Monday, April 11, 2005

Vatican Biotech

[No, the Vatican hasn't cloned the Pope. At least, not as far as I know.]

Slate's William Saletan provides a [relatively] quick tour through various bioethics conferences, starting off with a reaction to a recent proposal from the President's Council on Bioethics [which I mentioned earlier], moving on to the Vatican and ending up at Penn, twice.

The short version, if you believe Saletan: Catholic priests are dealing with the challenges posed by advantages in biotechnology at a much more nuanced, scientific and thoughtful level than [liberal] advocates of all the possibilities offered by the technology. In other words, they're investing in actually understanding the science, and trying to delineate what is acceptable to the Catholic church based on the current state of scientific understanding.

I find the "Vatican approach" an interesting contrast to the approach taken by the Intelligent Design [ID] movement in the US [the folks who are agitating against evolution] -- their whole approach is premised not on trying to convince scientists of anything, but rather convincing the public at large that "evolution is just a theory". Of course, they were forced into that approach because they don't have a scientific leg to stand on, and were dismissed as wingnuts by scientists a while ago. When you can't win the game, you have to change the rules ...

Maybe the more subtle Vatican approach also reflects the fact that it's been around for centuries and had time to refine its approach to problems [no more of that heavy-handed Inquisition stuff], whereas the religious right in the US [which is behind the ID movement, however much the people pushing ID may dispute it] is relatively new and not quite as suave yet. That said, shifting the debate about ID into the public domain may prove to have been a strategic masterpiece after all, given the scary fact that some insane percentage of Americans already don't believe in evolution.

I hope that what Saletan saw at the Penn bioethics conference isn't a trend ie that biotech advocates don't take the "Look, biotech is good for you, and if you don't understand that you're just an idiot, a religious zealot or somebody stuck in the previous century" approach. Trying to convince people of something by telling them they're stupid if they disagree is seldom a winning strategy.

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