Mastery over the hidden causes of things is NOT the whole truth

Earlier interest in magic might have been of a more religious or spiritual nature, but the renewal of interest in it near the enlightenment was rather different. It’s aims were often the same as science.

Even the late medieval and early modern panics over witches did not generally involve actual belief in magic; the fear, rather, was a diabolism, murder, and demonic illusion. It seems perfectly obvious to me, though, that in the post-Christian era something more like real magical thinking has come back into vogue, albeit with a modern inflection. I am not speaking of popular interest in astrology, Wicca, runes, mystical crystals, or any other New Age twaddle of that sort; these things are always with us, in one form or another.

I am speaking rather of the way in which, in modern society, technology and science (both practical and theoretical) are often treated as exercises of special knowledge and special power that should be isolated from too confining an association with any old habitual pieties regarding human nature or moral truth (these being, after all, mere matters of personal preference).

That is, we often approach modern science as if it were magic, with the sort of moral credulity that takes it as given that power is evidence of permissibility. Of course, our magic – unlike that of our ancestors – actually works. But it is no less superstitious of us than it was of them to think that the power to do something is equivalent to the knowledge of what it is one is doing, or of whether one should do it, or of whether there are other, more comprehensive truths to which power ought to be willing to yield primacy. We seem on occasion, at least a good number of us, to have embraced (often with a shocking dogmatism) the sterile superstition that mastery over the hidden causes of things is the whole truth, while at the same time pursuing that mastery by purely material means. -David Bently Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies, p.233

Our magic works, but our understanding of the underlying mechanism does not mean that manipulating has no moral implications. Think genetic engineering, selective abortion, or eugenics. Just because we understand something about DNA does not mean that it’s OK to manipulate it now. Morals surrounding that mechanism do not dissolve when the mechanism is revealed. A psychologist who studies the brain may be able to come to a reasonably accurate electro-chemical understanding of lust. This does not grant him a license to lust. As Hart says above, we are operating off that “mastery over the hidden causes of tings is the whole truth”.