Freedom from the nature of things?
by Ken Myers
“The challenge goes much further than the notorious case of evolution versus biblical religion. Is there any elevated view of human life and goodness that is proof against the belief that man is just a collection of molecules, an accident on the stage of evolution, a freakish speck of mind in the mindless universe, fundamentally no different from other living — or even nonliving — things? What chance have the ideas of freedom and dignity, under even any high-minded humanistic dispensation, against the teachings of strict determinism in behavior and survival is the only natural concerns of life? How fares the belief in the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence and the existence of unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, to whose defense the signers pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor? Does not the scientific worldview make us skeptical about the existence of any natural rights and therefore doubtful of the wisdom, and even suspicious of the motives, of those who risked their all to defend them? If survival is the only possible principle that nature does not seem to reject, does not all courage and devotion to honor look like folly?
“The chickens are coming home to roost. Liberal democracy, founded on a doctrine of human freedom and dignity, has as its most respected body of thought a teaching that has no room for freedom and dignity. Liberal democracy has reached a point — thanks in no small part to the success of the arts and sciences to which it is wedded — where it can no longer defend intellectually its founding principles. Likewise the Enlightenment: It has brought forth a science that can initiate human life in the laboratory but is without embarrassment incompetent to say what it means either by life or by the distinctively human, and, therefore, whose teachings about man cannot even begin to support its own premise that enlightenment enriches life.”
“What I have said does not arise from hostility to science. I think I properly appreciate its accomplishments. I intend no aid or comfort to the enemies of science or the friends of ignorance. My intention, rather, is to point out that the teachings and discoveries of science are at best partial — indeed, partial in principle. They are necessarily incomplete, hence in need of being supplemented.”
— from Leon R. Kass, Toward a More Natural Science: Biology and Human Affairs (Free Press, 1985)