Thursday, December 28, 2006

"While the moral obligation should be obvious,
there is no scientific reason not to become an Iranian scientist"

Eric Cohen, editor of the New Atlantis and resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, writes an opinion piece in the November issue of First Things.

Here are a few paragraphs of Cohen's long article (This post title is also a quote from his essay.):

"Even while many scientists accuse religious believers of zealously imposing their values on everyone, some seem to have embraced a new fundamentalism of their own: the belief that Darwinism explains everything important about being human, combined with the passionate need to convert the unconverted and unsave the saved. Confronted by the aimless nature they so laboriously study, many scientists seem to need a universal, all-encompassing framework to explain their existence. Yet while orthodox Darwinists believe that the law of animal survival explains much of human behavior, they also believe that being a scientist is nobler than being simply a gene-spreading animal. The point of the scientific project is not simply to see ourselves clearly as the beasts we are but to imagine that we possess the cleverness and magnanimity of gods. It seeks not simply to understand the law of death (evolution as we find it) but to wield mastery over life (evolution as we make it)."

"Despite its inherent limits and frequent excesses, there is great dignity in the scientific vocation rightly understood—the dignity of confronting nature’s facts in all their beauty and ugliness, and the dignity of seeking to make human life a little less miserable. Science is, or can be, a noble vocation, a realm of human endeavor that invites human excellence, including moral excellence. Against the sin of despair, the scientist stands for action. Against the postmodern revolt against reality, the scientist seeks truth. Thrown into a world that is mysterious, the scientist seeks to bring into light what is so often shrouded in darkness."

"The trouble is that most scientists—at least most modern biologists, whose work dominates the public imagination about science—do not seem to reflect much or deeply about the limits of their method, or about the moral significance of the ends they seek and the means they use. The recent book by human genome pioneer Francis Collins—a memoir of faith that might have been titled C.S. Lewis Goes to the Laboratory—is notable precisely because it is such a striking exception to the norm. In the public realm, most biologists seem, all too often, like scientific geniuses and moral simpletons, applying rational rigor to their investigations of nature but relying on feeling as their only moral compass. And for all its appreciation of nature’s complexity, the scientific mind seems no rival for the Bible or Aristotle or Machiavelli in understanding human complexity. Next to the philosopher, the neuroscientist still looks, all too often, like a fool."

"The scientist is especially foolish when he is optimistic without a dose of tragic reservation. For, despite Condorcet’s claims, science is perhaps most necessary precisely because of the permanence of human sin and human evil, not because scientific progress will be the tool of their eradication. We will continue to need vaccine makers because evil men will make and use biological weapons. We will need missile-defense makers because evil men will use ballistic missiles. We will need surveillance-system makers because evil men will always be plotting the destruction of the innocent. Not the inevitable perfection of man in nature but the permanent imperfection of the human soul makes modern science a moral necessity—including, at times, the kind of ruthless experiments that are justifiable only in moments of supreme emergency, when civilization itself lies in the balance."

No comments: