|Science, Ethics, and Wisdom|
|by T. M. Moore|
|July 24, 2012|
The line between science and ethics is becoming increasingly blurred.
Because we have undertaken to speak of the pursuit of Wisdom, and have affirmed that this pursuit belongs to men alone by a distinct prerogative of their nature, we must consequently seem committed not to the position that Wisdom is a kind of moderator over all human actions.
- Hugh of St. Victor, Didascalicon
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.
- Psalm 111:10
Hugh’s Didascalicon was intended to instruct students in what and how they ought to learn. It is significant that he groups the first part of his book, the study of arts and sciences, under the heading of “wisdom”, by which he means philosophy. It takes a wise person to understand things rightly, and it takes a worldview – a perspective on the whole – to be able to sort things into their proper categories and relations. Thus, “wisdom” must moderate all our learning if we are truly to know anything at all.
But even more significant is the fact that the greater part of Hugh’s work is devoted to helping us learn how to read the Scriptures. For in the Scriptures we learn the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom. The Scriptures are the lamp which guides our feet as we journey along the path of knowing unto the attainment of wisdom. All true learning, Hugh believed, must follow the teaching and counsel of Scripture if it is to discover the way of wisdom.
Hugh was merely reflecting a universal sentiment of his day. All university instruction in those early days of the universities was subservient to the pursuit of God. Indeed, Bonaventure, in the generation after Hugh, wrote a tract entitled, “On the Reduction of the Arts to Theology,” which just about says it all.
These days the line between science and ethics is becoming increasingly blurred. In many fields scientific research is being applied to ethical considerations. The findings of neuroscience, for example, are leading many to conclude that human beings do not have free will, that we are the product of genetic composition, brain activity, and environmental conditioning. This has enormous implications for everything related to ethics, such as jurisprudence. How can courts pronounce guilt or impose punishments for crime when perpetrators cannot be considered to have acted freely, but only in response to brain waves and external stimuli? We cannot punish, it would seem; we can only correct. And that has truly ominous overtones for larger ethical areas. Shall we modify the brains of habitual “criminals” in order to achieve more socially acceptable behavior (Jack Nicholson, call your agent)?
We hardly need to be reminded how the work of environmental scientists is lapping over into the ethical realm, as politicians, using the findings of science, try to bully corporations and individuals into specific acts of behavior deemed to be more environmentally sensitive.
Armed with the findings of science, advocates augur for all kinds of issues and positions that are bound up in ethical considerations: fetal testing, transhumanism, educational policies and practices, the creation of life, artificial intelligence, and more. We should hope that those who are driving science into the arena of ethics are men and women of wisdom, people who are able to discern right from wrong and make sound judgments consistent with the holy, just, and good character of God.
But unless the fear of God is the foundation for learning, it’s not likely that the wisdom of God will be the outcome of our instruction or our labors in any field. This makes it all the more important that Christians should be involved in all fields of endeavor, self-consciously seeking the Kingdom and wisdom of God in all aspects of their study or work.
But they must not separate their studies and labors from the counsel of God’s Word, nor must they allow their studies and labors to lead them to twist the teaching of Scripture to conform to the demands of their particular discipline. Let God be true, Paul insisted, though every man be a liar (Rom. 3:4).
The Word of God is the Wisdom of God because it reveals Jesus Christ and equips us for every good work (Jn. 5:39; 2 Tim. 3:15-17). All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge come together in Jesus (Col. 2:3). Apart from knowing Him and seeking Him, we cannot be wise, and whatever knowledge we are able to accumulate will be incomplete, at best, dangerous, at worst.
Now more than ever humankind needs the wisdom of God to moderate all our affairs. But unless that wisdom flows from the Christian community, as a wellspring of refreshment and life, it will not be available to inform the large ethical decisions that are even now under consideration.