” and less “the end is near”?

  5. 5
    Mung says:

    p.s. What if “the end” has come and gone?

  6. 6
    Leslie says:

    does anyone else feel like this?

    Yes, I also feel the same. Too many posts, and often they seem rather unrelated to ID in any meaningful sense. I have honestly stopped reading a lot of the posts like I did in the past because of that. It gets old to go to a link and find it to be just another random blurb.

    I’d add that lately, between the “news” posts and O’leary’s posts (which strike me as being the same, to be honest), it seems like the content is 95% from those two sources alone. I don’t mean that as an insult at all, it just seems weird to me on a blog like this to have that be the case. But maybe that is just me.

  7. 7
    Matteo says:

    I agree. The blog has become like wading through spam. Lots of noise, but little signal.

  8. 8
    CannuckianYankee says:

    Chiming in here;

    I too have noticed an influx lately of posts such that it is difficult to keep up with discussions. Is this a new strategy?

    Previously discussions would be as long as a few hundred posts in one thread. Now we’re lucky if we even get a discussion going because of the flash of new posts. I’m not complaining about the content, because I’m interested in a variety of different discussions. I think it’s an issue more of organization than content.

    Maybe it’s time to start considering having several blogs under UD (Creating a UD portal of sorts – Kind of like having several more blogs like Michael Behe’s blog) – one related to scientific and technical discussion, one related to the philosophical implications of ID, and another just for news related to ID (politics and whatnot). You could even create a blog for off topic discussion.

    UD, after all has several different audiences – some are more interested in discussing the technical aspects of ID, while others seem to be more interested in discussing the philosophical implications, while still others seem to be interested in chiming in on everything from time to time (me 😉 ). I think it would be a shame to lose any of these people due to a lack of organization.

  9. 9
    CannuckianYankee says:

    Upright at 2 – great idea. I would like to be an observer in that discussion as well. It’s really an important subject.

  10. 10
    MedsRex says:

    CY at 8,
    I seriously concur. I might be a but of a noob here but that is a capital idea.
    Upright at 2
    That is also capital.

  11. 11
    Mung says:

    I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is.

    If UD wants to present a plan for growth and/or change to implement any new ideas (for example, things really seem to bog down and get much slower around noon) and then ask for donations to directly support those plans…

    I know there’s already a “Donate to the Cause…” button, but it’s not clear what one is donating to.

    What does UD need? New equipment? More bandwidth? Software? All the above?

  12. 12
    material.infantacy says:

    I’ll put in my two cents:

    — Let’s see more than half a dozen recent comments in the sidebar. At least a dozen would be helpful to anyone trying to keep up with a conversation.

    — Even better, the popular posts section needs to be ordered by recent comments, not by number of views as it appears to be now. The threads which are receiving the most participation should be listed first, otherwise they are buried and swiftly lost.

    Who cares what articles have the most comments? I want to know what’s being commented on today.

    — At some point, more active threads should float to the top of the blog, at least on a daily basis. That is, new articles for the day are fine as the top entries, but below that should be the articles that are receiving the most recent activity.

    — Popular (recent comments, not total views) articles should be posted by category: Most active posts in Science; Most active posts in News; Most active posts in Philosophy; and so on.

    — For Pete’s sake, let people edit their posts for a 5 minute window after submission in order to fix grammar, spelling, and link errors.

    All that said, the content is good for search indexing and ranking. Thanks to those who labor to keep things interesting, both authors and commenters. Now get cracking.

  13. 13
    CannuckianYankee says:

    Mung and MI

    Great development. Mung, you must be rich 😉

    MI, I like your brief analysis. Sometimes the threads that have the most comments are such because of the importance of the discussion. I think as long as a thread is open to discussion and it’s popular, it should remain easily accessible.

    But I really think that the organization into separate blogs will be more practical, because some of the posts that get no response are still valuable in content. Many of those posts don’t get much response because there’s nothing really to discuss – the OP itself has laid it all out.

    Also, I think Ms. O’Leary is doing a fine job in finding relevant material in the news for discussion. She seems to be quite busy. If there was more organization as I suggest, she really could have her own blog here – with news, information and commentary.

    VJT and Barry, KF, Gil et al are doing a fine job of providing discussion on the philosophical implications of ID from various perspectives – notice that VJT and KF both come from differing religious backgrounds, and I think that this diversity is important. But without some kind of organization, we will continue to receive outside complants that all we ever talk about is religion, so ID must be religious. If they were to separate the technical/scientific discussion from the philosophical discussion, outsiders will find it more difficult to make that charge.

    And those providing technical/scientific discussion – most of the names I’ve already mentioned, and others – will be better equipped to relate information within that area of discussion – keeping it accessible so that discussions can be more informative and relevant with what’s been previously discussed. That way MathGirl won’t have to go to an outside blog to keep the discussion going (or perhaps to avoid us?) 😉

  14. 14
    Mung says:

    Great development. Mung, you must be rich

    I spend all my time on UD instead of out shopping! 🙂

    I hereby leave all my worldly possessions to Uncommon Descent if Jesus comes back in the year 2015.

    If Jesus comes back in 2014 they only get half. The rest is to be given to the Jesus Has Already Returned Foundation.

  15. 15
    Mung says:

    So how much support in the New Testament, if any, is there for the claim that the end is far off?

    So you also must be patient. Establish your hearts [strengthen and confirm them in the final certainty], for the coming of the Lord is very near. (James 5:8)

    I guess James could have been wrong. I guess this might not be the apostle James. I guess whoever the author was he could have calculated the date of the end from some obscure Old Testament texts where certain numbers are multiplied by various obscure “prophetic constant.”

    “The end is far off” is the exact opposite of the message proclaimed throughout the entire New Testament.

  16. 16
    Mung says:

    We have been criticized by some of our readers for whipping up hysteria about the end of the world. Our intent is the exact opposite: we want to dampen the level of panic. We hope that by listing many dozens of past predictions all of which have failed, people will realize that some very prominent individuals have been consistently wrong when they predicted the end of the world. End of the world predictions have been common throughout Christianity and other religions for almost 2000 years. Thus, the public has little to fear from prophets who predict a particular date for the world’s end.
    here

    “The-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it” prophecies

  17. 17
    Mung says:

    “15 failed predictions of the
    end of the world during 2006”

    Say it isn’t so.

  18. 18
    Mung says:

    More end of the world prophecies that didn’t come to pass:

    http://www.bible.ca/rapture.htm

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