Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Science vs. Religion: Part 3,463,511 (Est.)

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Science vs. Religion: Part 3,463,511 (Est.)

Article excerpt

It has been almost fifty years since C.P. Snow fixed the world's attention on the way in which there are "two cultures," with scientists living in one and humanists in the other. Snow's argument has come in for withering criticism from many quarters, but Ramesh Ponnuru suggests that it really holds in some instances-for instance, Lee M. Silver, a molecular biologist at Princeton whose book Challenging Nature: The Clash of Saence and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life Ponnuru reviews in the Claremont Review of Books.

In Silver's view, neither philosophy, morality, aesthetics, history, nor any other considerations should be permitted to get in the way of what he understands to be scientific progress. And that is most emphatically the case if such considerations are tainted by religion or spirituality. Admittedly, Silver might not be happy with that description of his position. He writes: "I do not claim that all expressions of spirituality are harmful or bad. Nor do I think that all biotech applications are inherently good, ethical, or risk-free." Ponnuru observes that, without that disclaimer, the thoughtful reader would conclude that that is precisely what Lee Silver claims and thinks.

The book, which, not incidentally, is blurbed by the notorious Princeton ethicist Peter Singer, celebrates the "new frontiers" of cloning, embryonic stem cell research, interspecies hybrids, and, it seems, any other tinkering prompted by scientific curiosity. "Human being" is a very pliable concept. Ponnuru describes Silver's argument: "Evolutionary theory debunks the notion that there are clear boundaries between species. There are only populations with overlapping traits we classify together for convenience. When we start creating human/non-human hybrids, Silver writes, we will have to draw 'arbitrary' lines to determine which ones will have rights. He breezily approves the prospect." On the basis of my limited personal contact with Prof. Silver, breezy is the right word. He reminds one of the undergraduate who, upon reading a little Nietzsche, looks over the abyss into nothingness and exclaims, "Wow. That's cool."

Silver is most particularly upset that some people who make scientific-sounding arguments are in fact people of religious conviction. …

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