I have no problem with science as such. But I do, sometimes, have trouble with the scientists. Science has done wonderful things for us and for the world in general. Cars, radios, telephones, computers and airplanes are just a few of the tremendous benefits of science and the scientists who invented and developed them. I have no problems with most of the developments of science in the filed of medicine. Just think of the X-ray techniques and the amazing operations that are performed on the human body.
Compared to the situation even in our grandparents’ time, I am in awe of the achievements of medical people, especially in such sensitive areas as the brain, the heart, the lungs, the liver and the kidneys. To me, and probably to most ‘lay’ people, these aspects of scientific advance belong, intellectually speaking, to another world. We can admire the results, but we would not dare to probe further than the surface or venture into that vast ocean of knowledge, lest we find ourselves far beyond our depth. To science and the scientists in general, we bow our heads in deep respect.
However, having said all that – and said it sincerely – I do have grave reservations regarding some of the activities of scientists. These reservations are mainly in regard to the incursions into the – morally speaking – secret crevices of human life. Doesn’t Shakespeare speak in Macbeth about “vaulting ambition which o’er leaps itself …” That, I believe, is one of the grave dangers of scientific advance: the drive to probe further and further until the line which separates the human from the divine is reached. Then man may arrogantly trespass into the domain of God!
Of course, man has not only the right, but also the obligation, to endeavour to improve on nature. We help our hearing and our sight: we cook our food and heat our homes, we take to the air, we see and hear the news in ways far beyond the widest dreams of our ancestors. All this is not only legitimate, it is also praiseworthy. However, there must be a boundary beyond which man should fear to tread. I believe that boundary lies at the very genesis of human life.
What prompted me to write this particular column was a recent announcement in the newspaper under the heading, “Clinic improves chances of choosing child’s sex.” I do not think that anyone, except the Creator himself, has the right to decide something so deeply personal, so fraught with implications for the future, so far beyond the scope of even the angelic mind, as the sex of a human being. I do not claim that I can conclusively prove the contention. But, there are many things, the rights and wrongs of which we are convinced, yet we cannot prove them mathematically, theologically or scientifically. Perhaps it comes from a deep instant that tells us, “So far, no further.”
There are many people today who do not accept the Bible as the Word of God. But there are also very many who do. The essence of the original rupture between God and man was not the physical eating of the mystical fruit. It was the fact that our first parents succumbed to the subtle temptation of the Evil One. “You shall be as gods …” Ever since that moment, human beings have endeavoured to be their own gods. We want to decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil, who will live and who will die – and now – who will be male and who will be female.
Nobody can find fault with parents who want a girl rather than a boy or vice versa. Interfering with life at its very source is another matter, however. Recently, I was speaking to an expectant mother. I asked her, “Would you like a boy or a girl?” She answered, “I want a baby.” Why can’t we leave it to nature – which means to God – to decide a question that is far beyond the ambit of human wisdom to decree? In a word, why can’t we allow God to be God? As Einstein said to a fellow physicist, “Stop telling God what to do!”
This column originally appeared in The Interim in November 1987