Emmitsburg Council of Churches


God, Man, Church, and Science

Father John J. Lombardi

Are you for medical professions making "synthetic human beings" ? ... What distinction does the Catholic Church make between science helping and hindering the health of persons?...How much do Catholics support scientific progress?

Many people, even to the present day, believe that the Church is opposed to scientific research and the progress of man. Many erroneously believe that the famous inventor and astronomer Galileo was suppressed by the Church because of his theory that the earth was not the center of the universe, thus inciting rumors that the Church viewed science as evil… Now for the real story: The theory held by Galileo was nothing new; in fact Nicholas Copernicus published the controversial theory at the urging of distinguished clergymen. Galileo found controversy when it was obvious that he did not have conclusive proof for furthering the theory of Copernicus, but persisted to teach it as fact. It was the Church that held to the scientific method without letting their assumptions get in the way (as did Galileo). The Church held that the hypothesis could be taught as a theory, but not as a fact. Although the theory would later be proven as fact, Galileo's mistake was disobedience to the Church, not his pursuit of science.

In fact, the Church supports science, when properly conducted. After all, the God of the universe and valid science can only point to helpful knowledge. So what does that have to do with the Church and science today? A recent newspaper reported that scientists in China used cloning techniques to create hybrid embryos that contain a mix of DNA (genetic coding ) from both humans and rabbits. The approach could help scientists wishing to mass-produce human

embryos as sources of human embryonic stem cells, in order to do research on them. Is man playing God?

If the Church held the same influence over governments and states as it did at the height of Christendom (in the middle ages), you bet Galileo would have been told to "stop cloning" using certain methods, but to continue the valid pursuit of knowledge through science. The pursuit of science without adherence to God's laws is like a runaway train pursuing its own interest, derailing itself in its own pursuit, and thereby massacres many. To remain on the track would be to exhibit perfect locomotion, but on its own course, chaos is the only end.

Roughly put, some western Christian philosophy about God believes that man does everything, while God does nothing. Eastern philosophy has God doing everything while man does nothing. Who is right? The Bible tells us, "Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God; whoever serves, and let it be with the strength that God supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 4:11). Bottom line: I can do all things through Jesus Christ who empowers me-it is both God and man who do the work. Therefore, regarding our scientific question: Pursue DNA research without offending God's laws.

What does the Catholic Church have to say about human cloning and DNA research? Although the Church has been very outspoken to the United Nations and to the world on this topic, not all of the statements hinder genuine scientific progress as some might assume. Remember: the Church is protecting the human dignity of each person, even the small, involuntary and innocent cells which make up a baby. Progress here means treating them as humans; for others, progress means manipulating the "stem cells" by utilizing them as "means to ends". The following comprise the guidance for scientists in this area:

Do Not:

  • All forms of cloning of individual human beings must be prohibited, whether cloning entails the production or attempted production of a human embryo through the introduction of the nucleus of a somatic cell into the oocyte whose nucleus has previously been removed (nuclear transfer), or as the production of embryos from a pre-existing embryo regardless of its origin - through the artificial separation of one or more of its cells (embryo splitting).
  • The difference between therapeutic and reproductive cloning is only a difference of intention, not the procedure. Creation of human embryos by cloning, whether implanted in a uterus to be carried to term or for scientific research is condemned.
  • The possible attempt to produce human-animal embryos (that is a creation involving both human and animal DNA) is condemned.
  • Furthermore, intellectual property rights advocating said procedures are not to be recognized by commercial or government entities

It Is OK To:

  • The Holy See advocates the production of stem cells from adults or by means that do not entail the destructive use of living embryos including those obtained from cryopreservation (freezing).
  • Cloning which does not intend to produce individuals but merely to multiply cells (stem cells in particular) raises no ethical concerns
  • Animal and plant cloning is governed by different ethical parameters and is not relevant to this topic.

The Catholic Church-thru her moral theologians, teachers and Magisterium (the teaching office which is linked to the Bible and guided by the Holy Spirit)--thinks thru important questions and principles in this moral area, which may include:

What medical procedures advance the human dignity of persons, and what denigrates this? Some medical procedures may seemingly promote helps, but actually hinder God's intention for the human body. Thus: in vitro fertilization-conceiving a child outside the biological, natural plan of God in a laboratory-makes this beautiful spiritual-nuptial-sexual event into a mechanistic enterprise divorcing the couple from the unitive design for them. Likewise, giving an elderly person drugs to kill them-"euthanasia"--even though their suffering is difficult-makes man, not God, the "author of life and death," and treats people as things, not supernatural persons. ." Also, a vasectomy for the purposes of sterilization not only blocks the creation of life; it harms a perfectly healthy body part.

Thus, by these decisions, the Church promotes and defends the dignity of persons, and valid medicine, even when secular seductions entice otherwise.

What complements human health and holiness, and what compromises it? A vasectomy for the purposes of sterilization not only blocks the creation of life, it also harms a perfectly healthy body part by a physician who violates the Hippocratic Oath ("Do no harm") sworn by that doctor. To prevent life in this way through artificial or surgical means, whether for health or other reasons, can in no way complement life; it contradicts it and the purpose God naturally designed for the human body, and is therefore morally evil. However, prosthesis--a leg appendage--does not interfere with God's intention for the body and soul; this medical unit actually helps humans perform human functions, which is what God intends for the body.

The Church gladly promotes this kind of scientific progress. Due to original sin, however, the desire to satisfy seeming good intentions and the senses naturally overpowers the soul's desire do good. We should want to subordinate our reason to God's plan (natural law), not, oppositely, submit God's law to human wants and false reasoning (i.e. thru contraception, abortion, etc). Somehow, thru original sin, the pure and spiritual desire to do well was suppressed by the desires of the flesh. Archbishop Fulton Sheen likened this phenomenon to what happens to reason as a man becomes intoxicated. Likewise, in seeking medical and moral "answers" we are often blinded by passion's quest for stimulating, though, false answers. We may only sense the "stupor" later.

Pope John Paul has often said: We need not necessarily do all we are capable of doing. We do not need to use or operate on stem cells from human bodies just because we can. Translation: just because the enticing cake is before a child does not mean he should grasp it, or has to. We sometimes think we need to do certain things simply because we can (speed on highways, steal or cheat)-sometimes "for the thrill of it." The Pope is also quoted in saying, "Mankind has the natural right to freedom; the freedom to act responsibly." This applies to all aspects of life, especially to science and technology.

Archbishop Sheen suggests the first instance of technology in the Bible comes from the first book: Genesis. After the fall of Adam, the land was cursed and man had to earn his living by the "sweat of his brow," no longer being in the Garden of Eden. Therefore it stands to reason that the crops grown by Cain represented the first use of technology to make food grow from cursed soil. Isn't it ironic that Cain's offering from the technological order was rejected by God, whereas Abel's offering from the natural order (firstlings from his flock) was accepted? Are our methods of science in line with God's Law? Will our sacrifice be acceptable?

Sometimes, when we think can benefit from a certain medical or scientific procedure, there is a downside, a negative side effect which we do not literally see. Think of the warnings pharmaceutical companies must tell you about when promoting new drugs. As there are good and bad effects in medicines, the same exists in attractive scientific procedures today. Like the pharmaceutical company, the Vatican and pope John Paul are promoting and defending both science and human health and dignity.

A century ago the prescient English author, Mary Shelley, warned of runaway science during the industrial revolution without morals. In her novel "Frankenstein." This book foretells man's manipulation of nature (Dr Victor Frankenstein attempted to produce his "monster", by "un-natural law," without God's plan); the human lust for power (doing unnatural things just because they are possible), and the divorcing of science from morals (the doctor worked on his own without others and religious values). Studying this novel's warnings-along with Pope John Paul and others-will help us avoid moral and medical chaos. Catholics embrace genuine, holistic scientific progress. We promote science with spiritual saneness.

Today, we all need spiritual heroes-especially in the field of religion and science. We can use people today like St Hildegarde of Bingen, (d. 1097), who is very popular today in an ecumenical, multi-religious field. Because of her mysticism, earthy medicine and spiritual method, she fathomed God's artistry and plan in fields like natural history, biology and medicine (at least in a basic way). She proposed a holistic, God-centered plan promoting science while preserving human dignity. She is a testament to the integration of science, spirituality and saneness.

The great French author, Charles Peguy, once said, last century: "The social revolution will be moral, or it will not be."

Briefly Noted

Today, some people don't believe in demons or their effect on people. Jesus shows in the Gospel that He is the Master of all-even of unclean spirits. Pray for Him-and St Michael-- to purify you.

Grotto Story: Enjoying a lunch with some friends recently, a group of persons approached, with a baby seeking some help. I "winced" a little. Then I saw the baby and winced again. She had a tube in her nose, was blind, could not walk and lay motionless gazing into the sky. The mother asked me to bless the baby. I began praying and the mom immediately knelt in supplication, bowed to the ground, and began crying: her daughter was very sick-she wanted help amidst hopelessness and despair. The mom obviously appreciated, beyond words, the blessing. Perhaps she experienced a kind of healing by the Virgin Mary's help. Thank God for the Grotto, our Holy Faith and sacramental blessings.

Quote: "Every lover of God is the one and at rest and Godlike in the activity of love; for God, in His sublime nature of which we bear likeness dwells with enjoyment in eternal rest." Bl. Jan van Ruusbroeck

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi