My Response to Two Scientists Looking Down Their Noses At Religion and at the Religiously Devout
By Ken K. Gourdin
One scientist’s critique of religion appears as an Op-Ed in today’s Salt Lake Tribune (last accessed today): http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/opinion/58403781-82/religion-god-stenger-science.html.csp. In an on-line comment, I responded:
I hope you and Stenger are/were equal opportunity critics, Professor Clark. Many of the same criticisms you and he level at religion can be leveled at such things as the humanities, philosophy, and the arts: our responses to many of those things, too, are not quantifiable, reproducible, or understandable. As the poet wrote, “The heart knows reasons that reason knows not of.”
Furthermore, you fall prey to a logical fallacy when you compare religion’s worst possible outcomes with science’s neutral or better outcomes. Somehow, I suspect you would be greatly upset if someone were to attack your work in the realm of science by attempting a similar tactic, and rightly so. The reality is, both religion and science can be used for good or manipulated for ill, respectively. After all, Hitler didn’t have much use for religion, either (one, in particular); on the other hand, he thought that perversions of science were “the bee’s knees” (my phrase; e.g., eugenics). I hope that you, as a scientist, are consistent.
I maintain personally that neither scientists nor the religiously devout ever ought to become too self-satisfied or provincial in their possession of truth. And once we allow science alone to start determining the worth of a soul (using the term soul in the same way operators of conveyances in distress use it to report the number of passengers who may need saving) – once we start attempting to gauge that worth in utilitarian terms alone – then we may begin to countenance the arguments of so-called ethicists such as Peter Singer, who advocates, not only the abortion of unborn babies, but also the killing of young children with serious deformities and disabilities after birth. As someone who was born nearly ten weeks prematurely in an era in which neonatal care is much less advanced than it is now (and who has Cerebral Palsy as a result), I have to wonder whether I would have been ensnared in Singer’s ethical net.
With respect to religion’s impact on the arts, on the humanities, and indeed, on culture generally (as well as on ethics), see here (last accessed today): https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/christmas-is-culturally-significant-even-if-not-religiously-so/.1
||One of science’s potential pitfalls is that it may lead to life being considered in strictly utilitarian terms. Thus, the true value of what one is may be subordinated strictly to considerations of what one can (and cannot) do. If one cannot do the things that conventional wisdom” (including scientific wisdom) says are of value by making some kind of reasonably readily quantifiable contribution to society, often, science would say that such an existence is not worthwhile. (Anyone who doubts this should ask people such as ethicist Peter Singer, who not only advocates the destruction of fetuses which exhibit undesirable characteristics in utero, but the eradication of infants and young children who exhibit those characteristics after birth (up to age three). In opposition to this view as expressed by another author, I have written:
. . . I was highly disturbed by [the author’s] implication that people with Down’s Syndrome are incapable of making the kind of meaningful societal contribution which he can easily quantify, they would be better off never having been born. Speaking from my personal experience, I can testify that disabilities, perhaps more than any other type of challenge, have a way of teaching us what is really important about living and about life. Although contributions of the disabled sometimes are not easily quantified by Mr. Wilson’s “dollar sign bottom line,” these contributions transcend and offset the costs inherent to empowering the disabled by meeting their physical and mental needs, by educating them, and by affording them the opportunity to make the most meaningful societal contribution possible.
I feel very fortunate to have been born in a country which, even though this hasn’t always been the case, strives to provide the disabled with the opportunity to test their abilities by fully exploring their potential. Is [the author] proposing that we return to the days when the disabled were routinely institutionalized and ostracized—that we restore the social stigma of having a disabled child as a means of population control? If so, there are still a number of countries in the world where he would be welcomed with open arms, and where he will be free to realize his misguided vision and to promulgate his misguided dogma. And if we are to arbitrarily abort imperfect fetuses, where do we draw the line? Do we then turn to euthanizing the disabled who have already been born? Whether he wishes to admit it or not, Mr. Wilson’s views could well be the first step down that slippery slope.*
* Source: Ken K. Gourdin (July 31, 2013) “The Disabled: Different From Us, and Yet Very Much the Same” (Blog post), accessed on line at https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/the-disabled-different-yet-the-same/ on September 15, 2014