Tuesday, October 31, 2006

One of the charges those opposing embryonic research often face is that they are opposed to "science." An example comes form Scott Adams's blog today:

Statistically speaking, any hacker who is skilled enough to rig the elections will also be smart enough to select politicians that believe in . . . oh, let’s say for example, science. Compare that to the current method where big money interests buy political ads that confuse snake-dancing simpletons until they vote for the guy who scares them the least. Then during the period between the election and the impending Rapture, that traditionally elected President will get busy protecting the lives of stem cells while finding creative ways to blow the living crap out of anything that has the audacity to grow up and turn brownish.

Now, I realize Scott Adams is a humorist, but similar assertions are a regular part of our discourse.

Since almost all of the opposition to embryonic research comes from religious groups, most prominently the Roman Catholic Church, which has made some serious missteps in its relationship with science, the debate can be framed as religious luddism vs. scientific progress, with an obvious conclusion.

But there's a significant difference in the motivations for opposing Galileo in the Middle Ages and opposing embryonic research today. Galileo was opposed because those in power saw his conclusions as dangerous -- a heliocentric solar system was a direct challenge to the Creation narrative, and thus to the authority of the Church. The same goes for evolution.

In fact, some who challenge the Church's position on embryonic research point back to Aquinas and other Church scholars putting personhood at "quickening," which is several weeks into pregnancy. But the Church's position has developed since then based on what science has taught us about the early stages of development.

The driving force behind opposition to embryonic research is not fear of its conclusions, but opposition to the methods involved. The Church was wrong to suppress Galileo. However, if Galileo's research involved launching condemned criminals into space,the Church would be correct to oppose this method.

This isn't another round of the same religion vs. science fight. The sides may have the same general names, but we're playing a different game.
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