No, this is not an easy battle to engage.
That science has limits to what it can know and do is understood by every scientist. But while this is understood, it does not seem to deter at least some scientists from pronouncing on matters well beyond the scope of their discipline or the tools of science in general.
Such is the case, for example, with the scientist who argues that his work in science shows that God is no longer necessary; therefore, being no longer necessary, He no longer exists, if only as a practical reality.
God, however, being a Spirit, exists in a realm and as a Being which cannot be accessed by the methods of science. The most a scientist can say, therefore, is that, from his limited perspective, God does not appear to be necessary. But the mere introduction of the idea of a “limited perspective” is accompanied by the admission that there are other perspectives, from which vantage point the existence of God might be possible or, indeed, indispensable.
Science can tell us about physical reality. It cannot, however, answer questions respecting a wide range of issues, among them, matters spiritual, aesthetic, and ethical.
In this last regard I was disturbed by a brief report entitled, “Good Science, Bad Science,” by Geoff Brumfiel in the 26 April 2012 issue of Nature. Mr. Brumfiel provides a peek into four areas of major scientific research in which huge ethical issues come into play.
The areas – nuclear development, neuroscience, climatology, and genetic screening of unborn infants – all hold much potential for bringing good to humankind and the planet. This is what we expect of science and why we are so willing to encourage and support its efforts.
But each of these areas holds potential for evil as well, that is, for effects that many people would describe as being not beneficial and perhaps harmful, even disastrously so.
The recognition of such a situation is a good reminder that science cannot simply press on willy-nilly in areas of research that involve questions of ethics. There is a need for caution and deliberation in such matters.
What troubled me in Mr. Brumfiel’s report, however, was the assumption that the community of science itself is sufficient to resolve such questions. He cites a Georgetown researcher who argues that there needs to be “more open debate in the community” about these matters. The phrase “in the community” means within the scientific community.
He further suggests that science needs to act in some areas before government gets involved and makes it difficult for “the community” to reach its best conclusions and devise workable applications. He also quotes without question or qualification a UK geographer who has been charged with overseeing “an ethical and societal” assessment of a propose climate control experiment. He does not ask how a vocation in geography qualifies one to oversee inquiries of an ethical nature.
The overall thrust of the report is to acknowledge that there are problems; the ethical issues are difficult and will never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Nevertheless, the scientific community, through discussion and deliberation, can figure out the best ethical solutions in each of these areas if it will just stay mindful of its obligation to do so. Consequently, all research should probably be allowed to keep going forward.
All these issues are being addressed by other “communities” of knowing people, especially philosophers and theologians. But Mr. Brumfiel gives no indication that he or the scientific community should have to give any consideration to their deliberations or conclusions.
We have come so far in the direction of the view that science is the only reliable means of knowing that in some people’s minds, whatever our deepest concerns might be, even if they involve questions of good and evil or right and wrong, science will figure it out and do the right thing.
I, for one, do not believe that is a safe or sound place to stand. But Christians, for example, should not expect that their views on such matters will be invited, welcomed, or heeded by large segments of the scientific community. Until, that is, we begin to earn the right to be heard.
Christians must become informed about these and many other matters. We must work together to search out the teachings of our own faith tradition concerning the ethical and societal issues these and other areas of research necessarily entail. And we must aid and assist those of our own community who are working in the sciences, who by virtue of their diligence and excellence have earned street creds within that community, to involve themselves in such discussions, according to the teaching of a Christian worldview, by all available means.
The dangers of leaving such matters to be resolved by materialists and rationalists are simply too great. No, this is not an easy battle to engage, but we who are called to take every thought captive and make them obedient to Jesus Christ cannot sit silently by while very large issues of ethical and societal concern are being considered by members of a community whose tools and protocols do not qualify them to pronounce reliably on such matters.