As we start the 21st century and the new millennium, our scientific and technological civilization seems to be entering a period of crisis. Today, for the first time in history, science has given to humans the possibility of a life of comfort, free from hunger and cold, and free from the constant threat of infectious disease. At the same time, science has given us the power to destroy civilization through thermonuclear war, as well as the power to make our planet uninhabitable through pollution and overpopulation. The question of which of these alternatives we choose is a matter of life or death to ourselves and our children.
Science and technology have shown themselves to be double-edged – capable of doing great good or of producing great harm, depending on the way in which we use the enormous power over nature, which science has given to us. For this reason, ethical thought is needed now more than ever before. The wisdom of the world’s religions – the traditional wisdom of humankind – can help us as we try to insure that our overwhelming material progress will be beneficial rather than disastrous.
The crisis of civilization, which we face today, has been produced by the rapidity with which science and technology have developed. Our institutions and ideas adjust too slowly to the change. The great challenge which history has given to our generation is the task of building new international political structures, which will be in harmony with modern technology. At the same time, we must develop a new global ethic, which will replace our narrow loyalties by loyalty to humanity as a whole.
In the long run, because of the enormously destructive weapons, which have been produced through the misuse of science, the survival of civilization can only be insured if we are able to abolish the institution of war.
While in earlier epochs it may have been possible to confine the effects of war mainly to combatants, in our own century the victims of war have increasingly been civilians, and especially children. For example, according to Quincy Wright’s statistics, the First and Second World Wars together cost the lives of 26 million soldiers, but the toll in civilian lives was much larger – 64 million.