Chapter 5: Science and the Social Order

Christianity and the Scientist
by Ian Barbour

Chapter 5: Science and the Social Order

In earlier chapters, the scientist’s vocation to serve human need and to seek truth was discussed; some of the opportunities of the science teacher have also been suggested. A further aspect of the vocation of every Christian is the call to work for a better society. Christian ethics is concerned not just about individuals but about the quality of corporate life. Often the institutional Context of a discovery such as atomic energy determines its consequences for mankind. This chapter deals with the place of science in the social order, and the channels through which the scientist can responsibly contribute to the formation of public policy.

Many of the critical choices today are made by groups, and there are many points at which scientists participate in such decision-making processes. In industry they often enter into the councils of management. In government they serve as advisers to the armed forces, legislative committees, and overseas embassies. In the agencies of the United Nations, technical experts have been active in world-wide planning. Some act through professional societies, such organizations as Academies of Science, such groups as the Federation of Atomic Scientists, or local committees. For a few, participation in public life may be a full-time job as "scientist-statesmen" (e.g., Conant, Bush, Killian). Many others exert their influence as individuals through public channels of information and discussion. Those who do not want to curtail their research work can find opportunities as citizens, in church and civic groups, and in political parties.

In participating in policy decisions the scientist will be acting outside his field of specialized competence, and some cautions are in order. He can easily oversimplify the social problems which his restricted education has prevented him from studying. Having great faith in reason, he may assume that a logical proposal is all that is needed. A biologist states, for example, that "scientific evidence of the unity of the human race will overcome race prejudice." "We should replace violence with intelligence" is the helpful advice of a physicist. A study of the political philosophy of scientists1 finds that they seldom recognize the diversity of interests present in group situations or the processes of negotiation by which compromises must often be reached. The dangers of naïveté outside his field of competence should not, however, discourage a person from trying to act responsibly on public issues. There will be situations in which his specialized knowledge will be particularly valuable, provided he makes an effort to inform himself about the human aspects of the question. A sampling of such issues is given in this chapter.

A. Freedom in Science and Society

For its greatest vitality the scientific enterprise requires freedom to choose and pursue problems, to publish and discuss results, and to criticize any theory. Research must be judged by the scientific community in terms of its own criteria, not by any external authority in terms of prescribed ideologies. Restrictions of its independence have usually been detrimental to its progress. This has occurred when ecclesiastical authority has attempted to prescribe its conclusions, as in Galileo’s trial by the Inquisition. In Nazi Germany, scientific development was considerably weakened in a dozen years by political control of universities and laboratories and the promotion of "Aryan science."

Russian science has suffered in those areas which were subjected to political pressures, of which the most dramatic was Lysenkoism in biology. Since Stalin’s death, however, science has been given top priority in financial allotment, in the educational system, and in salaries and public prestige; in addition, the climate of work has improved, and most of those exiled or disgraced have been rehabilitated. Young scientists have been observed to criticize theories of distinguished members of the academy. An American physicist reports: "We have clear evidence that the Soviet government now understands that genuine scientific progress requires scientific freedom." Whether liberty within science will exert an influence toward political liberty is more questionable.

In America, the chief-restriction of freedom in science has been excessive secrecy in security measures. Some areas of research are seriously handicapped because people do not know which problems have been investigated already and the results "classified." There have been harmful practices in loyalty investigations. We noted in the Oppenheimer case the failure to distinguish clearly between dissent, indiscretion, and disloyalty. Other scientists have been refused clearance without ever being allowed to know or reply to the charges. Analyzing hysteria and hyperpatriotism in American life, Edward Shils concludes that we have tended to see things in black and white:

Since all that is not white is not obviously black, it must be "really" black in the sense that it hides its darkness under a disguise. . . . Anxiety about conspiracy brings with it a distortion of the conception of individual liberty. . . . Conspiracy is conceived not necessarily as oriented toward the performance of specific acts, but as the harboring of certain states of mind.3

Both loyalty review boards and Congressional investigating committees serve legitimate purposes, but they have often assumed the functions of court trials without the attendant safeguards. The fundamental assumption of innocence until proven guilty has been seriously compromised; many a man has been cast under suspicion by being investigated, and then the case has been dropped without any statement clearing him.

In the academic world, freedom may be jeopardized in many ways. There have been demands to dismiss faculty members whose viewpoints were unpopular or to ban controversial visiting speakers, and pressures from industry for the university to serve particular interests. In April, 1956, the American Association of University Professors voted to censure six institutions for violations of academic freedom, most of them in loyalty procedures. Intellectual integrity may also be more subtly endangered from within by the mold of conformity or by avoidance of controversial issues. In industry, secrecy in research is often the result of commercial competition. One of the purposes of the patent system is to allow free exchange of information while protecting a company’s investment in a new process, but it has only partially fulfilled this function.

The limitation of scientific freedom by the planning and co-ordination of science is more problematical. No one directed Newton’s work or told Mendel to discover laws of heredity; creative work seems to elude regimentation, whether in research or in great music and art. But there is a process of automatic co-ordination which, as Polanyi has pointed out,4 does not endanger freedom because it is the scientific tradition which governs individual efforts. A person obeys the moral authority of his peers because he shares their standards, values, and goals, and the dedication to truth that is implied in the operation of science. The arbiter is the voluntarily acknowledged judgment of scientific opinion. The self-government of science has its own institutional structures which embody its standards and enforce its discipline. The decisions of journal editors, committees reviewing applications for grants, and administrators making appointments, all serve as informal ways of planning. But these processes could not co-ordinate individual activities if there were not already a widespread coherence of voluntary loyalties.

A more formal type of planning, however, appears to be increasingly necessary. Team projects are common today and require careful organization. In most industries, company directives control group projects, though the most outstanding laboratories allow considerable individual initiative. The cost of equipment in some fields, such as high-energy physics, and the new role of the government in providing support demand the advance programming of research. Further, the extent to which a democratic society should guide and control the activities of science has been the subject of vigorous discussion, particularly in England. Scientists oriented toward socialism or Marxism (e.g., Bernal, Needham, Haldane) have complained that within capitalism the direction of science has been determined by corporation profits rather than the public welfare.5 The solutions they offer stress political controls, which run the risk of imposing particular ideologies on the structure of science. Emphasis on the social utility of science also tends to lead to the neglect of pure science. Clearly they are right that the public has a crucial stake in the scientific enterprise, whose general direction at least should be a matter of national policy, for example in the allotment of federal funds. But the administration of such funds should perhaps be in the hands of scientists themselves and as free from political pressures as possible.

The Christian perspective can illuminate this tension between freedom and order. Believing in the worth of the individual and the basic equality of all men in the sight of God, we are led to seek the fulfillment of free persons in the context of community. But the understanding of liberty here is not primarily negative (freedom from restraint), but positive (freedom for self-determination and responsible choice). Again, a realistic estimate of man requires the establishment of democratic political mechanisms; man is good enough to govern himself, but evil enough that no individual or group can be trusted with absolute power. As Reinhold Niebuhr puts it, "Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but his inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."6 Christian concern for justice and for human relationships takes one even further from "rugged individualism," toward provision of structures of order within which freedom can be creative. And if we believe that God seeks man’s voluntary commitment, religious freedom is also essential.

Both as scientists and as Christians we have reasons to work for a social order providing the maximum freedom consistent with the operation of justice and equality. Restrictions of political liberty tend to be reflected in restrictions on science. Moreover, the premises of freedom within the scientific tradition imply wider freedoms; a culture which believes in the universality of truth and shares a common dedication to it will encourage freedom of discussion, rather than the settlement of arguments by force. Modern technology in turn adds urgency to concern for democratic processes. Tolstoy wrote prophetically: "If the arrangement of society is bad and a small number of people have power over the majority and oppress it, every victory over Nature will inevitably serve only to increase that power and that oppression." One aspect of the vocation to work for a better society, then, is the preservation and extension of freedom both in science and in political life, without neglecting the requirements of order and justice.

B. The Worship of Technology

What should be the role of science among the goals of the social order? Power over nature has always been one of the motives for seeking technical knowledge, linking it in function with the practice of magic in earlier days. In the public image the scientist is the white-coated high priest of the new order, the guardian of its secrets. His work is the infallible oracle, the guarantor of the advertisement: "Science says. . . ." While he himself may have various motives, he is sought by others primarily because of the economic, military, and political power which he mediates. William Pollard sees technology today as a Promethean quest for human self-sufficiency, omnipotence, and complete mastery over nature, a celebration of man’s glory rather than God’s. "No more terrible affront to the Creator could be made by man than this all-out determination to seize God’s creation from Him and make himself sovereign within it." Yet surely it is not power itself that must be condemned, but the ways in which men misuse it.

The sense of power which science brings is perhaps most tempting and most dangerous in the manipulation of people. The control of human behavior in the interests of efficiency presents frightening possibilities, conveyed vividly by Huxley’s Brave New World or Orwell’s 1984. But this same tendency toward depersonalization and mechanization has been a

widespread concomitant of modem technology. Our culture is increasingly the servant of external, technical interactions of control and manipulation (what Buber calls "I-It" relationships) to the neglect of personal response to people as subjects ("I-Thou" communication). Persons should be ends, and things means, not vice versa. We are called to love people and use objects, rather than loving objects and using people. The machine tends to set the pace for man, requiring him to adapt his schedule to its needs. Somehow the machine can take possession of man’s life, and the relation of the craftsman to his work is lost. Mass advertising of mass-produced goods exerts a pressure toward uniformity and conformity.

Today there is a widespread belief that science will solve all problems, and that luxury and prosperity are the prime object of life. The mass media extol greater comfort and easier living; the assumption is that human needs are exclusively material. American activism is concerned to get things done, and "know-how" is more likely to be valued than "know-why." Efficiency becomes an end in itself, even if it is efficiency in achieving inadequate goals. In analyzing these effects of technology it is difficult, however, to distinguish between those which are inherent in scientific advance and those which are the result of a particular historical situation. The introduction of technology inevitably accelerates cultural change, which almost always leads to personal instability and social disorganization. On the other hand, the leisure that greater efficiency brings may or may not be desirable, depending on the values of a particular group. In some situations leisure may be used creatively, whereas in others it may lead only to new ways to kill time.

The reaction of the Christian to a technological civilization is likely to be both appreciative and critical. The biblical tradition does not minimize the value of material progress. It is not otherworldly or interested only in a future life, for it is deeply concerned about the conditions in which men live now. Calling a halt to scientific work would not remedy the basic problem of modern man, and backbreaking scarcity would be no more "spiritual" in its impact than an economy of abundance. But biblical religion does speak Out when material progress becomes the source of meaning and purpose in life. It criticizes not science in itself but an unqualified devotion to goals identified with the products of science. Technology as a total way of life becomes idolatry, that is, ultimate allegiance to something less than God. Man is insecure and tries to build a pattern of life that will disguise his insecurity; attempting to escape the threat that life might be meaningless, he organizes his values around inadequate centers of meaning. When technology becomes such a center, he ends as a slave to his own material comforts. As Augustine saw, a person’s life is determined by what he loves.

Exclusive preoccupation with technology can thus warp attitudes to nature, to God, and to man. Nature is looked on as an alien order to be exploited and plundered, with no sense that it is a kindred creation to be appreciated and enjoyed. In rebellion against God, new achievements offer new opportunities for the kind of intellectual pride and self-sufficiency which encourages us to exalt ourselves and try to get along without him. Any distortion of values also injures human relationships. In the biblical perspective, progress is to be measured in terms of the quality of man’s life, his moral and spiritual stature, his corporate existence in community. "If I understand all mysteries and all knowledge.. but have not love, I am nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:2). Shortly after the first Sputnik, a New York Times editorial affirmed:

The greatest adventure of all is not to go to the moon or to explore the rings of Saturn. It is rather to understand the heart and soul of man and to turn away from wrath and destruction toward creativeness and brotherly love.8

The goal of Christian ethics is the fulfillment of the lives of persons in community. Today this requires a reassertion of the distinctively human values, such as personal responsibility and individual creativity. The capacities of human nature which are not immediately "useful" must be cultivated; appreciation of beauty and dedication to truth and goodness must find expression. (Even art and philosophy have too often become essentially technical exercises, analysis predominating over synthesis, skin over purpose, form and language over content.) Those who affirm the primacy of person-to-person relationships and the necessity of understanding, compassion, and forgiveness will give attention to the life of the family, small groups, and the church. This leads, not to a repudiation of technological progress, but to the attempt to ensure that the technical aspects of man’s life do not predominate over his personal and interpersonal existence.

Finally, the organized church can respond to modern civilization in several possible ways. H. Richard Niebuhr has traced five types of strategy which Christians through the centuries have adopted as they tried to relate Christ and culture.9 At the risk of oversimplification, we could extend and paraphrase these classifications as they might apply to the interpretation of contemporary technology by the church:

1. "Religion against Science." This view condemns science as lust for power and comfort; technology is denounced as materialistic and dehumanizing. It is asserted that the church should withdraw from an evil scientific culture and attempt to preserve her own patterns of uncompromising perfection in the simpler life of an earlier day. (This is the answer of the Amish and other separatist religious communities.)

2. "Religion under Science." This is the way of accommodation to prevailing attitudes. The church should adapt to a technological culture, selecting the best from all fields of human endeavor. We are asked to apply the methods of science to all areas including religion. This view tends to be as optimistic about man and his progress as the first view is pessimistic. (This position may be taken consciously by extreme liberalism, and unconsciously by those who have lost all distinctive religious beliefs and the ability to criticize the values of their culture.) In the first view, religion is supreme and tends to reject science; in the second, science is supreme and tends to absorb religion. Between these extremes are three attempts to preserve a balance:

3. "Religion above Science." Science is valuable but can deal with only limited areas of knowledge; the most important truths come from revelation, and theology is queen of the sciences. We should seek a new "Christendom," a modern version of the medieval synthesis. The church should have control over technology both in ideas and institutions. Here the balance of science and religion is preserved institutionally. (This is a thumbnail sketch of the main Roman Catholic emphasis.)

4. "Religion separate from Science." Religion has to do with individual salvation; the church should not become involved in the problems of technological civilization. Life in the world has to be governed by a different code of ethics from that applicable to personal life. The two areas are watertight compartments with respect to ideas, values, and institutions. Here the balance between science and religion is preserved by keeping them apart, so that each has its own sphere of operation. (Luther and Barth at times reflect such a double standard, and many Christians in practice live by a separation of religion from daily life.)

5. "Religion transforming Science." Religious faith and a technological culture interact not primarily as institutions, but as aspects of the life of individuals. Scientists have complete freedom to investigate, but decisions about the purposes science should serve involve essentially religious questions concerning the meaning of life and the goals of men. The church can reorient society through the redirection of men’s values, enabling them to be sensitive to the worth of persons, to respond with concern for their needs, and to establish corporate structures of justice. (Some of these themes can be found in Calvin and Wesley.)

This fifth approach is implied in the earlier suggestion that the scientist responds as a free person to a total situation which includes God, human needs, and technical data. In this view the church makes no absolute claims and assumes no temporal authority, for it too stands under God’s judgment. It is, however, in dialogue with society, helping men wrestle with social problems. The dynamic interaction works both ways, for religion must also re-evaluate itself in the light of new knowledge. The Christian must admit that he is himself a product of a technologically oriented culture, whose values he has to some extent absorbed. Yet he is not totally immersed in it, for the biblical tradition gives him an independent standing-ground from which he can judge his society. He can work for scientific progress without becoming its slave, and he can discriminate among the purposes technology may serve.

Each of these five approaches emphasizes a valid element in the Christian tradition, and there may be historical circumstances in which each is particularly appropriate. The strategy of withdrawal (#1 above) maintains in a dramatic form the prophetic witness against social evils; under a totalitarian government it may be the only way in which the church can exist at all. In contemporary America, however, it preserves the church’s internal integrity at the expense of responsibility for the wider community. Accommodation (#2) can easily lose the distinctive message of the gospel, while the institutional approach (#3) tends to impose a particular ideological synthesis and to absolutize one ecclesiastical pattern. Compartmentalization (#4) has no effective impact on corporate life. Only the attempt to transform society from within (#5) can redirect a technological civilization to the service of God and man, preserving a legitimate place for scientific progress without making it the ultimate source of meaning in life. A culture having profound respect for human personality will pursue technology, not as an end in itself but as a means of serving the genuine needs of men.

C. Science and National Policy

We turn now to some current issues of science in national policy in which there may be significant opportunities to work for a better society. The examples represent one person’s response at a particular time (1960), and are not meant to prescribe "the Christian answer" for all time. Characteristic of such issues is the way in which technical and moral questions are intertwined. The recent fall-out controversy provides a case study of this interaction of scientific data with political and ethical judgment. The public has been confused by the fact that eminent experts have contradicted each other concerning biological dangers from nuclear tests. Pauling has said that the situation is "alarming," and 9,000 scientists including 36 Nobel-prize winners signed a petition in 1958 calling for a halt to weapons testing. On the other hand, Teller stated that there is "negligible danger," and the Atomic Energy Commission has issued reassuring statements.10 There are several reasons for the disagreement:

1. Differences in scientific data. Where adequate facts are not available, or where there is a range of plausible estimates (e.g., the effect of low-level radioactivity on bone cancer), one side makes the more optimistic assumptions, the other the more pessimistic. One side uses average values; the other allows for wide variations from averages. Moreover, the same facts can be presented in various ways. The alarmists speak of 10,000 new leukemia cases annually if testing continues at the present rate; those who would reassure us say this would be a rise of only one-half of 1 per cent, which is "a negligible percentage." At hearings in May, 1959, the AEC estimated that Strontium-90 already released will produce only 300 cases of leukemia and bone cancer annually in the U.S. But this is equivalent to saying that from past tests alone 140,000 such victims will die throughout the world in a generation (the half-life of Sr-90), quite apart from genetic damage or effects of C-14 and I-131.

2. Differences in comparisons of danger. Teller finds the hazards small relative to the 40,000 annual deaths in auto accidents. Pauling replies that this is "a highly immoral comparison," since the latter is a voluntarily assumed risk. Again, we are told that radiation from Sr-90 has been less than common exposures from medical X-rays. But this statement is less reassuring since a careful British study found that if a mother was X-rayed during pregnancy, the child is about twice as likely to die of a malignant disease before its 10th birthday.11 Harrison Brown summarizes the problem:

A person who subscribes to the AEC philosophy might phrase the effect of continuing testing upon the incidence of leukemia as follows: "This effect is so small that it cannot be detected with certainty in death statistics. Clearly the risk is far less than most other risks which we face as payment for our pleasure, our comfort, or our material progress." Many of us, however, might prefer to phrase the consequences in other terms: "Continued testing at the present rate may well result in the death each year from leukemia of nearly 10,000 persons who might not otherwise have died."12

If there is a human cost for any increase in radiation, the decision is a moral and social as well as a technical one. There is no scientific standard for measuring the value of a human life.

3. Differences in political context. This is the basic reason for the dispute. Teller feels strongly that no agreements with Russia are possible. He considers the H-bomb, of which he has been called "the father," to be the only deterrent to nuclear war; compared to all-out war, any loss of life from testing is insignificant. The AEC has the development of H-bombs as its main assignment, so it is not surprising that it has minimized fall-out dangers and opposed test ban negotiations. Pauling, on the other hand, believes that a workable plan to limit testing could be the opening wedge to lessen tensions and develop further international controls. Taking the present dangers seriously might produce the first steps in halting the nuclear race, which he sees as leading only to disaster.

While there has been controversy about testing, there is no dispute as to the magnitude of the catastrophe of actual nuclear warfare. One bomb now carries more destructive energy than all the explosives used in all wars throughout history. It is estimated that present nuclear stockpiles contain the equivalent of 10 tons of TNT for every human being on the globe. Two hundred and fifty bombs would kill half the U.S. population,13 and several hundred million more might die from delayed effects somewhere in the world; industrial civilization as we know it, and possibly man’s genetic inheritance as a species, would disappear. Even the so-called "clean" H-bombs, in addition to the immediate casualties they would create, produce appreciable quantities of radioactivity. Punch commented:

To call the H-bomb clean

makes sound and sense divergent

unless it’s meant to mean

The Ultimate Detergent.14

No one would "win" a future war. The only alternatives today are co-existence or co-nonexistence.

The policy of deterrence and "brinkmanship" cannot be relied on to prevent such a catastrophe. In a period of tension and crisis, the danger of miscalculation or accident would be aggravated by the shortness of missile warning times, which give no chance for negotiation. Either nation, convinced that the other was planning an attack, might seek the advantage of striking first. Any distinction between "defense" and "offense," or between "deterrence" and "provocation," would vanish in practice. It is also an unrealistic hope that limited engagements can be confined to conventional arms or even "tactical" nuclear weapons, for the losing side would be tempted to turn to more powerful weapons. Such risks are increasing now that several smaller nations have both the capacity and the determination to produce atomic bombs. Moreover, there is a major moral dilemma here. Many people who assume that the possession of nuclear missiles will prevent their use also believe that the Christian conscience cannot sanction the actual employment of such methods of mass annihilation. Yet deterrence requires the willingness to use them. As a result we become callous about the evil to which we consent, assuming that the greater the terror of destructive power the less likely its use, and yet implicitly approving such destruction without limit.

Thus the most crucial issue today is controlled disarmament, which is the only defense possible against missiles. International monitoring of test suspension would be a significant first step. A ban on explosions in air, water, and space is already enforceable. On underground tests, Russia has made a major concession to submit to veto-free on-site inspection, though fear of espionage has made her hesitant to accept the frequency of inspections we demand. Perhaps the U.S. should accept inspection of a random sampling of borderline seismograph tremors; this would entail the risk that evasions might occasionally escape detection, but the value of such small tests would not be great, and the dangers in our present policy are considerable.15 It has been suggested (e.g., by the Democratic Advisory Council) that since the AEC and the Defense Department are not interested in test suspension, we should have a National Peace Agency to conduct research on improvement of monitoring devices, as well as research for a bold Technical Assistance program. Present efforts toward disarmament are certainly infinitesimal compared to the resources and imagination devoted to the arms race.

More urgent is the establishment, even for a trial period, of an international inspection agency, which could both apply and improve detection methods, and allay some of the fears about inspection in both nations. Placing arms control machinery in the hands of the United Nations would at the same time be a step in strengthening the latter. The UN. can also grow through the evolution of the powers it already has. Eventually a permanent police force and the pooling of sovereignty in certain areas are necessary if enforceable international law is to arise. But the important issue now is to take the first step, and a tremendous effort in this direction is justified by the stakes involved in avoiding thermonuclear war.

Another major policy issue related to science is technical assistance to underdeveloped countries. The rebellion against hunger, poverty, and disease is a revolutionary ferment around the world, the desperate discontent of the disinherited awakening to new hopes and new national awareness. Our foreign policy during the last decade has been built around the negative aim of opposition to Russia, and has failed to take positive leadership in a world-wide attack on hunger and disease. Concern for the misery of human beings demands planning for massive reconciliation instead of massive retaliation. Even our own self-interest requires such action, which would not be "foreign" aid but aid to the shrinking world of which we are an inseparable part. Interdependence in trade and in the conditions of peace requires constructive economic development in areas of rapid social change if chaos and violence are to be avoided. Communism has a great appeal to the victims of poverty, offering an explanation of what is going on, and a political blueprint for emancipation from misery. Its combination of goal and working plan, together with the example of Soviet industrialization in a generation, lures those who have never known what freedom means.

Two Massachusetts Institute of Technology economists have drawn up a detailed technical assistance plan, of which they say:

In its essence our proposal calls for a sustained effort by the U.S. to associate its purposes and efforts with those of the aspiring new nations. Quite aside from its virtue as a means of protecting national interest, this association could have profound and wholesome effects on the quality of our domestic life. . . . From the revolutionary beginnings of our history, the U.S. has, on balance, acted in loyalty to the conception that its society has a meaning and a purpose which transcend the nation.16

Such an undertaking would be costly. The total UN. Technical Assistance budget for 1958 was $32 million (the U.S. share was 8¢ per person!); our own Technical Co-operation budget was $150 million. The sort of program for which the world crisis calls should be greater by a factor of ten; the National Council of Churches has recommended $3 billion per year for economic development abroad. If these figures loom large, recall that our military expenditures are greater by still another factor of ten (defense budget for 1960 is $41 billion). Scientists would of course have a major role in this venture. In 1958, UN. Technical Assistance used 2,717 experts in 90 countries. A "World Development Authority" would use many more, working with local scientists. Government and universities could co-operate in training men for such work, including study of foreign languages and cultures. We have three military academies; why not a foreign service academy for diplomatic and technical personnel?

There are several scientific fields which might be emphasized in an active technical assistance program. The U.S. could take stronger initiative in the global development of nuclear power; we are regarded as the creators of atomic energy, but so far military uses have been more impressive than peaceful ones. Nuclear power will be important for areas deficient in conventional fuels; one freight car of uranium per year can supply as much energy as 4 million freight cars of coal, or one car every 8 seconds day and night. Relatively little research has been done on devices for utilizing solar energy. There are other problems raised by the fact that the world’s population is now increasing by 49 million each year; new agricultural methods and sources of food must be developed, and methods of population planning employed. (Meanwhile, in a starving world we pay a billion dollars a year just to store our surplus food!) In addition, regional planning would allow the coordinated development of natural resources, water power, agriculture, and industry, in relation to social and economic factors; for example, a TVA-type program has been proposed for the Middle East. In all these activities it would be advantageous to operate through the UN., with multilateral financing and international teams of experts. For the first time in history, man knows enough that no one need be hungry. it is the opportunity of the last half of the twentieth century to establish patterns through which the revolutionary force of science can meet this challenge in ways that do not sacrifice human dignity and freedom.

In regard to the domestic scene, it is the author’s belief that the direction and emphasis of scientific development can be a matter of national policy without subjecting research to regimentation or political repression. It is a real threat to democracy if one of the most powerful social influences is felt to have a momentum of its own beyond human control, or if determination of the goals of science is surrendered to industry and defense. (Perhaps we need a federal Department of Science, with full Cabinet rank.) Consider the allocation of funds: 95 per cent of all research money now goes to applied research;17 of government funds, 87 per cent goes to physical, 11 per cent to biological, and 2 per cent to social sciences. In terms of scientific policy these figures seem to reflect a disproportionate emphasis on applied work and on the physical sciences, to the neglect of pure research and biology, as well as of the social fields whose growth is essential if technology is to contribute to human welfare.

With the magnitude of human need in the world today, can one justify the extent to which applied research is directed toward what can only be called luxury items? Is color-TV really a top priority? What about our costly space programs? The motivation for subsidizing them is primarily military advantage (which has been questioned by many of those involved) 18 and pride in technical achievement (which could be sought in other accomplishments). Space research is only to a small extent governed by scientific curiosity, and even less by human need, though it undoubtedly offers considerable glamour and fascination. Even in terms of scientific gains, it is easy to lose a sense of proportion when one deals with the gigantic sums common in defense contracts. For example, a proposal has been drawn up for a series of satellite experiments to obtain the ultraviolet spectrum of tight from the sun, which would be valuable astronomical data. The cost of the experiments? $35 million, or more than all research expenditures on astronomy in the whole of our history.19

Looking to the future, new possibilities in many fields offer amazing promise. In medicine, victory Over all the major diseases appears not too distant, and the replacement of organs, including diseased hearts, has been predicted. In industry, the growth of automation will bring increases in productivity. Nuclear technology is in its infancy. Controlled hydrogen fusion may have much greater impact than peaceful atomic fission; for uranium is scarce and expensive, whereas hydrogen is literally as abundant as the ocean. Better understanding of photosynthesis is likely to yield novel methods of producing foods. The irrigation of the world’s deserts to make them habitable lands is no longer an idle dream. Even weather control is not as incredible as it sounds, for there is a delicate energy balance which can be changed by thin films on lakes and ice fields, or by air-borne particles.

But with future advances, new temptations and problems win also arise. "Brainwashing" and subliminal advertising give us a hint of what psychology may do; the tranquilizers provide a sample of the power of drugs, and lobotomy a glimpse of the use of surgery to change personality. Bernal says that "genetics furnishes us with another quite independent means of modifying life through selective breeding and by the creation of mutations"; if individuals could be fashioned to specifications, who is to decide the formula for prefabricated man? Automation will also produce distinctive social and personal problems. A system in which machines tend machines will be as revolutionary as the former change in which men first tended machines. Among the major problems will be the disposal of radioactive waste; this has already created serious difficulties, with no satisfactory solution in sight.

So the years ahead will present us with decisions even more momentous than those of the past. Used creatively to fulfill the lives of persons, technology may help bring in an age of universal well-being; in an inadequate social context it may contribute to human degradation and enslavement, if not destruction or extinction. "I have set before you life and death.., therefore choose life" (Deuteronomy 30:19).


1. W. A. Leys, "The Political Philosophy of Scientists," Bull. At. Sci., January, 1951.

2. R. E. Marshak, "The Nature of the Scientific Challenge," Bull. At. Sci., February, 1958, p. 85; see also issues of February, March, and August, 1952, May and December 1957.

3. E. Shils, The Torment of Secrecy (The Free Press, 1956), p. 46. Used by permission.

4. M. Polanyi in E. P. Wigner, ed., Physical Science and Human Values (Princeton Univ. Press, 1947).

5. B. Barber, Science and the Social Order (The Free Press, 1952), chap. 10.

6. R. Niebuhr, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (Scribner, 1944), p. vi.

7. W. G. Pollard, "The Christian and the Atomic Crisis," Christianity Today, October 13, 1958.

8. Editorial in New York Times, October 7, 1957, p. 26-C.

9. See H. R. Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (Harper, 1951).

10. L. Pauling, No More War (Dodd, Mead, 1958); E. Teller and A. L. Latter, Our Nuclear Future (Criterion Books, 1958).

11. J. Schubert, "Fetal Irradiation and Fallout," Bull. At. Sci., June, 1959, p. 253.

12. H. Brown, "What Is a Small Risk?" Saturday Review, May 25, 1957, p. 9. Used by permission.

13. Congressional Hearings of May, 1957, quoted in Bull. At. Sci., January, 1958, p. 59.

14. Copyright Punch, London, and used by permission.

15. Bull. At. Sci., March, 1959, and February, 1960.

16. M. F. Millikan and W. W. Rostow, A Proposal: Key to an Effective Foreign Policy (Harper, 1957), p. 149. Used by permission.

17. W. W. Whyte, The Organization Man (Doubleday, 1957), p. 240.

18. L. A. DuBridge, "Sense and Nonsense about Space," Harper’s Magazine, August, 1959; S. F. Singer, "The Use and Uselessness of Outer Space," The Reporter, June 11, 1959.

19. E. U. Condon, private communication.