God, Science, and Delusion

Free Inquiry, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview
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God, Science, and Delusion

Arthur C. Clarke is known across the world for his books, television programs, and movies. Free Inquiry Deputy Editor Matt Cherry visited the science fiction author, who is a member of the International Academy of Humanism, in Sri Lanka, the beautiful tropical island that has been Clarke's home for nearly four decades. His house, in the capitol of Columbo, is filled with spectacular wall-sized NASA photos, reminiscent of some of the shots in his film 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the personal study where he was interviewed, Clarke was surrounded by books and signed photos - ranging from actress Elizabeth Taylor to astronaut Buzz Aldrin - that reflect Clarke's prominent roles in the very different worlds of science and entertainment. He talked to Free Inquiry about mankind, morality, and religion.

FREE INQUIRY: This is a rare opportunity. Thanks for talking with us.

ARTHUR C. CLARKE: Rare indeed. My agent will probably shoot me for granting this interview. I turn down interviews all the time, but for FREE INQUIRY, I'm happy to make an exception.

FI: Our readers have some familiarity with your views and in particular your very strong emphasis on the use of science in understanding the natural world. But could you say something about your views on moral issues?

CLARKE: One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion. So now people assume that religion and morality have a necessary connection. But the basis of morality is really very simple and doesn't require religion at all. It's this: "Don't do unto anybody else what you wouldn't like to be done to you." It seems to me that that's all there is to it.

The other issue is, why can't humans live up to this principle? Why is it that people can't act as human beings should? I'm appalled by what we all see on the news every day - massacres, atrocities, injustices, outrages of all kinds. When I see what's happening, I sometimes wonder if the human race deserves to survive.

FI: In recent years a lot of ethical issues have arisen from advances in technology, as they have, for example, in cloning.

CLARKE: Yes, and such issues will continue to arise at an increasing pace. They will challenge all of us - but especially those who hold rigid moral outlooks like those found in most religions.

By the way, I was - in a strange way - involved in a cloning project. There was a project afoot to send me into outer space along with a lot of other people. Not the whole me, though - just a hair from my head, while I still had some. It was quite a serious project by a company that launched a lot of spacecraft. The idea was that maybe in a hundred million years or so, an advanced civilization would find this little space capsule containing my hair, an Arthur C. Clarke would be cloned from it, and I would thus pop up in another galaxy in the distant future. Interesting thought.

FI: Yes, but perhaps a little disturbing.

CLARKE: Well, it's better than the Celestes Project, in which you have to be dead before your ashes are sent into space.

FI: You have written a great deal about possible technologies of the future. For example, you're well known for thinking up the idea of geostationary orbit. But as we look into the next century or even the next millennium, what do you see as the big technological changes that are likely to alter the direction of the human species or will present major new dilemmas or problems to the human race?

CLARKE: I think most of the major changes will be biological, involving advances in DNA research and technologies, among other things. But there's also potentially revolutionary research going on in the physical sciences. The thing that I'm most interested in at the moment is the so-called Infinite Energy solution - the possibility of finding new ways of tapping into virtually limitless sources of energy. It's been about ten years since cold fusion was touted and then laughed at.

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