PERENNIAL QUESTIONS

Added July 28, 1999
You seem to insist that science is the most important source of reliable knowledge and by extrapolation the "wave" of the future.  Why have you not shown that science does not deal with the ethical and moral principles that are so important to the survival of a civilization?

You have raised a very important question dealing with the relationship of science and ethics.
      First it must be realized that scientists have enough work cut out for them without becoming embroiled in the diverse ethical and moral principles and behavior which have pit one culture against another since man began to give thought to human behavior.
      However, that does not mean that there is no relationship between science and ethics.
      Since the development of modern science, it is evident that the achievements of science have forced societies to review their views of moral behavior.
      New knowledge imposes itself upon the behavior of human beings.
      But such knowledge, unfortunately, is not disseminated equally around the world, nor even taught equally, if at all, in every "educational" institution.
      Since it is the business of science to acquire knowledge, a full-time career in itself, it falls upon governments, their people, and the politicians representing them to put that knowledge to good rather than to bad use.
      Experience, however, has shown us that governments and politicians are too (most?) often incompetent--and in the case of the latter, most of them are more concerned with votes than with principles.
      Questions of morality arise because the knowledge of science is often used for purposes that are morally questionable in the minds of many people--even though not in those of others.
      Discoveries and advances in knowledge leading to such moral disagreements are already in the making and are on the draft boards of the world.
      It is not the business of science to solve these moral and ethical disagreements.
      Governments, society, and educational institutions are responsible for doing that but are usually in the habit of "closing the barn door after the horse is stolen."
      Crises, which they permit to arise (or often create) and which could very well approach catastrophic proportions, are usually handled with inept crash programs, i.e., too little, too late, and only after tremendous harm, have already been wreaked upon us.
      It is a matter of great importance to have insight into the future and some of the problems we will be faced with as inhabitants of this world--problems for which we may or may not be able to contribute solutions, depending on (1) the time of our awareness of them, (2) whether we care to address them, and (3) whether we have relinquished our right to contribute to those solutions; i.e., Let George do it.
      The history of the sciences has shown us that major discoveries and changes in the development of science have brought concomitant changes not only in what is commonly called our "common sense" view of the world but even in our concepts of morality.
      In the distant past "life was cheap."
      The advent of science, enabling us to save lives and a technology enabling mass destruction have brought conflicting moralities regarding life--depending on whether we are at peace or at war.
      World economics, too, plays a part indirectly through science and technology.
      Witness America's changing attitudes about saving Israel in view of energy consumption (and consequent shortages) made possible by science, technology, and political maneuvering.
      Witness, too, the willingness of governments to "cooperate" with totalitarian nations guilty of committing crimes against humanity when it suits their own interests.
      The probable advent of a population explosion, also, has posed new ethical questions.
      Abortion, euthanasia, biological and artificial transplants, cloning, etc., have raised the spectra of new medical quanderies giving rise to a new awakening to medical ethics.
      Moreover, such issues as the sexual revolution, pornography on the internet and in "adult" stores, the impact of TV entertainment on behavior, genetic influences on committed crimes, the impact of poor education's effect on behavior, big business ethics (the tobacco industry and built in obsolescence), the theistic foundation of terrorism, etc., have yet to be given the attention they so direly require.
      Even the advent of a computer-controlled world, giving rise to such statements as "our computer is never wrong" makes us victims of its tyranny, not to mention the tyranny of the abuse of language.
      New developments in detecting devices and electronic spying have already raised the frightening probability of loss of privacy, not merely because governments' "big brothers" spy on us but also because even "Ma Bell" listens in on our private conversations if we can believe news reports.
      Science has contributed so much to the population bomb, by extending life expectancy, that government itself has become unwieldy as well as blind to the consequent environmental impact; and justice, as a result, is either so delayed that it ceases to be justice.
      The innocent are too often found guilty, and the guilty too often go free.
      Justice too often depends upon the quality of the lawyer one can afford to hire.
      Or, plea-bargaining becomes an economic necessity causing our jails to have revolving doors or to be over-night motels.
      There is reason to believe that in the not-too-distant future, computers will be capable of making decisions not only of choice of practical actions but also of moral actions.
      We are fast approaching the age of the cyborgs in which age, as we grow chronologically old, we will merely replace our biological organs with artificial ones that will work so efficiently that we will one day demand the removal of biological organs before health demands it.
      Our living-room idiot-boxes will be replaced by a control panel that will stimulate any part of the brain we may choose.
      We will not have to stir from our comfortable armchairs to experience the most exhilarating pleasures.
      There is little doubt that our knowledge of man is becoming so extensive that we shall be able to duplicate, in the factory, artificial replicas of ourselves and our loved ones.
      New truths will inundate us and we shall be faced with difficult moral choices for the realities of tomorrow are hardly conceivable by the masses of today.
      Such realities will cause moral upheavals because we as a society do not keep abreast of what is about to descend upon us.
      Our moral decisions will be hasty ones made with insufficient preparation and in a crash-program-crisis situation.
      The following, to mention only a few, shows some of the things we are even now dealing with and some we shall soon be forced to deal with in the not-too-distant future:
           Cyborgs
           Cloning
           Transplants
           Extra-terrestrial intelligence and moral systems
           Extra-terrestrial religion or absence of religion
           Embryonic surgery
           Test-tube babies
           Fathers' rights (after use of their sperm)
           Planetary governments (and wars?)
           Abortion
           Euthanasia
           Governmental control of population (new laws)
           Social or secular religion
           Undersea cities
           Extra-planetary cities
           Alien life forms
           Genetic or chromosome manipulation
           Computer enhanced brain power
           Genetically engineered food
           Artificial Intelligence
We must examine the degree to which science replaces religion as the authority figure and deal with such moral and epistemological problems and metaphysical concepts like, "knowledge is the highest virtue" and "knowledge at any price."
We must face the question of what kind of knowledge is worth pursuing and what kind is not and whether there is any moral way that progress in the attainment of knowledge can, should, or ought to be curtailed.
But, it must be emphasized, these are not the issues that science (at least the hard sciences) can be expected to address.

1997 by Pasqual S. Schievella