How Science Is Resurrecting the Religious Imagination

Huff Post: As far as we know, there is no cure for death, no ingenious algorithm that can program the mysterious breath which at first gives life its form and then corrodes and withers it. It is in this breathing space between womb and tomb that we love, long and become human.

Advances on the frontiers of science are now testing these limits of the human condition. By raising anew foundational questions of origins and destiny, they are, paradoxically, resurrecting the religious imagination.

Who is to say medical science should not enter the atrium between life and death as agony sets in? Why not meddle in the other end of existence, quickening? Why not pursue purity and perfection, rewrite our genetic code and reach for immortality through cloning? We stole fire from the gods. Why not the breath of life?

Science has no knowledge of being. It can only report that we are a collection of cells. A bundle of nerves. An immune system.

That we can’t answer these questions with any convincing moral authority defines today’s epochal juncture. Liberal democracy, no less a consumer society wedded to the scientific worldview, cannot offer a defense on its own terms of the person or of human dignity when faced with such questions. There is only a utilitarian reply. “Health,” “longevity” or “saving a life” are the only standards. If that is what most people want, and that is what science can do, then what’s the problem?

Science has no knowledge of being. It can only report that we are a collection of cells. A bundle of nerves. An immune system. “Being,” “the person” and “human dignity” are concepts arising instead from the religious imagination. In Islam, our body is God’s trust. In the Judeo-Christian heritage the person is inviolable because he or she is a reflection of God’s grace, made in God’s image.

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