Just before Thanksgiving, researchers in Wisconsin and Japan announced a breakthrough in stem-cell research. This time, it was good news for those of us who believe in the sanctity of human life.
The researchers announced that they had “successfully reprogrammed human skin cells into cells indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells.”
The announcement at the University of Wisconsin was accompanied by the usual hype: The research “has tremendous implications” for medicine, drugs, and “transplantation therapies.”
The unusual part was that the leader of the research team, James Thomson, told reporters that these cells would, over time, replace embryonic stem cells in research—and he is glad of it, because he had moral qualms.
Not surprisingly, it was the possible resolution to this controversy that captured the headlines. The Philadelphia Inquirer spoke for many when it said that the findings have the potential to end the “dreary wrangle” over embryonic stem-cell research.
The news from Wisconsin and Japan is good news, and it is a vindication of those who argued that the sacrifice of human embryos was unnecessary. But this struggle is far from over.
To understand why, you need to understand what motivated many supporters of embryonic stem-cell research.
The first was political. As one liberal pundit put it, “embryonic stem cells, of course, were supposed to cure America of its affection for the religious right.” For many politicians, embryonic stem-cell research was a “wedge issue.” Its goal was not to conquer disease but, instead, to put pro-life Americans on the defensive, depicting them as uncaring fanatics. There is no reason to think that our opponents are going to stop trying to use the stem-cell issue against us even after this announcement.
The second motivation is worldview: specifically, “scientism,” the belief that scientific investigation is the only means of knowledge—that scientists can get answers to everything, including philosophy and morality.
So embryonic stem-cell research, scientism insists, must be free from any “restraints” or “interference.” Scientists—not political leaders and certainly not morally concerned citizens—should determine what it is or is not permissible in the lab.
In addition, scientism, given its materialistic grounding, rejects any appeal to the sanctity of human life. The Christian worldview teaches that humans are made in the image of God. From conception to natural death, life is sacred. The worldview of scientism teaches something entirely different. In that view, we humans are merely an interesting and potentially useful collection of cells and genetic material.