One of the “black marks” routinely repeatedly raised against Christianity, alongside the Inquisition and the Crusades, is its alleged opposition to science. In truth, science and religion have only sometimes clashed and usually because science has embarked on a project judged to be morally repugnant.
But religion is not the only belief system with which science has clashed . More recently it has had much bigger clashes with the secular left and the animal rights movement (which also attracts some religious believers).
One flash point for the secular left is the nature versus nurture debate. For the animal rights movement it has been medical experimentation on animals.
Mark Henderson is the science editor of the London Times. He has a new book out about the nature/nurture debate. He details how the secular left has vociferously resisted scientific research into the reality and nature (as it were!) of human nature. The left has often complained, with some justification, that belief in human nature has been used to justify segregation of the sexes and of the different races. (Mind you, many on the left before World War II were deeply racist, eg, Karl Marx himself).
But the left also fears that if there is a human nature then its attempts at engineering society so as to achieve complete equality will fail. After all, if people are unequal in their abilities at the individual level then complete equality is an impossible dream and probably unjust as well.
This is why scientists of the calibre of Edward O Wilson, a biologist, have been physically attacked for daring to posit that there is a human nature and that it is much more important influence upon us than nurture.
On the animal rights side a proposed new directive issued by the European Commission seeks to limit medical research on animals preferring scientists to work on human embryos first. But some scientists are fighting back complaining that medical science will be held back by the proposed directive.
A number of points can be gleaned from the above. The first is that there is nothing wrong in principle with trying to set down limits on scientific research. Should there be no limits at all? It is simply a matter of trying to find the right limits.
The second is that religious believers have as much right as anyone else to suggest what those limits should be. Is seeking to ban embryo research intrinsically more irrational and unacceptable than trying to restrict animal experimentation? Surely it is less so.
The third is that scientists are much more prickly about religious believers trying to limit their work than they are about anyone else seeking to do the same thing. There was absolute uproar when George W Bush placed limits on federal funding of embryo stem-cell research, but there has hardly been a murmur – except from a handful of scientists – about the EU’s attempt to limit animal research. Meanwhile the left’s opposition to research into human nature is almost unknown.
What this highlights, of course, is the generalised cultural prejudice against religion. We ought to be hearing as much, if not more, about science versus political correctness as we do about science versus religion.