The General Secretary of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, as early as November 2007, described the condition of planet Earth before the UN Assembly in New York as “extremely at risk.” A UN investigatory commission determined that only a few decades remained for mankind until a point of no return – where it is too late to gain control of the problem of the high-tech world on our own. Some experts from various fields even consider that we have already reached this point.
In light of this, Peter Seewald (a reporter), in a private interview with Pope Benedict XVI asked, “Is the earth quite simply not sustaining the enormous developmental potential of our species? Is it perhaps not designed at all for us to remain here in the long run? Or are we doing something wrong?”
In reply, Pope Benedict explained, “Sacred Scripture tells us, and experience too tells us, that we do not remain here forever. But surely we are doing something wrong. I think that the problematic nature of the concept of progress has some bearing on it. The modern era has tried to find its way according to the fundamental concepts of progress and freedom. But what is progress? Today we see that progress can also be destructive. In this regard we should reflect on what criteria we must find so that progress really is progress.
“The concept of progress originally had two aspects: On the one hand, there was progress in knowledge. People understood this to mean comprehending reality. That has also happened to an incredible extent through the combination of the mathematical worldview and experimentation. As a result, today we can reconstruct DNA, the structure of life, and in general the functional structure of all reality – to the point where by now we can partially copy it and already begin to manufacture life ourselves. In this respect new possibilities for humanity have also come about with this progress.
“The basic idea was: progress is knowledge. But knowledge is power. That means: if I know, then I can also control. Knowledge brought power, but in such a way that with our own power we can now also destroy the world that we think we have figured out intellectually.
“So it becomes apparent that in the previous concept of progress, compounded of knowledge and power, an essential perspective is lacking, namely, the aspect of good. This is the question: What is good? Where should knowledge lead power? Is it just a matter of being able to control in general – or must we also ask the question about the intrinsic standards, about what is good for humankind in an adequate way. When one’s own power is the only thing being advanced by one’s knowledge, this sort of progress becomes really destructive.”