Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Facts or/and ideology

It is reported today, see The Herald, that President Obama has overturned a ban on stem cell research. I'm not posting about stem cell research, but about what the President has said in making this decision.

'In lifting the ban, the president stated yesterday that he would make scientific decisions "based on facts, not ideology" from now on.' Facts, not ideology. But later in this article the President is further quoted:
"As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research - and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly."

To believe that we are called to care for each other is not a fact, it is a belief position, an ideology if you like. As humans we function as believing creatures, we act upon points, articles of faith. This is how we have been made. Even to deny that ideology, or faith, has any place in government decision making is a faith, or ideological position.

But more importantly, we cannot deny that many if not all of the decisions made by our governments involve moral choices. There is a choice to be made between moral values and scientific enquiry. This is why we should have our scientists governed by those with moral authority, or at least a moral responsibility to protect the vulnerable and weak.

President Obama has fallen into the false position of claiming to be a person of faith, yet acting independently of his faith. I for one don't want the leaders of our nations to divorce their faith from their decision making.


Peter said...

I think I have a different perspective on this Gordon, and this is not to enter into the substance of objections to stem cell research either. However, are you not conflating two separate things here?

It is entirely reasonable to make decisions on policies based on facts, rather than one particular ideology or belief system (especially in a multicultural country), and this seems to have been the case for Obama for some time - he is naturally a pragmatist. He wants to see results and benefits.

This is in contrast to Bush who notoriously only selected facts to suit the ideological argument - and to hang with the outcomes. The abuse of "facts" surrounding the Iraq war just being one of the most extreme examples.

Obama, on the other hand, having relaid claim to a fact-based and pragmatic approach to scientific research (or any other policy) then explains why he is overturning this particular ban and emphasises that it is because of his faith and belief that he is called to help and care for others.

The facts and his pragmatic approach tell him that the best way to meet the ethical requirements of his faith are by funding stem cell research rather than by cutting off funding.

It seems to me that these are two separate things, yet here we actually see the interplay of Obama's faith (and ideology) and his desire for pragmatic and beneficial policy over a specific issue, and he is doing that as honestly with us as he can.

My tuppence worth having watched Obama for the last four years.

Gordon Kennedy said...

Thanks Peter,
It's the either/or element I'm focusing upon. Either facts or faith, but not both together.
Every fact requires some interpretation, if our worldview includes an element of faith then our faith must be involved in our interpretation of the fact(s).
You can't leave faith out, and you shouldn't want to.