With a title like this, one would imagine this to be a book about the conflict between evolution and creation, or something similar. In fact the book, despite its somewhat misleading title, is actually a good look at some of the abuses and misuses of science. Science is not so much taking on God, but demeaning personhood and human integrity.
Thus this book is really about the nature of science, the place of ethics in science, the relationship between science and values, the need for regulation, and the role of religion in tempering science. Winnick is well placed to handle these issues, having been a medical reporter for many years, and having written extensively on the intersection between law, religion and science.
As such this book deals with such topics as eugenics, stem cell research, population control, genetic engineering and the new reproductive technologies. And yes, there are several chapters on the evolution debate, but specifically on the Scopes Trial of 1925, Intelligent Design, and the way science is taught in the classroom.
Winnick begins her book by examining how the very notion of the sacredness of human life has been undermined in the past few decades, often by scientists and those in the medical community. Indeed, it goes back even further, with the eugenics movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The degree to which science and medicine have been bedfellows with the eugenics movement is testimony to the fact that science is not above corruption and deception. We all know of Hitler’s use of science and medicine to promote his program of extermination. But American politicians made use of their expertise in the twenties and thirties to make a better human race. Forced birth control, sterilizations, and selective breeding were all part of their program.
The now infamous Tuskegee, Alabama case, beginning in 1932, is but one example of this. Four hundred mainly poor black men were afflicted with syphilis by the US Public Health Service to see what the disease does to the body. Such lab-rat treatment of humans has happened frequently, and many scientists have been happy to conduct such experiments.
Progressive, leftist political causes, social utopianism, and secular science have often combined, ostensibly to create a “better” human race, but the actual results have been nightmarish. Many of these deliberate attempts at eugenics are highlighted in this book.
And Winnick documents how leaders in the eugenics movement realised that religion, particularly the Judeo-Christian religion, had to be countered and neutralised if their dehumanised agenda could proceed.
She also examines more recent examples of unethical science. The stem cell debate is one such case. Miracle cures just days away are among the many over-hyped claims of Big Biotech. Demand for embryonic stem cell research is paraded daily in the media, despite the fact that only adult stem cells to date have led to any human therapies.
Because so much big money is tied up with these sorts of endeavours, mercenary motivations of science are often indistinguishable from more nobler ones. A person wearing a white lab coat can be just as greedy and subject to corruption as anyone else. Scientists are not immune from selling their soul to the highest bidder.
Winnick documents how science and technology is often motivated as much by financial gain as by humanitarian concerns. And the attempts by the scientific community to reject any regulation and accountability ensures that a Frankenstein’s monster will continue to emerge.
The lust for power, the chase after profits, and the dangers of arrogance are all reasons for keeping science in close check, ethically and socially. An unbridled science will only be more tempted to go down the path of eugenics and dehumanisation.
Winnick concludes with a warning about encroaching scientism: it will “grow in political and economic stature, its own set of constitutional ‘rights’ to both research and funding, arrogating to itself alone the power to make morally troublesome decisions.” This will result in speculative funding which harms the poor, the commoditisation of the body, and the subjugation of the unborn to those already born. Brave new world prospects, in other words, which we have already witnessed enough of.