The Moral Challenge of Modern Science

Yuval Levin in The New Atlantis:

A few years ago, in the course of a long speech about health policy, President George W. Bush spoke of the challenge confronting a society increasingly empowered by science. He put his warning in these words:

The powers of science are morally neutral—as easily used for bad purposes as good ones. In the excitement of discovery, we must never forget that mankind is defined not by intelligence alone, but by conscience. Even the most noble ends do not justify every means.

In the president’s sensible formulation, the moral challenge posed for us by modern science is that our scientific tools simply give us raw power, and it is up to us to determine the right ways to use that power and to proscribe the wrong ways.

The notion that science is morally neutral is also widely held and advanced by scientists…

…the moral challenge of modern science reaches well beyond the ambiguity of new technologies because modern science is much more than a source of technology, and scientists are far more than mere investigators and toolmakers. Modern science is a grand human endeavor, indeed the grandest of the modern age. Its work employs the best and the brightest in every corner of the globe, and its modes of thinking and reasoning have come to dominate the way mankind understands itself and its place.

We must therefore judge modern science not only by its material products, but also, and more so, by its intentions and its influence upon the way humanity has come to think. In both these ways, science is far from morally neutral.

More here.

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