life is a miracle

This entry was posted by on Friday, 21 May, 2010 at

I like to think I take a generally positive view of science. And I’m confused by those who seem to think that the creation of the first “synthetic life form” presents some kind of drastic threat to the credibility of religious faith. In the-Christian-version-of-things, human beings are created in the image of their Creator. So the fact that humans have used their God-given resources of intelligence and creativity to copy something they found in God’s creation seems, well, unsurprising.

This is a genuinely impressive breakthrough in the history of human discovery, and of what Kepler called “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” So why do I feel uneasy and not excited? I spent this morning in Starbucks reading Wendell Berry (which is a bit like sitting in the Enron board-room reading Karl Marx) and he put words to my feelings of unease:

The journalists think it intellectually chic to stand open-mouthed before any wonder of science whatsoever. The media, cultivating their mediocrity, seem quite comfortably unaware that many of the calamities from which science is expected to save the world were caused in the first place by science – which meanwhile is busy propagating further calamities, hailed now as wonders, from which later it will undertake to save the world. Nobody, so far as I have heard, is attempting to figure out how much of the progress resulting from this enterprise is net. It is as if the whole population has been gentically deprived of the ability to subtract….

The only science we have or can have is human science; it has human limits and is involved always with human ignorance and human error. It is a fact that the solutions invented or discovered by science have tended to lead to new problems or to become problems themselves. Scientists discovered how to use nuclear energy to solve some problems, but any use of it is enormously dangerous to us all, and scientists have not discovered what to do with the waste. (They have not discovered what to do with old tires). The availability of antibiotics leads to the overuse of antibiotics. And so on. Our daily lives are a daily mockery of our scientific pretensions. We are learning to know precisely the location of our genes, but significant numbers of us don’t know the whereabouts of our children. Science does not seem to be lighting the way; we seem rather to be leapfrogging into the dark along series of scientific solutions, which become problems, which call for further solutions, which science is always eager to supply, and which it sometimes cannot supply…

It is dangerous to act… on the assumption that our knowledge will increase fast enough to outrace the bad consequences of the arrogant use of incomplete knowledge. To trust “progress” or our putative “genius” to solve all the problems that we cause is worse than bad science; it is bad religion.

(From Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition)

One Response to “life is a miracle”

  1. Someone intelligent from church once told me things were getting better in the world (net). Some actual statistics would be nice, but I can’t remember the information they pointed me to.

    If true, this is nice but doesn’t take away from what you are saying of course – the true miracle would be if human corruption were removed. Only in such a world could we really say that scientific advance was humanity’s advance.


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