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Opening Salvo

In Our Right Minds

Having Moral Judgment Is Not "Anti-Science"

by James M. Kushiner

In his 2009 Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama said, "We will restore science to its rightful place." This implies that previously science had been impeded or ignored by the federal government. How so?

I can think of one case that attracted such a criticism. Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, had blocked federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells, a move that was criticized as being "anti-science."

But Bush had cited moral reasons for his decision, so why was he criticized for being against science? If he merited criticism, it should have been because his moral judgment was incorrect, not because he was being anti-science or unscientific. But the latter is what he was criticized for.

Does this mean that moral concerns are irrelevant to science? Or that there is something about science itself that overrides moral concerns? Many seem to assume so. Indeed, one surefire way to neutralize a moral argument today is to oppose it in the name of science or scientific progress. To the secularist, moral concerns are rooted in religion, and religion belongs to the private sphere and should be kept out of the public square, including out of science.

Furthermore, many people assume that scientific claims are always valid because those making the claims lay subjective views aside and only make objective statements about reality.

Little do they realize how often bias and wishful thinking compromise a scientist's objectivity. A common case is with the "scientific" survey. Surveys can be skewed toward a particular result, depending on which questions are asked and how they are worded. A special-interest group can usually obtain the results it wants, and then issue a press release touting its "discovery."

Consider also the work of Margaret Mead and other "sex researchers" such as Clellan Ford and Frank Beach (see "Anthropological Tourists"). Their extreme bias against Judeo-Christian sexual morals was well known. How surprised should we be, then, that they discovered what they wanted to find: uninhibited, sexually free societies outside the Western world? Except that they didn't.

Sometimes bias is so strong against a moral position that it even trumps real science. Consider the moral status of the embryo. Even today, couples are commonly told after miscarriage or abortion, especially in the early stages of pregnancy, that what was miscarried or aborted was "just tissue," a small mass of cells, nothing like a baby, and certainly not a human life. This is a common claim of advocates of abortion on demand.

But what does science say? After decades of studies in genetics, DNA, and embryology, and the evidence from increasingly sophisticated ultrasound sonograms and intra-uterine photography, the one thing upon which scientists agree is that the human embryo is not a "clump of tissue" but a human being. Period.

Yet, despite their alleged dedication to science, cultural elites still ignore—and sometimes deny—what science clearly tells them, because in this case, science undercuts their justification for abortion (see "Look! A Baby!"). So it's not science, but their desires, by which they rule their lives, and when scientific facts conflict with their wishes, then the science is either to be falsified, à la Mead and company, or to be ignored, like the facts concerning the human embryo. This sad observation indicates that the real challenge we face today is not the restoration of science, but the restoration of moral reasoning in our society.

Moral reasoning is how we discover the truths by which we must live and by which we must conduct science. Moral reasoning must therefore be restored, lest we become worse than the beasts we study—such is the capacity of man for good and for evil. Salvo seeks to elevate the mind in the right direction. •

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