Friday, October 16, 2009

The Political Implications of Reductionism, Part 2

In Bill McGurn's newest column, Science vs. God Isn't the Issue, he touches on the political implications of Reductionism - although he's far too cautious in condemning it.

When the poet Matthew Arnold wrote of faith's "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar," the thought was that scientific inquiry had forever undermined claims to certitude. In hindsight we see Arnold was only half right. In place of Genesis we now have scientism—the idea that science alone can speak truth about man and his world...

The more honest ones do not flinch before the implications of their materialist principles on our understanding of human dignity and human rights and human freedom—as well as on religion.

In 1997, for example, an International Academy of Humanism statement in defense of human cloning—whose signatories included scientists such as E.O. Wilson, Francis Crick and Richard Dawkins—went out of its way to attack the special dignity of human beings. "Humanity's rich repertoire of thoughts, feelings, aspirations, and hopes seems to arise from electrochemical brain processes, not from an immaterial soul that operates in ways no instrument can discover." They concluded "it would be a tragedy if ancient theological scruples should lead to a Luddite rejection of cloning."

Here's the problem: Almost no one really believes this. Not, at least, when it comes to how we behave.

Unfortunately, that is wrong: Reductionism does influence how we behave (see here, for instance). In that sense, Mr. McGurn underestimates the danger. In fact, were it not for his restraint in bashing Intelligent Design (which is usually a staple of these types of pieces), I might be tempted to throw Mr. McGurn into the "Kumbaya Club."

Later on, McGurn notes...

Many Americans who are indifferent to faith will confess they find themselves challenged as they try to raise good and decent children without the religious confidence their parents had. The result may not be a return to religion but a healthy agnosticism about agnosticism itself.

Yes, that's a fine recommendation - although I'm sure we can do better than that. I've taken a stab at a solution here.

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