24 May 2000
Prince Charles and woolly thinking

CHARLES, the Prince of Wales, stands accused of woolly thinking by commentators and editorialists in the UK media.

Last Wednesday evening he delivered a talk over BBC Radio on the theme of sustainable development.

Charles emphasized more careful listening to the wisdom of our hearts, as well as to the rational analysis of our heads, more attentiveness to the preservation of bio-diversity and traditional communities-in effect, clearer thinking about our role as stewards of creation.

Scientists are interpreting Charles message as a heartfelt attack on modern science and have labelled his talk: “woolly thinking” – mixing up faith and science.

I, too, am in favour of stewardship, biodiversity preservation and the wisdom of the heart. Does that make me a woolly thinker?

Our scientific prowess has become awe-inspiring.

Scientific tools invented by the human race are capable of changing the creation in profound ways – some in ways that we can barely comprehend – like the fog that surrounds our existing knowledge about global warming.

Science, as the art of understanding how the creation works, has contributed much to our prosperity – and holds the promise of more to come.

But many proponents of modern science have gone too far.

They claim a greater role than that of informant about our choices and possible futures.

The phrase “good science” has crept into public discourse. Good science is all you need, some say, to make a good decision.

When science claims to answer “the why” as well as “the what,” it becomes arrogant.

When science pretends to provide values, in addition to information, it becomes ideology.

When science claims that it can answer all our questions, given enough time and money, it exudes triumphalism.

Science has given us the tools to build atomic bombs and to manipulate genes across species boundaries.

The decision to manipulate genes, or to build atomic bombs, is not a scientific determination.

Such choices are rooted in our values.

Science has the ability to swamp us with information.

Science can make profound changes in the role of humans in creation sound like mere technical fixes. But we are human – we will continue to make our choices with our values.

In the past, war, education, religion all reshaped human society. In our time, science has become a powerful tool for change.

Science alters human options. Science makes it possible for us to choose a different future for our grandchildren.

But science, no matter how good it is, cannot and should not make the choice of futures for us.

Prince Charles is right to reject the notion that “good science” is all we need to set limits on our ambitions and define the parameters of sustainable development.
Elbert van Donkersgoed, strategic policy adviser, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Canada
Email:elbert@terracoeur.com

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