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David Cowles

Apr 20, 2023

“Humanity had better hope there’s a God who is relevant, benevolent, concerned, engaged, eternal and omnipotent because otherwise…”

Once upon a time, I was affiliated with a company that conducted twice annual business retreats for its staff. Each conference ended with this: “We have just spent two days analyzing in detail opportunities and risks ahead for our business. But are there broader, more general risks that we have not addressed that could take us down?” Pity the newbie who answers, “No.”

Aletheia Today is focused on ‘opportunities and risks’ pertaining to philosophy, theology, and culture (science). But are there broader, more systemic risks that could bring the curtain down at any moment? I think so! May I suggest three?

Thermonuclear War


Artificial Intelligence

Each one of these catastrophes has the power to end the ‘human experiment’. But notice what’s not on my list…three boogeymen (sic) of times gone by:


Climate Change

Alien Invasion

Overpopulation turned out to be an ideologically motivated scare-tactic, supported by ‘selective science’. Back in the 1960s, Buckminster Fuller was already crying foul (Utopia or Oblivion)! Turns out, many countries are wrestling with the problem of underpopulation, and it is estimated that Earth’s population could eventually drop below 6 billion (vs. 8 billion today).

Once we’re finally ready to start building space colonies, will we be able to spare enough folks to populate them? 

Climate change, on the other hand, is real…but it’s not going to take us down. This is a problem we can solve by combining effective public policy with fast-tracked investment in new technology. It may be costly, and it may be painful, or not, but as long as we can ‘rescue life on Earth’, and I am confident we can, does anyone seriously doubt that we will…eventually?

Nor am I kept awake at night by fear of invading aliens… because there aren’t any! Folks who assume the existence of complex life forms unrelated to us anywhere else in the universe, underestimate the mind-boggling improbability of intelligent life ever-evolving anywhere. We’re already an anomaly. We are not entitled to assume another.

Plus, if I’m wrong, and I might be, then where are our alien non-cousins? We are beaming all sorts of sophisticated messages into space (Bach’s Concerti, for example) but all we’re hearing are the cicadas outside our observatory, serenading the inanimate stars on a moonless night.

While I don’t have a shred of evidence to support this theory, I suspect it will turn out that we need every second and every cubic inch of our universe, now 92 billion light years across and 14 billion years old, just to create a high enough probability that conditions necessary for an Earth-like biosphere will evolve somewhere. 

So, I must be sleeping soundly – no Ambien for me! Except I’m not. I hardly sleep at all. And while insomnia has many roots, the state of the world is certainly in the mix. So, what does keep me up at night?

Well, Schrödinger’s cat for one. Hiroshima ‘let the cat out of the box’ once and for all, and it has resisted our best efforts to re-cage it. After WWII, Europe was awash with calls for something akin to unilateral disarmament. Slogans du jour:

Ban the Bomb

Better Red than Dead

Slogans, placards, marches, and demonstrations are great, but by themselves, at least, they do not disarm hostile nations. Two other strategies have been marginally more successful:

Non-Proliferation Treaties

Strategic Arms Limitation Agreements (SALTs)

But this is Century 21, and gradually, but inexorably, more nations are acquiring the expertise and resources needed to produce nuclear weapons. Can anyone doubt that there will be dozens of nuclear states by the end of this century? 

So what? At least 10 countries have the bomb already, why not make it 50?

The countries currently seeking membership in ‘the nuclear club’ (e.g., Iran) are probably not high on your list of destinations for next year’s family vacation. As our club opens its books to third and fourth-world nations, it is possible that some of the new member states will have governments less stable, borders less secure, and cybersecurity less robust than most current members.   


But this, of course, is just another ‘tip of the iceberg’.  Can you not imagine a world in which private corporations, NGOs, political organizations, and even wealthy individuals all have access to the bomb? (Does the Second Amendment apply to nuclear weapons?) What then?

Mind Bet: What’s the over/under on the date the first ad for a nuclear weapon will appear on the dark web; and will it qualify for free delivery if the buyer is an Amazon Prime customer?

Moving on, can you believe it’s been only three decades since we decoded the human genome? Already we are using this discovery to enable sex selection, to eliminate certain ‘undesired’ genetic anomalies, and to resurrect extinct species.  

Recently, the world was brought to its knees by a mutant virus (COVID-19), accidentally released from a lab engaged in modifying organisms into bioweapons. Finally, we are proposing to use CRISPR to ‘improve’ our species by inserting the genes of certain non-human organisms into human DNA. What could possibly go wrong? And then…

… There’s AI, perhaps the crowning achievement of human technology. Homo Sapiens, ‘the one who knows’, is on the cusp of outsourcing its hallmark ability to a network of machines. 

“No more rulers, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks.” Life is about to get very, very comfortable. But at a horrible price! Studies suggest that the human brain is already shrinking, presumably as a result of fewer external threats. The sci-fi chestnut of a universe taken over by machines is not at all far-fetched; the process is well underway. 

So no, I’m not getting much sleep these days. How about you? I’ll leave you with this: humanity had better hope that there’s a God who is relevant, benevolent, concerned, engaged, eternal and omnipotent because otherwise…           


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