God and ethics in Dr. Moreau
As scientists push the boundaries of genetics, society faces ever more ethical questions. Well before any of our modern ideas about genetics came about, however, there was H.G. Wells, who gave us a look at tampering with nature in his The Island of Dr. Moreau.
The titular doctor, though not a geneticist, creates chimeras through extensive use of vivisection. His efforts yield humanoid beings that can think and speak, but that are still profoundly animal. Though modern genetics has not produced anything so bizarre (yet), the ethical questions surrounding these experiments are very pertinent. In responding to the protagonist’s protestations over the pain that Moreau causes, Moreau, perhaps surprisingly, says the following:
“Then I am a religious man, Prendick, as every sane man must be. It may be I fancy I have seen more of the ways of this world’s Maker than you – for I have sought his laws, in my way, all my life, while you, I understand, have been collecting butterflies. And I tell you, pleasure and pain have nothing to do with heaven and hell.”
Now in actuality Moreau acts as sort of a perverted god-figure in the novel, lording himself over his experiments. What I find fascinating, however, is that Moreau is the character with the least moral qualms about any sort of scientific pursuit, however “unnatural.” The other two men on the island, Prendick and Montgomery, generally find the whole thing appalling. And yet Moreau is the only one that uses God as a justification for anything. I would expect the opposite. Prendick calls the creatures abominations. If he took a traditional religious view of the matter, he would have plenty of grounds on which to make that claim. But he never does. He never gives a reason why they are monsters aside from his own repulsion. Moreau’s argument, on the other hand, almost makes sense. If he is indeed religious, then finding out more about nature would actually show him more of his Creator (though that being said, his conduct and outlook on life are really not at all in tune with legitimate Christian ideals and beliefs).
The reason I find this interesting is not so much because I think it means Christianity supports cold scientific ambition (I rather think the opposite), but instead that without any such viewpoint I think harsh scientific pursuit might make sense. What reason does Prendick have to think Moreau’s efforts are in some way diabolical? Is it just because the result is different than what he is used to? There is of course the issue of pain, that may be legitimate, but that would not make the creatures themselves abominations. Any judgment passed on Moreau must be on some level subjective without a firm basis on which to consider it wrong.