IT is SAID that the Catholic Church thinks slowly but surely, taking decades if not centuries to respond to changing historical circumstances and to resolve the &nil controversies that result from social change.
But what happens if the rate of historical change itself speeds up, so that there is literally no time to form a considered judgment before a request for the next decision comes along? We are likely to face tidal waves of innovation over the coming decade, many of them flowing from the mapping of the human genome, and others from the attempts to construct artificial intelligence. Computers have been doubling in power every 18 months since the 1950s, and this is due to continue indefinViely ("Moore's Law").
So-called "nanoteclmology" willsoon replace our present microchips with computers crafted on the scale of molecules and individual atoms. To paraphrase technology pundit Peter Cochrane, by the year 2010 the supercomputer will be on our desks, by 2015 it will be on our wrists, and by 2020 it may well be wearing us.
THE DOTCOMMERS who (in the bloom of youth) revel in all this change age, naturally, buzzing with acitement. But the levels of sikess that we observe around us will carry a high price. Promises of scientific immortality are being held out to a generation whose immune systems are rapidly giving way uhder the strain. As for the
elm rant religious believersin tftellextr years, as human
clqgenetic modificatibn begin to come online, these will make last century's a?guments over the Pill and abortion seem like a Victorian tea-party.
'The genetic manipulation of life, combined with the ability to import microscopic machinery into biological organisms, will result in ever-more ambiAug attempts to transform human nature: a new Eugenics nfovement which C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man
described as "stepping outside theTao... into the void", and G.K. Chesterton in What's Wrong With the World as the destruction of the human family by the "Empire of the Insect".
In an influential speech quoted by Newsweek, top American computer guru Bill Joy recently warned of the unprecedented power of the "GNR"technologies of the new century (that is, Genetics, Nanotech and Robotics). "I think it is no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil, an evil whose possibility spreads well beyond that which weapons of mass destruction bequeathed to the nation states, onto a surprising and terrible empowerment of extreme individuals." He spoke of "knowledge-enabled mass destruction (KMD)", amplified by the power of self-replication.
The most frightening thing about the new wave of GNR technology is the possibility that it will be able to reproduce and repair itself without human assistance. We have had intimations of this with computer viruses. Recent worries about the possibility of nuclear terrorism and of what may happen when GM foods are released into the environment (whether these fears are well-founded or not) are merely a foretaste of what is to come.
Bill Joy is no Luddite, but he thinks we ought to reconsider our single-minded pursuit of economic growth through science and technology. C.S. Lewis, too, wondered if -reconsideration. and something like repentance, may be required". The love of truth has become too entangled with the love of power. What he advocated was a different approach to nature. "The regenerate science I have in mind 'would not do even th minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself. When it explained it would not explain away. When it spoke of the parts it would remember the whole." Arthur C. Clark once said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". Magic is fascinating and exciting, but in our rush to discover a technical solution for every problem we risk forgetting the spiritual whole to which we belong. LA s
Sunday, the first
Sunday after Easter, was the occasion for the annual Tyburn Walk, which takes place from the site of Newgate Prison (now the Old Bailey) and goes to Tyburn Convent, near Marble Arch. Its route follows the line of Oxford Street, passing the site of the "Tyburn Tree".
For 90 years, even during both world wars, this procession has been made in honour of the 105 Catholic martyrs who died there for their faith. Among them, St John Houghton, prior of the London Charterhouse and proto-martyr of the English Reformation; St Edmund Campion, the great Jesuit martyr; St
Anne Line, executed for the crime of sheltering a priest; St Robert Southwell, priest and poet, and Si Margaret Ward, who had helped a priest escape from Bridewell Prison. near Blackfriars Bridge, with the help of Blessed John Roche, a Thames boatman. These are a few among the many who sacrificed their lives for their faith.
It is an honourable and worthy list and it is wholly appropriate
that Catholics should celebrate and honour their memories, to keep alive their history.
It would be sad if we neglected our roots, for it is important for us always to remember "the rock from which we are hewn" — a phrase used by our new Archbishop of Westminster at his installation.
But sadly. this annual commemoration has come to an end. It is a pity that the lack of information as to why this decision has been made, and by whom, has led to endless speculation and even some conspiracy theories on the part of journalists hungry for any story where conflict seems to be the basis. This could be a lesson to all Catholic societies and organisations to be prepared to make a well-prepared press statement and use the Catholic Media Office to ensure a proper understanding of the facts.