I am often astounded at the level of ignorance and scientific illiteracy among many theists. This surprises me because I attended university as an undergraduate with many intelligent Christians who thought somewhat critically and evaluated evidence. Sadly, they do not appear to be the norm.
Many theists – particularly those who can be found on YouTube debating Chris Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Tracie Harris, Matt Dillahunty and others – often seem to fall back upon their holy scriptures and religious privilege as an insulation against having to do the ‘hard yards’: reading, research, evidence-based analysis and nuanced critical thinking. My own conversations are further evidence to me of this common laziness borne of religious privilege and an undeserved veneer of respectability often afforded religious ideas by default.
Using Kalam’s Cosmological Argument is one example. Arguing that things exist, therefore they must have been designed – because you can think of no better explanation – is lazy and intellectually dishonest. It is akin to those who once argued that witches must exist because the world is clearly designed by magic.
Sorry theists, but arguing a faith-based assertion appears to leave your arguments open to lack of evidence or deep reasoning. If you want to proselytise and debate people, then at least have good reasoning behind your arguments.
Below is one example of a ‘discussion’ that I shared earlier this year with some theists who bore academic religious qualifications, and yet appeared unable to think outside of very narrow mindset parameters. I include their comments here (somewhat modified for ethical reasons though the content/intent remains unchanged) because the moderator of the discussion thread appeared to become annoyed with me and suddenly deleted the whole thread – although luckily, I had backed up samples of these discussions.
This portion of the conversation centered around the book ‘God is Not Great’, written by Christopher Hitchens. GA.
= = = =
From Thomas* (*not real name):
Hitchens was very intelligent, but he ignored the obvious evidence of God before his eyes. Looking around, you can see evidence that all furniture, buildings and things were made/designed by a mind. More obviously, all the living things/systems that you can observe (plants, animals, man) are infinitely more complex than these lesser objects – and so if all the lesser things were designed by a mind, the greater systems (living things) must have also required a mind to design them. This Mind we call God. When I read Hitchens’ book as an example of fine literature, I sought to understand the mind of its creator. To think what I read was chance lettering would have been insanely [sic]. I advise you to do the same when looking at the world around you, seek the grand designer. May the good Lord bless your research as you seek the truth.
Response by Geoff:
With respect, what a load of non sequitur baloney. If you propose that increasingly complex things always require a creator, then who created your creator? Was your god created? Who is your god’s god? Was he also in turn created? And does this mean that there is a long ladder of deities, each one complex enough to create everything else further down the ladder? And does your god worship his god, or is he an atheist?
If you want to argue that your god does not need a creator because he is god, then you present a case of special pleading to cover the inherent fatal flaw in your own argument.
You suggest that evidence of some intelligent designer is before our very eyes – if it was that obvious, everyone would see it and believe, in which case faith would be obsolete (faith only exists to prop up a lack of evidence).
It’s time to stop lazy, superstitious thinking – cherry picking false analogies that appear to confirm your own pre-determined ‘facts’ – and to start thinking logically and critically. Physical and biological complexity are explainable through the processes of natural laws: physics, cosmology, biology, etc. If you argue that complexity debunks natural laws, then you don’t understand science.
In using fine literature as an analogy to suggest that the Universe must have been designed by an intelligent designer, you ignore the reality that 99.99999999999999999999999% (repeating decimal) of the Universe is hostile, dangerous and lethal to life as we know it. Your intelligent designer must be lazy, incompetent, incredibly wasteful and negligent, or malicious. Furthermore, your inference that planet Earth is somehow just right for us actually inverts the reality: life evolved on Earth to fit its physical parameters, not the other way around. Another purveyor of fine literature, Doug Adams, wrote the analogy of an intelligent rainwater puddle sitting in a pothole and thinking to itself that the pothole must have been intelligently designed because it was just right for the puddle.
You imply that your imaginary god is the only thing that enables your reading of Hitchens’ book to differentiate between intelligent communication or chance lettering. I submit that science and natural laws are the only thing that differentiate my reading of your writing between the same parameters.
May the ultimate reality of science bless your research and temper your worship of the god of the gaps.
From George* (*not real name):
Like Hitchens, your god is science. You have an arrogant mind to dismiss God. If you truly believe that your ancestors were apes, it’s no wonder that you have tried to rationalize God away. One day, you will stand before God. Are you ready to face your creator?
Response by Geoff:
@George, you are a great ape. Get a Grade 8 science education.
Maybe also do some middle-school debating and learn about false equivalence, straw manning, and other fallacies. Science is a methodology that is predicated upon evidence and rational conclusions; whereas religion is a mindset that is based upon wishful thinking (faith) and ignores its own lack of evidence. The two approaches are not equal, and science is not a religion that requires a deity. Science does not require worship nor veneration; it revels in scepticism and exploration. Your superstitious claim to have ultimate answers is not equal to my attempt at open questioning. We are not the same. Please stop playing the game: “I know I am, but what are you?”
As for your theological threat, I quake no more pondering your imaginary god’s wrath than you do worrying about Zeus or Thor or Quetzelcoatl or Allah or Vishnu or Ra.
Besides, if there were a Judgement Day, I would love the opportunity to castigate a god who (according to your Bible) endorses slavery, the subjugation of women, the murder of adulterers and LGBT people, and for whom people with eyeglasses or disability or tattoos are unfit to be in his presence. What a disgusting, stone age monster.
But on Judgement Day, perhaps you can ask him why he invented COVID, Black Plague, childhood cancer, smallpox, HIV/AIDS, earthquakes, the 2004 Asian tsunami, botfly and Cancrum Oris. Not to mention his genocide of the world in the Noah’s Ark story. Some perfect designer he turned out to be. I could never worship a deity who has killed more people than Hitler and Atilla the Hun combined. Cheers.
“They say in Heaven love comes first
We’ll make Heaven a place on Earth.”
Belinda Carlisle, ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’, MCA, 1987,
Written by Rick Nowels and Ellen Shipley.
About fifty years ago, I was a geeky (and closeted gay) teenager living in a family that identified as members of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. My father was an elder, and my mother – although equally intelligent and capable – was consigned to women’s duties that were deemed to be fitting given the church’s sexist attitudes. Dad was involved in the discussions between elders of three churches at the time: Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists – who ultimately agreed to form a new church, the Uniting Church in Australia.
I recall Dad expressing frustration over the many meetings that he attended as part of these talks. He recounted arguments by those debating what would happen to expensive church property after the merger, for example: would individual churches keep the property and revenue from private schools, or would these resources be merged and shared?
Often, questions about sharing money were asked in ways that would appeal to the better angels of their nature: “What would Jesus want?”
But the common response was more cynical about keeping it for themselves: “Jesus has nothing to do with this.” – A reply that frustrated my somewhat idealistic father.
Even though I was still a young lad, I also found such hypocritical selfishness to be disillusioning to my naive childhood faith. Here were people publicly proclaiming their belief in a religious figure who, for them, represented lofty ideals – but when it came to walking the walk, they turned away from his principles. Five decades later, I see the same hypocrisy in many religious people today: televangelists, megachurches, homophobes and transphobes, cathedrals dripping with opulence while beggars starve in the streets outside. And their homes – like their hearts and minds – so often remain fortified and insulated against welcoming strangers and sharing their abundance.
This lack of hospitality created another philosophical quandary in my young life – religious folk proclaiming that sodomy was homosexuality and therefore an abomination; whereas the Bible itself explicitly explains the abomination of Sodom: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” – Ezekiel 16:49 (ESV). How many religious people gorge themselves upon their promiscuous materialism and overflowing cups of plenty, while refusing to extend little more than tokenistic breadcrumbs of hospitality to the stranger, the refugee, or the homeless – thereby practicing the true sin of Sodom? By contrast, how few of them open their empty megachurch buildings at night, offering their sanctuaries to those seeking sanctuary? Or donating spare rooms in their manses or parishioners’ homes to those needing shelter from the storms of life? Or gift lovingkindness to victims of domestic violence? Open their hearts and homes and families to members of our wider human family?
Such blindness to their own ethical double standards, and their willingness to seek scapegoats by blaming LGBT+ people for imaginary sins as a distraction, helped to sow the seeds of doubt in my young mind regarding the ethics of religion.
Any philosophy that presumes to explore profundity, deep meaning, or significant cosmic consequence, should concentrate on important matters instead of intellectual detritus. Even today, whenever I walk past a religious street peddler who is distributing religious tracts to passersby, I want to ask them (as I wanted to ask them when I was ten years old): why aren’t they using their time and resources to feed the poor or save lives?
Do theists want to prove their god exists? Then they should go out there and change the world. Stop navel gazing and self-indulgent debating of meaningless rhetoric. Stop showing off your imaginary piety on street corners or from the top of pulpits; get out and walk the walk. Feed the poor. Solve poverty and inequality and systemic injustice. Cure cancer and HIV and a hundred other medical problems. Abolish guns and cluster bombs and nuclear weapons. Resettle sixty million refugees. Solve anthropogenic climate catastrophe. Educate people out of their racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, cultural white supremacy and tribalism, and their worship of gluttonous capitalism. Provide universal shelter and safety. Establish a universal basic income. Provide free and universal education and health care. And what about the orphans and widows and prisoners?
Tear down the divide between western society and the so-called ‘developing world’ – a form of apartheid that is more global than the Berlin Wall, more genocidal than Hitler or Atilla the Hun, and more unethical than the white supremacist attitudes that permitted a division between slaves and slavers.
Build a better world today instead of waiting for some imaginary afterlife. It is not only immoral to ignore the approximately 14,000 children under five who die every day, but it is also akin to people in the 1930s who looked away and chose not to see the Holocaust happening before their eyes. You say you are pro-life? Then get out there and stop killing people through your wilful neglect.
Instead of waiting for some presumed miracle from elsewhere, work hard to be that miracle here and now, today. Be the answer to your own prayers or aspirations. Whatever higher ethical principle you claim to follow, let that principle live today in your life and works.
None of these actions will, in themselves, go one splinter towards providing evidence that a god actually exists, but they will help to demonstrate that maybe a form of heaven is possible, and that maybe certain ethics and aspirations are worthy of some consideration. Are theists promoting a culture that worships death, or one that promotes life, and a more abundant one at that?
These same questions could also be asked of atheists and humanists.
With thanks to David McKinlay, who co-wrote portions of this blog article.
“We are Mankind. We came from planet Earth, and we built this base, called Alpha, to learn more about space. But human error blasted this Moon out of the Earth’s orbit. And so, we have travelled the Universe searching for a place to live. Now, we can no longer live here, and we go to face an uncertain future on the planet that has nearly destroyed us. You, whoever you are, who find this empty vessel of Alpha, come and seek us out, if we still exist. Come and teach us all you know. Because, we have learned many things, but most of all, we have learned we still have much to learn.”
– Professor Victor Bergman (‘War Games‘)
Following the recent anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, another space anniversary takes place on 28 July – but this one is more subdued and less noteworthy in world history. It is actually a cultural anniversary rather than a scientific one.
On 28 July 1975, the TV series Space:1999 had its world debut on Channel HSV 7 in Melbourne, Australia. More episodes followed in the subsequent six months – with others following a year later, during the end-of-year non-ratings period – making this the first TV run of the show anywhere in the world.
If I recall correctly, Channel 7 began showing the series with a great publicity fanfare, which quickly declined into a muted, almost embarrassed, irregular, semi-weekly telecast, and I presume that this change was because of lower audience ratings than expected. Football or other (more popular?) programs often began to pre-empt weekly telecasts of Space:1999, which caused teenaged me to write a letter of outraged protest to ‘TV WEEK’ magazine complaining that: “In 55 weeks they [Channel 7] have shown 18 episodes”. (Oops, my inner nerd is showing!)
This disappointing response in Australia served as a refutation of the promise of the series, which boasted an extraordinarily exorbitant budget: “…the highest budget for an hour series [ITV] has ever committed in 20 years of production… the highest budget for a space science fiction series in the history of television.” (Heald, 1976, 22); while Anderson historian Chris Bentley estimates the budget for the first season at £3 million, or £125,000 per episode – part funded by RAI from Italy (Bentley, 2003, 125).
Possibly because of its high-quality production values, the series has enjoyed a small but loyal fan following over the last five decades. I even recall in the 1990s there was ‘Gaybase Alpha’, a LGBT+ fan club for the series over the Internet (although I find this puzzling because no character in the show was ever LGBT+). Space: 1999 conventions and fan clubs continue to operate in Europe – perhaps reflective of the series’ Anglo-Italian roots.
The Human Adventure
Series co-creator Gerry Anderson was a humanist with a long string of successful TV shows to his resume, including Thunderbirds, UFO and Captain Scarlet, all of which featured humans using their technological and inner resources to save others from dangers. Fellow humanists Rod Serling and Gene Roddenberry helped to create and shaped popular TV science fiction (and accompanying attitudes) in the era of the space race. In exploring the human condition, Serling liked to challenge audiences with questions in the Twilight Zone; and Roddenberry liked to include characters in Star Trek or other adventures who were search of their creator (Nomad, Questor, Data, V’Ger, and others). In the post-Apollo world, Anderson liked to encourage philosophical reflection by role modelling humans batting against problems and striving to help their fellow human. His then-wife and production partner, Sylvia, worked with him to add many creative touches to enhance the programs and add depth to the humanity of many of their fictitious characters, particularly strong women.
Between them all, science fiction points the way to a future that is not necessarily a happy future, but a hopeful one.
Space: 1999 echoes the optimism of the 1960s and the artistic products of that time, especially in the visual arts, but it was full of visual effects to fill out hollow scripts. In one sense, it is a humanist series, but at the same time the technology dominates the product. The general thrust is about humanity, but this is sublimated to the production values. There is more humanity and drama in many episodes of U.F.O. (the previous Anderson series) than anything within Space: 1999 – episodes from UFO like A Question of Priorities or Confetti Check A-OK for example – where Straker has to make the agonising decisions about saving his son’s life or his marriage. By contrast, the characters in Space:1999 were so poorly written that critics often invoked the Anderson’s previous TV work with puppets by suggesting that the Space: 1999 characters “were so wooden, you could almost see the strings”.
A Testament from Arkadia
“I have an incredible faith in the human spirit.” – John Koenig (‘War Games‘).
Bertolt Brecht is credited with observing that: “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” The TV series Space:1999 echoed its era as a way of proposing a future borne of resilience and fortitude. The series was created in the afterglow of the Apollo Moon landings (hence the ubiquitous space craft in the series being named Eagles after the Apollo 11 Eagle lunar module, which landed Armstrong and Aldrin on the Moon in 1969); and the show’s character Alan Carter and his team of astronauts used their fictitious Eagles to fight dangers, provide rescue, and transport others as deemed necessary or vital for survival. The 1970s were also an era of looking expectantly to the future in which it was envisaged that by the year 1999, there would be Hilton hotels in space, space colonies, and bases on the Moon and Mars.
The series was set in Moonbase Alpha, in the lunar crater Plato – and fittingly, the show explored philosophical as well as scientific ideas. The series boasted world-class quality in almost everything: actors, sets, costumes, music, stories, and special effects (including pre-CGI models).
The show was effective and inspiring in portraying the grandeur of the universe. Its philosophical themes abounded: one episode presented a cosmological entity within a black hole; another gave a space age reboot to the legend of Saint George and the Dragon (an episode that appears to have not been shown during the initial Australian TV run of the series, presumably due to the content of that episode being judged as unsuitable for children). The final episode of season 1 even explored our cosmological or metaphysical origins as a species, harking back to the mythology of ancient Greece in The Testament of Arkadia. The problem with such themes was trying to plausibly marry the scientific with the superstitious. But it was a noble attempt. Space: 1999 fans document the sentiment from the episode Dragon’s Domain:
Dr. Helena Russell: John, if we ever do find a new place to live, and if we succeed, we’re going to need a whole new mythology.
Cmdr. John Koenig: Tony Cellini and the Monster?
Dr. Helena Russell: George and the Dragon sounds pretty flat until you know the story.
Cmdr. John Koenig: This story is part of our history now, Helen. I think Tony will be very happy to know he put new life into an old myth.
Meanwhile, in our real world, as humans plan their return to the Moon aboard Artemis, what new mythology or inspiration will we create? We might learn from the example of Moonbase Commander John Koening who faced seemingly insurmountable difficulties in the opening episode of Space: 1999, and remarked that: “the giant leap for mankind is beginning to look like a stumble in the dark” – but then he and his astronauts spent the rest of the series working hard to disprove that utterance of human cynicism. We can’t get better role models than that.
Another Time, Another Place
Space:1999 was undeniably a product of its time. Its sets and atmosphere were clearly influenced by the 1968 movie, 2001:A Space Odyssey, a cultural mentorship that might also have helped to inspire the name of the series. The 1970s pastel costumes and electric guitar theme tune; the female roles in need of discovering women’s liberation; Commander John Koenig’s tendency to alternate between seeking wise advice from a sage (Professor Bergman) and descending into fits of toxic masculine outrage as a form of leadership; all these reflect the times within which the series was made. The two lead actors (Martin Landau and Barbara Bain) were fresh from the US TV series Mission Impossible, and the opening credits of each episode of Space:1999 mirrored that other series in providing tantalising glimpses of what was coming up in “this episode”.
A major influence from the era was the original Star Trek TV series, telecast the decade before Space:1999 but achieving increasing fame during this time as a fan favourite in reruns. Apparently William Shatner (Captain Kirk in Star Trek) was at some point considered for the role of Commander Koenig in 1999, and the role untimately went to Martin Landau, who had once been considered for the role of Spock in Star Trek. The lead characters of Koenig, Bergman and Russell might be seen to be a parallel to the Star Trek triumvirate of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Later, a resident alien (Maya) was introduced into Space:1999 season 2 to replace Bergman and to more fully flesh out the concept of a science officer (Spock template) being played by an alien character. But the most challenging connection between the two shows was the appointment of Fred Freiberger as Space: 1999 producer for Season 2, which was loudly trumpeted as a win for the series given that he had produced season 3 of the original Star Trek. Fans judged differently: Freiberger had produced the final season of the Trek, which they also judged to be the worst. I recall one Trek fan suggesting – perhaps somewhat unfairly – that Freiberger had killed Star Trek, and maybe he would do the same for Space: 1999. In any event, Freiberger’s season 2 of 1999 was so execrable that it did kill the series. I consider the two seasons of Space:1999 to comprise the British version (season 1) and the US version (season 2), and my comments about the show are confined to season 1 only. Others may disagree with my assessment of season 2, but either way, this dichotomy echoes the life and times of its creators.
In some aspects, Space 1999 has more in common with Doctor Who than with Star Trek. The latter was an expression of the American’s self-justification of colonisation, the ‘manifest destiny’ philosophy where they were justified in spreading their society behind current borders, like the Romans bringing civilisation to other lands. This is also the underlying tenet of the Western genre, which is understood to be Roddenberry’s motivation for having a western adventure set in space – or a ‘Wagon Train to the Stars’. Space: 1999 might be seen to have its origin in the H.G. Wells school of thought, most typically the traveler in The Time Machine finding excitement in exploration. Wells was a humanist liberal too and this was copied for the character of the Doctor. It might arguably also be seen in the character of Professor Victor Bergman within Space:1999, who was described in the Space: 1999 Writers’ Guide as ‘a 19th Century scientist-philosopher-humanist’ (Wood, 2014, ‘Personnel’). Actor Barry Morse (who played Bergman), a self-described ‘born-again agnostic’, credited series contributors such as Johnny Byrne, Chris Penfold, and George Bellak, with contributing to the humanist philosophy within the series (Wood, 2014, ‘Afterword’).
Perhaps the biggest indicator of its era was its actual treatment of science fiction as a genre. The so-called ‘golden era’ of science fiction is often recalled as being the ‘pulp’ era, when some of its greatest writers rose to prominence on the back of variously penny-dreadful (or outstandingly good) pulp magazines. This led to the ingrained media attitude that sci fi was a B-grade, cheap pulp kiddie genre, perhaps as demonstrated by Lost In Space, a TV sensation in the 1960s that featured world-class actors, costumes and sets – but often woeful scripts. A decade later, Space:1999 followed suit, with its lavish production values in everything except the scripts themselves, not doing full justice to the characters or the scope of its stories. This is evidenced by the very first words to appear as an opening subtitle in the very first scene of the very first episode, which referred to the far side of the Moon as the ‘dark side’; this episode also set the scene for the entire series by featuring an implausible nuclear explosion that threw the Moon out of Earth orbit and forever beyond the Solar System, also virtually ignoring the realities of gravity and rocket engineering, orbital mechanics and planetary geology; along with the extremes of distance and cold that would impact the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha on their interstellar travels. Feedback from fans and critics alike panned the show for this problem from the start: “Many of the letters mention the same problem: the show lacks scientific accuracy” (Heald, 1976, 193).
One might even see an influence from 1974’s ‘Echo of Battle‘, an episode of the TV series Warship that was concurrent with the development of Space:1999; featuring a former German submariner coming to terms with his WW2 past – also reflected in the character of Ernst Queller, a German scientist in Space:1999 with an equally troublesome past (one might even ponder the perspective through which both German characters are assigned guilt, whereas nobody from Britain or anywhere else might have similar skeletons in their closet).
It is in fact when we move beyond such stereotypical notions that we find the truest potential of Space: 1999 and all sci fi. German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun – later the head rocket engineer who built NASA’s Saturn V rockets which landed men on the Moon in the 1960s – wrote as the President of the National Space Institute in praise of Space: 1999 during the series’ production:
“Presented on the mass medium of television, Space:1999 will stimulate the public interest in the potentials of space technology in such fields as energy, environment, natural resources, and food production.” (Heald, 1976, 199).
This explains the ongoing attraction of the series to legions of fans, both during its initial run and now, some decades later. I recall one school friend in the 1970s making jokes about computer scientist David Kano of Moonbase Alpha falling in love with his computer – but then that friend grew up to become an IT engineer himself. Inspiration can find many forms, even if the original source of inspiration is itself flawed.
Matter of Life and Death
It’s easy today, with the benefit of hindsight and fifty years of societal development, to be critical of a TV series that exhibited a white, heterosexual, British, male gaze – and to celebrate that we have hopefully evolved since those days. But the resilience of the embattled characters in Space:1999, along with their awe, puzzlement and determination to overcome every strange, unknown, cosmic vista and challenge that came their way, serves as an example to us all. Science and technology can help us fight our struggles, but humanity and inner wisdom are an integral part of what makes us human and gives us hope for the future. Space may be the frontier, but it is the human endeavour that brings meaning to our journey.
“We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.” – Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders
Space: 1999 is dismissed somewhat in the English speaking world, possibly because it bears more than a little resemblance to European cinema which includes long moments of silence and thought rather than a moving narrative and action (the latter is an absolute requirement of American television, and explains the recalibration brought to the series by Freiberger for season 2). Though Space: 1999 has moments of action and visual excitement – usually on show in the title sequences – it’s a quieter series than you’d find in an American production, or even most UK-made TV series of the time.
Ultimately, this flawed product – like Gerry Anderson and Gene Roddenberry themselves – shines with the potential of humanist optimism and just a touch of naiveté. It reflects a reverence for arts and culture as a way to entertain, inspire and motivate us all towards an enlightened future. The words of Humanist Juneline Velonta seem pointedly pertinent: “Science and Technology may be the gateways to the moon and to the stars, but it is art that makes the journey worth it.”
Edited on 5 August 2023 to add references from Robert E Wood regarding humanism in the series, particlarly in relation to Victor Bergman and Barry Morse.
Chris Bentley, 2003. The Complete Gerry Anderson: the Authorised Episode Guide, London: Reynolds & Hearne (2nd edition).
Tim Heald, 1976. The Making of Space 1999, New York: Ballantine.
Juneline Velonta, 2021. The Role of Art in a Humanistic Society, Humanist Voices, 17 August.
Robert E. Wood, 2014. Destination: Moonbase Alpha, Prestatyn: Telos Publishing (ebook).
“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.” – Sir David Attenborough.
I know that many young people, including you and your friends, are greatly concerned about the future of this planet – particularly as that is where you will spend the rest of your lives. I understand that some 80 per cent of young people over 16 years of age are very concerned about climate change, and that many, like you, have been moved to personal activism, frustrated or outraged at the neglect of the issue from older people, corporations and governments.
Yes, Earth is home to ourselves and millions of other species, and while – like a beached whale that writhes and shudders a silent scream – segments of our home world are collapsing and dying under the weight of our populations and our possessions, and I hope that ways can be found to motivate more people towards enacting long-term change.
Yes, we should get angry and do something to stop the pending catastrophe. But on World Environment Day, it may be helpful to consider nuance as well as clear-cut black-and-white.
Many people are thoughtless or lazy – but we are all constructed in a way that makes us inclined to relate most closely to the micro rather than the macro. When approaching a jigsaw-sized problem, we tend to get enlightenment and understanding (and emotional connection) more readily from the individual jigsaw pieces rather than the big picture. In the real world, we can see one photo – of a crying baby in a famine, a Ugandan family killed in an unseasonably large mudslide, or a mother polar bear and her cub struggling to survive amidst the melting of Arctic ice – and such a photo can convey more emotional meaning and personal connection to us than all of the world’s websites and scientific lectures about climate catastrophe.
So I hope that your generation – and the older adults that you are trying to educate – come to see possibly the most important reason why it is important to save the Earth: because of its beauty.
Scientifically, it is beautiful. Our planet is a shelter from cosmic dangers, built from stardust and gas, meticulously crafted according to the natural laws of cosmology and stellar evolution and gravity. It is a natural laboratory sculpted by weather and geology, gravity and tidal forces, wherein chemistry and rock and water and wind and life intermix to form a glorious testament to the power of eclectic abiogenesis and evolution.
Biologically, it is beautiful. It is a cathedral in which a chorus of life chirps and tweets, bleats and barks. A choir of diverse voices is dressed in a patchwork quilt of colours and camouflages. Combined, they form a rich tapestry that has (so far, at least) been found nowhere else in the Universe.
Therein lies its arguably greatest ethical value: philosophically, it is beautiful because it is unique and indescribably precious. In a Universe that is so big that our mammalian minds cannot truly comprehend, our small planet Earth is the only known place where life exists, and multiplies in rich diversity.
Hosted this year by Côte d’Ivoire and supported by the Netherland, World Environment Day 2023 encourages us to beat plastic pollution. I hope this succeeds – but that they don’t stop there.
It is encouraging to see your generation taking a stand – and we can understand that this is a form of evolution. Survival of the fittest indeed – those best suited to adapt (and respond) to change will indeed survive the longest. But I also see a form of social evolution underway: your parents’ generation was raised in a culture that proclaimed Greed is Good; your generation proclaims that Green is Good.
Perhaps we should all be mindful of an early recollection in my own life:
In an old photo album belonging to my parents, one photo features me as a babe in arms, being held by my mother in the front garden of our home. With a mix of determination and curiosity on my face, I am reaching up to touch the leaf of an overhanging tree – using my infantile senses to timidly explore the touch, texture, shape and colour of this alien item in my young world.
Let us all rediscover anew this sense of awe and potential to be found in the world around us. Let us cherish our home, and do whatever we must, in order to preserve and conserve it for future generations.