March 20, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Separating morality from science is destructive to social culture

I am obligated to interrupt my Lenten series of columns to speak on behalf of human dignity and the rightful place of moral values in our culture.

We knew it was coming because he promised it as a candidate for the office of president.

With the stroke of President Barack Obama’s pen, embryonic stem cells are now free game for scientific research. As he signed documents changing U.S. science policy last week, he removed the restrictions approved by former President George W. Bush in 2001.

The president’s move approves experimentation with human life virtually without restraint. Allegedly, President Obama acted under pressure from some members of the scientific community and abortion rights advocates.

Obama said: “Our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. … It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda—and that we make scientific decisions on facts, not ideology.”

I hope people of faith are deeply disturbed by the assertion that morality and science cannot sit at the same table.

It is untenable that anyone should hold that scientific research is to be held free of the test of moral truth about human nature and human life. It is demeaning that the U.S. president would relegate morality to the status of political “ideology.” Clearly, President Obama’s action is a defeat for morality in the most basic questions of life and death.

As a religious leader who has a deep respect for the integrity of science and morality, I deeply regret the implications of this opening up of embryonic stem-cell research.

It is, first of all, a blow for the cause of human life from its very beginning. It is wrong because it liberates science so that human embryos can be created for the sake of research and then discarded like useless refuse.

Abortion for the sake of research is wrong. Already adequate research indicates that adult stem cells provide adequate material for research.

Of grave concern to a person of faith is the notion that faith and science, morality and scientific research are essentially enemies. It is disturbing to hear from our nation’s leader that moral values have no place in the scientific laboratory.

It is unacceptable to refer to ethical and moral judgments as ideological issues that shackle scientific research.

If he remains consistent, President Obama’s position on the relationship between science and morality is a clear example of our secular society’s perception of the opposition between faith and reason.

For some time, Pope Benedict XVI has been proposing an international dialogue with leaders of our secular and materialistic culture to illustrate the destructive character of science that is hostile to faith. Faith and reason are complementary, not opposed.

No matter how one feels about the need for quality scientific research in order to better the human condition, we cannot do wrong in order to do good. Sound morality is not determined by individual feelings and evaluation.

Does this mean our Catholic morality is opposed to seeking scientific solutions to the health issues of our day?

I have had Hodgkin’s lymphoma and, thanks be to God, I am in remission. If the condition returns, would I not hope that a scientific cure would be available? Of course I would.

But would I prefer my cure over the wholesale destruction of human embryos? No.

The larger picture of the future good of the human family would overrule my desire for a cure. That may not be an easy moral decision, but the fact is that the truth is freeing. To falsely divorce moral truth and scientific methodology leads to a destructive social culture.

A few weeks ago, a political pundit friendly to the Obama administration commented that we could expect executive actions that would loosen restrictions on abortions in the near future. She said there would be little public reaction because the voting public was and is distracted by the current economic crisis. She said that economic concerns are more important than human life issues and abortion in particular. Despite its cynicism, I’m afraid the remark may have some truth to it.

Some day in the future, the economy will level off and stabilize. Then, after a time, the economy may well tank again.

However, the moral truth of the sacredness of human life will not fluctuate depending on the times. Since the creation of human life, we individuals have been made in the image and likeness of God.

That image and likeness is our claim to peaceful confidence and hope for the future.

In the meantime, we must stand up for a fruitful dialogue between good morality and good scientific research.

Let’s offer our Lenten fasting and prayer for the common good of our American culture. †

Local site Links: