Balancing Progress and Ethics: Has Science Overstepped Divine Boundaries?

The article of Moshe Taragin in Jerusalem Post discusses the intersection of religion, ethics, and the advancement of science and technology. It explores whether humanity’s relentless pursuit of progress has overstepped divine or natural boundaries. Here are the seven most important points:

Metaphorical Fences: The article uses the Torah’s commandment to build fences on flat rooftops as a metaphor for the ethical and safety considerations that must accompany human advancement. Just as fences become necessary when homes grow taller and more complex, ethical considerations grow more crucial as technology and science advance.

Dangers of Progress: While advancements in architecture, industry, and technology have brought numerous benefits, they also introduce new risks. For example, the Industrial Revolution improved labor efficiency but led to worker exploitation, pollution, and climate change. The Torah’s instruction to build fences is interpreted as a broader message to pay attention to the undisclosed dangers of new technologies.

Historical Perspective: The article emphasizes that humanity has undergone rapid changes over the last few centuries due to the Industrial and Technological Revolutions. While these revolutions have advanced the human condition, they have also introduced threats to well-being, from environmental destruction to the degradation of social bonds.

Changing Nature: The article points out that current technological advancements are different from past ones because they are beginning to change the very fabric of nature. Unlike before, where human progress harnessed natural forces more efficiently, technologies like genetic engineering are reconfiguring the basic elements of life.

Religious Implications: The Torah bans the mixing of grains and grapes, highlighting certain inviolate boundaries in nature. This implies that some advancements, even if they do not pose immediate dangers to human welfare, could be religiously or ethically questionable because they may cross God-given boundaries.

Dual Mandate: Citing religious texts, the article suggests that God left the world imperfect, giving humans the task of improving it. However, there are limits to human creativity. While there is a mandate to develop the world, there is also a mandate to preserve it, leading to a necessary but challenging balance.

Delicate Balance: Finally, the article concludes that there is no clear religious or ethical guidance on many of the modern challenges humanity faces, such as global warming or genetic engineering. The best course of action is to maintain a delicate balance, respecting the boundaries set by nature while also striving for advancement. If humanity senses that it is crossing these boundaries, it must pause and reconsider its actions.

These points together suggest a nuanced view that neither outright condemns nor wholeheartedly endorses the unbridled pursuit of scientific and technological advancement, advocating instead for a mindful, ethical approach.

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