- Richard Weikart
- 2016 7 Nov
A scientist, a priest, and a teenager were flying in a small plane, taking in the sights. All of a sudden, the pilot announced that the engines had failed, and they would need to bail out. Then, he sheepishly offered this grim news: they only had three parachutes for the four of them, so they had a difficult decision to make: Who gets one? The scientist immediately seized the initiative: “I am a genius, and science contributes immensely to humanity by advancing knowledge. This priest, on the other hand, peddles fables. I clearly have claim to one of these parachutes, so I’m taking one and diving out. See two of you on the ground.” So, he bailed out. The priest looked at the other two and exclaimed, “What do we do now?” The teenager calmly replied, “Not to worry, we have parachutes for all of us.” The priest quizzically asked, “But I thought the pilot said we only have three?” “We do only have three,” the teenager explained, “but the genius grabbed my backpack.”
This somewhat macabre joke illustrates three main points I make in my book The Death of Humanity:
- Scientists and intellectuals, even ones who are geniuses, can make incredibly naïve mistakes.
- Not all scientists and intellectuals, even if they are geniuses, place a premium on the value of human life, except perhaps their own.
- Justice can come, sometimes in unusual ways, to those who relegate others to inferior status. As the proverb goes, “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.” (Proverbs 26:27 - ESV)
The parachute joke is eerily reminiscent of a popular imaginative exercise my teachers in the 1970s conducted in their junior high and high school classes—but the exercise was not a joke. We were instructed to imagine we were in a scenario in which a wrenching choice needed to be made: who lives and who dies in a situation of scarcity. In one scenario, a space capsule contained a dozen or so people. We were told their ages, marital status, and occupations. The spaceship experienced a malfunction and only had enough oxygen for half the people on board to arrive at their destination. If everyone continued breathing the air, they would run out and all would die. We teenagers were asked to vote for who should live and who should die. In essence, we were trying to decide whom we should murder in order to save the rest. I am embarrassed to admit that I played along with this “game,” as did everyone else in my class. We vigorously debated which people’s lives had greater value and which had lesser value.
Only several years later did it dawn on me that by playing along, we were agreeing with two dangerous presuppositions:
- That some people’s lives have greater value than other people’s
- That it is permissible to kill some people to benefit others
Education wonks touting the merits of this enterprise that turned us into imagined murderers called it “Values Clarification,” but it might be more accurate to call it “Values Assassination.” Implicitly we were denying that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (From The Declaration of Independence)
In the final analysis, then, I am suggesting that the solution to the death of humanity at the hands of subjective morality is a revival of Christian love and compassion, a renewed sense that human life has meaning and purpose, because we are created in the image and likeness of God. I have hope that such a revival is possible. The somber title of my book is not intended as a proclamation of hopelessness and despair. On the contrary! There would be no point in writing this book if our situation is irreversible. I have complete confidence that the truth will ultimately prevail, and I wrote my book in the hope that we as a society can heed its warning to turn away from the false, but alluring, philosophies of nihilism to embrace the reality of a loving, personal God who cares about each one of us. To be sure, it's easy to spend more time discussing the problems, rather than the solutions, but hopefully, if we continue to make our case in every venue, it will rock the complacency of secularists and Christians alike and bring us all into the quest for solutions to our deepest spiritual problems. “seek, and you will find.” (Matthew 7:7 - ESV)
Richard Weikart - is professor of history at California State Univ., Stanislaus. He earned his Ph.D. in 1994 at the University of Iowa in modern European history with specializations in modern Germany and modern European intellectual history.