In January, there was the Women’s March, in which many women took part to affirm human equality and diversity — often unaware that the march’s premier sponsor was abortion giant Planned Parenthood.
Now the March for Science is planned for Earth Day, April 22. The march’s website says it will “celebrate and defend science,” which “protects the health of our communities, the safety of our families, the education of our children, the foundation of our economy and jobs, and the future we all want to live in and preserve for coming generations.”
Organizers worry that the current administration may ignore the threat of worldwide climate change and reject “evidence-based policies” for addressing it. That concern is widely shared. In fact, religious leaders like Pope Francis have done more to call attention to our moral obligations on this issue than many scientists have.
But the organizers also want everyone to hail science as “a vital feature of a working democracy” that leads to “better, healthier lives for all people.” And here a reality check is in order.
Science is a particular method for gathering a particular kind of knowledge. It is morally neutral. By analyzing nature into its most basic elements, it can provide great power for manipulating nature to serve human goals. It has little to say about what those goals should be, and its power can be used for good or evil.
Scientific findings can be used to cure disease or weaponize viruses for germ warfare, to provide cheap energy or destroy cities, to serve democracy or undermine it by classifying some people as biologically “inferior” to others.
To be effective, plans for doing any of these things must be “evidence-based.” Deciding which of them to do must draw from a source beyond science — from morality, which for many of us involves recognizing a Lawgiver whose wisdom transcends our flawed human plans.
Yet leading scientists have ridiculed religious faith and dismissed ethical concerns about their zeal for “progress” at any price.
That zeal has produced some disasters: the eugenics movement’s support for laws allowing involuntary sterilization prior to World War II, the U.S. Public Health Service’s shameful mistreatment of poor African-American men in its Tuskegee syphilis experiments, the deliberate injection of hepatitis virus into developmentally disabled children at the Willowbrook State School in New York in the 1960s, the drive for government-funded experiments treating unborn human beings as laboratory rats after the Supreme Court’s abortion decisions of 1973.
Beginning in the 1990s, leading scientific organizations insisted that stem cell research involving the destruction of human embryos was a privileged path to amazing cures. Their campaign involved wild exaggeration and outright falsehoods. Voters and politicians nevertheless poured billions of dollars into this project, ignoring the objections of Americans who respect human life in its early stages.
The result? There have been no cures. Embryonic stem cell research has been outdistanced by adult stem cell research and other alternatives with more promise for therapies. Diverting those billions of dollars away from these avenues surely slowed medical progress.
So let us give three cheers for science as a way to understand our natural world. But let us have some healthy skepticism when scientists say the rest of us should relax and let them run the country. Let us remember that the need to be evidence-based also applies to self-serving claims by scientists.
And let us hope that any March for Science will involve some self-reflection and humility among scientists, who need guidance from the rest of us as much as we need their contributions.
Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Washington state.
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The scientific method calls for hypotheses to be either falsified at any time or may be supported. Whereas, religion does not.
It is probably a good thing that Americans continue to take time to march together in support of concerns or viewpoints that they share in common whether that is science, the status of women or pro life. We after all live in an eletronic age when it is too easy to with a sense of self satisfied virtue type out comments about groups that we avoid. Actual human contact might make us a little more humane.
The March for Science is taking place on Earth Day, a day set aside to celebrate the planet we live on. Earth is, so far as scientists and religious leaders alike know, the only habitable
planet in our galaxy. Because of recent cuts to science funding and the EPA, the life span of our only planet is in jeopardy.
Much like women’s rights (the abortion debate aside, why would you want a president who boasts about sexually assaulting women?) the environmental needs of our dying planet are important for life itself. And may I remind you how much, as a Catholic, you claim to “love life”.
As a retired engineer, I say, Richard, that your comments are right on target!
Great article. Thank you for it, Mr. Doerflinger.
Science and God most definitely work hand in hand. God is the master of science and it’s perfections. It is up to us to seek truth and then use that truth to glorify God. We must support the scientific method with and for our love of God. It is His ceation. We must march forward.
The Women’s March was with diverse purpose with different sponsors. Here are the sponsors of the Women’s March: https://www.womensmarch.com/team/
Your article fails to emphasize how science has made our world what it is today. The email I’m writing now would not be possible without science. Science is so entwined with how we live our lives, that most people take the inventions and advances for granted, just wondering what will pop up next. Resources (clean water, clothing, housing, plentiful and high quality food, communications, transportation) as well as medical breakthroughs (vaccines, cancer treatments and cures for such cancers as childhood leukemia, surgery, & drugs/vaccines) — have impacted and saved uncountable lives over the decades. It’s time for people to appreciate how science has contributed to their lives and continues to lead to new innovations and cures. Stem cell research is one specific area of inquiry. I am a scientist. My personal experience is that as a group, scientists are highly ethical. Some are religious. Some are not. We all seek to understand the world we live in. We innovate to make the world a better place for future generations.