RELIGIOUS dogma has not been the handmaiden of scientific advancement. From Galileo's views of celestial movements, to Darwin's theory of evolution, theologians and church leaders often have used their beliefs to justify resistance to scientific revelation and inquiry.
Such intellectual friction is inevitable and not always bad, but moral arguments completely divorced from reason are doomed to founder on reality. Such is the case with the Bush Administration's policy on embryonic stem-cell research, which has started to attract critics among the ranks of pro-lifers.
President Bush's policy, announced in 2001, tried to reconcile the irreconcilable, balancing a religious reverence for life with the huge life-enhancing benefits that could flow from stem-cell research. Mr. Bush's solution was to limit federal funding of research to existing stem-cell lines. The government would not support the destruction of new embryos.
This compromise contained the seeds of its own destruction. First of all, very few lines existed for researchers to use. Although Mr. Bush saw the benefits of the research, and implicitly genuflected to helping mankind, his policy meant that embryos now discarded or frozen in fertility clinics could not be put to good use in federally funded research.
With sensible policies in place, that huge research engine could do a huge amount of good in the world. Millions of people who suffer from Alzheimer's disease, or who need new organs, or who are stricken by diabetes, could find relief as a result of stem-cell research. The alternative is to leave most of the field to foreign researchers, further eroding America's scientific pre-eminence.
The humanitarian considerations trump all other arguments. It is hard to tell someone in a wheelchair that he or she must live without hope of a better life because embryos cannot yield stem cells for research.
It is tough to tell Nancy Reagan that her gallant husband (and others like him) must live in a twilight world because some people dogmatically invest embryos with the full definition of life.
As the New York Times reported, Mrs. Reagan is going public with her longtime support for embryonic stem-cell research. Plus, 206 members of the U.S. House, including nearly three dozen abortion opponents, signed a letter that asked Mr. Bush to allow federal research on embryos left over at in-vitro fertilization clinics.
The President should heed such calls. Nobody is talking about growing babies to harvest their organs; morality can co-exist with such research. First, dogma must give way to science.