Saturday, November 24, 2007
A Scientific and Religious Look at the Embryo
Conference Gathers Experts of Various Disciplines
ROME, NOV. 22, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The study of the human embryo is one point where the dialogue between faith and science is both possible and important, said organizers of a conference that brought together experts to discuss the beginning of human life.
The Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest project (Project STOQ), a venture sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture, held a conference last week called "Ontogenesis and Human Life" at Rome's Regina Apostolorum university. Ontogenesis refers to the development of the individual, from embryonic formation up through adulthood.
Legionary of Christ Father Rafael Pascual, dean of philosophy at the Regina Apostolorum, explained why ontogenesis was chosen as the theme for the conference. He said, "The study of human life, from the point of view of its origin, is of particular interest in today's world in which we have to confront all the bioethical questions associated with artificial fertilization, genetic cloning, experimentation with embryonic stem cells, hybrid embryos, etc."
In addition to Regina Apostolorum, five pontifical universities (Lateran, Gregorian, Salesian, Holy Cross and St. Thomas) collaborated with the Pontifical Council for Culture in the event.
Speaking to the press prior to the conference, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the newly-nominated president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, noted that Project STOQ's objective is to "contribute to dialogue between the areas of investigation and study, that have been separated little by little," and to help institute "stable points of fruitful exchange between science, philosophy and theology, by means of dialogue among experts in these fields."
Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, gave the opening lecture where he spoke of the importance of reflecting on the association between ontogenesis and creation, which links together the studies of science, metaphysics and theology.
The prelate explained that these separate sciences can all consider the notion of creation through a unique point of view. But, he affirmed, they can also work together, especially in light of Pope John Paul II's encyclical "Fides et Ratio." Together, these disciplines can bring about a greater understanding of human life, from fertilization to death -- through questions about one's purpose in life and about supernatural life after death.
William Hurlburt, a physician and consulting professor in the Neuroscience Institute at Stanford University, California, spoke of the advances in developmental biology with regard to embryonic stem cell research.
He noted a century of dramatic advances in molecular biology and cytology, saying this has delivered us to the doorstep of a new era in the study of developmental biology. When applied to human biology, this inquiry reopens the most fundamental questions concerning the relationship between the material form and the moral meaning of developing life, he explained.
Scott Gilbert of Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, a professor of developmental genetics, embryology, and the history and critiques of biology, spoke on new discoveries in developmental biology.
He explained that developmental biology has recently undergone a revolution in its understanding of the mechanisms of embryonic development, saying that one major transition has come from insights concerning the incompleteness of the genetic model for development.
Gilbert said recent studies have documented that the environment also affects gene expression, saying that even such things as maternal diet during pregnancy can play a role.
Paul O'Callaghan of the University of the Sacred Heart, Rome, asked the age-old question of when the soul enters an embryo. He focused his remarks on arguments made in classical thought, particularly in Platonic, Aristotelian and stoic thought, and then considered the efforts made during the last century to clarify the status of the human soul with respect to the body.
These, he said, have only repeated the classic dilemma between dualism and monism, but suggested that a theological solution to the dilemma draws its inspiration from the dogma of the resurrection of the body.
Other speakers and topics included Mónica López Barahona, director of VidaCord, on the genetic status of the human embryo; and Giuseppe Noia of the University of the Sacred Heart, on physiological and pathological aspects of mother-fetus interactions.
Pope's Address to Food and Agriculture Organization
"Peace, Prosperity and Respect for Human Rights Are Inseparably Linked"
VATICAN CITY, NOV. 22, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of the address Benedict XVI delivered today to members of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
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Mr Director General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As you gather for the Thirty-fourth Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, I am pleased to welcome you to the Vatican. Our meeting today is part of a tradition reaching back to the time when your Organization first set up its headquarters in Rome. I am happy to have yet another occasion to express appreciation for your work to eliminate the scourge of global hunger.
As you know, the Holy See has always maintained a keen interest in every effort made to rid the human family of famine and malnutrition, in the awareness that resolving these problems requires not only extraordinary dedication and highly refined technical training, but above all a genuine spirit of cooperation uniting all men and women of good will.
This noble goal calls for unwavering acknowledgement of the inherent dignity of the human person at every stage of life. All forms of discrimination, and particularly those that thwart agricultural development, must be rejected since they constitute a violation of the basic right of every person to be "free from hunger". These convictions are in fact demanded by the very nature of your work on behalf of the common good of humanity, as expressed so eloquently by your motto -- fiat panis -- words that are also at the heart of the Gospel which the Church is called to proclaim.
The data gathered through your research and the extent of your programmes for supporting the global endeavour to develop the world’s natural resources clearly testify to one of the most troubling paradoxes of our time: the relentless spread of poverty in a world that is also experiencing unprecedented prosperity, not only in the economic sphere but also in the rapidly developing fields of science and technology.
The obstacles standing in the way of overcoming this tragic situation can at times be discouraging. Armed conflicts, outbreaks of disease, adverse atmospheric and environmental conditions and the massive forced displacement of peoples: all these obstacles should serve as a motivation to redouble our efforts to provide each person with his or her daily bread. For her part, the Church is convinced that the quest for more effective technical solutions in an ever-changing and expanding world calls for far-sighted programmes embodying enduring values grounded in the inalienable dignity and rights of the human person.
FAO continues to play an essential role in relieving world hunger, while reminding the international community of the pressing need constantly to update methods and to design strategies adequate to today’s challenges. I express my appreciation for the generous efforts made in this regard by all associated with your Organization. The Holy See has closely followed the activities of FAO over the last sixty years and is confident that the significant results already achieved will continue. FAO was one of the first international organizations with which the Holy See established regular diplomatic relations. On 23 November 1948, during the Fourth Session of your Conference, the Holy See was granted the unique status of "Permanent Observer", thus ensuring its right to participate in the activities of FAO’s various departments and affiliated agencies in a way consonant with the Church’s religious and moral mission.
The united effort of the international community to eliminate malnutrition and promote genuine development necessarily calls for clear structures of management and oversight, and a realistic assessment of the resources needed to address a wide range of different situations. It requires the contribution of every member of society -- individuals, volunteer organizations, businesses, and local and national governments -- always with due regard for those ethical and moral principles which are the common patrimony of all people and the foundation of all social life. The international community must always avail itself of this precious treasure of common values since genuine and lasting development can only be furthered in a spirit of cooperation and a willingness to share professional and technical resources.
Indeed, today more than ever, the human family needs to find the tools and strategies capable of overcoming the conflicts caused by social differences, ethnic rivalries, and the gross disparity in levels of economic development. Mankind is thirsting for true and lasting peace -- a peace that can only come about if individuals, groups at every level, and government leaders cultivate habits of responsible decision-making rooted firmly in the fundamental principles of justice. It is therefore essential that societies dedicate their energies to educating authentic peacemakers: this is a task which falls in a particular way to organizations like your own, which cannot fail to recognize as the foundation of authentic justice the universal destination of the goods of creation.
Religion, as a potent spiritual force for healing the wounds of conflict and division, has its own distinctive contribution to make in this regard, especially through the work of forming minds and hearts in accordance with a vision of the human person.
Ladies and Gentlemen, technical progress, important as it is, is not everything. Such progress must be placed within the wider context of the integral good of the human person. It must constantly draw nourishment from the common patrimony of values which can inspire concrete initiatives aimed at a more equitable distribution of spiritual and material goods. As I wrote in my encyclical "Deus Caritas Est," "those who are in a position to help others will realize that, in doing so, they themselves receive help; being able to help others is no merit or achievement of their own" (No. 35). This principle has a special application to the world of agriculture, in which the work of those who are often considered the "lowliest" members of society should be duly acknowledged and esteemed.
FAO’s outstanding activity on behalf of development and food security clearly points to the correlation between the spread of poverty and the denial of basic human rights, beginning with the fundamental right to adequate nutrition. Peace, prosperity, and respect for human rights are inseparably linked. The time has come to ensure, for the sake of peace, that no man, woman and child will ever be hungry again!
Dear friends, in renewing my esteem for your work, I assure you of my prayers that Almighty God will enlighten and guide your deliberations, so that the activity of FAO will respond ever more fully to the human family’s yearning for solidarity, justice and peace.