5X5 Episode 5

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5X5 Episode 5
Pope Benedict XVI
takes on science
3rd February 2008

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5X5 4 5X5 6
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
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Pope Benedict XVI takes on science[edit]

Voice-over: You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide 5x5, five minutes with five skeptics, with Steve, Jay, Rebecca, Bob and Evan.

S: Welcome to Skeptic's Guide 5x5, five minutes with five skeptics. Topic for this evening: Pope Benedict XVI has come out with a statement saying that some science shatters human dignity. He is taking aim specifically at stem-cell research, at artificial insemination, and also at cloning. He's quoted as saying, "When human beings in the weakest and most defenseless state of their existence are selected, abandoned, killed or used as pure biological material, how can one deny that they are being treated not as someone, but as something."(Reuters article)

R: It's true, you know. Every sperm is sacred.


S: Right.

J: But Steve, is he actually, does he really believe that, like, babies are, are being hurt in the process of collecting embryonic stem cells?

S: Well, I don't know what he believes; he was not quoted as saying anything very specific about that. I think he, what he says is such practices "question the very concept of the dignity of man".

R: Like child molestation.


R: Just, just throwing that out there.

B: Somebody had to.

S: Well, clearly, you know, he's drawing a line in the sand, you know, trying to say, you know, "Science - don't go beyond here". Although, I think it's, you know, it's perfectly legitimate to consider the moral implications of scientific research. That there's clearly a basis for these opinions which are not objectively moralistic, They're based in, you know, his particular religious b-

E: There's something else he said. He warned against the seductive powers of science, saying it was important that science did not become the sole criteria for goodness. Where did he pull that from?

S: Yeah, that's kind of a straw man.

R: Well, I like to think I had something to do with that. The seductive power of science. I've been trying. I send him some pin-up photos, you know.

E: I told you not to do that, Rebecca.

R: Well...

J: I have another question. Why is it that every time you see a picture of the Pope, he's doing the "Up yours", you know, hand gesture. What's all that about?

E: He's Italian. Oh wait, he's German.

R: He's saying that to science - "Up yours, science!"


R: "I have ignorance on my side. Ha, ha!"

E: Yeah, you know, unfortunately Benedict has not been what John Paul II was, you know, to science. And from what I remember, is that John Paul II said it was okay to believe in things like, you know, evolution; it was not contradictory to Christian doctrine and so forth. But I know since Benedict took over that he has in fact gone back on that statement.

S: Yeah, it's been a step backward. You know, the Catholic Church has always had an interesting relationship with science, or at least recently. I think they've, you know, the more scholarly influences within the Church have tried to have a, a more practical or convivial relationship with science. I think at some level, you know, some within the Church recognize that, long-term, you know, fighting against science, or being anti-science, is probably not a good idea. And they did say things like "Yeah, we, we accepted the findings of science. Absolutely. You know, science shows that this is what happened and this is what happened. You know, life on earth evolved. The universe is 12 billion years old. That's fine." But they still are trying to carve out, you know, like, "don't go be...beyond here, there be dragons, right, so just don't go beyond these lines that we're gonna set out because we need to reserve some territory for ourselves and for our faith". The evangelical Christians seem to be in line with Pope Benedict on these issues, on being pro-life.

B: Right.

S: So that's something that even though, you know, fundamentalist Christians hate Catholics pretty much, some even go as far as to think that the Pope is the Devil. I mean...

B: Wow.

S: ...They really, they could be significantly at odds. But this is definitely common ground for them, the whole pro-life stance. I think it's just unfortunate that Benedict chose to frame this as science, you know, as being somewhat against science, or that science can be immoral. I think you can take a specific moral stance on the kind of things we should or should not be doing without taking, making it seem antagonistic toward science itself.

B: There might be some permanent formats to what he has to say. U.S. Cardinal William Levada, which is Benedict's successor as the head of the doctrinal department, said that they're mulling the possibility of potentially preparing a new Vatican document on bio-ethical issues. So I'll be curious to see what, what's in that. Plus, I wonder if subsequent popes, could they potentially redact official Vatican documents?

S: I don't know.

E: We need a pope-ologist to tell us.

S: Well, we'll have to wait and see if that develops further, but I think that we haven't heard the end of questionable or anti-scientific statements from Pope Benedict.

S: SGU 5x5 is a companion podcast to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, a weekly science podcast brought to you by the New England Skeptical Society in association with skepchick.org. For more information on this and other episodes, visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Music is provided by Jake Wilson.

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