President Obama, Stem Cells, Science, and Ideology

We all sympathized with our President the other night during his press conference when that mean man from the Washington Times asked him about the morality of stem cell research adn he described the agony of the decision he was compelled to make.

Of course, I don’t mean that we sympathized with his agony, which, I’m sure, he got over pretty quickly when the accolades from his sycophants and users started pouring in (or even when the certainty that they would entered his soul).

No, it wasn’t that false sympathy we felt for him, but the much deeper sympathy one feels for another when that other is trapped in a moral position from which he cannot escape so he uses it to his advantage. The escape, of course, is always available, but it involves what Socrates called “metanoia,” turning around, repentance.

Yet President Obama, for all his brilliance, was led into this trap by a very simple ploy. He went to school where his teachers reinforced the inclinations toward self-indulgence that his culture sees as a super-high value by performing a metaphysical lobotomy.

Let me explain, because this is not meant to be a slam on President Obama for whom I feel great respect and even more pity. He used the right term to describe his position: it’s “above my pay grade.” And he demonstrated that very clearly on Tuesday night.

The issue was whether embryo’s that would otherwise be disposed of should be used for stem cell research. President Bush disallowed it by executive order and now President Obama has allowed it by the same executive order.

The contention seems to be, based on what he said, that this should be permitted because the stem cells are just going to be disposed of anyway, so why not use them to find cures for Parkinson’s and other diseases. Now, if science were to find a better answer to this issue, that would change the discussion, but he can’t make this decision based on ideology.

I have no great problem with the formal logic of his argument.

I have serious problems with the material logic of his argument. In other words, his categories are altogether inadequate to the task he has given them.

And what are the categories he used to make this decision, or at least that he used to defend it before the nation he leads?

Science and ideology.

I’ll have a great deal more to say about this in future posts, but I have to run right now. Between now and then, think about the categories he’s using. Do you think they’re adequate? Do you know what he means by them? Has he framed the argument in a manner that corresponds to reality? (remember that the primary function of a politician in our democracy is to frame the argument)

Stem Cells and Morality

Count me among the number of those disturbed by President Obama’s lifting of the ban on stem cell research. The issue itself is beyond my expertise, but there’s a principle at stake and an approach taken that concerns me deeply.

The natural sciences are not morally neutral, they are subservient to morality. They are mere knowledge, which, in turn gives power. Knowledge may conceivably be regarded as morally neutral (I don’t think I see it that way, but I can see how people would). Power cannot. Power enables action. Action is always moral.

Therefore the moral sciences provide a higher order of knowledge than scientific knowledge.

These considerations make many scientists chafe because they hear Galileo’s trial and other events echoing across the ages. The Englightenment, they insist, finally set science free. 

It did not, for the simple reason that science cannot both exist and be free. It is always bound to the humans doing it. The Enlightenment freed science from the restraints of the Catholic church, to some extent, and from religious constraints generally, for the most part.

But it didn’t set science free from the appetites and ambitions of the scientists and those who pay them. The last century has, practically and philosophically, made clear that scientific knowledge is not morally neutral if only because human beings possess it and are empowered by it.

Let us grant, then, for the sake of argument, that science should be freed from religious constraints. Should it also be freed from moral constraints? And where do those morals come from? Historically, I can only see two options: metaphysics (philosophy) and religion.

The trouble with metaphysics is its practical instability. Plato made it rather obvious that only a few people can attain to the level of metaphysical clarity that can order a society. That is at least one reason why he never opposed religion per se.

For this reason, a democracy could never survive a scientific age in which morality is based on metaphysics. If, then, we have eliminated metaphysics (philosophy) and religion, then what will we base our decisions on?

This question cannot be dodged. Politics is the domain of decision making. What is permissible in the American decision making process? Have we formally rejected religion as an element of decision making.

So again I ask: On what will we base our decisions?

The will of the people? God help us.

What is possible? Lord have mercy.

The will of an elite? Yes, that seems to be where we are headed.

What saves us so far is a constitution that restrains each of these options. That and our national customs and traditions. There are some things we just won’t tolerate. But that changes somewhat rapidly. I’ve begun to qualify to the point of rambling, but I don’t want to give the impression of hysteria. The Spirit of God is still at work.

I would urge you to read CS Lewis’s novel That Hideous Strength to understand the philosophy that is poisoning our country and souls. If that is too long, read The Abolition of Man. If that is too hard (it’s his most important book), read a short essay in his book Christian Reflections called The Poison of Subjectivism. Begin with the last and work your way backward if you prefer.

You might also want to take a look at this blog by one of my favorite bloggers, John Mark Reynolds.