Fears of Science. Nature and Human Actions

In Adam Świeżyński (ed.), Knowledge and Values, Wyd. UKSW, Warszawa. pp. 157–170 (2011)

The paper points to quite a surprising change of the attitude among general public towards science and scientific progress that seems to have happened at the turn of the 20th century, and, to an extent, stays on: from holding scientific enterprise in high esteem to treating scientists and fortune˗tellers on a par, from hopes that science will eventually resolve our problems, both theoretical and practical, to anxiety and fear of what scientific experiments can bring about in nature and human life. After considering, in Part 1, possible reasons for this change, the paper focuses on supposedly real dangers associated with some particular scientific achievements. Part 2, “Physicist’s nightmares”, recalls some historical instances of the progress in physics, from the Manhattan Project to the opening of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in 2008, fears that those experiments raised, and arguments ˗ both convincing and not quite so ˗ that were offered to reassure the public of their safety. Part 3, “Biologist’s dangerous plays”, turns to genetic engineering and certain fears this discipline raises which are captured in the term the “Frankenstein Syndrome”, e.g. the danger of genetically modified organisms getting to an unintended environment, or unexpected results of intended modifications. Here the paper offers some considerations regarding the notions of “intention” and “expectation”, which leads to fundamental doubts about plausibility of the conviction of the dangerous character of the research in question. Final conclusions point to a quite fundamental discrepancy between the power of science and the power of nature as the ultimate argument against exaggerated fears of scientific progress, and the post˗concluding remark offers additional support for it in terms of a brief theological observation for those who share Christian tradition.
Keywords scientific progress  fear of science  public reception of science  “catastrophe in the lab”  particle physics  high˗energy physics  genetic engineering  Frankenstein Syndrome  risk
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