Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Is there God for test tube people?

How do religious morality and achievements of science coexist? Can we consider godly, for example, a scientific goal to achieve immortality by depriving an individual of the right to life after death? How is artificial fertilization, an analogue of Immaculate Conception, regarded from a religious point of view? Answers to these questions are sought not only by theologians.

There is no point in denying the influence of religion on certain social norms and scientific and technical progress. However, definitive conclusions should not be made either. The attitude of various religions to certain phenomena depends on many factors. First, it depends on a varying level of influence of the different views within the community, and second, changes from a historical perspective.

For example, in "good old England" where the Inquisition was eliminated along with the Catholic Church back in the 16th century, up to the 19th century there was a law demanding that those who attempted suicide and were saved at the last moment were to be executed based on a court sentence.  

Secret theft of corpses from graves by medical students who wanted to study the anatomy has long been a talk of the town. Now, however, Christianity is much more tolerant when it comes to the use of corpses as a teaching tool, and does not object organ transplantation. However, under Sharia law, autopsy even in forensic medicine is perceived extremely negatively.

Muslim jurists seem to be more progressive on the "in vitro fertilization" in case of infertility. For example, recently a fatwa (an Islamic version of a court decision) was adopted by the Islamic Center of Tajikistan about artificial fertilization for Tajik Muslims. It states that IVF is permitted, provided only husband and wife's embryonic cells are used. This is understandable, as the use of someone else's (or donor's) sperm for the procedure can be regarded as adultery not permissible under Shariah. In such cases, an alternative would be either a divorce (not welcomed by religions) or adoption.

This progressive for religious thinkers decision was due to the Islamic norm that the soul permeates a human fetus not immediately, but sometime after conception. Not all agree with this, because in the course of IVF several embryos are fertilized 'in vitro,' and in the event of failure of the first attempt, what should be done with the rest embryos? In Islam, by virtue of the above provision, there are no special ethical issues.

Christianity considers that the soul enters the embryo at the very moment of conception. While Russian Orthodox Church is fairly liberal with regard to "family planning" (in comparison with Catholicism, where all contraceptives are strictly forbidden) there is a negative attitude towards certain types of contraceptives. For example, "Intrauterine" that does not allow an already fertilized egg to penetrate the wall of the uterus.

The same principle lies in the basis of a negative attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church towards IVF. They say that leaving "leftover" embryos unused constitutes murder, therefore, this method of dealing with infertility cannot be used by devout believers.

Perhaps for these reasons, the birth rate in Tajikistan, and in general in the Islamic world, is very high, while Europe and Russia are simply dying out. Should some religious canons be brought in line with the objective reality and the desire of the congregation to have children conceived with the help of science?

It is clear that we have to be careful about any innovations in this highly sensitive area of ​​religion. Otherwise, it can take you too far. For example, now there is a popular idea of ​​"churching" of homosexuality among American Catholics, including the attempts to adjust the Scriptures in order to mitigate the terrible promises for the fans of "sodomy."

But what if they manage to recognize sodomy and prevalent in modern Western society hedonism as acceptable from a religious point of view? The retribution in this case will not even be tar and sulfur from the sky, as in the case of the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, but simple extinction of the population over reasonable time periods, as it was in the case with the Serbs in Kosovo simply overtaken by Muslim Albanians in terms of growth in less than a century.

What was the result of "modernizing" of the religious attitude towards progress in the military sector? In the Middle Ages the Roman Pope published a special document prohibiting use of crossbows that greatly improved the accuracy and lethal outcome of shooting. Today, Hindus in Delhi, Muslims in Karachi and Tehran, Jews in Tel Aviv, not to mention the Judeo-Christians in Washington who were the first to drop nuclear bombs on civilian populations in Japan, are quite tolerant to nuclear weapons.  

It is hard to deny that only the remnants of a religious worldview do not allow modern Western society to use bare rational in the most sensitive areas. Execution of the failed victims of suicide like in medieval England is wrong. But what makes the modern society hospitalize survivors of suicide in "crisis units" of psychiatric hospitals, and not follow the increasingly popular trend in the secular civilization of the "human right to free choice," including the right to suicide? The answer would be the eternal religious beliefs about the sanctity of human life.

In some countries euthanasia is legal. So far, however, it is a legalized murder hidden under non-binding clauses like "severe suffering," which can be bypassed by any competent lawyer if we are talking about an inheritance from a long-living grandfather.

Although often religious norms may look archaic, their deep moral sense is even in a greater demand and relevant in our time of the collapse of moral standards. After all, faith is not only a mystical revelation, but the millennial experience of our ancestors. As a saying goes, we should not be shooting at the past so the future does not shot at us.

Yuri Nosovsky


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