As informed citizens, we utilize the available tools around us to help make wise decisions on public policy. And public policy, of course, codifies how people are to interact with one another, the environment, and the government. Many issues wind up being a scientific/ethical/legal debate because Americans hold to different understandings of law, conceptions of ethics, and the relevant science. This article will not examine or critique our various conceptions of ethics, though it will assume ethics are employed in our decision-making process in general. The article will, however, examine the approach to science we take in responding to issues.
It is commonplace for voters to take cues from popular science and advocate accordingly. It is just as commonplace to find a strategy like this:
- identify data (commonly as an appeal to science), and then
- leverage that data to make an ethical decision (commonly via voting or advocacy).
The current default in society is to affirm policies that:
- Give choice to voters:
- For abortion, this means denouncing policies that prioritize unborn personhood, while
- Denying choice to voters:
- For climate change, this means championing policies that prioritize nature.
On the issue of climate change, there is an appeal to climate science to justify public policies for conservation, environmental restrictions, pollution controls, et cetera. Now, given the science and regardless of wherever one stands on the issue, it is easy to find contention and disagreement in the public sphere over climate change. This disagreement, however, does not stop climate-change-conscious citizens from advocating climate-change-conscious policies. I have yet to see such an advocate (and I can bet he or she would consider it absurd) to propose: “The public disagrees on whether or not humans are influencing the climate. Therefore, the default position should be to NOT advocate or attempt to pass climate-change-conscious policies at all.”
Now, if he or she were being consistent, then he or she would consider it similarly absurd to propose: “The public disagrees on whether or not the unborn are persons. Therefore, the default position should be to NOT advocate personhood for the unborn.” That is to say, it would not at all make sense to stop trying to make laws in favor of guarding unborn human life solely because there is disagreement.
Take human embryology: the relevant claims in science here are non-controversial and uncontested regarding the unborn. We can make statements like:
- “The organism has unique and human DNA” or
- “All things being equal, the unborn will continue its human development as the rest of us did and do.”
- “The only differences between the unborn and the born are size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency” or
- “No combination of those differences have ever been sufficient to say that someone is or is not a person.”
So, to maintain logical consistency, a pro-choice/climate-change advocate ought to suppose that disagreement on an issue with scientific connections means either of these defaults:
A) Affirm policies that give choice to voters:
- for abortion, this means denouncing policies that prioritize unborn personhood
- for climate change, this means denouncing policies that prioritize nature, or
- for abortion, this means championing policies that prioritize unborn personhood
- for climate change, this means championing policies that prioritize nature.
- stop denouncing policies that prioritize unborn personhood, or
- stop championing policies that prioritize nature
What shall it be, then? Do not look to science? Do not make ethical policies that account for the science? Do not be logically consistent? The answer, of course, is: “None of the above.” So then, why be inconsistent with the strategy? Why not let science influence our ethical considerations? If the science affirms that humans are being bad stewards of the environment, then why not uphold policies that address responsible stewardship? If the science affirms that humans begin to exist at conception, then why not uphold policies that address the inalienable value of human life?
Let us be consistent. If it is a principle of ours to appeal to the science in addressing a science-related policy, then let us not deny the corresponding ethical position it would entail or affirm, even if it means we might have to abandon or revise our prior collection of ethical postures.