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Playing at God

Is the development of the modern sciences and related technologies a good or a bad thing?  The question is by no means a recent one.  Not only was it raised at the inception of such development by its very promoters, like the humanist Rabelais, but it dates back to the beginnings of Western civilization, since it was at the core of the myth of Prometheus.  There are fanatics on both sides of the fence: For most philosophers of the Enlightenment, science was the new redeemer of mankind, while a minority rallied around Rousseau, cursing science, and promoting, as Voltaire put it, running on all fours, eating acorns, and drinking from streams.  As usual, the reasonable answer comes from the conservative, for whom man is neither a god nor a beast.  Unfortunately, the issue is blurred, because more and more of our contemporaries believe that playing God is just the best way to be a man.

So there are actually two issues.  One is the age-old question itself.  And the other involves the location of the narrow line behind which man behaves like an animal, and beyond which man only yields to suicidal hubris—a border that the classical conception of human knowledge helped to draw.

What is the goal of science as understood by modern scientists?  Is it to know why water boils at 100 degrees Celsius and not at 99?  Why a particle of matter is attracted by...

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