February 29, 2024

Listen to the voice of religion, says Nature

The leading journal Nature has exhorted scientists to be aware that they are trespassing on traditional turf of religion when they complain that religion is invading science. At the heart of the problem, says Nature, quoting the Jewish bioethicist and chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, Leon Kass, is that “victory over mortality is the unstated but implicit goal of modern medical science”. But immortality has always been the domain of religion.

In an accompanying survey of religious views on stem cell research, “today’s frontline controversy” in the “fractious relationship between science and religion”, Nature cites Pope John Paul II as a key figure in the debate. Some ethicists might argue however, that it misconstrues his description of science and faith as two separate realms, as if they dealt with separate realities. The Pope actually describes them as two ways of knowing the very same reality. This misunderstanding reflects a complaint by a sociologist of religion at the University of California, San Diego, John Evans. He observes that scientists attending bioethics conferences rarely show any knowledge of religion, but “religious people are expected to have spent huge amounts of time learning all the science”.

Everyone involved agrees that the topic is an important one, says Nature, because biotechnology is constantly pushing the boundaries of acceptable research. Stem cell research is just the beginning. “The stuff that’s coming down the pipe will make this look like child’s play,” says Kevin FitzGerald, a Jesuit priest with PhDs in molecular genetics and bioethics. “Organic mixed with inorganic, one species mixed with another. Everything from the molecular level on up will be fluid.”