I've always had the desire to discuss this topic.  It's just a fact that throughout history, Science, and Scientists have been used, and their knowledge has been tapped for destructive and for lack of a better term, evil purposes.  And these Scientists have used it for the opportunity of their work, even if it was to be used for purposes other than what they originally intended and even if that meant their knowledge would be used to cause death and suffering. 

For example, I've ALWAYS had mixed feelings about Werner von Braun.  While his burning passion was rocketry, and it's use in space exploration, at some point, and without a doubt, he used his knowledge to create devastating weapons for Nazi Germany, and used concentration camp laborers during the development of his V-2 missile.  So did Von Braun whore out his soul just so he could build his rocket?  Yes this man was brilliant.  He has contributed incredibly to the technology that has allowed human beings to travel into space.  Was he a total opportunist who would sell his soul to anybody just so he could build rockets?  Did he deem his work so important to the progression of technology, that he could justify the deaths his rockets caused and the jewish slaves he used to build them as a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things?? 

How do you feel about this kind of thing?  How would you compare the motives and morals of Von Braun to say Jonas Salk, who gave away the cure to Polio?  (I know, two different Sciences but certainly medical science has used unethical means to obtain knowledge, so the dilemmas are comparable.)  Please feel free to add any other names to this discussion that you feel need to be mentioned.  Is giving Von Braun a pass because of his scientific value just as hypocritical or maybe even more so, than the hypocrisy we complain about coming from religion?  Von Braun, hero, villain, good person or morally bankrupt? 

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I think I knew that the Nazis were bad guys back in third grade (I had a classmate who was fascinated with the Bismark!).  I'm not so certain I knew about the London blitz or Auschwitz back then, though.  Would be interesting to ask my daughter (23 years old, works as a TV producer for a station in NC) what she picked up on and when.

I think that is a normal fascination for a young boy.  I mean, Nazi's are the perfect bad guys....they have cool uniforms that look evil, and the SS even had skulls!!  My son has also had a fascination about WWII in general.  He's studied their uniforms, guns, tanks, ships, aircraft, and plays online games like call of duty set in the WWII era. 

My son knew, maybe not details, but in general about "the final solution".   In fact, when he was 8 he was invited to the National Young Scholars Program in Washington DC, and while we were there he insisted, in fact was adamant on going to the holocaust museum.  I warned him about what he might see, but it's like he HAD to bear some type of witness to it, to affirm what he suspected.  To solidify the idea in his head, of not only what can happen, but what did happen when people give up to blind conformity.  He told me he was glad he went, it was hard to see, but he said he felt like he understood things better, in fact my mom and I cracked up because he said "I feel wiser now..." as we were walking out.  Funny thing is, I think he was the wiser for it.   Kids are a hoot!!! 

This is similar to the dilemma some scientists had while working on the Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer, for one (there were many). And plenty of other scientists in all kinds of fields, I'm sure (not to mention the movie Real Genius!). I think most of the time, the scientists think that the advancement of science is more important than anything else. (I'm a scientist, but not a research scientist.) And somehow they are able to compartmentalize (as you've already discussed), because their interest is in the science, and not in how it's going to be used. There are lots of scientists today who have to worry about how their findings are going to be used when put in the hands of others, particularly politicians.


I just read about one who would fit this, but I can't remember the details! Dammit! Oh! It was the guy who developed the Psychopath Test. He didn't want people to get a hold of it, because he was afraid that it would be used against people, to stigmatize them and whatnot. He wanted it only used as a psychological research tool, and he was afraid of how it would be utilized in the real world. It's in that book The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. His name was Bob Hare. Here's the article I read about it: http://tinyurl.com/3djwtqc

That was very interesting Julie!! Thanks for posting it!  This is a huge debate for sure, and it sometimes makes my head swim.  I think we just need to work really hard on the cure for greed, and malevolence.  Then we won't have to worry about how scientific discoveries would be bastardized to exert control or terror on the world.  I think in the Oppenheimer case, the issue was that we needed to get it developed before the Germans then Russians.  What I think we fail to see as Americans, is that even though we feel we are the good guy, the rest of the world sees us as the one and only country that has pushed the nuke button.  How would I feel about this if I wasn't an American?  I don't know honestly.......this whole thing could drive you insane if you think about it too long...no??  lol.  Again thanks for that article....great read :)

I never met the guy so I cant know.  Even if I had, would I have asked the right questions to get to the heart of who he was... again I am at a loss.

We can only speculate based on what we have learned of his life, but never on the basis of his experience as a human being as to what he was about.


Yeah I know, and this is all part of the curiosity for me.  I do wonder what he was about.  No doubt he was brilliant.  I'm not a big fan of the good versus evil type thing, for obvious reasons, but motivation interests me a lot!  I don't expect everyone to share my views of morality or right and wrong.  I think it's more of a dark side issue.  How far would one go to make their discovery or build their dream?  I am a humanist, so I may have a warped sense of what science should be about.  I know I can count on my fellow atheists to keep me grounded, and rational when it comes to those notions ;)
von Braun was a scientist, and there for morals and norms should not be considered when looking at his work.  We are not to hold scientist accountable for the moral conundrums that their work might produce.  They produce and need the to freedom to produce with out considering all posibilities of what may happen with their results. He advances ayrodynamics five generations.  To hold him accountable for the Germans producing rockets to rain down on England would be akin to holding Alfred Nobel accountable for explosions over 19th, 20th, and 21st century.   

Not too sure I can totally agree with you on this point.  I think that a science is not a get out of jail free card when it comes to doing the right thing.  It's not right to have slaves, and therefore shouldn't use slaves as test subjects or for labor.  I think there is a line of ethical behavior when it comes to science...no matter what discovery you are on the brink of, it CAN NOT excuse or warrant unethical behavior.  That is how the world would LIKE to view atheists.  The fact is, Von Braun used enslaved Jews to build his rockets.  He allowed his rockets to be weaponized and indeed modified them to become such.  I realize he could have been coerced.  I was simply kicking around the moral implications, and at what point does rationalizing bad behavior by scientists become the same apologist bullshit we hear coming for the church for it's past transgressions upon humanity?  That's all I'm looking at.  As an atheist, I really HATE hypocrisy.  I don't like it wherever it is.

I agree that science isn't a get out of jail free card (even though the U.S. did it with him and other Nazi scientists through Operation Paper Clip as Clarence points out). Josef Mengele learned a lot about how much stress the human body can take with his experiments and he didn't personally kill, injure, or cause bodily harm to anyone.

Because of your allusion to "Operation Paper Clip" the program that brought many key Nazi contributors into the United States intelligence and Space programs, this mp3 narrative by a ex military contractor and Army Veteran is added to your question of propriety.


As always I thank you :) Information is always my friend!




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