Gerard M. Verschuuren: Science Does Not Give Us a Moral Compass

Monarch Butterfly on a FlowerQuite a few animals have a built-in compass. We don’t exactly know how it works, but it does work. It lets monarch butterflies migrate south in the winter and then back again; it lets honey bees find their nest back; and it lets homing pigeons return to their home. But human beings do not have such a compass, so they can go easily off track. Humans need special artificial tools to help them go in the right direction—tools such as a magnetic compass or a GPS device. But on moral terrain, such tools will not help much to find the way. That’s why we can easily get lost in moral dilemmas, unless we have also some kind of moral compass.

I love science—it has been so good to us most of the time—but science is not going to give us a moral compass. Science deals with the way the world is, not how the world ought to be. The way things are does not tell us the way things should be. So science cannot really be our moral compass. In fact, morality is about something that is outside the scope of biology, actually beyond the reach of science. Morality is about good and evil, right and wrong. Closely related to matters of right and wrong are the moral concepts of rights and duties. Rights are something other human beings morally owe us and ought to do to us; duties are something we morally owe other human beings and ought to do to them. Somehow duties and rights go hand in hand and have a natural reciprocity. The duty of self-preservation comes with the right of self-preservation; the duty to protect life goes with the right of life’s protection; the duty to acknowledge human dignity involves also the right to claim it; the right to live implicates also the duty to live.

Science in itself is blind to all of this, so it cannot possibly discern anything that is on its “blind spot.” Therefore, science cannot control morality, but it is actually the other way around—morality ought to control science instead. Nazi-doctors such as Joseph Mengele show us what happens when morality does not control their scientific research. Morality can interrogate science, but science cannot question morality—it is beyond its reach.

It is for this reason that science cannot ignore morality. And yet so many scientists do. Since many medical doctors know more about biology than about morality—because the latter is usually not taught at medical schools—this makes them think that everything that is biologically possible is also morally permissible. As a matter of fact, bio-scientists have been trained and indoctrinated to look at life as a purely molecular phenomenon. Well, molecules can be big or small but not moral or immoral. Besides, scientists have been trained and brainwashed to put any morals aside and do their research in a so-called “morally neutral” way. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly protests (CCC 2294): “It is an illusion to claim moral neutrality in scientific research and its applications.” Even Albert Einstein realized this when he spoke of “the moral foundations of science, but you cannot turn around and speak of the scientific foundations of morality.”

VERSCHUUREN-Lifes-Journey-full-388px-600pxThis is one of the reasons why I wrote my latest book, Life’s Journey: A Guide from Conception to Growing Up, Growing Old, and Natural Death. It describes life’s journey the way biology sees it, but then uses our moral compass to judge matters of life and death that surround these biological stages of life—issues such as abortion, transgender, addictions, genetic testing, euthanasia, and death. A human body is more than a bag of genes, enzymes, or hormones. Therefore, this book discusses each stage of life’s journey in two parts: a part about its biology and a part about the moral, philosophical, and religious aspects of it.

I don’t think we should always give biologists and physicians the last word. In this book they get the first word and set the right tone, but it is my strong conviction that there is more to life than what scientists tell us when they dish out their scientific facts. I tried not to be too much of a scientist for philosophical minds and not too much of a philosopher for scientific minds. I deeply believe they can learn from each other. One cannot be without the other. We need facts before we can reflect, but facts without reflection are meaningless. To make the right moral decisions we need the scientific facts combined with sound moral guidelines. That is exactly what this book does. I know you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Copyright 2016 Gerard M. Verschuuren

“Monarch Butterfly on a Flower” by AcrylicArtist (2015) via Morguefile.

GERARD M. VERSCHUUREN is a human geneticist who also earned a doctorate in the philosophy of science. Now semi-retired, he spends most of his time as a writer, speaker, and consultant on the interface of science and religion, creation and evolution, faith and reason. His most recent books include What Makes You Tick?: A New Paradigm for Neuroscience (Solas Press, 2012); The Destiny of the Universe: In Pursuit of the Great Unknown (Paragon House, 2014); Five Anti-Catholic Myths: Slavery, Crusades, Inquisition, Galileo, Holocaust (Angelico Press, 2015); and Life’s Journey: A Guide from Conception to Growing Up, Growing Old, and Natural Death (Angelico Press, 2016).

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