Science is one of God's great gifts. So, it struck a positive chord with many Americans when Barack Obama said in his inauguration speech, "We will restore science to its rightful place."
Over the past month, the "rightful place" of science and its relationship to religion and ethics has been in the news. Old debates over evolution flared up on Charles Darwin's birthday, in-vitro fertilization provoked death threats against Nadya Suleman, the new mother of octuplets, and politicians debated how drug-effectiveness research affects patients. And today, as Obama changes the federal government's policy on taxpayer funding of embryonic research (something this magazine strongly opposes), articles pitting science against religion are legion.
Science is the most helpful to society or, in Obama's words, "in its rightful place" when it is shaped by ethics and responsive to criticism. Then it's shaped by the higher goal of human dignity, and, from the Christian perspective, gives glory to God.
Evangelicals often find themselves questioning majority opinion on current scientific issues, such as embryonic stem-cell research (40 percent of evangelicals oppose it, according to ABC News/Beliefnet), evolution (65 percent of evangelicals disbelieve it, according to Pew Research Center), and global warming (31 percent of evangelicals remain unconvinced that the earth's temperature has been rising, according to Pew). This questioning is grounded sometimes in fact and sometimes in worldview. It's the worldview that makes many nervous. National Public Radio science reporter Robert Krulwich, like many, believes religion and science are in a Darwinian struggle. In a speech he called "Tell Me A Story," he says, "Science stories … have to compete with other stories about how the universe works, and how it came to be. And some of those other stories Bible stories, movie stories, myths can be very beautiful and very compelling. But to protect science and scientists and this is not a gentle competition you've got to get in there and tell your version of how things are, and why things came to be."
But even Krulwich agrees that science is served when we question. Someone needs to be asking, "Are you sure?" "How do you know?" even of well-established beliefs.
Science and technology give us power over our world and our bodies, and power is never value-free. Politicians, who are stewards of power, like to criticize one another for "politicizing science," but what they usually are concerned about are others' policies on scientific issues.
The rhetoric suggests that everyone agrees that science should be free of political agendas. There is no better way of doing that, and thus promoting human dignity through science, than encouraging questions and ethical debate. We're all in it together creationists and evolutionists, research scientists and ethicists, doctors and patients with the most heart-rending diseases. Thus, the rightful place of science in society is one in which we all talk, question, and debate, together seeking the common good.
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