A Question from my Philosophy Class: Science and Religion

I’m really enjoying my Philosophy class – and I was right in thinking that I would absolutely fall in love with the subject matter if I ever took the class. This week we had a discussion topic regarding the involvement of religion in science. I wanted to share the prompt and my response. I would love to hear what you, think as well to this prompt.

Religion and Science: Galileo believed that civil and religious authorities should not interfere with scientific research.  This controversy was a problem in the past, and it still is.  Ethics and science sometimes do collide in the everyday world.  For example, should there be laws against stem-cell research?  Should scientists clone sheep?  Should genetic and medical tests be performed on live animals?  When, if at all, do you think that scientific research should be limited by federal, state, and local laws?

This was a discussion I was having with a friend of mine just yesterday, after I told him about last week’s discussion questions, which lead to the idea of science being taught in schools, or being prominent at all. The nature the discussion between us turned to whether or not religion created morals. I believe that if a person can develop any understanding outside of themselves, then they can of course have morals that aren’t guided by religion. After all, I grew up in a non-religious household, but I still know that it’s wrong to kill, wrong to steal, wrong to betray and so on. However, he brought up the point of China, who has kept religion out of science entirely and as a result are going on to cloning living being and the like (this was all discussion, I haven’t actually fact-checked any of this).

It caused me to consider this standpoint, that while neither of us are religious, we were arguing too opposite points of its role in education and science. If he is in fact correct, he does have a point. Though, that being said, I can’t say that many of our scientists are doing well on the moral compass as many of them are funded by either the military (and thus creating better weapons or other things regarding warfare) or by large corporations such as Monsanto, who require genetic modifications to plants which become resistant to herb and pesticides that don’t carry the Monsanto logo (for example). On an entertainment note, there is a fantastic episode of Better Off Ted which examines the morality of corporation-backed science when two of the scientists on the show realize that everything they’ve created for the company has been put towards evil (though portrayed in a light-hearted and comical way).

I don’t know how it can happen, but ultimately, I don’t believe science should be allowed to be backed by businesses that stand to profit from either outcome. A huge example would be the tobacco industries, back in the day, throwing heaps of money at scientists to prove that cigarettes weren’t harmful. Another example would be all the studies done over the last half a century proving that cannabis in any form is harmful and toxic so that it doesn’t replace the fossil fuel, pulp, rubber, and pharmaceutical industries, which also fuel our politicians.

This is bigger than the government regulating science, since it goes into the issues of how the politicians in the government are funded, and thus, where their loyalties lie as a result of those funding. For example, the Bushes, who have their hands deeply in oil, might regulate against the study of cannabis, or any other substance which might influence the ability to sell or replace oil, because it reduces their profitability – regardless of the huge environmental influence they are causing as a result.

Because a politician can be corrupted by the money that got them to their position, unless we can assure that the politician was funded solely on donation of the public and not corporations, we cannot be sure that their regulations of scientific studies or advancements are pure-of-intention, and thus, in this day and age, we cannot trust the government to set moral-based laws.

Circling back to religion, this isn’t one hundred percent pure-of-intention either. This isn’t to say that there is ill-wishing of any church, however, because of all the disagreements between the religious sects, there can’t be one set rule of morality for science to be guided by. For example, (I don’t believe) Catholicism hasn’t accepted same-sex marriage (to my knowledge), though there are some individual Catholic churches which do support it. There are different secs which 100% accept it, and some that believe that it is an instant damnation. Another example is the transfusion of blood in emergent situations. Some religious practices believe that to do so is to meddle with God’s will, while others see it as an advancement in science which has allowed us to keep living.

Within religion, there are disagreements as to what constitutes morality. Unless religion can agree on a basic set of morals that can be applicable across any board, science isn’t able to use religion as a basis of right and wrong.

So then what is the solution? As our society is built currently, that is, here in the US, we cannot go by any set of moral rules simply because there are too many variables. Our political system would have to alter drastically, and the power of money would have to be less of a god than the God of religions is. Until that happens, I think science needs to be left to do what it will, but with basic human empathy – the ability to put the scientist in the place of those that their studies and experiments would effect. The ability to empathize would act as the scientific moral compass.

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