This last Tuesday, May 10, the Science Times had a feature article with Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, a neuroscientist and bioethicist from Dartmouth. Dr. Gazzaniga is nationally renowned for his research, much of which is discussed in the article.
During the article, Dr. Gazzaniga provides of the best analogies for refuting abortion advocates and those who oppose stem cell research when they talk about destroying "potential" human beings:
"Dr. Gazzaniga argues that it is meaningless to call a fertilized egg a potential human being. "There's potential for 30 homes inside a Home Depot, but if the Home Depot burns down, the headline isn't '30 homes burn down.' It's 'Home Depot burns down.'It's not a revolutionary concept we're dealing with here, but I know I have struggled with ways to counter the pervasive and emotional arguments of those who wish to limit stem cell research. When confronted by another researcher who was amazed by the way the cells replicate to create life, Gazzaniga responded that cancer has the same "beautiful replication" that the other researcher admonished so much. Should we not interfere with cancer's development, because we would be interfering with God's master plan for our liver?
It also relates to the discussion we had earlier in the week regarding science and religion. I think the comments under that post were incredible, if you haven't had time to check them out. Nothing inherent about religion or science requires there to be a conflict between the two. There are literally tons of people who are educated scientists who also consider themselves to be religious people.
Where the problems begin is when one group, typically the devoutly religious, oversteps its bounds and mischaracterizes the other. Organized religions and their followers tend to grossly pervert and misrepresent science, probably due mostly in part to ignorance. Scientists, on the other hand, tend to stay out of religious issues as much as possible.
The stem cell debate is another in a long history of examples of religious groups creating half-truths and in some cases, all out lies, about science. For example, stem cell research is not completed on cells that would ever be a human being on their own, despite the fact that you hear this from its detractors all the time.
Evolution is another excellent example. People who understand evolution know that Darwin, nor any of his scientific followers has ever suggested that we evolved from apes. Yet, this idea is constantly used by many who lack a complete understanding of the issue.
And there will be other issues in the future that are just like this. The best way to fight these sorts of issues is to be educated about science. It's not difficult to get information about science, even if you're not a scientist. Religious zealots are attempting to dictate every aspect of our lives from what we can see at the movie theatre to what our kids will be learning in public school science class. Information is the one tool that we have that they do not. We should use that to our advantage or prepare for the worst.