Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"But science has done a lot of bad things too, right?"

One of the common Christian arguments you hear when you confront them with all the horrors their religion has caused is that "Science has also caused a lot of bad things too, like the nuclear bomb".

Science. That cold nemesis of religion, always eating away at every precious religious "truth". Worst of all, it happens in a disinterested way. By presenting an analogy between science and religion, then perhaps these scientist know-it-alls would just shut up?


Well, science was responsible for approximately 280 000 deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki - in the very same way that carpenters were responsible for the death of Jesus, by making the cross.


Why did they make the atomic bomb? Nuclear fission had become a scientific fact in the late 1930s, but the scientific and historical details are better left to someone else. For this purpose, it suffices to say that the Nazis would have used the bomb if they had been capable of making it, and that's why the Americans wanted to develop it too with the help of European scientists.


This means that the engine behind the development of the nuclear bomb was on an ideological and political level. The Nazis had a very violent ideology, and while the Allies did not, they would have to be prepared to respond to it.Germany, as we know, lost the war before the bomb was used, but the Japanese put up some resistance and the American government decided to try to bring them to their knees with nuclear bombs. No matter what role the scientists had, it was a government decision to drop the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (Even a Christian one, if we accept the constant nagging from the American Religious Right that USA is a "Christian nation".)


The Jews wanted to have Jesus crucified. That was a religious wish. Pontius Pilate had it happen, which was a political decision to keep the Jews calm. It was not the carpenter, or the Roman legionaries who had Jesus crucified, even though they provided the technical means.


And the bombs were not dropped over Japan as an interesting experiment for a mad scientist. It was direct, political response to war and to violent ideology and was perceived as a necessity. Whether or not the bombs truly were necessary to finish Japan is up for debate. But by that time the bomb had become an indispensable weapon for the American government who understood that the Russians would be rather interested in it as well.


So, dropping the bombs on Japan was not a scientific decision – it was a political one. And what influences politics? Ideology... and often religion.


Am I saying that the scientists were innocent? No, the lesson after WW2 is that no-one is innocent if they participated or passively accepted it. If you are told to participate in an atrocity, then you have an obligation to refuse. But this does not affect what the driving power is. While Adolf Eichmann was guilty in sending Jews to concentration camps, he would not have done so without Nazi ideology.


Which leads us to the main point: science is merely a tool. It does not have an ideological power, like Nazism – or religion. Scientists merely try to discover things and there is no overall ideological direction, as long as you stick to good scientific methods. Be it nuclear physics or linguistics. Naturally, there have been more focus on ethics within science after the war, but that comes as a form of self-regulation of science, rather than an original scientific ideal.


That science is not an ideology does not mean that scientists themselves do live in a vacuum, however. They have opinions about politics, and they may have opinions about religion. And this may affect their research or area of interest. If a mad scientist was able to create a nuclear bomb by himself and have it dropped over Mecca, what would the reason be for this undertaking? Interest in nuclear physics? Hatred for Islam? Most likely the latter. His ideological or religious part of the brain created the urge to destroy, while the scientific part provided the means.


The crusades are often used as examples of religious atrocities. Would a nuclear bomb be useful in one of the crusades? It probably would, as long as it was not used near a holy site, especially not near Jerusalem. And if it had been used in a crusade, then the nuclear bomb would not have been remembered as a scientific atrocity but a religious atrocity, and rightly so.


The analogy between religion and science is therefore false, because science is just a tool and what we really have to keep in check is the dangerous opinions and beliefs that surround both the scientists, the politicians and the rest of us.


Without war-mongering religions and ideologies, scientists can probably use their skills for more peaceful purposes.



4 comments:

Bob said...

Well I wouldn't say "science has done a lot of bad things too" but men in the "name of science" operating upon materialist presuppositions have done a lot of bad things. A few brazen examples would be eugenics, human experimentation, electro-shock therapy, just to name a few.

Bob said...

Oh and yes like wise I would say men in the name of Religion have done a lot of bad things too. But the difference is that I have a standard by which to be able to label an action "BAD" you are left to subjectively and arbitrarily ascribe "BAD" to different actions/behaviours.

Strappado said...

So, how come I am still able to label something as "bad" then? Why do I not say that casual killing is good and friendship is bad? After all, there's no God or Hell. Why should I bother with moral?

The thing is that our moral does not come from books alone. We have developed a moral instinct. If you had read The God Delusion, you'd see a pretty interesting chapter on moral. (If you are willing to read it it won't do anything to your beliefs I suppose, but you would see that your argument about moral coming directly from religion does not hold water.)

You know that wagon example? (A wagon runs down a track towards a group of five children. You are able to switch it over onto another track where you will kill one cild while the five others are saved.)

Well, they tried this (and various other versions) on people from different cultures, including a tribe in a remote area of the Amazonas. They found that people responded similarly, and that we in other words have the same moral instinct no matter which background we have.

In other words religion does not construct moral. It just tries to tell us what we already know and in the process it influences it.

You can also take a look at animals that often live in flocks and you'll see that they have a sense of moral too. Or else, there would be anarchy among them. Are there anarchy among chimps?

Bob said...

"So, how come I am still able to label something as "bad" then? Why do I not say that casual killing is good and friendship is bad? After all, there's no God or Hell. Why should I bother with moral?"

Well, my point isn't that Atheists are all immoral and that they don't use words like right and wrong or good and bad. My point is that you are not rationally justified in doing so (really most western ethic is just leftovers from the Christian consensus that once shaped Western society). Right and wrong are empty catagories, I say this because if we assume wht you say here:

"We have developed a moral instinct"

morality can be nothing other than an arbitrarily created facade. We may use the words "right" or "wrong" but they are wholly arbitrary and meaningless. They are just moral words to control society with.

Again I would never disagree with you that you do not act morally, or have feelings that "X" is wrong. My point is that these actions and feelings are irrational (if we assume materialism). The best you guys can come up with to explain morality is that it "evolved" (the ultimate gap filler.)

"You know that wagon example? (A wagon runs down a track towards a group of five children. You are able to switch it over onto another track where you will kill one cild while the five others are saved.)

Well, they tried this (and various other versions) on people from different cultures, including a tribe in a remote area of the Amazonas. They found that people responded similarly, and that we in other words have the same moral instinct no matter which background we have.

In other words religion does not construct moral. It just tries to tell us what we already know and in the process it influences it."


So because there is some hypothetical situation where either choice is bad .:/therefore Religion does not give us an adequate moral foundation? I don't know I seem to be missing the connection. But I got a better hypothetical:

There's a guy in NY with a nuclear bomb strapped to his chest and he says he will detinate it unless you let him molest some boys at the local pre-school. So what do you do? If you stop him from molesting the boys he will blow up NYC but if you let him molest the boys NYC will go on but the boys will be horribly scarred if not dead...I mean what do you do?

Therefore Atheism can not provide morality.

"Are there anarchy among chimps?"

Um, yes. They have no government and they fling their poop at each other.