THE FAUST CHALLENGE: SCIENCE AS DIABOLIC OR DIVINE

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Abstract:

Abstract.

The Faust motif provides an opportunity to explore the spectrum of attitudes among Christians toward science and technology by placing them into a historic context. Depending on one's understanding of the relationship of God and the world, the accomplishments of a Leonardo, a Paracelsus, a Faust, an Oppenheimer, or some future scientist credited with the “production” of the first successfully cloned human being can be interpreted as divine or diabolic in origin. I use the example of Faust to demonstrate that the Christian assessment of the scientific enterprise is closely correlated to the level of doctrinaire dualism informing the particular version of Christianity that inspires the assessment. I show that, contrary to what seems obvious, Faust's damnation originated not in medieval times but in early modern northern Europe, reflecting a dualistic obsession with human sinfulness more characteristic of Reformation Germany than of Renaissance Italy. Encouraged by hellfire-and-brimstone preachers, the common folk saw demons, devils, and witches in every dark corner, while humanist scholars sought to recapture the brilliant past of the Greeks and the Romans. Goethe's interpretation represents a return to earlier versions of the story, while some continue to accuse contemporary Faustians of Satanic connections for seeking forbidden knowledge and daring to play God by manipulating the stuff of life.
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