Science cannot get us out of the mess we made

Last Sunday, in my treatment of the relation between work and the environment, I moved from the theoretical to the very contemporary issue of climate-change. This was to show the inadequacy of the environmental movement and the way that, by leaving God out of the picture, the response to the problem tends towards totalitarianism.

The neo-pagan current of the environmental movement conveys a sense of urgency and passion. Nevertheless, this has not diminished the hold that the scientific mentality has on society. By ‘the scientific mentality’ I really mean the mentality that looks to science as the ruling force in human life. The contemporary environmental problems are the result of the industrial and technological revolutions, driven by science, nevertheless people still look to science to provide us with a solution to the problem. Few people seem to realize that so many of the problems have come about precisely because the scientific view is always partial, always misses something.

Further, science, when applied to human life, easily tends to totalitarianism. Faced with a problem, the scientific mentality looks for a solution. The machine is broken, x, y, and z are needed to fix it. The body is sick, x, y, and z are needed to fix it. Human society is sick, x, y, and z are needed to fix it.

Well, in the case of the body, the individual patient has the choice as to whether or not to follow the regime followed by his doctor. He might have good reason for not following the regime. The doctor is considering only one aspect of the patient’s life, his health. The patient in making his decision should have in view a fuller consideration of his good, especially his eternal salvation.

Now, the expert, ruled by the scientific mentality, tries to diagnose the ills of society the way a doctor diagnoses a disease, but the expert’s view of the good of society is always partial, just as the doctor’s view of the human good is partial. Only a good doctor, at least, is usually more aware that his view is partial than the ‘expert’ who would apply his solution to the whole of society.

Further, applying the expert view to the whole of society requires the obedience not just of a single individual, but of a whole population. If the ill is judged to be grave enough then the remedy is imposed by force. Then we arrive at the totalitarianism of the experts, who addressing a particular societal problem, without a vision of the whole human good, especially lacking a view of man’s eternal destiny, try to fix society by force, the way one would fix a machine.

Of course, because the expert view is partial, there are aspects of human life he does not consider, but which nevertheless are real. So, the attempt to fix one problem causes a multitude of other problems. This is exactly the dynamic we have seen in the way in which health experts, who have the ear of governors and mayors – and sometimes the President – have sought to address the pandemic.

Now, if we go back to our basic principles of human social order, we need to recall the basic hierarchy. First the order of man beneath God, then the interior order of the soul, then the social order between human persons, beginning with the fundamental society of marriage, which gives rise to the family, and last of all the relation to man and the environment.

Global warming or not, the last relation is clearly out of whack. Nevertheless, environmental disorder is a result of the disorder in the previous relationships, going all the way back to the order of man beneath God. The disorder of the modern world historically involves a turning away from God in a drive to dominate nature so as to be independent of God: the scientific, industrial, and technological revolutions have all been put at the service of this rebellion against God.

Without healing the first disorder, the rebellion against God, there is not much hope of treating the last disorder (the environmental disorder), without causing even further, more serious disorders.

The disorders of “transhumanism”, the melding of man and computer, are not just looming, they are already arriving. There are already workers with microchips, containing personal information, implanted in their hands. ( Smart glasses literally reshape the way people see the world. The development of robotics not only involves a further stage of replacing human beings with machines but offers increasing possibilities for real life ‘six million dollar men’, who effectively are part man, part machine. The transhumanist ambition includes producing a direct interface between the human brain and some sort of microcomputer implant. This they regard as progress, but it is progress without any vision of the nature of man and the purpose of human life.

So, we might say the real challenge before mankind at the moment is, “Can we turn back to God and also resolve the problems that the rebellion against God has led to, without losing the benefit of the progress of science and technology?” Or another way of putting the question would be, “Can soulless modernity, symbolized by the lifeless machine, acquire a Christian soul?”

With God all things are possible; without God, even the best intentions go awry.



Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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