Bioethics Discussion Blog: Religion in Politics, Government and Science: Is there a Role?

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Religion in Politics, Government and Science: Is there a Role?

In recent years we have all watched, in the United States, how science, politics/government and religion have interacted. Examples include the federal limitations on stem cell research and human cloning, issues involving abortion and perhaps even in the Terri Schiavo termination of life support case.

Writing in the current May 25, 2006 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine under the title “Evolution in the Classroom and Courtroom”, George J. Annas reminds us of another example of this interaction.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides in the “Establishment Clause” that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free expression thereof.” It has been the First Amendment declaration that prevented outlawing education about evolution and prevented later attempts to insert Creationism and more recently Intelligent Design into the science classrooms.

Dr. Annas states that polls suggest that in the U.S. 50% of the adults believe that God created humans in their present form within the past 10,000 years.
Therefore he predicts that there will be a new wave “that will feature yet another strategy to promote creationism by questioning evolution.” This strategy will employ a “teach the controversy” approach by teaching what the promoters want in classes on current affairs, politics and religion but not in science classes.

Finally Dr. Annas writes “The quest to banish religion from politics and government is ultimately, as the Jesuit priest Robert Drinan notes, ‘hopelessly unrealistic, because religions are by their nature intended to create cultures, even civilizations.’ Religion and government are not inherently incompatible, and they necessarily have formal and informal relationships with each other. Nor are science and religion inherently incompatible. Nevertheless, religion is not science and should not be taught in science class. In the United States, the highest power that prevents this is the First Amendment.”

What do you think about the role of religion in politics, government and science? ..Maurice.

8 Comments:

At Sunday, May 28, 2006 8:01:00 PM, Anonymous Moof said...

Another tough question.

There are far too many religions, and too many views within each religion, to allow religion itself to dictate to politics or government ...

As far as religion speaking to science, if there is a Deity that created all things, then there should be no problem between that Deity and science, however I personally consider both subjects as separate. I don't believe religion should be taught in a science class ... but then again, I also don't believe that a THEORY should be taught as a FACT, to the exclusion of other THEORIES, either.

Now ... all of that said, I need to moderate my first statement just a bit. Our nation was established on a Judeo-Christian foundation. While not enforcing religion, or regulating it in any way, we should perhaps also not begin to disassemble that foundation ... especially since, as you said, 50% of the adults in our country believe in a Creator Deity.

To my mind, belief in a Deity and the practice of religion is a very personal thing. Personal religious choices should be engaged in freely, as long as they don't impact anyone else's personal religious choice. Religion, faith, belief systems, are made to be lived, not legislated.

A belief system helps shape a person's choices ... when we elect an official, we should realize that he brings his opinions and beliefs with him, and that we should account for that when we vote for him.

Religion itself should not affect politics, but that doesn't mean that an elected official should be expected to turn his back on his beliefs and become "religion neutral."

We need to differentiate: it's not religion affecting politics in any case, it's the official we elected who's affecting politics with who he is and the choices he makes --- and that's why we elected him rather than someone else.

You're very quiet about religion, Dr. Bernstein. I'm wondering how you feel about this subject... ?

 
At Sunday, May 28, 2006 9:34:00 PM, Anonymous masahiro said...

Hi, Maurice. One of the striking things about American bioethics is that religions, especially Christianity and Judaism, play a huge role both in the discussion and politics of bioethics. In Japan, religions do not play such a huge role. The role religions play in the US is played by left-wing thinkers and activists. What do you think about bioethics in a "pagan" country, where the population of Christians is under 1%? Related post: Liberal & conservative bioethics, Ruth Macklin and Eric Cohen, Hastings Center Report

 
At Sunday, May 28, 2006 11:37:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Moof, I think that as long as humans have no scientific explanation of what is the meaning of the universe and why human beings are here on earth and what is our purpose in the universe, I think there always will be religion to provide a unscientific but comforting explanation. That means we will have to live with religion of one sort or another. To live with religion also means to share intellectual space along with science. I think that in America under our Constitution, religion should not dictate governmental decisions and those who of a different religion or share no religious beliefs should feel free of intimidation.

Masahiro, i think bioethicists may hold their political views but their ethical analysis of issues or dilemmas should not necessarily be a reflection of their politics. They should step back and look at the problems presented to them with an open mind using methods of analysis in systematic ways. Forming decisions based entirely on their personal politics makes bioethicists simply politicians rather than ethicists. That is my opinion. Thanks for the link to your blog. ..Maurice.

 
At Monday, May 29, 2006 10:40:00 AM, Blogger Hans G. Engel, M.D. said...

Maurice, I doubt that in our culture politics will never be totally separated from religion. Our Constitutiion wisely included both. Religion, in all forms, helps us develop our moral strength. Religion, politics and science may at times interact, but should never conflict. To mix them can only produce harm to all three.

 
At Wednesday, November 22, 2006 12:58:00 PM, Anonymous Roger Moorgate said...

Religion should not be a substitute for rational informed decision making. This is not an issue when a religious stance and a rational informed stance complement each other, but far too often, throughout history, religion presents a highly conservative reactionary position against scientific advances, such as human cloning.

Regards,
Roger Moorgate
Administrator, The Reproductive Cloning Network
http://www.reproductivecloning.net

 
At Saturday, November 25, 2006 12:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

>>Our Constitutiion wisely included both. Religion, in all forms, helps us develop our moral strength.

I see no connection between religion and morality and its development from some religion or book is more wishful thinking than reality. If anything can be said of religion and particularly its seeping into political life where the Founders insisted it ought not to, is that religion itself is the basis upon which the most hideous and immoral acts are justified. These instances are hardly limited to the past but live themselves out present day and time.

Religion and science are distinct not because of some unwritten truce between them, but because one operates from Fantasy Land, where the other finds its grounding is objective, verifiable reality. When stacked side to side there really is no contest.

So to suggest that one derives moral strength from the belief in some unseen force is about as useful as a scientist advancing their ideas simply because "I believe it's true". Religion does in fact serve a primary purpose - providing a basis for decision-making that would otherwise find answers in the reality all around and inside of us. Apparently the objective answers are not good enough. Disneyland is always preferable to the inner city, but you can't take up residence in Mickey's castle.

Everyone can engage in their fantasy freely, but I would suggest that it be made more difficult that these mind-trips end up dictating the constructs of our society as they are beginning to do today. It ought to be not just laughable, or excusable, but reprehensible to people of science that 50% of the US population believes the Earth is but 10,000 years old. If we do not stand up, science will be trampled, and the advances that it has enabled could well be rolled back and its practitioners villified as they were when someone stood their ground that the Earth orbits the Sun.

 
At Friday, January 12, 2007 4:36:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Moof, I would like to respond to this comment:

"I don't believe religion should be taught in a science class ... but then again, I also don't believe that a THEORY should be taught as a FACT, to the exclusion of other THEORIES, either."

Here, it sounds like you are referring to the issue of evolution. Two things that you may not be aware of --

1. In everyday usage, the word "theory" refers to something uncertain, something like an educated guess. In science, however, the word theory has a very different meaning, explained here:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolution-fact.html

2. The second point that I would like to make is that the evidence for evolution is absolutely overwhelming. I think it fair to say that evolution has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt. Here is a link that provides some of the evidence:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/

The above article is quite long, but it's well worth the read if one honestly thinks that the scientific community is still sitting around trying to figure out whether or not common descent is real.

Evolution is a fact, and it should be taught as such.

 
At Monday, September 22, 2008 8:36:00 AM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Brian wrote today a comment which I think is worthy to publish:

Religion itself should not affect politics, but that doesn't mean that an elected official should be expected to turn his back on his beliefs and become "religion neutral. Brian Goethe

But Brian, when that politician is working in his or her role as a representative of all the people, the politician's own religious beliefs must be, at that time, consciously removed from considerations. Self-interest is generally not an ethical position for a politician to take. Whether it is voting for laws motivated more by the benefit for the politician's reelection or mainly to support his or her religious comfort, neither is the duty to the public the politician is representing. ..Maurice.

 

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