May 28, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

A Little Knowledge Without Ethics

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  When is knowledge enough?  And can a lot of knowledge be a dangerous thing, too?  Whether little or much, knowledge without ethics empowers evil.

  1. Imbalance in India:  Ultrasound is a wonderful invention that allows images inside the human body.  In India, however, where culture and economics puts a premium on the male sex, its use has had devastating consequences.  PhysOrg reported, “In Indian families in which the first child has been a girl, more and more parents with access to prenatal ultrasound testing are aborting a second female in the hope that a subsequent pregnancy will yield a boy, said the study, published in The Lancet…. Between 1980 and 2010, they estimate, four to 12 million girls were aborted because of their sex.
        The government has tried to stop the practice, but in a country where corruption is rampant, laws are easily set aside.  “A 1996 government regulation designed to prevent the use of ultrasound for prenatal sex determination is widely flouted, the researchers say, pointing out that few health providers have been charged or convicted.”  A little bribe goes a long way.  This could not have happened before science brought the technology to know the sex of an unborn baby, but where does the fault lie?
  2. Imbalance in China:  The Three Gorges Dam was a monumental engineering effort in China that worried environmentalists and ethicists because of potential damage to the land and its people.  Now that the reservoir is full, New Scientist reported, those worries have been realized.
        Landslides, pollution, and economic upheaval with dire consequences for many displaced people are the result.  The BBC News added that 1.3 million people were displaced by a project that was the “contentious scheme even before it was approved.”  Ignoring warnings that it would cause an “environmental catastrophe,” the government went ahead with the project.
        Last week, in an unusual move, the government admitted “that the Three Gorges dam has caused significant environmental problems.”  But they remain unfazed by the consequences.  In fact, they are going to build more dams.
  3. Endangered species:  The Endangered Species Act has impacted many businesses and homeowners, depriving property owners of rights to use their land in freedom because of the claims of scientists that certain species would be adversely affected.  “For more than 40 years,” Science Daily reported, “the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has published the Red List of Threatened Species describing the conservation status of various species of animals.”
        Now, however, an international team is calling for a reassessment of the definition of endangered species.  Are the one-size-fits-all criteria currently in use too simplistic?  “Our results challenge the application of the same sets of threat criteria across living organisms and across regions,” the team said, admitting that “identifying which species are most at risk can be difficult….”  While each case must be judged on the evidence, one wonders how many human beings have been deprived of their freedom, and what has been the impact on society and the economy, from the application of simplistic standards of assumed knowledge.
  4. Climate change:  For most of the past decade, global warming has been a doomsday scenario guaranteed by the scientific consensus unless drastic changes in the world’s economies were made.  States have passed carbon taxes; the federal government pushed for cap-and-trade legislation; bodies of world governments agreed to make draconian cuts in emissions that would cripple their economies.
        Many scientists still believe the threat is real.  Maybe it is, but the IPCC, the world body that had been trusted with the scientific data to back it up, got caught in an embarrassing credibility crisis over the Climategate affair in 2009.  Subsequent investigations found conflicts of interest and sloppy data gathering by the panel.  Nature News discussed the latest moves to repair the damage and reform the IPCC, while a growing number of climate skeptics have claimed the threat is either overblown or unreal, leading to questions about how many nations and people might be suffering unnecessarily over a “little knowledge” about climate processes that may be too uncertain for human beings to grasp.
  5. Government funding:  Recent TV news reports mocked government spending to the National Science Foundation for apparently frivolous projects like a shrimp on a treadmill, a robot that folds towels, and a study to discover if boys like trucks and girls like dolls.  Senator Tom Coburn in particular had brought some of these projects, buried in NSF reports, to light.
        The NSF didn’t take this lying down.  Live Science responded that some scientists “cry foul” over Coburn’s report, calling it “misleading” and “out of context”.
        Whether or not researchers can back up the worth of their pet projects is one thing.  Reporter Stephanie Pappas did quote Coburn’s focus, “It is not the intent of this report to suggest that there is no utility associated with these research efforts.  The overarching question to ask, however, is simple.  Are these projects the best possible use of our tax dollars, particularly in our current fiscal crisis?”
  6. Fatherhood:  An article on PhysOrg pointed to the grim realities of fatherless families, but attributed the causes to poverty and lack of education.  Yet numerous men achieved success in spite of those causes.  George Washington Carver was an orphan, was dirt poor, was discriminated against, and yet became a highly successful and benevolent scientist.  Is it possible that the researchers behind the report are confusing causes and effects and ignoring other factors?  How many times has the government tried to eradicate poverty and ignorance, only to make problems worse?
        Such questions need to be asked before accepting the opinions of “economists, sociologists, and public policy experts” in academia.  The “experts” undoubtedly omitted to ask for input from the Family Research CouncilFocus on the Family and other conservative organizations that might beg to differ on the causes and cures of fatherless families.  In fact, a survey of the ideology of the researchers behind this study might be illuminating.  How many of them view government as the solution to all social ills?

There’s an exhibition on display at Trinity College Dublin called “Human+: The Future of Our Species”.  Even the leftist-leaning journal Nature found some of the art, supported by the Wellcome Trust, unsettling.1  Anthony King wrote about the exhibit that challenges what it means to be human.  “Genetics and artificial intelligence figure prominently among its themes of augmented abilities, authoring evolution, extended ecologies, life at the edges and non-human encounters.”
    Some of the exhibits include a man transplanting an ear onto his arm, a robot that makes threats to critics, a robot that makes viewers ill at ease by imitating their facial expressions, a film showing robots boring holes into human bodies, and a place where viewers can get genetically tested for a gene that is claimed to cause high risk behavior.  This particular piece caught King’s eye:

Taking a still darker turn is the sculpture Euthanasia Coaster.  Should medical wonders allow us extended lifetimes, boredom may bedevil us.  Julijonas Urbonas imagines a humane and thrilling exit: death by roller coaster in the form of an exhilarating 500-metre drop followed by a series of loops, the G-forces of which would kill passengers in a state of intense euphoria.

1.  Anthony King, “Art: Body work,” Nature 473 (26 May 2011), p. 451, doi:10.1038/473451a.

Do you sense the lostness of this generation?  There is no bottom in the abyss of human depravity when empowered by knowledge without ethics.  Things could get very much worse without a return to the Manufacturer’s Manual.  Fallible humans following the Manual would still make mistakes, but at least there would be a pole star to guide on. 

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  • merlin says:

    Thankyou for everything, David.

    Unfortunately, I can speak from experience.  Without a serious commitment to the “pole star”, I did what seemed ok in my own eye.  Nothing good came from it.

    The information and insight you have provided have helped to increase my faith in Christ.  God is merciful.

  • huttarl says:

    @Christianmandoad: good catch. The BBC article actually says 1.3m (million).

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