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Separation of Science and State3 min read

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Ernst Haeckel’s debunked embryo drawings

My local liberal rag (SF Chronicle) has a nice article about how we treat scientists as our modern priests, entitled The unholy lust of scientists.

In our secular, post-religious society, the figure of the cassock-clad priest has been replaced by that of the white-coated scientist. Dispensing wisdom from the laboratory — the secular sanctuary — his every word is awaited breathlessly by a world thirsting for knowledge.
The real point of this article is that the prevalence of fraud in science should make us wary of taking everything, or anything as gospel when it comes from the mouth of the “shamans of science.”

The author also suggests that perhaps science should not expect to be able to shape policy, esp. when it has financial funding to gain – can you say “conflict of interest?”  How can it claim any moral stance on, for instance, cloning, when thousands of govt research dollars are the prize if they convince us that their work is not ethically questionable?

Although I distance myself wholly from his anti-rationalism and methodological anarchy, I share the late philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend’s demand for a separation of science and state, or at the very least a radical curtailment of public financial sponsorship of scientific research.

OK, maybe defunding of basic research isn’t the answer.  But scientists should not expect funding for ethically questionable projects like embryonic research, despite liberal fear-mongering about the US falling behind in science.  Despite the somewhat true argument “eventually, whatever can be done will be done,” that’s no reason to barrel ahead with human experimentation (including embryonic research), human cloning (which I am NOT personally against, but many Xians are), human/animal chimeras, or even more inhumane animal studies (sometimes I think PETA is right).

What is missing in this article is that, while science has done so much to help us, the author does not clearly mention that secularists have steadily used science to not only push superstition out of science (good thing), but any ethics that stand in the way of “unhindered research.”  Also, science has been wielded in a way that tries to command uncontested moral authority in social policy, ethics, and origins – topics that it really should only be a SME, but not a leader in.

Science is still dependent on man’s intellect, and we should not rely on it entirely – we ought to consult moral revelation and wisdom across the ages to determine what is right, to make sure that we are not involved in self-deception or justification of evil.

Science has truly become our new arbiter of religious truth as well as material truth.  But the priests of science are failing us, and we should take back some of the power we’ve given them by not giving them blind trust (i.e. faith), nor the final say in matters of morality or ethics.  Here’s the author’s nice closing analogy:

Were a bishop to be caught doctoring the Gospels, I doubt any scientists would be rushing to approve the Church’s latest request for help to build a new cathedral. Why it should be any different for the secular bishops of science is difficult to discern.