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An Agnostic Stance

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Posted by Benjamin Nelson on January 31, 2001 23:13:39 UTC


To be sure, we are a species splendid in our array of moral equipment, tragic in our propensity to misuse it, and pathetic in our constitutional ignorance of its misuse. Hence, it is easy enough, and sometimes correct, to dismiss religion as a spasm of malicious confusion. But the question of "good" scientific inquiry casts an ominous shadow that can't be so casually disregarded, for the linkage between religion and science has a long and sordid history of application to human affairs.

After being mingled with political philosophy to form the vague ideology known as "social Darwinism," science has played into the hands of racists, fascists, and the most heartless sort of capitalists. The resulting aura of crudeness has, throughout the centuries, brutally crushed the poor like the first Christian martyrs, poisoned them by the slow venom of its exhalations, and beaten and murdered with countless other hideous deaths in reserve. And all this with the most supercilious disregard, both of mercy and of justice, as science empties its shafts upon the poorest and noblest indifferently with the meanest and worst intentions imaginable.

Make no mistake about this: the religious line on moral discourse is very much like the scientific line on theoretical discourse; the interconnectedness between religion and science, contingency and timeless natural law, runs continually throughout human history. I argue that one must take an agnostic stance -- between the extremes of science as a discovery and science as a construction. I am thoroughly aware of the rigors of this statement. But having made it, it might very well push speculation to the edge and make even the most sober of scientists more reflective, more willing to turn science back on itself, to theorize about what it means to "theorize" -- about what it means to explore this terra incognita.

B. L. Nelson

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