Science Strengthens Your Moral Compass
September 29, 2013

Science Strengthens Your Moral Compass

If an alien race were to study western society, they would inevitably identify science as a dominant cultural force. Scientific discoveries are essential to our current way of life. The light bulb, refrigerated food, germ theory, vaccines, and the engine are just a sampling of the every day implementations of experiments.

Despite our reliance on science, there remains a sector of the public that is somewhat apprehensive of the phenomenon. They fear that science is affecting us in a dangerous and seemingly unknown way. Perhaps scientists are overconfident and pursue questions that should not be asked?

Previous studies have established that the moral values of the scientist determine the questions that they consider and the way that they answer them. Science is not a system of beliefs. It is a method of thinking. However, how does this thinking method influence our moral beliefs and behaviors?

In order to test this, researchers at the University of Santa Barbara conducted multiple studies. First, participants were asked to read a story detailing a date rape case. They were then asked to evaluate the “wrongness” of the situation on a scale ranging from 1-100. Participants then provided data in regards to their field of study. They also answered questions that gauged their perspective on science.

Following that, researchers tried to discern differences in thinking using science-related and control thoughts. The participants were randomly divided into two groups, control prime or science prime. “Primes” consisted of word games meant to subconsciously encourage the participant to think in a particular manner.

Those in the control group were given sentence-unscrambling activities containing everyday words such as shoe, paper, or old. Those in the science group were also given sentence-unscrambling activities. However, half of their sentences contained science words such as: logical, hypothesis, laboratory, scientists, and theory.

The researchers found that combining the data from these studies reinforced the notion that scientific ideas support stricter moral norms. The researchers recognize that this is merely a preliminary study. Further inquiry could illustrate the effects of scientific study on the individual. Science has been characterized as ethically neutral but morally normative. Science does not provide us with a moral compass. However, it does reveal uncompromising truths, which guide us in their own way.

Scientists are responsible for considering the implications of their actions. There are some sacrifices that should never be made in the pursuit of knowledge. To quote Einstein, “The most important endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.”

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