From Swarthmore to a Vatican invitation [Philadelphia Inquirer]

When the Vatican invited Swarthmore biologist Scott Gilbert to Rome to discuss the beginning of human life, he wasn’t sure why he was chosen. . . Gilbert . . . said he was the only speaker to suggest that very early embryos were not equivalent to human beings. That led to lots of yelling and gesticulating . . . But that didn’t hurt Gilbert’s standing. He will return to Rome next month to continue the dialogue with church leaders . . .

He said the fact that the fertilized egg contains a complete set of human DNA is often used to argue that it is not just a human cell but a human being. But the emerging science of epigenetics shows that’s not the case, Gilbert said. . . .

he has been invited back to the Vatican in March to speak on another controversial issue: evolution. . . . It’s hard to say whether Gilbert’s trip will soften opposition to stem-cell research, but he said some of the priests were at least receptive to his ideas. "The priests and I had discussions about biology and philosophy throughout the conference - and I had a good time speaking with them."

In the prior conference, admirably, the priests were more polite than some other participants towards this renowned biologist. [Read the article for details] I am sure the priests will be just as polite this time around and will be as reported “receptive” to his ideas. It seems these priests are laid back and not so dogmatic as the non-priests that go to these things.

I’m glad the Vatican invited him back. Maybe the findings of epigenetics will lead the Vatican to reevaluate some of its positions which draw from ever evolving science.

There’s no chance this conference will be televised is there?


This reminds me our initial constitution, we couldn’t decide who a person was. Were nonwhites excluded from personhood? Now we have a lot of trouble deciding who a human being is… :o :shrug:

That’s an interesting article, but I don’t see this information as anything new. So the developing embryo is affected by its environment–we already knew this, and that’s why there is prenatal care. Dr Gilbert believes an embryo is human but not a human being. I’m not sure what he means–he might not be sure either–but that’s more of a political decision than a scientific one.

And even if the field of epigenetics proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that a human embryo is not a human being or even human, it still would not be justification for abortion. One might be able to make a case for embryonic stem cell research, but not for abortion which in our country (USA) is allowed up to 38 weeks of pregnancy–the time of delivery. A premature infant can survive at a gestational age of 21 weeks, though the usual cutoff is 23 weeks. Still thousands of abortions are performed every year in the USA beyond the 21st week. That’s just killing for the sake of expedience, no other way to put it. Epigenetics can add nothing to that debate.

Dr Gilbert even said “After a fetus has a brain and enough of a nervous system to feel, however, a fetus might deserve some protection.” The brain and nervous system begin developing by two weeks. Maybe our politicians should listen to Dr Gilbert. Even if we were to make the modest change of prohibiting abortions beyond the 8-week mark–when the brain and nervous system are well developed–we would cut the abortion rate in half.

And that the Church asked Dr Gilbert to discuss the matter, that is no surprise either. The Church always studies both sides of an issue. Look at the Summa Theologica where St Thomas starts each topic by discussing the most common objections.

His position does not change anything in regard to Church teaching. From the article it seems there is no evidence to claim the developing baby is not a baby.

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