Catholic Social Doctrine: Morality, Science, and Technology
There is a danger that instead of technology freeing man, man could be enslaving himself to it
Science and technology, for all their good, are not something ungoverned by moral law. We should not fall into the moral morass of believing that just because we can do something we ought to do something. Often, dazzled by the products of his ingenuity, man views technology as the summum bonum, the greatest good. He fails to see or properly assess the negatives that come with some technological change.
There are things that are possible today--in vitro fertilization, in utero surgery, cloning, the manufacture of nanochips--that were but the stuff of novels a generation ago. Modern computers and modern communications--the Internet and its associated media--have ushered in a revolution no less significant than the advent of removable-type printing, radically affecting how man deals with other men and how man deals with his problems.
Often, dazzled by the products of his ingenuity, man views technology as the summum bonum, the greatest good. He fails to see or properly assess the negatives that come with some technological change. As a result, there is a danger that instead of technology freeing man, man could be enslaving himself to it. As the Catholic writer Georges Bernanos wrote in his Last Essays, modernity confronts a new man deeply affected by technology:
"[I]n a fabulously short time, by the single miracle of technology and of all techniques, including that which not only allows the control of worldwide opinion but also the making of it, it has created a civilization in the image of a prodigiously diminished and shrunken man, a man no longer made in the image of God, but in the image of the speculator . . . ."
It is this danger of science of technology, and technology's products (which Bernanos comprehends with the term "machine" understood broadly) which must be addressed. It is not a question of ridding the world of science, technology, and machines, but of assuring that man's spiritual nature, his moral stature, grows in a manner commensurate with his scientific and technological acumen.
As Bernanos put it: "No, it is not a question of destroying machines but of elevating man, of restoring in him faith in the freedom of his soul and an awareness of his dignity." Unless we are aware of the problem, we do not perceive the threat. And it is a threat that is very real, since, ultimately, it is a question of "knowing who will win, technology or man." Lest he destroy himself and his kind, homo faber must also be homo sapiens and also homo religiosus.
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church briefly addresses the issue of science and technology and man. "The results of science and technology are, in themselves, positive" it states. Science and technology are viewed as a participation in God's creative activity. Quoting Vatican II's Gaudium et spes, the Compendium states without reserve: "Far from thinking that works produced by man's own talent and energy are in opposition to God's power, and that the rational creature exists as a kind of rival to the Creator, Christians are convinced that the triumphs of the human race are a sign of God's grace and the flowering of His own mysterious design." (Compendium, No. 457)
"[T]he Catholic Church is in no way opposed to progress, rather she considers 'science and technology are the wonderful product of a God-given human creativity, since they have provided us with wonderful possibilities, and we all gratefully benefit from them.'" (Compendium, No. 457)
But science and technology, for all their good, are not something ungoverned by moral law. We should not fall into the moral morass of believing that just because we can do something we ought to do something. This would be to fall into a sort of Humean fallacy, jumping from an "is" to an "ought."
For this reason, the Church--without detracting from the positive good that science and technology bring us--also observes that "the greater man's power becomes" as a result of scientific and technological progress, "the farther his individual and community responsibility extends," and the more obligation there is to assure that it "correspond, according to the design and will of God, to humanity's true good." (Compendium, No. 457)
To assure that science and technology are at the service of man, and not at the service of only a small faction of men, the moral law must govern its use:
"It is important," the Compendium states, "to repeat the concept of 'proper application,' for 'we know that this potential is not neutral: it can be used either for man's progress or for his degradation.' For this reason, 'it is necessary ...
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