Humanities material advancement has seen significant achievements in our 6,000 years of recorded history. Since the advent of the Scientific Revolution, 400 years ago, there has been extraordinary advancements in aviation, vaccination, medicine, automobiles, telecommunications, and computer technology. It is Quantum physics and the knowledge of unimaginably small electrons that makes it possible for a heightened electronic information age having CAT scans, cell phones, lasers, and GPS. According to Moore’s Law (named for Gordon E. Moore) in the history of computers, transistor numbers on integrated circuits have been going through a process of more than doubling every 24 months. We have pixel size memory and an amazing speed of processing. Elaine Pagels said “scientists have learned to play with smaller and smaller amounts of electrons. Harnessing of the electron is the foremost example how contact with the invisible world has transformed our civilization.” (2001) The modern world has made Planet Earth one of digitization and globalization.
Human beings are moving towards genetic engineering. In 1869, Charles Galton, first cousin of Charles Darwin, wrote Hereditary Genius. He coined the term eugenics and he is considered to be “the father of eugenics.” Galton was a strong advocate for human eugenics. This capacity to “improve” the human family was/is met with excitement and trepidation. Human genetic engineering brings with it eugenics (breed-the-best), and dysgenics (halt-the-worst). Human genetic engineering brings with it the question, “Who is to make the decision about any engineering that takes place?” The individual or the government? It brings up some of the fears of early eugenics in Nazis Germany, and even in the United States. In 1927, the U. S. Supreme Court gave a constitutionality for the forced sterilization by tubal ligation of Carrie Burk. Genetic engineering is an exciting, yet scary brave new world and few individuals realize how fast we are entering it.
When discussing human material advancements, I try to keep in mind Theodore Nottingham saying, “one of the great tragedies of our time is that our technology with all its advantages, and advances, has not helped us deal with the meaning of life,” or Baruch Spinoza lamenting, “during my eighty-seven years I have witnessed a whole succession of technological revolutions. But none of them has done away with the need for character in the individual or the ability to think,” or Thomas Merton, saying, “what can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves?”