Reaction to risk: rationality or Rapture?

A thoughtful review on the website of the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies (IEET) considers a recently published book by Phil Torres: “The End: What Science and Religion Tell Us About the Apocalypse”. A useful distinction is made between religious and secular eschatology. The latter considers these threats to the planet and to humanity from a rational and evidence-based perspective, seeing phenomena such as nuclear war, bio-engineered pandemics, and any malign Superintelligence as things to be avoided.

Religious eschatology, on the other hand, might involve all, some or none of these risks, whether or not in common with other large and lesser threats. But the key lies not in the actual risks, which are seen only as means to a greater end. It is the End Times itself that is the point of “God’s coming judgement and destruction”. Evidence-based rationality features somewhat less in deliberations on this side of the nut-house wall. What is made clear here is that, facing the prospect of humanity’s extinction, the cry of those in anticipation of their delivery into Eternal Life is “Bring it On”. These are not the people we want anywhere close to the nuclear codes, or indeed to any seats of influence.

Responsible citizens of Spaceship Earth will want to keep in touch with what Torres calls the secular eschatologists, working at places like the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge; Nick Bostrom’s Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford; the Future of Life Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and the geographically decentralized Global Catastrophic Risk Institute. Their mission is to safeguard the prospect that a second, non-cataclysmic Big Bang might enable a benign Superintelligence, and not a stellar void of wasted talent, lost opportunities, and silence.

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