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Friday, April 17, 2009

The Science God

We have a new God! Science! President Obama has implicitly said so. In his statement reversing the administration’s policy on embryonic stem cell research he said “that we should make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology." Because Science has been given the role of deciding what is right or wrong, it has become, de facto, our God.

Throughout the history of our world, whether looking at the pagan religions of Greece and Rome, or at today’s major religions (Buddhism, Islam, Judaism or Christianity, etc.) one of the roles of their gods is to dictate what is morally acceptable and what is not. In all religions, ethics and morality are seen to have come from the outside. They are not democratically decided upon. They have religious dimensions. We are expected to conform to them, not them to us.

But in President Obama’s statement, Science has now become the aim of and the key to everything. It has been given the role of deciding what is morally acceptable. It will now make the decisions. Therefore it has become our new god whom we must all worship. Science has replaced God. But unfortunately, it is a false god. It cannot fulfill this lofty goal. It will never tell us what is right or wrong. As we shall see, it is incapable of making such decisions. Science, in itself, is morally neutral. While there may be good science or bad science, science in its essence deals with empirical data and facts.

But scientists who do the science are not morally neutral. As Family Research Council President Tony Perkins remarked on the decision, "The action by the president today will, in effect, allow scientists to create their own guidelines without proper moral restraints," Scientists make moral, or immoral, decisions all the time. We only need look at the scientific atrocities designed by Josef Mengele and practiced at the death camps of Buchenwald, Auschwitz and Dachau, or at the Tuskegee studies here in the US to observe this. C. S. Lewis speaks poignantly of the dangers of glorifying science in the third book of his trilogy, "That Hideous Strength". It’s a book well worth reading (or rereading). Both history and Lewis’s prophetic voice declare that scientists are not God. Whenever they attempt to play God they fail. We have found ourselves, again and again, having to live with the consequences. Ethics and morality, which greatly impact our moral choices and decisions, are not inherent within us. They must come from the outside.

This is why science can never play the role of God. It can never act as a moral agent because it has no conscience. It also has no criteria to use to decide what is either right or wrong. Anything that can be done is permissible. As Charles Colson noted twenty years ago, “The path from the unmentionable to the commonplace is being traveled with increasing speed in medical ethics.” Science can, and will be acted upon by others. The scientists who do science will make moral (or amoral) choices. As Jacques Ellul noted in one of his seminal essays, for those who reject the truth of God there are no brakes. There are no limits upon what is possible to them. They are the master of everything. This is why it is important for Christians to be involved in the sciences. This is why Christians should actively be involved in all disciplines. We need to be thinking and acting Christianly in all that we do. We need to look to God’s guidelines to set the boundaries beyond which we will not go. It is a matter of being just and pure in our lives.

1 comment:

  1. Yet another great thought, Dave. I have now declared myself a public follower of your blog - and I'm very selective! Thank you for your posts, and may God bless all your future endeavors.

    The problem as I see it with making scientific decisions "based on facts, not ideology" is that scientists generally seem to proceed with research on the basis of assumptions which are rooted in ideology. They then look for facts that will support their assumptions. How can it be otherwise? To base one's science on merely facts would be to abandon all the notions of scientific method that have grown up since the Enlightenment. Claiming that your research is based on empirical fact is just a way of sidestepping the moral and ethical questions that need to be the basis of all thinking - otherwise we are just children playing in the mud.

    I will read the C.S. Lewis book - thanks for the recommendation.