From the lips of contributors to the online magazine Edge to God's ears (one wonders if She or It may be listening): Asked to respond to the question, "What are you optimistic about?", dozens of scientists and other thinkers have looked ahead to the future. On a Web site that routinely examines atheism, new scientific findings and a realistic view of world events that cuts through all sorts of dogma, some respondents to the "Edge Annual Question 2007" predict that someday religion will finally take a back seat to other ways of looking at and understanding the environments in which people live, work and play.
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Edge's future-themed article is making some news. Britain's Guardian has summarized some of its contributors' thoughts. "Philosopher Daniel Denett believes that, within 25 years, religion will command little of the awe it seems to instill today." Denett believes the "spread of information through the Internet and mobile phones will 'gently, irresistibly, undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance.'"
Oxford University evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins predicts that "the physicists of our species will complete Einstein's dream and discover the final theory of everything before superior creatures, evolved on another world, make contact and tell us the answer." He adds that "although the theory of everything will bring fundamental physics to a convincing closure, the enterprise of physics itself will continue to flourish, just as biology went on growing after Darwin solved its deep problem." Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, feels "optimistic that this final scientific enlightenment will deal an overdue death blow to religion and other juvenile superstitions."
Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker believes that violence in the world is on the decline. He writes: "Most people, sickened by the headlines and the bloody history of the 20th century, find this claim incredible. Yet...every systematic attempt to document the prevalence of violence over centuries and millennia..., particularly in the West, has shown that the overall trend is downward....Anyone who doubts this by pointing to residues of force in America (capital punishment in Texas, Abu Ghraib, sex slavery in immigrant groups, and so on) misses two key points. One is that, statistically, the prevalence of these practices is almost certainly a tiny fraction of what it was in centuries past. The other is that [they] are, to varying degrees, hidden, illegal, condemned, or at the very least (as in the case of capital punishment) intensely controversial....[W]ars and killings are scrutinized and documented, so we are more aware of violence, even when it may be statistically less extensive."
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Among many provocative observations in Edge's wide-ranging survey are those of musician, composer and record producer Brian Eno (David Bowie, U2, Talking Heads). Eno writes: "The currency of conservatism...has been that markets are smarter than governments," a notion that "has reinforced the conservative resistance to anything resembling binding international agreements."
However, Eno notes, the "suggestion that global warming represents a failure of the market is therefore important." Will a phenomenon like the warming trend force governments around the world to finally work together in earnest? If they do, and if "a single[,] first instance of global governance proves successful," Eno argues, "it will strengthen its appeal as a way of addressing other problems - such as weapons control, energy management, money-laundering, conflict resolution, people-trafficking, slavery, and poverty. It will become increasingly difficult for countries [like the U.S.] to stay outside of future treaties like Kyoto - partly because of international pressure but increasingly because of pressure from their own populations."
In his Edge contribution, Eno really does sound optimistic. He also writes: "Something like real democracy (and a fair amount of interim chaos) could be on the horizon. The Internet is catalyzing knowledge, innovation and social change,...proving that there are other models of social and cultural evolution[,] that you don't need centralized, top-down control to produce intelligent results. The bottom-up lesson of Darwinism, so difficult for previous generations, comes more naturally to the current generation. There is a real revolution in thinking going on at all cultural levels...."