Are moral vaccinations just around the corner?
One of the consequences of what Charles Taylor refers to as the “disenchantment” of our secular age is that we are reduced to looking for solutions to our problems at the level of materialism alone.
Now certain philosophers, with clearest of secular logic and, one hopes, the best of motives, are suggesting that we should turn to material solutions for the moral ills that plague us.
Writing in the July 9, 2012 issue of Philosophy Now, Julian Savulescu and Ingmar Persson argue the case for human biological enhancement as a way to improve the moral environment.
As a species, humans are in desperate need of some enhancement, if only to keep us from destroying ourselves: “A basic fact about the human condition is that it is easier for us to harm each other than to benefit each other.” (Wow, wonder why that’s so?) “It is easier for us to kill than it is for us to save a life; easier to injure than to cure. Scientific developments have enhanced our capacity to benefit, but they have enhanced our capacity to harm still further. As a result, our power to harm is overwhelming.”
This creates real problems for us, and not even our political institutions are able to deliver us from our inclination to harm one another, since they are populated by the very people whose moral shortcomings are part of the problem in the first place: “Our moral shortcomings are preventing our political institutions from acting effectively.”
What to do?
Well, obviously we need to improve our motivation to help rather than harm one another: “Enhancing our moral motivation would enable us to act better for distant people, future generations, and non-human animals.”
And precisely how shall we achieve such “enhanced moral motivation”? Given our rejection of non-material reality, we can only resort to means – science, in the form of “biomedical moral enhancement.”
The authors insist that “there are few cogent philosophical or moral objections to the use of specifically biomedical moral enhancement…” (Really?) “The moral enhancement of humankind is necessary for there to be a way out of this predicament.”
The authors suggest “drugs or genetic modifications, or devices to augment moral education” as their solutions of choice, with emphasis on the first two (the last having thus far proved insufficient). Surely we can create a pill, alter a gene, or draw up a regimen of brain reconditioning that will help us to be nicer to one another?
In the same issue Brian D. Earp argues for strengthening the bonds of marriage, and the experience of marital love, through the judicious use of oxytocin sprayed up the nose.
Yeah, that should do it.
I don’t fault these thinkers, who are only doing their best to be helpful and consistent within an anti-supernatural framework. But it’s not difficult to see where such programs of “moral enhancement” could lead, given, after all, that we are more prone to harm than to help one another.
The attempt to improve our moral motivations through biomedical means is just the latest version of the frontal lobotomy. No merely material solution will be able to save us from self-destruction. Certainly our brains become active and engaged when we are involved in making moral choices, but this does not mean that the brain – or our genes – is the source of those moral choices. Something more than electricity and chemistry is at work here.
But, as Christians know, that something is spiritual, and the present scientific paradigm has little patience with such notions.
Nevertheless, before we are required to queue up for our moral vaccination once a year, those who know that only the Spirit gives life had better get busy about the task of making their worldview make sense.