Saturday, September 3, 2011

When Science Is Not Enough

What does science have to tell us about the abortion debate?  In my view, not much.

I mean, first you have to define life. So even if you begin at fertilization, then you must decide how it becomes sacred. The things we use science to tell us about morality are largely non-existent at this stage. In fact, science tells us they don't exist - thinking, feeling aren't happening. And of course there's no evidence of any kind of soul.

That doesn't mean you can't have feelings about it, or come up with definition that make sense. But it will always be an artificial construct you are inventing. For what it is worth, there is much clearer evidence that killing animals for their meat is immoral. Science shows that thinking, feeling, creatures undergo immense suffering - immensely more than a fetus ever could at any prenatal stage.

So the question becomes where we apply our morality. To value human life/suffering over animal life/suffering is a human, not scientific construct. (And of course, any attempt to invoke Darwin here as a moral guide is preposterous. It quickly leads to what we would agree are immoral conclusions. )

I'm reading The Information right now, and there is a fascinating chapter on Dawkins and the concept of memes and cultural evolution. Again, there is no moral prescription, but an explanation of a process. Not only are we a highly evolved physical organism, we are a highly evolved cultural organism. In our lifespans, we are exposed to such an amazingly rich developmental diet of content, many ideas - memes - of which go back thousands of years.

Of course, the fact that they evolved - survived - has no bearing on their morality! However, it does have a bearing on their existence as human constructs, as they have arisen from the fertile soil of previous generations. Generations! You could say in both senses of the word - our biological ancestors, as well as their ideas which generated our ideas today.

So, here's a question: what does free will have to say about the meme? I've long felt that defenders of contra-causal free will tend to sound very similar to creationists. And in a way, they are making the same argument. The claim that God is the originator of human biology, or evolution, is similar to the claim that the individual is the originator of his own memes.

So as to deny that there is a purely physical process of random mutation of DNA that gives rise to evolved life forms, is similar to denying that there is a random mutation of memes within the individual's neural net. In fact, the notion that the individual is in control of his own mind is about as absurd as the notion that God is in control of mutating DNA. To take this further, one might ask why God would create so many absurdly inefficient mutations. So too, would one ask why humans make such absurdly poor "choices"? Of course, the evolutionary explanation makes perfect sense, as seen in the fossil and DNA record, etc. So too does the determinist explanation, as seen in developmental, sociological and brain science.

At best, science can tells us the mechanics of how life develops, as well as the physical world in which our feelings exist.  It can also tell us about how our thoughts develop.  But can it tell us whether or not an embryo is "sacred"?  At the very least, it would seem to tell us that it is not.  Yet for many, having embraced greatly evolved historical traditions that stretch deep into the unconscious minds, science will not be enough. 

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