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Science and Social Ethics

Nature volume 139, page 276 (13 February 1937) | Download Citation



THE attitude of scientific workers towards warfare, and what it now signifies to the future of the human race, has been the subject of many articles and other communications published in NATURE in recent years. Following a leading article in the issue of May 9, 1936, a letter from twenty-two graduate workers at the University of Cambridge was published in NATURE of May 16, and similar views on the international character of science and the barbarity of war were afterwards expressed by representatives of science in Cape Town and Bangalore. Whatever part physical conflict between individuals or communities has taken in the progressive development of man in the past, it cannot be questioned that the outlook for the future is very dark if all the resources of modern science are to be available for destructive purposes in the struggle for superiority among nations. Dr. Goebbels, who practically controls the Press of Germany, has said: “War is the most simple affirmation of life. Suppress war, and it would be like trying to suppress the processes of Nature”. Such a primitive conception of the functions of war leaves out of consideration man's ethical and spiritual nature, and regards him purely as a fighting animal. Those of us who believe in a higher destiny for the human race cannot think it will be achieved through the use of high explosives, poison gas and incendiary bombs to settle disputes between civilized communities. It is because of such uses of their discoveries that scientific workers have not only the right but also the responsibility of making a collective pronouncement upon these disturbing aspects of our so-called civilization. Science has a message to deliver and a social mission to perform with far higher aims than those usually associated with it in the public mind. It believes in the evolution of social ethics, and therefore associates itself with all spiritual teaching which will promote peace upon earth and goodwill among men. On this account we are glad to put on record the following resolution adopted at the spring session of the Church Assembly at Westminster last week; and we suggest that a similar resolution might just as appropriately be passed at a representative assembly of workers for the advancement of natural knowledge.

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