Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"Science is a wonderful servant and a terrible master."

Dan Collins said it well. Technology and science gallops without bit, without restraint. Restraint used to come in the form of Christian ethics, but as society becomes increasingly secular, restraint is being cast off. So what force will guide the horse?

I have written before how science is so politicized, and I'm not talking about by crazed right-wingers intent on stopping the march of progress. No, the politicization of science is at the hands of leftists intent on forcing outcomes that are politically correct. Here is the essence:

Levin summarizes the liberal promise this way: “The past was rooted in error and prejudice while the future would have at its disposal a new oracle of genuine truth.”
Science as "genuine truth". Color me terrified.

Let me tell you some things that were accepted as "genuine truth" in the field of medical science and have since been debunked:
Frontal Lobotomies: A personal story here. And look at what intellectuals bought into it.
Sensory Deprivation for Autism: A personal view here.
Hormone Replacement Therapy for menopausal women. Oops! Causes cancer.
Arthroscopic Knee Surgery: Uh oh, it's just a placebo.
The list is long. I'm sure you could come up with more. I could, I just decided to stop. My point is that science is evolving. What is scientific "truth" today is tomorrow's discarded notion.

Christianity, on the other hand, has fixed principles that form the foundation of ethical behavior. I am taking, as a premise, that what we view as modern day ethics are Christian ethics. That's an easy one to prove--substitute Muslim ethics or Hindu ethics. They'd be a wee bit different, no? But I'm not going to get into that right now.

What the liberals hope for is ideological purity and science can form the foundation for that purity. That's why the Global Warming zealots are so zealous. They bring the same fervor to idealizing modern science that the zealous bring to worshiping The Ideal. It's a tad disturbing. Science will change tomorrow. A new notion of truth will come along because new science will reveal a more complete picture. But the liberal zealots assume that the picture they currently see is the only one that will ever exist and make decisions based on today's knowledge. It's the height of vanity.

Unrestrained by overarching principles, science can go anywhere and will. Some will embrace this, but science unrestrained by ethics takes mankind to dark places as Michael Gerson notes:

These arguments are seriously made, but they are not to be taken seriously. Does anyone really believe in a science without moral and legal limits? In harvesting organs from prisoners? In systematically getting rid of the disabled?

This last question, alas, does not answer itself. In America, the lives of about nine of 10 children with Down syndrome are ended before birth. In Europe, about 40 percent of unborn children with major congenital disorders are aborted.

All of which highlights a real conflict, a war within liberalism between the idea of unrestricted science in the cause of health and the principle that all men are created equal -- between humanitarianism and egalitarianism.

Already, decisions are made in the name of science, but are they ethical? And what are the implications for the future of those who don't measure up or those who refuse the scientific ideal?

There are questions science can't answer. The modern American's unwillingness to make these decisions is a decision. That leaves the decisions left in the hands of the scientists. There's a reason for the mad scientist cliché. We should all be paying more attention.


freestyle55 said...

Just a clarification, but that link for the arthroscopic knee surgery isn't exactly as you said that a placebo worked just as well in cases of osteoarthritis. It also claimed, as I can personally attest to, that there are valueable reasons for the surgery in cases of actual injury (in my case, removing bone chips)...

David said...

Is "science" really the issue here? Suppose children born with congenital defects were killed by exposing them (as was the practice in many prescientific societies) or by bashing their heads in with rocks. Would the moral issues be any different?

Ben Stein recently did an interview in which he seemed to blame "science" at least in part for the Holocaust. Again, is there really any difference in killing people in gas chambers with the products of chemistry and killing them with rifles or clubs?

Wayne said...

david - From what I read recently, the link Ben Stein made was to the Theory of Evolution and how it was used to justify the Nazi Eugenics program. However, your general point is still good, because anything can be used, by a twisted enough mind, to justify nearly any horror.

Anonymous said...

Wow, the ignorance astounds.

Are you seriously postulating that religion has greater truth than science? And proof of this is are examples where "accepted" scientific knowledge was later disproven. This shows the fallacy of accepting the claims of others without proper scientific vigor. Yes isn't this what religion is?

The statement that "[w]hat is scientific "truth" today is tomorrow's discarded notion" is so bizarre that I'm astonished you even claim to be a doctor. Science isn't evolving--we aren't going to wake up tomorrow and find that, gee, we were wrong, PI isn't roughly 3.14156, but 4 after all.

Just because someone lays claim to scientific truth doesn't mean that's true or that their claim has any scientific merits at all. Simply assigned claims to "science" and then smugly standing back and proclaiming science a crock is simply dishonest and displays a profound ignorance of the scientific method and theory.

The notion that Christianity "has fixed principles" is laughable and patently untrue. Christianity is one of the most maleable religions of all time. Pick just about any Christian principle and I'll find another truly believing Christian who disagrees with you. The few exceptions of commonality are general ethics shared by almost all cultures independent of religion.

The truth is your entire rant is exactly backward. It is religion that can go anywhere and justify anything. It is religion that can, and has, make the most unethical things ethical.

Science with an ethical foundation can lead us to make poor decisions, but religion with ethics can lead us to make decisions that are horrific beyond compare.

Melissa Clouthier said...


What I'm saying is that the Christian ethic of esteeming others above ourselves, essentially the Golden Rule, informs a foundation upon which to build scientific discoveries. There are principles that are embodied in most world belief systems, the Golden Rule being one.

Science when properly done seeks the truth. But who decides what is "proper" and what are the guiding principles? Right now, I don't feel that there are many. And I'm not talking about the efficiency of the scientific method. I'm talking about what is worthy of study.

While religion is open to interpretation, I'll grant you that, science, too is used different ways. In fact, one of my issues is how science is funded. Any theory deemed politically incorrect isn't explored or studied. It almost seems that the dominant scientists in the profession desire a specific outcome. That is certainly not very scientific.

So, in essence, in modern science, whomever controls the money and ideology controls what is studied and explored. That's bound to result in opinions not truth being discovered. The scientific community is chummy, elitist and political. Fine.

The problem now, is that so much of what is being studied have huge ethical implications. It's been done that way before--the studies by Nazis were rational, they weren't ethical. Someone has to decide what is right and wrong. I don't want scientists to be the only ones making those decisions.

Anonymous said...

...the Christian ethic of esteeming others above ourselves, essentially the Golden Rule, informs a foundation upon which to build scientific discoveries.

No it doesn't. This has precisely nothing to do with science. In fact, quite the opposite. Science is most often perverted because of an attempt to frame the science in a religious or ethical manner.

You are confusing the application of scientific discoveries with science itself.

Science when properly done seeks the truth. But who decides what is "proper" and what are the guiding principles? Right now, I don't feel that there are many. And I'm not talking about the efficiency of the scientific method.

The scientific method isn't about "efficiency", IT IS SCIENCE. Again you are mixing science with application. You bring up the absurd example of the Nazis--by and large their studies weren't rational nor were they good science by any stretch of the imagination. They had a forgone conclusion that they were a superior race and warped everything to make it appear they had proven that.

I'm talking about what is worthy of study.

But you aren't; you clearly claimed that science is nothing more than wishful thinking with less validity than religious belief. Moreover, the notion that something "is worthy of study" is still religion and quite independent of objective ethics. Christianity of a millenia ago declared that genuine astronomy wasn't worthy of study.

The Catholic church still declares birth control to be a sin. I think it's safe to assume that were it up to the Pope, research into birth control would be forbidden. Since our understanding of how birth control works is very much tied to our understanding of the reproductive systems, entire swaths of scientific research would have to be abandoned.

So, in essence, in modern science, whomever controls the money and ideology controls what is studied and explored.

That is simply untrue. Yes, there is a tendency for people to be outspoken in ANY field, including science, to the detriment of that field. But a continual striving for the truth and, in the case of science, instance on use the proper methodology will cause the truth to win out in the end.

Ultimately, though, this has little to do with science, and everything to do with politics and, yes, religion.

What makes this argument even more laughable is that religion is far more dogmatic than science could ever be. The difference being that by its very nature, religion can't be proven or disproven. Scientific claims can be and are.

(BTW, Your example of Arthoscopic Knee Surgery is horribly misstated. The study was examining only ONE use of knee surgery--to relieve pain due to osteoarthritis. Many people who have had other damage to the knee have greatly benefited from the surgery. Moreover, the arthoscopic method of surgery in general has had huge health benefits.)

Wayne said...

Your article today was rather a surprise to me. While there have undoubtedly been examples of misplaced scientific studies in the past, in the present, and most likely in the future, science itself is hardly the problem. In fact, I would suggest that the proximity in time is clouding the issue. In one of my history classes in college, many years ago, the professor asked us why history their undergrad U.S. History classes were broken up into three time periods of very different length (pre-Reconstruction, Reconstruction to 1965, and after 1965). I correctly answered that as we came closer to the present. it became harder to identify which events were important, and which could be essentially ignored, because we didn't have as much benefit of hindsight. There are certainly enormous numbers of examples of things that have been done with the full knowledge of Christian and other moral people which would be considered monstrous (or at least terribly dangerous) today. Yet we understand that their knowledge was limited, and give them the benefit of the doubt, because of our modern perspective.

I notice that all of your examples are of medical procedures, except for the mention of Global Warming. Possibly because you are a Doctor, but possibly because they would naturally be the easiest to find. Do you actually believe that these procedures were implemented just because people could? I would find that hard to believe. In each of your examples, I would see it as an honest attempt to find a way to help the sufferers to find relief. If they were not as helpful as the people had hoped, it was not because of callousness, though of course there are examples of that in history as well.

"So, in essence, in modern science, whomever controls the money and ideology controls what is studied and explored. That's bound to result in opinions not truth being discovered."

Regarding this statement, the possibility that only opinions, and not truth, would be discovered is only possible in the "soft" sciences, where data is more open to interpretation, such as Global Warming, Medicine, Psychology, Sociology, etc. It's possible to misinterpret data in the hard sciences, too, but it is nearly impossible to obfuscate the truth for as long as the Global Warming scam has gone on.

The scientific community is chummy, elitist and political. Fine."

This has not been my experience. Of course, I only get what I read in publications, but in most branches, the "scientific community" is clannish, suspicious, frequently arrogant, and generally dedicated to either discovering things first, or proving rivals wrong. The ones who fit the mold you describe are generally limited to the left-wing activists who have a science agenda that is driven by their political agenda, whereas the ones I described generally adopt a political activism in order to convince the Powers That Be to provide them with funding.

Ardsgaine said...

"Esteeming others above ourselves..."

If you mean that literally, then you've set forth the foundational ethical principle of all totalitarian regimes. Marxism and Fascism could not have existed if people had not been taught to place a higher value on the lives of others than their own, to place the common good before the individual good.

It is not just an ethical principle, though, it is also a type of epistemology. To esteem others higher than oneself means to place their judgment ahead of your own. Whatever the majority says is right must be right. The person who sets his judgment against them is arrogant and selfish.

Wheeler's said...

gerson, levin, collins et al are just promoting the Science is Bad meme.
It is part of the Rightwing War on Science.
You, melissa, are a clueless dupe.
Expelled is intercut with Holocaust footage.
"Stein: When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you."

Wheeler's said...

Part of the undead zombie effort to force religious education into American public schools.
You see melissa....since Science is so very bad, we will have to police the ethics of the mad scientists. So we will mandate a Science-ethics class, to forced on all aspiring scientists.....oh....and lets base this required class on the wunnderful judeoxian ethics that have done so much for this country.


Wheeler's said...

and yes ards, it's Nishi.
just doin my greifin rounds.

Do you know about Wheeler's Cat?
Much luckier than Schroedinger's Cat.


Wheeler's said...

I don't believe you're a doctor.
My dad was an othopaedic surgeon and an observant catholic.
He would never have fallen for this crapology.

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