Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Science Decides to Cure Blindness

Imagine, in the not too distant future, undergoing a routine operation to cure your rapidly failing eyesight, averting eventual blindness. This is the new goal of scientists who claim such an operation will be available within five years, and could be routine in a decade.

Could this be the opening of the seventh seal? Science, in a twist of messianic proportions, curing blindness? What's more, researchers say the cure is found in stem cell manipulation. This advancement is not being made in the United States, which has forfeited its lead in stem cell research during the Bush administration, but in Britain where the research is embraced and fully funded. I note this with more than a twinge of schadenfreude since this same religious stumbling block may provide the miracle cure.

When Jesus began his ministry he quoted a prophecy from Isaiah, “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind.” And thus, restoring sight became a hallmark of his ministry. When John the Baptist checked into Jesus' legitimacy, Jesus steered him back to that prophecy from Isaiah. Whether he performed the miracles himself or enthusiastic followers invented the stories, there is no missing the point: having mastery over the physical realm was to be evidence of Jesus’ divinity.

What then are we to think if science begins to pull-off the same feat?

Jesus' healing the blind also served as a metaphor for bringing all people into the light through truth, a calling Christianity has long since discarded. Christians stumble through a complex world more befuddled and confused than ever before. Any hope of clarity has been replaced with aggravation. This has always been the source of tension between science and religion. One is attempting to explain a confusing and complex world in a quest for truth. The other, time and again, tries to keep those truths from coming to the surface. Whether it is the idea of a heliocentric solar system or evolution, the battle of principles continues even today.

For religion, the crux of the entire stem cell debate is that embryos are alive, and using them for science is akin to murder. Meanwhile frozen embryos are destroyed if they are not used in IVF clinics with no outcry from Christians about this venerable holocaust, no political wrangling, no weeping or gnashing of teeth. What explains such a blatant double standard? Rather than defending God and absolute truth what is far more likely is that these people are fighting against unsettling change. Knowledge in-flux is of little comfort to people who rely on immutable truths.

Ironically, these Christians have become the new Pharisees, stuck, and frustrated, while someone else tries to open peoples eyes, figuratively, and now, literally. All along the biggest enemy to religion has never been science, but religion's death-grip on the status quo. Many of the earliest scientists were believers if not members of the church. And why not? If you believe in a creator then how can all truth not also be God’s truth? But their new ideas were seen as a threat and so the realm of truth was vacated, and re-filled with science.

Was God diminished when the sun was placed at the center of the solar system? Was He diminished by the theory of gravity? Or do such incredible discoveries give further evidence to His immeasurable complexity? What would he think of people who are fighting to stifle miracles so powerful they were once used to prove the presence of divinity? Who, in their right mind, is not moved at the idea that those suffering from blindness might one day be able to see? Is there more to life than clinging to the known? Isn't God about the unknown and the hopelessly possible?

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