Technological advancement will bring artificial intelligence and cheap energy.
This will bring limitless wealth, and drive down the cost of producing pretty much everything and put pretty much everyone out of a job.
Therefore governments should provide stipends to everyone so they can do whatever they want.
All of which sounds wonderful. But there may be some fundamental dysfunction baked into this vision of technocratic utopia. This statement by Altman suggests rather a technocratic myopia:
“People pay a lot for a great education now, but you can become expert level on most things by looking at your phone.”
Exactly which fields of study could one reach expert level via a smart phone? Neuroscience? Biochemistry? Mathematics? Structural Engineering? Linguistics? Philosophy? Religion?
One of the bothersome aspects of some technocrats’ visions of the future is the apparent shallow appreciation for subjects beyond the range of their expertise. Perhaps this would not be a problem if learning was merely the collecting of oversimplified and trivial facts, unencumbered by connection to any real context. Or at least, whatever such info-bits content providers choose to serve up.
But as it happens, most of the really important stuff requires too much mental bandwidth and breadth of experience to fit on a three or four-inch screen.
The non-profit publisher Crossway is releasing what they are describing as a “permanent” English biblical translation. I am having some difficulty with what I think I hear them saying:
“Beginning in the summer of 2016, the text of the ESV Bible will remain unchanged—in the same way that the King James Version (KJV) has remained unchanged ever since the final KJV text was established almost 250 years ago (in 1769). Thus, all present and future editions of the ESV reprinted and published by Crossway will contain the Permanent Text of the ESV Bible—throughout the life of the copyright, in perpetuity. This means that current readers of the ESV Bible—as well as their children and grandchildren—will be able to read, study, and memorize the ESV unchanged for generations to come.”
Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed has some issues with the translation details. I am not qualified to speak to his points as I don’t read any ancient languages. My issue is at the conceptual level, with the notion of “permanent.” Perhaps Crossway means they intend no further revisions. But the way the King James Version is referenced suggests the English Standard Version will need no further revisions. I hope I am misunderstanding this.
Permanent translations of anything are in principle impossible. It really doesn’t matter whether we are talking about Paul’s letters to the Corinthians or Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War. Language itself is not permanent.
Linguists use a concept known as “drift” to describe the impermanence. Words come in and out of usage. Sounds and pronunciations change. Meanings shift. Syntax changes. I am told that use of writing slows this process down but does not eliminate it. Which means writing that is “…unchanged for generations to come…” will become unintelligible to those generations, and rather quickly. Writing from the 19th century is already hard going for most modern readers. Think about how many people you know that have actually read works by Herman Melville or Alexandre Dumas.
If it were not for linguistic drift, English readers could still use the King James or Geneva bibles. The texts could be cleaned up with current manuscript discoveries and they would good to go. But since Crossway is presenting us with the permanent ESV those translations apparently were not sufficiently permanent.
The goal of translating any ancient text ought to be to make the original sense of that text available to a modern reader. It really doesn’t matter whether that ancient text was written by Aristophanes or the Apostle Paul.
As it happens, the Koine Greek of New Testament is not the Classical Greek of Aristophanes, Homer, and Plato. It eventually developed into the court and liturgical language in the Byzantine empire but its origin was the everyday marketplace Greek of the Hellenistic world. A good bit of the New Testament was likely oral composition in this very ordinary language, dictated to an actual writer. It was then likely read out loud, to be heard and understood by groups of very ordinary people.
The problem for us modern ordinary people is that we lack the linguistic and cultural context of the ancient audiences. Translation and the teaching and preaching that accompany it ought to be helping us engage that context, and hear what those ordinary people heard. Without that help we are apt to read our own linguistic and cultural contexts back into the text. And hear something quite different from what the author intended to communicate.
This is why linguistic drift is relevant. Language shifts in meaning and our understanding of it is tethered to an advancing present. And the shift will inevitably decouple our present understanding from the fixed written meaning anchored in an increasingly distant past. Which means the success of any translation in accurately supporting a reader’s understanding of an ancient context is only temporary at best.
And an update.
It doesn’t appear to have taken Crossway very long to reverse course and and apparently drop the idea of “permanent.” The text quoted above has been dropped and the following is from a statement by the publisher:
“Our goal at Crossway remains as strong as ever to serve future generations with a stable ESV text. But the means to that goal, we now see, is not to establish a permanent text but rather to allow for ongoing periodic updating of the text to reflect the realities of biblical scholarship such as textual discoveries or changes in English over time.”
I am surprised it took a bit of controversy (see article) to figure out that inevitable changes in the language might be one factor necessitating updates to the translation.
But I’m neither a translator or a linguist so what do I know?
 There is also a matter of shrinking attention spans that impacts on this, as well (see Eighteen Minutes). But the linguistic drift likely makes the attention issue harder to overcome.
 There are several probable reference to an author’s use of a writer in the New Testament (known in the ancient world as an amanuensis): Romans 16:22, 1 Corinthians 16:21, Colossians 4:18, 2 Thessalonians 3:16, 1 Peter 5:12, and Galatians 6:11.
The practice is likely to have been far more wide-spread than is first apparent, even among the literate, which St. Paul clearly was. We are the children of the printing press and formatted text — our modern text-saturated culture really has no sense of the cognitive demands of writing and reading in the ancient world. For a related discussion see this earlier post.
I’ve watched a bit of TED and there’s been quite a lot of good stuff on it. As I’ve noted previously, the format of TED successfully makes use of the shrunken attention spans of modern culture. But the packaging that makes TED work also suggests its effectiveness has very little to do with the actual content.
With that in mind, here’s a bit of Canadian satire from Pat Kelly of This is That. It’s about how to inspire people and say nothing at all:
There is a very good chance that you could take any given TED talk, flip the content so it says the opposite of the original, and the audience engagement would be just as high.
Skeptics ridicule the truth of the Christian message because of the discontinuity they see between Christian belief and behavior. They may have a point. Modern Christianity seems grounded in cognitive experience, more or less anchored by formal theologies expressing ethics governing what we think and how we behave. The problem is that what we think often gets compartmentalized from how we behave.
We claim a transformative power but we seem to end up with a faith that seems to be mostly a matter of rules and propositional truth. It might help to step back a bit from our arguments with skeptics and think about what faith actually is. A book review by Kate Cooper recently caught my attention, in which she profiled Roman Faith and Christian Faith, by Teresa Morgan.
The review describes our primarily cognitive and ethical treatment of faith as anachronistic. In contrast, “…ancient moral writers tended to think of faith in the relational sense of trust, allegiance, and loyalty.” Cooper quotes from Morgan’s book, anchoring faith in an ancient context of “‘an exercise of trust which involves heart, mind, and action’”.
I am looking forward reading the book to engage the historical context the book promises for the New Testament. It seems to square with my recent reading of Roman history and Roman authors. But what Cooper calls modern faith might also have some quite ancient roots, courtesy of the Hellenic culture diffused across the Mediteranean and eastward following Alexander’s conquests.
Hellenism was under-girded by a world of ideas incubated in the life of the polis, or the Greek city-state. The clearest biblical connection with this was Paul’s encounter with Athenian aristocracy at Mars Hill, when they brought Paul from the marketplace where he was preaching. They wanted to hear his unfamiliar ideas and proclamations of a foreign god, and to consider them within the business of the polis.
But the problem with this Greek world of ideas was its functional isolation. The city-states which gestated Hellenism were stratified into fairly rigid divisions between the activities of citizens (men), women, immigrants and their descendants, freedmen, and slaves. In the classical period citizens were the only ones who could own houses or land, or participate in public life and in the governance of the city. What this participation actually looked like might vary with the city but most of the actual work to support it was performed by someone other than citizens.
The result was that the Greek world of ideas was structurally disconnected from the practical and everyday. The intellectual heritage of the Western World owes a great deal to the ancient Greeks. But we may also owe them a tendency toward cooking down truth as a matter of bare cognition, separated from the activities of everyday life.
This does not mean faith operates in some sort of intellectual vacuum. Something must be true, and over the centuries Christians have done a fair bit of philosophy to engage this. But we used to also recognize that the truth statements within Christian creeds were never wholly reducible to propositions.
Unfortunately, some of our fine-grained modern theologies seem to do just that, resulting in a theoretical faith where the ethical content never reaches very far. It is a faith that has become very much like the philosophy of the ancient Greeks: positions to think about but that are mostly sectioned off from the ordinary day-to-day. And on those occasions we actually do drag them out of their boxes they are so wholly odds with that day-to-day as to discredit any message about Jesus.
It is a modern variant of something James was addressing in his letter to Jewish Christians dispersed throughout the ancient world. He nails this in his discussion of faith and works (James 2:14-19).
What I have been told by someone who actually reads Greek is that the words translated as “faith” and “believe” in English are really noun and verb forms of the same expansive word, encompassing a both a belief in the truth of something, as well as a far broader sense of trust and dependence concerning the fidelity of someone. The way the Greek word is heard depends on the context. James 2:19 is commonly translated in English as “believe,” and the context suggests a paraphrase:
You accept the truth that God is one. You do well. The demons also accept this and shudder.
A faith restricted to the cognitive and ethical can easily become a faith of bare facts — the faith of the demons.
In the preceding text, 2:14-18, the Greek word is commonly translated as “faith.” The context suggests something very different from 2:19.
And this difference would have been understood quite clearly by any Roman hearing the reading of James’ letter. The Romans who spread with their empire had some critical cultural differences from the Greeks of the city-states. Immigrants to Rome often became citizens, and sometimes this included freed slaves and their descendants. As Mary Beard has unpacked in SPQR, this making of immigrants and thousands of slaves into citizens is a major part of what enabled Rome to dominate the ancient world. And in their founding myths “…however far back you go, the inhabitants of Rome were always already from somewhere else.”
As a matter of clarification I don’t want to convey any impression that this meant empire and the associated making of slaves was a good thing. It was not. A slave in a Roman mine was unlikely to live very long. And Romans were probably as exploitative, xenophobic and ethnocentric as anyone else.
But the point is that the Roman social stratification was somewhat less rigid than in a Greek city-state. It was more interconnected, with citizens bound together in patron-client relationships of mutual obligation. Roman citizenship did not inherently insulate everyday citizens from activities with outsiders, or from otherwise doing the everyday business of Rome. Ordinary Romans proudly put their ordinary occupations on their tombstones. And landless Roman wage laborers might find themselves working on the same project alongside of Roman slaves.
For the Romans hearing a reading of James’ letter, truth did not stand in a vacuum devoid of the business of everyday life. The context of James 2:14-18 would have been understood in the sense of fides, what Cooper’s review identifies as encompassing “trust, allegiance, and loyalty.” Romans were accustomed to the sense of fides as found inscribed on coins and worshiped as a minor deity. It conveyed as sense of reliability, such as in the trust between two parties.
It is what a Roman would have heard when the Greek pistis was translated in Latin. In the ancient world these words appear to have been mutually intelligible. What we commonly translate as “faith” might possibly be heard like this by an ancient Roman:
Show me your trust, allegiance and loyalty, without works, and I will show you my trust, allegiance, and loyalty, by my works.
Our most common response to skeptics is to reach for some form of apologetic. Perhaps the proper response would be to recover a more ancient sense of faith.
In the course of our recent Netflix binging my wife and I started watching Peaky Blinders. This is a BBC television series set in post-WWI Birmingham, England, and is centered around the activities of a street gang for which the series is named. What the gang actually looked like is debated but the name is said to originate in the style of cap and a practice of sewing in razor blades to create an improvised weapon. It’s an intriguing story and the core conflict in the first season is between the leader of the gang and a police detective who intends to stamp the thing out, by any means necessary.
But as of the fifth episode we are done. The issue for us was the simulated sex. I wrote about this last year after reading about interviews with actresses Dakota Johnson (here) and Rosamund Pike (here), following the release of movies referenced in the interviews.
It is one thing to set up or imply an affair and it is possible to argue as a matter of taste about the specifics of how this is depicted. But the problem with physically simulating the sex itself is that calling it mere acting places the issue in a hair-splitting and artificial frame. This framing comes from what happens on a film set being a fairly mechanical process; a good bit is about tricks involving camera angles, pillows, and strategic cover-ups that are intended to protect the dignity of the participants*. Or so the argument goes and some of the production might be merely that. But two partially (or mostly) naked people making out in direct physical contact IS sex, and artificially isolating the process from actual arousal and coitus doesn’t make it anything else. We’ve just gotten so used to this over the last several decades that we can no longer see it for what it is.
At some point this contact places the performers inside of boundaries that ought to be crossed only in healthy relationships between consenting adults. And what I would like to suggest is that the relational wreckage strewn throughout the film business at least in part attests to the results of treating those boundaries like they don’t exist. At a cultural level we can quibble over what such healthy relationships might actually entail, and no, you can’t draw a straight line between cause and effect. But the functional context is an industry that simply ignores the matter to turn a profit. This seems like the textbook definition of exploitation and we’re just blind to that.
So let’s reset the production with appropriate strategic angles and coverings, and make it a stage play. Oh, and bring a phone with a decent camera.
Harvard historian Karen L. King ignited a controversy at a 2012 conference in Rome when she presented a papyrus fragment which appeared to refer to Jesus’ wife. An article in the July/August 2016 Atlantic details a subsequent investigation into the fragment’s provenance:
“A hotly contested, supposedly ancient manuscript suggests Christ was married. But believing its origin story—a real-life Da Vinci Code, involving a Harvard professor, a onetime Florida pornographer, and an escape from East Germany—requires a big leap of faith.” Source: Did Jesus Have a Wife? – The Atlantic
An interview with the Boston Globe echoed the Atlantic article. King has acknowledged that material given to her in support of the fragment’s provenance appears to have been fabricated. And King’s source has denied forging the papyrus or any knowledge regarding its authenticity.
It is possible that the fragment might be an old fraud. But King clearly believes she has been lied to (see follow up Atlantic column), so this seems unlikely.
The article is quite long but well worth reading. It lays out the anatomy of what increasingly appears to be an elaborate deception. In fairness King never ruled out the possibility of fabrication. But I am not an academic so I really don’t understand why the document was presented publicly in the first place, given the very large blank space where the provenance ought to have been. The scholarship is summarized by the Harvard Divinity School here.
The most effective deceptions are indirect. The perpetrator presents a fragmentary context buttressed primarily by misdirection and a few strategic lies. The core falsehood is misstated, as if the con artist doesn’t actually believe it, and is trusting the mark to help sort the matter out. It helps if the deception fits into something the mark really wants to believe. Then the mark is allowed to fill the very substantial blanks with whatever facts and opinions may happen to fit.
And even otherwise knowledgeable people get sucked in.
I am really wondering how there could be such a thing as explicitly “Christian” economics. I bumped into this question in a blog where the writer, Roger Olson, surveyed major strains of economic thought in the context of distributive justice and gave examples of prominent Christian proponents. But what especially caught my eye was this assertion:
Every Christian church ought to be an “intentional Christian community” that practices distributive justice within itself by making sure no member suffers from loss or lack of goods needed to live a life of well-being and no member hoards wealth above and beyond what is needed for a comfortable life of well-being.
This idea has some resonance. The modern church in our materialistic culture pretty much ignores John’s question highlighting the discontinuity between indifference to need and the love of God . But I don’t think you can get at this by adopting the lens of a societal-level political idea. Thinking about the organization of society and looking from this to the behavior of the Church is looking through the wrong end of the telescope.
Christians should think about organization, economics and politics. But the problem is that broad concepts necessarily spawn structures and mechanisms to implement them. But the process of organization grows the structures into institutions. Institutions leverage our influence and can accomplish a lot of good. But the under-girding organization also create routines that channel thinking in terms of resource allocation and who reports to whom. Which means using the wrong end of the telescope can result in the conflation of Christian practice with functional processes and societal norms.
This happens because the systems of organization used will inevitably tend to reinforce certain personal traits and behaviors at the expense of others. Some of these will be negative and the flavor will vary with the nature of the system. And sooner or later one or more of the negative traits will inevitably come to serve the self-interest of the leadership. Once this happens the processes for advancement and retention will start to advantage people with those negative traits.
Which, for example, is why authoritarian systems accumulate sycophants, and part of why corporate systems become fodder for Dilbert cartoons. As organizational growth weakens mechanisms that hold people accountable, a feedback loop forms that favors the selection of leaders who benefit in some way from their subordinates’ misbehavior. This reinforcing effect is the same, whether the system is used by a government, a business, or a church.
To be clear, we need organization. Forming institutions increase the reach of what groups of people can accomplish. But the ethics of the individuals in the institutions are the key. It is the only way to fight the tendency for organization to aggregate human vice and frailty. Otherwise, before we know it, the organizational forms in the institutions we’ve created allow the broader culture to colonize our faith.
The tendency of organization to aggregate our weaknesses suggests that creating explicitly Christian economics might be impossible in principle. My suspicion is that we might be better served by concentrating on the Christian ethic governing our personal behavior. This ethic ought to inform both how we treat others both inside and outside the church, also ought to inform how we interact with whatever economic system we happen to find ourselves in, including whatever systemic evils it might bring. It is the other end of the telescope.
New Testament writers seem zeroed in on this personal ethic, as is apparent in Paul’s letter to Philemon:
I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart…
…perhaps this is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother…(Philemon 10-15, Revised Standard Version)
Some Protestant pastors and theologians in the 19th century clearly used the wrong end of the telescope in relation to this passage. They started from the standpoint of their culture and as a result stood the text on its head, and turned it into the “Pauline Mandate” for slavery. The intellectual gymnastics used to achieve this are baffling, but the results are a clear image of what results from the conflation of social and economic norms with what Christians ought to do.
It is impossible to know why Onesimus was with Paul. A traditional interpretation is that he was a runaway. But the lack of any reference by Paul to the customary harsh treatment of escaped slaves argues against that. It is more probable that he was sent for some now unknown reason. Slaves in the Greco-Roman world were viewed as tools and the owner clearly didn’t think much of this particular one. Paul’s use of “beloved brother,” however, says absolutely nothing about the formal relationship of master and slave. It is wholly focused on personal behavior, to the probable discomfort of Philemon. We have no record of how Philemon actually responded, but the preservation of the personal letter argues in favor of some fundamental changes.
Such changes make us uncomfortable. It is actually easier to think about Christianity in the context of big ideas of the broader culture. We would much rather blame whatever system we are in, rather than engage our personal behavior within it.
Rawls was an American political and ethical philosopher, whose major work was A Theory of Justice (1971), a defense of egalitarian liberalism which contained arguments later revised in Political Liberalism (1993). A decent overview of his thought is available here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rawls/.
His thought was highly influential and I’ve found it attractive. But his fairness theory is in part dependent on an idea about free, equal, reasonable citizens who can agree to cooperate at the expense of their own interests. My reservations about this, however, originate in a career that involved significant contact with the public. I have met very few people whose real-world behavior suggests they might be able to act in a way that supports Rawls’ ideals. Most folks just don’t seem to have that much give in them when in conflict over their interests.
 “…if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” I John 3:17
There is an odd bit of gangland slang that was popularized in the late 1980s where bystanders hit by stray bullets were referred to as “mushrooms.” They “popped up” in the line of fire. At the time the actual incidence appeared to be relatively low[*] but there was justifiable public outrage over the apparent disregard for the innocent.
Callousness was an obvious dominant factor in the shooter’s mental framework. But the bystanders didn’t just wink in out of nowhere. They were already standing where the shooters were spraying their bullets. Which suggests the slang might point to a more broadly applicable feature of conflict. It might be very difficult for the combatants to recognize who else their wrath might injure besides the intended targets.
One of the things that I was taught during a prior career in law enforcement was that, in an armed confrontation, the officer “tunnels in” on whatever is perceived as the immediate physical threat. This results from the flood of “fight or flight” hormones dumped into the bloodstream. It is a normal physiological response which prioritizes energy and focus toward the immediate danger. It is hard-wired and was appropriate when the threat was a large predator on the savanna. But the response is not appropriate when the confrontation involves firearms and innocent civilians. So officers are trained (at least in theory) to think about their surroundings in spite of the adrenaline dump, and this includes maintaining a conscious awareness about whoever else might be standing in the line of fire.
This physiological response to threat is also not appropriate in our personal relationships. Conflicts are inevitable. But they also cause stress. Some stress is helpful if handled properly and it pushes us to seek resolution or accommodation. But chronic, destructive, or otherwise mishandled conflict is another matter.
Most of us deal with conflict using whatever strategies we absorbed growing up, coupled with whatever our personalities tend toward. And when things get out of hand the escalating stress levels are likely to lessen our awareness of another’s welfare, making it easy to cross lines and start doing harm. If this happens we will probably lose track of the bystanders.
Severely dysfunctional parents might be an example at the extremes. Over the years I’ve had quite a few casual chance conversations with acquaintances who were separating from a spouse. The welfare of the kids seldom came up. If children were mentioned at all, it was usually in the context of legal wrangles over money, property, visitation and custody. The rest of the conversation was all about the intolerable behavior of this other person.
It seems that once the parents are tunneled in on warfare with each other they no longer see their children. It’s not that the parents intend harm. But somewhere during the course of the chronic personal warfare and the divorce they lost track of the kids.
To be clear, some divorces are inevitable and most parents do consider their children. But when they cease to seek the welfare of each other the stress levels rise, and one or both parents risk not being able to see the bystanders. Particularly if malice has taken hold, or if one of the participants happens to be toying with trading up to a more interesting bed-mate. The effect on the children is at this point is no longer a matter of conscious thought. Conflict metastasizes into open warfare and what ought to be a bit of heaven turns into something else entirely.
What happens in families is probably true of most social groups. Churches are unlikely to be any different. I’ve attended a church of one type or another for as long as I can remember. And a common features of group conflicts seems to be that at least some of participants appeared completely insensitive to the effects of the conflict on those not directly involved. They seemed unable to grasp the damage from the relational shrapnel scattered by their warfare. The nature of the conflict appeared irrelevant; it seemed not to matter whether the conflict was doctrinal, leadership, over programs, or just driven by personality. The broader effects of the conflict seem beyond the range of conscious thought.
Christians ought to be better at this. Conflict is inevitable. Sometimes it’s necessary. But if the welfare of our fellow combatants is not part of our thinking we are apt to mishandle the dispute. We either escalate, or dig in and nurse grudges, turning what ought to be a bit of heaven into something else. The rising stress levels that result will make it hard to pay attention to those not involved, particularly the young and the weak.
And heaven becomes a free fire zone with bystanders in the way.
[*] Lawrence W. Sherman, Leslie Steele, Deborah Laufersweiler, Nancy Hoffer, Sherry A. Julian. Stray bullets and “Mushrooms”: Random shootings of bystanders in four cities, 1977-1988 Journal of Quantitative Criminology, December 1989, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 297-316 http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF01062556
We like the idea that someone else is out there. Someone intelligible to us. The crowded, fictive universes of Star Wars and Star Trek are fun to imagine. They are also easy to imagine, possibly in part be because of the influence of the mediocrity principle, which has been rattling about in modern cosmology for some time. A simple way to think about mediocrity is that if you are on a walk and pick up a random rock, it is apt to be of a common type. For extra-terrestrial life this means that because we happen to be here, complex life is likely to exist on lots of other earth-like planets.
Not so fast. A recent Discover Magazine article suggests something different:
A model of the universe predicts the universe holds some 700 quintillion planets, but none like Earth.
The idea that our particular type of world might be rare is not new. As Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee suggested over a decade ago, there really is quite a laundry list of things that have to happen to make a place suitable for complex life. Microorganisms can live in some really nasty places (including possibly the oceans of Saturn’s icy moons). But not much else.
And if we do share the cosmos with someone else they might be too far away to ever know about. It is really hard to grasp just how far away celestial objects actually are. The roughly ten thousand years of human history (settlement and agriculture) is a statistical blip when distances are measured in thousands, tens of thousands, and hundreds of thousands of light years. By the time an electromagnetic signal from another civilization is received and responded to our own may be long dead.
So far we have not heard from anyone, which was commented on in an Atlantic Monthly article about SETI in 1988. Nothing has changed since then. SETI has been listening to silence for quite a few years now. It’s as if we are the only flea on an elephant. How is that possible?
This idea that we might actually be alone really bothers us. Having killed off belief in God and the immaterial (or at least made it irrelevant) we seem to feel compelled to populate our empty spaces with something. Granted, most of the sci-fi is just good fun — Guardians of the Galaxy was a hoot. But in the last couple decades it seems like there has been rather a lot of it.
And it’s been apocalyptic. The blockbusters all seem to be about someone or some thing trying to end everything and someone else trying to prevent it. And one side (or both) having extraordinary abilities. The perseverance of ordinary people against long odds no longer speaks to us. We want heroes and demi-gods, and we them to ride in and save us from being alone in an anxious world saturated with bad news.
And then some scientist comes along and tells us that no one will be coming. That we really are the only flea on the elephant.
Looking into the vastness of the cosmos by ourselves unsettles us. It gnaws away inside us in a way that has been spoken of before by the writer of Ecclesiastes:
He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end (Ecc. 3:11 NASB).
The Hebrew word translated as “eternity” seems to have the sense of darkness or obscurity. This gnawing inside appears to have been bothering us for a very long time.
 Peter D Ward and Donald Brownlee. Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe. New York: Copernicus, 2000. Print.
 I don’t claim to read Hebrew. This is what I’ve teased out of an interlinear which also referred to it as “eon.” It has also been translated as “ignorance” (NET). I would welcome comment from someone knowledgeable.
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