Two quotes from H.G. Wells

I recently read two quotes by H.G. Wells, one written before World War II, and the other after.

Can we doubt that presently our race will more than realize our boldest imaginations, that it will achieve unity and peace, and that our children will live in a world made more splendid and lovely than any palace or garden that we know, going on from strength to strength in an ever-widening circle of achievement? What man has done, the little triumphs of his present state… form but the prelude to the things that man has yet to do. (from A Short History of the World, 1937)


The cold-blooded massacres of the defenseless, the return of deliberate and organized torture, mental torment, and fear to a world from which such things had seemed well nigh banished—has come near to breaking my spirit altogether… “Homo sapiens,” as he has been pleased to call himself, is played out. (from A Mind at the End of Its Tether, 1946)

A few observations:

  • H.G. Wells must have had his head stuck in the sand in 1937 in order to think that the world was on the verge of utopia. Hitler had a firm grip on Germany and clearly had an expansionist agenda, Stalin was up to his knees in blood, and war was raging between Japan and China.
  • The Second World War was especially crushing to the hopes of those who held to an optimistic view of the future of humanity. Those who believe that humans are on a path to something approaching a utopia keep on running into a wall.
  • There is something fundamentally flawed about humanity. To say otherwise is, like Wells in 1937, to bury one’s head in the sand. We Christians call this fundamental flaw sin, which is rebellion against God. The failure to recognize the human sin problem is a reason why utopian systems, such as communism, turn out to be such bitter disappointments.

A few questions:

  • What areas do we (as Christians, as a society) have our heads buried in the sand? In hind sight, it is easy to list a dozen reasons why Wells should not have been so optimistic in 1937. Are there some big, flashing, DANGER signs that ought to be obvious to us?
  • How do we best communicate the dire straits we are in to those who are overly optimistic, and the hope that we have in Christ to those who are driven to despair by the world?

Grace and Peace

Source of quotes: Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, Chapter 10: The Problem of Sin

11 thoughts on “Two quotes from H.G. Wells

  1. Thanks for this, Geo.

    Yes, one of the great fallacies of Humanism, that human beings are basically good, just get rid of ‘superstition’ and they can achieve Utopia. I’m surprised at his optimism when you look at a book like ‘The Time Machine’ with all the Morlocks descended from people who once worked for Microsoft.

    I teach Art History in a college that was once a school where H.G.Wells taught. It’s in a pretty little town in West Sussex called Midhurst.

    God bless,



  2. Geo,

    Just an addition:

    A warning sign for me is the rampant materialism of our society and of the Church. There is nothing wrong with having money, but Christ warns us of it’s trap and I’m not sure we’re listening. I am seeing a lot of exclusion occurring in the church because one group cannot socialise with or relate to the other. We are not teaching contentment.

    This relates to another post of yours about where Evangelicals in the US feel cuts in government spending should be made. I think the credit crunch happened because people bought into a lie that said the road to happiness is through money. How do we as Christians live? Is it any different?


  3. WebMonk

    One of the things that came to mind when I read these two quotes is that H.G. Wells certainly doesn’t seem to have any moderate views – things are either about to be perfect, or it’s the end of mankind!

    I wonder about his propensities toward dramatic statements.


  4. geochristian

    I agree with Steve’s assessment that materialism is one of our blind spots as a church. Jesus said, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15 ESV), but I don’t think we (that includes me) have paid enough attention.

    I would add the environment as one of our blind spots, to include the limited nature of many resources, such as water and energy.


  5. Sapphire

    Not an answer but a question.
    If humanly devised systems are doomed to failure because of their failure to recognise “sin” why is Christianity, which is obsessed with the idea, also such a dismal failure?


  6. geochristian


    Christianity is a “failure” for the same reason: sin.

    But there are several reasons why the Christian answer to these sorts of issues is better than the alternatives:

    –We acknowledge the problem. To believe that we will soon get over our propensity for wars, greed, and hatred goes against the evidence of thousands of years of human misery. This was Wells’ mistake, and it led him to despair. It is better to admit that somehow we just aren’t the way we ought to be, and have that (rather than the illusion of the perfectibility of man) be the basis for building society.

    –For all of its faults, Christianity has made enormous contributions to our world. Consider the following: “Christianity made it to India during or soon after the apostolic age. There is good reason to believe it was the Apostle Thomas who brought it there. There have been followers of Jesus in India for 2,000 years. Today Christians account for less than 3% of the population, but they are directly involved in 20% of primary education; 25% of care for widows and orphans; 30% of work with the handicapped, AIDs patients and lepers.” (source:

    –In Christ, God has entered into this world of suffering. He doesn’t just look passively from the sky and say, “What bad people they are.” The Christian message is one of hope for troubled humanity: God took on flesh, lived a life of poverty, and was unjustly condemned to die as a criminal, and rose victoriously from the grave. The world looks at this as “a dismal failure.” God, in his love, turned this into the great triumph.

    –We Christians are often failures, but God is working in and through us anyway. We are at a stage of “not there yet.” But in Christ we have a message of hope: That which is broken has been dealt with and we await a time when the “sin” problem will be a thing of the past.


  7. geochristian


    Thanks. I did a little further investigation, and you are correct: the first edition of A Short History of the World was published in 1922. There was also a 1937 edition where this quote came from, but I have no idea how many changes were made from edition to edition.

    Nonetheless, Wells’ optimism was misplaced; there was enough bad stuff going on in 1922 in Europe and around the world to show that the aftermath of the War to End All Wars hadn’t lived up to expectations. It is good to have hope and to dream of a better world, but utopian visions always run into the wall of disfunctional humanity.

    It is easy to see that in hindsight, which brings back my questions, including “What are our blind spots?”


  8. Nick

    Almost no one in the West knew about the great purges until much later, after the death of Stalin. They only heard about the trials of former leaders. How exactly could Wells react to an atrocity he did not know existed? It was not clear in 1937 that Hitler had an expansionist agenda given he hadn’t even seized a single bit of territory at that stage, save Saar which voluntarily merged with Nazi Germany under a landslide vote of the population. Both Austria and Czechoslovakia were still independent states. War between Japan and China had only just broken out in 1937 (possibly after this book came out?) and could not be expected to be worse than the previous wars of history (especially that little one from 1914-18…), so he really couldn’t draw the conclusion that this would be representative of significant disruption in the history of human aggression. In fact as far as increased pacifist sentiments are concerned, he was right. Humanity has become less aggressive than ever. Far from declining into our “sinful natures”, the conflicts of today are far less in scale and severity than to ancient and medieval societies.


  9. John Smith

    If you knew anything about HG Wells, you would know that he didn’t have his head in the sand in 1937. He actually predicted World War 2 many years earlier than this, and wanted his tombstone to bear the inscription “I told you so”. Please do your homework if you’re going to criticize far greater men than yourself.


  10. geochristian

    John Smith — H.G. Wells was certainly a brilliant man, and far more famous than I will ever be. In those ways, he was a far greater man than I will ever be. But what is greatness, and what does it matter?

    Wells was also a racist. Science writer Martin Gardner comments, “Wells’ statements about inferior races, and the use of killing as a tool to weed out the unfit, come perilously close to Hitler’s efforts to breed a superior Aryan race, and to “solve the Jewish question” with the aid of gas chambers.” Gardner quotes Wells on this: “those swarms of blacks, and brown, and dirty-white, and yellow people … will have to go.”

    We all have our faults and blind spots, but Wells was not, in my mind, a great man. A famous man, a smart man, an influential man, yes. But not one I would follow.

    I will follow Jesus. He was the greatest man who ever lived.


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