I have been reading Pope Benedict’s latest encyclical, Spe Salvi, which I am surprisingly enjoying (I wasn’t sure if it would be too philosophical and intellectual for me – I have never read anything of his before). It is actually very reader friendly and insightful.
At one point he is discussing the transformation of Christian faith-hope in the modern age (16-23) and a new era that has emerged through the discovery of America and the new technical achievements that made it possible. He calls it “faith in progress” as encouraged by the 16/17th century English philosopher Francis Bacon:
“through the interplay of science and praxis, totally new discoveries will follow, a totally new world will emerge, the kingdom of man…As the ideology of progress developed further, joy at visible advances in human potential remained a continuing confirmation of faith in progress as such.” (17)
This got me thinking about those who advocate for the progress of unrestricted scientific research, morality and ethics be damned, such as Don Rubin of the Missouri Coalition for Life Saving Cures who once opined in the Springfield NewsLeader that, “[t]hose who threaten to repeal Missourians’ access to stem cell research should step back and allow scientists to conduct the work necessary to achieve the goals that I hope we all share.”
But is it really progress to go forward with some scientific research when certain ethical concerns arise (such as the destruction of human embryos) that compromise its inherent “goodness” for the future of mankind?
“If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man’s ethical formation, in man’s inner growth (cf. Eph 3:16; 2 Cor 4:16), then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world.” (Spe Salvi, 22)
We must progress spiritually and morally as well as technically and scientifically. This means establishing some clear moral and ethical boundaries and rejecting any technical “advancements” which cross those lines. The intentional creation and destruction of human life, through cloning and ESC research violates the inherent dignity of all human life (at any stage). To go forward with such research then is not real progress but a serious threat for man and the world. The same can be said for euthanasia, abortion and a host of other technical or societal “advancements” in our world today. Yet our modern notion of freedom is a release from the shackles of any semblance of faith or morality – at least to the extent that it might challenge our ability to do whatever we want.
If progress, in order to be progress, needs moral growth on the part of humanity, then the reason behind action and capacity for action is likewise urgently in need of integration through reason’s openness to the saving forces of faith, to the differentiation between good and evil. Only thus does reason become truly human. It becomes human only if it is capable of directing the will along the right path, and it is capable of this only if it looks beyond itself. Otherwise, man’s situation, in view of the imbalance between his material capacity and the lack of judgement in his heart, becomes a threat for him and for creation. Thus where freedom is concerned, we must remember that human freedom always requires a convergence of various freedoms. Yet this convergence cannot succeed unless it is determined by a common intrinsic criterion of measurement, which is the foundation and goal of our freedom…Reason therefore needs faith if it is to be completely itself: reason and faith need one another in order to fulfil their true nature and their mission. (23)