RE: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?

From: Austerberry, Charles <>
Date: Wed Mar 11 2009 - 14:17:56 EDT

Good points, George.
On the one hand, sometimes I hear very good insights from RC theologians
when they discuss their "theology of the body", which is a broad
umbrella encompassing opposition to casual sex, as well as their
opposition to assisted reproduction techniques, therapeutic/research use
of human cloning and hESCs, abortion, etc.
But then on the other hand, as you say, some go overboard if they still
oppose any and all sexual activity that does not potentially result in
procreation. Furthermore, sometimes they extend the theology to justify
mandatory celibacy for priests and nuns, the necessity of Mary's
perpetual virginity, the limitation of the priesthood to men, etc. I
think they're trying to weave rather disparate and often weak threads
into some kind of whole cloth, which gets pretty strained.
I've read Augustine, and he's fascinating. As a Christian he was really
bothered by the way sexual passion can take over a person's will. Of
course, he was speaking from personal experience, as he was quite
promiscuous for a time, then had a mistress for a time, before his
conversion to Christianity. If it could somehow be done without
passion, I think he would have found sexual intercourse much easier to
accept as a good gift from God. Even someone as modern as C. S. Lewis
once speculated that perhaps an effect of the Fall was to give animals
and humans desire for more sex than is prudent and necessary for
propagation of species.
That sex can be tainted with selfishness and sin seems undeniable. But,
some of the practical results of RC theology of the body based on
Augustine's views may be nonsensical, as George notes. For example,
while the Pope Paul VI Institute <> in Omaha
does great work treating infertility in women, if a couple's infertility
is due to problems in the man, the Institute is very limited. I don't
think they do sperm counts because in their view, I believe, obtaining
semen would require an act contrary to Church teaching.
Now to be fair, most modern RC theologians have noted some of
Augustine's deficiencies, and they acknowledge the value of sexual
relations within marriage even when procreation is impossible (e.g.
intentionally timing relations when the woman is infertile, continuing
relations when the woman is postmenopausal). And, I very much appreciate
the RC church's protection of women who want to maintain pregnancies
when boyfriends, parents, insurance companies, etc. are urging the woman
to abort. Too many women have been victims of abortion clinics that
hide information from their clients.
So all in all, I think Catholics are more right than wrong on
reproductive issues across the board. But, George's points are also
well taken.

Charles (Chuck) F. Austerberry, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biology
Hixson-Lied Room 438
Creighton University
2500 California Plaza
Omaha, NE 68178
Phone: 402-280-2154
Fax: 402-280-5595

Nebraska Religious Coalition for Science Education


        From: George Murphy []
        Sent: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 12:02 PM
        To: Austerberry, Charles;
        Subject: Re: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?
        Chuck -
        I think RC ethics in reproductive matters is in a way too
consistent internally & thereby damages not only their own credibility
but that of pro-life people in general. This ethic is strongly (I do
not say exclusively) informed by natural law arguments that in some
cases are simply outdated - in particular, the Aristotelian
natural/artificial distinction. Opposition to "artificial"
contraception while allowing "natural" methods of birth control simply
makes no sense. There is no logical connection between that position
and opposition to abortion, e.g., but they're seen by many people as
part of a total package so that they don't take either position very
seriously, seeing them both as outdated ideas.

                ----- Original Message -----
                From: Austerberry, Charles
                Sent: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 12:26 PM
                Subject: Re: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?

                Two open-access (I think) references re. when personhood
                When Personhood Begins in the Embryo: Avoiding a
Syllabus of Errors
<> by Scott
F. Gilbert (author of a widely used developmental biology textbook).

                Human embryo: a biological definition
<> by a host
of authors in Australia.

                My two cents worth:

                Gilbert and others make some interesting points about
the biology, but then Gilbert argues that because in biblical times the
most obvious milestone was birth, today only after birth should humans
gain full status as persons. It's ironic that he would chide the Church
for not incorporating the latest scientific knowledge about early human
development, but then suggest that theological and ethical conclusions
regarding personhood be based on pre-scientific understandings.

                Though I'm not Catholic, I think the Catholics' position
is the most internally consistent, as shown by their opposition to IVF
as well as hESC harvesting, abortion, etc. The problem with the
Catholic position is its speculative theology of "creationism" (in the
older sense of the word, having nothing to do with Genesis 1 or
anti-evolution but rather with the doctrine that a human soul is infused
at the moment of conception). Gilbert and others correctly point out
that conception is a process rather than a moment, that the majority of
humans die before or soon after uterine implantation, that in some cases
two souls would have to fuse into one while in other cases one soul
would have to split into two, etc.

                I think embryo(s) or fetus(es) in an established
pregnancy deserve more protection than embryos that have not been (and
often cannot and/or will never be) implanted and gestated. Nonetheless,
I respect the Catholic position, even if I do not precisely agree in all
its details.

                Here in Nebraska the public medical school is again the
focus of debate over whether its researchers should use some of the many
newer hESC lines that Obama made available on Monday to labs using
federal funds.

                State law prohibits Nebraska researchers from destroying
embryos to harvest hESCs, and Congress would have to act anyway before
federal funds could be so used to establish new hESC lines, but hundreds
of lines have been established by others, and I hear they are a lot
easier to grow than the few early cell lines Bush allowed.

                My employer (Creighton University) has not, does not,
and will not use hESCs obtained through a process that destroys human
embryos. Furthermore, Creighton argues that human induced pluripotent
stem cells (hiPSCs) make the use of hESCs unnecessary, especially now
that the few genes needed to convert adult cells to hiPSCs can be
introduced without the use of viral vectors. Creighton spokespersons
note even if hiPSCs fall short of hESCs' potential, for moral reasons
Creighton still will not use hESCs. I'm not yet convinced that hiPSCs
are completely equivalent to hESCs, but they appear close enough to
substitute for most every application.

                Charles (Chuck) F. Austerberry, Ph.D.
                Assistant Professor of Biology
                Hixson-Lied Room 438
                Creighton University
                2500 California Plaza
                Omaha, NE 68178
                Phone: 402-280-2154
                Fax: 402-280-5595
                Nebraska Religious Coalition for Science Education

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Received on Wed Mar 11 14:18:46 2009

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