Monday, 3 December 2012

Cosmology, Evolution and Ethics

BFTF went to a talk recently where the original speaker (who was due to speak on a Chemistry related topic) did not turn up so one of the audience offered to give an impromptu talk instead.

He entitled it as "Cosmology, Evolution and Ethics" and made the following arguments :

Cosmology : The Second Law of Thermodynamics means that the Universe is, essentially, running down and that it is heanding towards a (very distant) future where it is the same temperature everywhere. This will be a dark, dead universe. The speaker, who described himself as an atheist, mentioned that there were also theories suggesting that another Universe might pop up somewhere else.

Evolution : There are too many people in the world, consuming too many resources - and there may not be much time in which to avert a catastrophe. The speaker commented on current economic policies- especially the moral imperative to repay ones debts as "crazy", feeling that they encouraged investment in doomed schemes because the lender was sure of getting their money back. He also commented that humans did not need all the fruits of industry, and did not need to burn fossil fuels to stay warm, as human body heat was itself sufficient.

Ethics : All options need to be on the table to reduce the amount of resources humans are using, and the number of people on the planet - including eugenics and allowing wars to reduce the number of people. The speaker felt that the differnet policies should be investigated by way of "experiments" to see which ones worked so that they could be rolled out more widely. He also spoke approvingly of the Chinese policy of allowing only one child per family as a policy that had made a big differnece to the number of people the planted needed to support. Regarding eugenics, the speaker said that it had not been implemented well in the past but that it had its "good points".

Q&A
The Q&A session after the talk suggested that the overwhelming majority (if not all) of the audience disagreed with the speakers views.

The speaker was asked why we should be at particular risk of disaster now, given that there were many examples from history of people claiming that there were too many people for the world to support - and been proved wrong. The speaker responded by saying that he did not know how many people the world could support, but that there were many estimates ranging from not much higher than the current level to populations of many, many billions.

Another question asked if the speaker could give an example of a "good" eugencis policy. The speaker said that a good example was that of the Feminist revolution [which is not generally felt to be an example of eugenics]

A different point was made by another commenter, who suggested that the speaker was talking from the pont of view of someone who had received all the advantages (energy, medical services, a reasonable income) of someone in Middle England - and would have a very different view of whether people could survive without some form of heating (or candles to provide light in the hours of darkness) if he was living in Scotland.

One questioner, who seemed to be particuarly on the ball, pointed out that, aside from the moral problems with eugenics, it was a really bad idea biologically because the human species was a very homogenous one and needed as much gene mixing as it could get.

Regarding the "one child" policy in China, the point was made that this had resulted in todays young couples (who were the sole offspring of their parents, who has been the sole offspring of THEIR parents) having to financially support up to 6 ageing adults - never mind any children they might want to have. Someone else pointed out that, far from growing, the populations of many Western nations were static or dropping, and their numbers were only increasing because of immigration.

But perhaps the most disturbing comment was made by a member of the audience who said that, in the 1930s/40s one of their forebears had been a Mosleyite and had belived in eugenics. Because of this belief he had allowed his young son to die - in agony - from meningitis on the principle that the child would have pulled through by himself if he had been "fit" enough.

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