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…on science and morality

Ben Stein says …

If you’re a purely materialistic naturalist you would have no objection [to the Holocaust] because no human life has any meaning. – interview on the Dennis Prager syndicated radio program, April 15, 2008, 3rd hour, about 15:30 into the program

and B. Tucker replies

The naturalism implicit in biological science does not deny human ethics or “ultimate” meanings: it simply does not address them, since those matters are outside of that field of inquiry. This does not imply that those who accept empirical science as the best method humans have devised for understanding the natural world lack ethical values. Some scientists embrace religious laws and practices; others see ethical codes as a purely secular matter. Stein’s outlandish assertion that “materialist naturalist[s]” are indifferent to human cruelty, injustice or the value of human life is baseless, and is nowhere reflected in lives and beliefs of scientists or secularists in our culture.

and Gerald Lee adds

The error stems from the failure to make the distinction between what is and what ought to be. Darwinism simply makes the observation that we are the way we are because our surviving ancestors passed on their heritable traits to us. Since dead things usually have a tougher time reproducing, their traits do not pass on to the next generation. This is called natural selection and it is used to explain the fact of evolution. To say that the theory of natural selection advocates genocide would be like saying the theory of gravitation advocates falling down. Natural selection is an observation, not a guide to morality.

Ben Stein says …

Anyway, I couldn’t give a [profanity] whether a person calls himself a scientist. It doesn’t earn any extra respect from me, because it’s not as if science has covered itself with glory, morally, in my time. Scientists were the people in Germany telling Hitler that it was a good idea to kill all the Jews. Scientists were telling Stalin it was a good idea to wipe out the middle-class peasants. Scientists were telling Mao Tse-Tung it was fine to kill 50 million people in order to further the revolution. – interview by Christianity Today, April 15, 2008

and Cris Waller replies

To lay the atrocities of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao-Tse-Tung on the backs of scientists is not only infuriatingly false, it misses perhaps the most important point. All of these loathsome regimes were directed not by science, but by unsupportable ideologies; ideologies that could not withstand the force of truth. When government is controlled not by reason, but by faith, the potential for abuse is enormous.

and Michael T. Kinnison adds

Ben Stein apparently has difficulty distinguishing between the knowledge gleaned by science and the nefarious purposes to which some people apply it. The faulty logic and propagandist intentions of blaming Darwin and evolutionary theory for Nazi atrocities and other crimes against humanity is revealed by examining some analogies.

Should we similarly blame:

· Alfred Nobel and dynamite for landmines?
· Isaac Newton and Newtonian mechanics for ballistic missiles?
· Louis Pasteur and the germ theory of disease for germ warfare?
· Marie Curie and identification of radioactive elements for dirty bombs?
· The Wright brothers and controlled flight for destruction of the World Trade Center?

To blame these scientists and inventors, or their contributions, for the murderous appropriations of others is clearly absurd and undervalues the tremendous societal benefits of these discoveries. Evolutionary theory is no different. Evolutionary
theory is a scientific concept without any intrinsic application to human suffering beyond that which the misguided or tyrannical have coopted it (and coopted it poorly). Those who would attribute crimes against humanity to technology and scientific knowledge are guilty of rationalization that serves only to absolve the perpetrators of suffering of their personal responsibility. In this respect, the dubious causation promoted by Ben Stein devalues human life and moral obligations more than any truly scientific theory.