Advocates for an “anything goes” scientific sector often claim that attempts to place reasonable ethical parameters around biotechnology–say by outlawing all human cloning as has been urged by the UN General Assembly–is a war on science or the imposition of religion. That argument is, and always was, baloney. For example, there are limits on what we can do to animals in research. But those are not based on scientific principles, but rather, on moral precepts. Ditto the limitations on human subjects research. The only reason these two examples aren’t similarly attacked is because generally, the Science Establishment agrees with them.
Michael Gerson had a very good piece about this in the Washington Post this week. From his column:
There are few things in American politics more irrationally ideological, more fanatically faith-based, than the accusation that Republicans are conducting a “war on science.”
According to Hillary Clinton, the Bush administration has declared “open season on open inquiry.” “When I am president,” she promises, “scientific integrity will not be the exception; it will be the rule.”
The exceptions, in this case, are pretty exceptional: Elias Zerhouni, who has reformed the National Institutes of Health with widely praised efficiency; Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who helped set in motion large-scale AIDS treatment in Africa; Francis Collins of the National Human Genome Research Institute, who led the effort to map the human genome. The “war on science” recently has allowed some extraordinary achievements.
For the most part, these accusations are a political ploy — actually an attempt to shut down political debate. Any practical concern about the content of government sex-education curricula is labeled “anti-science.” Any ethical question about the destruction of human embryos to harvest their cells is dismissed as “theological” and thus illegitimate.
Gerson points out that what some call a war on science from the Right, is really a war on human equality from the Left:
In “Science and the Left,” his insightful article in the latest issue of the New Atlantis, Yuval Levin argues that a belief in the power of science is central to the development of liberalism–based on the assertion that objective facts and rational planning can replace tradition and religious authority in the organization of society. 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.”
But the oracle of science is silent on certain essential topics. “Science, simply put,” says Levin, “cannot account for human equality, and does not offer reasons to believe we are all equal. Science measures our material and animal qualities, and it finds them to be patently unequal.”
Without a firm, morally grounded belief in equality, liberalism has been led down some dark paths. The old, progressive eugenics of the late 19th and early 20th centuries involved widespread sterilization of the mentally disabled as a form of social hygiene. “Drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon society,” argued Margaret Sanger in 1922, “if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupidly cruel sentimentalism.”
The consequence as the column notes–and we have pointed out here at SHS repeatedly–leads to the destruction of human exceptionalism (my term) and the methodical advance of the culture of death.