From Genesis to Milton, and from Faust to Frankenstein, the lesson emerges that there are some truths that we should not know. In contemporary science, as in literature and myth, some knowledge is so intimate, so fundamental to who we think we are that its exposure risks undermining the foundations of our culture. This is an increasingly salient issue, as concerns grow about the politicization and social control of science, constraining the conduct, funding, publication, and public use of scientific research.
In the philosophy of science, "forbidden knowledge" embodies the idea that there are things that we can not or should not know. For example, some knowledge is simply inaccessible, such as what transpired in the distant past; knowledge may be forbidden because it can only be obtained through unacceptable means, such as human experiments conducted by the Nazis; knowledge may be considered too dangerous, as with weapons of mass destruction or research on sexual practices that undermine social norms; and knowledge may be prohibited by religious, moral, or secular authority, exemplified by human cloning. Determining which knowledge ought to be forbidden can often be contentious, as illustrated by recent debates about human cloning and embryonic stem cell research. How decisions to control science are made is as important as determining what knowledge is deemed dangerous.
The Bible affirms the desire for knowledge--but for the right kind of knowledge. True wisdom is to know God, but too often our desire for knowledge is that we would be as God. This is, of course, the story of the Fall, and it is our personal story as well. After Adam took the forbidden fruit, the Lord God said, "Behold, now man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil." That knowledge has been our burden ever since, and it explains why we live so far east of Eden. If no knowledge is forbidden, we will surely face evils beyond our power to imagination.
Mankind seems to...