Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Science, Faith, and Embryonic Stem Cells

From time to time I run into discussions on the topic of embryonic stem cell research.  Specifically I am typically chastened for being a pro-life Catholic Christian who is once again opposing something “wonderful” in its scientific possibilities because of my “backward” faith.  Yes, ignorance abounds, but as is typically the case, the ignorance is not on the behalf of my Catholic faith.

First, for those that may not know, stem cells as per the Wikipedia definition are defined thusly: 
Stem cells are biological cells found in all multicellular organisms, that can divide (through mitosis) and differentiate into diverse specialized cell types and can self-renew to produce more stem cells. In mammals, there are two broad types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells, which are isolated from the inner cell mass of blastocysts, and adult stem cells, which are found in various tissues. In adult organisms, stem cells and progenitor cells act as a repair system for the body, replenishing adult tissues. In a developing embryo, stem cells can differentiate into all the specialized cells (these are called pluripotent cells), but also maintain the normal turnover of regenerative organs, such as blood, skin, or intestinal tissues.”
Now adult stem cells can be harvested with very minor ill effects from a living person or even from one’s self through relatively simple means.  Harvesting of embryonic stem cells, however, results in the destruction of that embryo.  It therefore destroys that nascent human life.

Now let’s stop and look at a few facts.  Embryonic stem cell research over the past thirty years has been unable to cure a single human disease.  Not a single solitary one.  Not one more than the combined scruples of Reid, Pelosi, and Obama together.  Zip.  Nada.  Zero.  Nothing. 

Adult stem cell research, on the other hand, has proven to be wildly successful over the years.  By the way, it is also fully supported by the Catholic Church.  Indeed ADULT stem cell research has been successfully used to cure certain types of ovarian cancer, testicular cancer, lymphoma, and leukemia.  It has similarly seen wonderful success in curing lupus, treating blindness and vision loss, placing severe Crohn’s disease patients into remission, curing rheumatoid arthritis, healing diseased hearts, and even putting brain tumors into remission.

So this brings us to a very troubling question:  Why would some people continue to champion morally unethical life-destroying embryonic stem cell research, which has shown to have no tangible positive results over the course of three decades, over that of adult stem cell research which has been wildly successful without having any ethical complications whatsoever? 

It confounds logic to think that adult stem cell research has greatly advanced medicine, while embryonic stem cell research has nothing to show for its case except the destruction of human embryos.  In fact, even the state of California has ended its funding of embryonic stem cell research as being ineffective accordingly.  When even the morally questionable state of California realizes the futility of throwing additional tax payer money at embryonic stem cell research, that should definitely be a red flag to those with a modicum of common sense remaining.

And yet there are still those that think us pro-life Christians are anti-science.  Indeed, if that is the best example of anti-science Christian bigotry to which they can point, I think the world could use a whole lot more of that kind of “backwards Christianity”.

18 comments:

Just the Facts! said...

Great question Mr. Paine. Why would those who hold Pro-life Christians as anti science because they do not support the use of embryonic stem cells in research? It is in my opinion, due to the position of being pro life and nothing more.
It doesn't matter to the pro abortion groups that the stem cells harvested from a human embryo have failed in 30 years to find a cure on disease( that could be found from adult stem cells). What matters to them is they simply can not tolerate any restriction to abortions. They see a stoppage of embryonic stem cells being used for "research" as a way to reduce abortions, ergo they are opposed to it.
I find this position interesting in light of the continued attempts to paint Christians as knuckle dragging "bitter clingers" as anti science. That Christians who hold to the belief in creation by God vs Darwinism, are held in disdain by those who hold to the false hope that one day embryonic stem cells will open the door to solutions while in 30 years zero proof that it will, is an example of the blind eye being turned on factual evidence.
I guess you could call these people the bitter clingers to their science.

T. Paine said...

JTF, it is as if you read my mind. There really does not seem to be any other logical explanation for those that still wish to continue with embryonic stem cell research, despite the lack of any results. It must indeed be the fact that they don’t consider embryos to be “unborn human life” and therefore, they don’t want any restrictions placed upon them accordingly. If they acknowledge that these embryos are indeed nascent human life, then that does indeed set back their arguments for early term abortions.

I would only correct one minor thing you said, my friend. “I guess you could call these people the bitter clingers to their science.” No, these folks are bitter clingers to their own misplaced faith. Science has demonstrably proven that their experimentation on embryonic stem cells has completely and utterly failed. If they are still clinging to that “science”, it is a failed science.

Tim Trueblood said...

Mr. Paine
Your correction noted and gladly accepted.

John Myste said...

So this brings us to a very troubling question: Why would some people continue to champion morally unethical life-destroying embryonic stem cell research, which has shown to have no tangible positive results over the course of three decades, over that of adult stem cell research which has been wildly successful without having any ethical complications whatsoever?

So, is it your contention that adult stem cells have more scientific value than embryonic stem cells? If your answer is yes, then you, a philosopher, are refuting science, but not with science. Are you aware of why science thinks embryonic stem cells are superior? Do you have a rebuttal to the science? Or do you believe that scientists want to use embryonic stem cells for non-scientific reasons. If that is the case, please enlighten us. What are those reasons?

Argue what you believe for the reason you believe it. I don’t think you think embryonic stem cells are not needed because you have a moral problem with their use.

The whole issue in its entirety is your religious problem with the use of embryonic stem cells. How can you expect people to take your arguments seriously when are you not arguing your actual case?

Your actual case, however, is not about stem cells, per se, but more about the religious-endowed rights of an embryo, which is your real concern, and something you really did not address.


P.S.

See Burr Deming’s hilarious rebuttal where he attempts to educate you on the science. I did not go there because to do so would make the false assumption that your issue is with the science in the first place. You are not a biologist and you are not capable of rebutting the science if you were to try, so quoting of the scientific community is pointless (yet still funny).

P.S.

And I don't consider Republicans to be anti-science. They are often, a-scientific (forming scientific conclusions from outside the context of scientific engagement), but that is not the same thing.

T. Paine said...

Myste: So, is it your contention that adult stem cells have more scientific value than embryonic stem cells? If your answer is yes, then you, a philosopher, are refuting science, but not with science.

Paine: John, I contend that the scientific research and efficacious therapies created thus far in the field have all come from adult stem cells. I gave a list with medical links of all of the things that ADULT stem cells have treated thus far. The medical science there strikes me as being quite sound accordingly. The same absolutely cannot be said regarding embryonic stem cells. The science seems to be quite firmly on my side of the argument.


Myste: Argue what you believe for the reason you believe it. I don’t think you think embryonic stem cells are not needed because you have a moral problem with their use.

Paine: I absolutely have a moral problem with their use. That said, I also have a scientific problem with their use. Research has been funded for over three decades now for embryonic stem cell research with nothing to show for it. This is tax payer money that should no longer be wasted accordingly. My reasons, therefore, against embryonic stem cell research are myriad (just three): moral, fiscal, and scientific.


Myste: See Burr Deming’s hilarious rebuttal where he attempts to educate you on the science. I did not go there because to do so would make the false assumption that your issue is with the science in the first place. You are not a biologist and you are not capable of rebutting the science if you were to try, so quoting of the scientific community is pointless (yet still funny)

Paine: Burr, bless his heart, was once again way off track in his ridiculous criticism. I will deal with that matter shortly. That said, following your logic, I should not offer opinions on theology as I am not a priest or a formally trained theologian. I should not offer my opinion on economics, because I don’t have a degree in the field. I shouldn’t offer my opinion on politics because I am not a politician, delegate, or corrupt/morally bankrupt progressive. That is patently absurd, John, and I am mildly surprised at this argument from you accordingly. I would like to think that I am passingly intelligent and therefore can read and research a given topic and fairly objectively come to my own conclusions on most issues. Such was the case with embryonic stem cell research versus adult stem cell research.

Just the Facts! said...

John,
"why (does)science think(s) embryonic stem cells are superior?"

Great question if I may paraphrase.
What scientific results do they have to support that belief? Do they believe that as a fact? If so where is the proof offered to show this to be a scientific fact?

T. Paine said...

Yah! What JTF asked! Nah! :)

John Myste said...

Just,

John,
"why (does)science think(s) embryonic stem cells are superior?"

Great question if I may paraphrase.
What scientific results do they have to support that belief? Do they believe that as a fact? If so where is the proof offered to show this to be a scientific fact?


Science can cause embryonic stem cells to form into almost any type of cell, whereas adult stem cells are limited in what they can do. Therefore, you can do more embryonic stem cells.

This scientific truth has nothing to do with the fact that most research has been conducted with other stem cells, dedicated to other specific purposes. Science can (and have) manipulated embryonic stem cells thus. Comments that profess ignorance of this scientific fact just provides liberals with ammunition to use against you.

John Myste said...

Mr. Paine,

John, I contend that the scientific research and efficacious therapies created thus far in the field have all come from adult stem cells. I gave a list with medical links of all of the things that ADULT stem cells have treated thus far. The medical science there strikes me as being quite sound accordingly. The same absolutely cannot be said regarding embryonic stem cells. The science seems to be quite firmly on my side of the argument.

Science completely disagrees with you. Some conservative philosophers make that argument. Scientists rebut it. Most research has been done with non-embryonic stem cells. Science has shown they can make embryonic stem cells into most other cell types, which cannot happen with the more commonly used adult stem cells. Your philosophy is specious, sir. You have not provided any science, so there is no science to refute.

That said, following your logic, I should not offer opinions on theology as I am not a priest or a formally trained theologian.

Theology is faith-based. Science is not. You should not disagree with science unless you can scientifically refute the science. Not only did you not scientifically refute the science, but you did not even scientifically address the science. You did not repeat the argument, then mention the scientific flaw with it. You don’t even know how science knows that embryonic stem cells are so versatile (or if you do, you masked that fact well). You posed a philosophical argument: Oh, yeah, then what has science done with the superior stem cells? The vast majority of use in America has been with adult stem cells, as you know. That is a philosophical rebuttal to your philosophical argument. You have yet to address the scientific argument, which so far as I can tell, you don’t know about or don’t understand. You may have heard the conclusion to the scientific research, but you have not addressed the scientific reasoning / experimentation / knowledge behind it.

I should not offer my opinion on economics

I agree completely.

I shouldn’t offer my opinion on politics That is patently absurd, John, and I am mildly surprised at this argument from you accordingly.

You can argue a scientist rebuttal to a scientific argument if you know how. You are offering a philosophical rebuttal to a scientific argument, which is absurd, by definition. If you don’t understand the science, how can you refute it? If just about everyone who does understand the science disagrees with you, how can you hold fast to your philosophical opinion? Science understands both the science and your philosophical opinion. They have all the data. You are making your argument while missing the majority of the data. Why is that not illogical?

I would like to think that I am passingly intelligent and therefore can read and research a given topic and fairly objectively come to my own conclusions on most issues.

I know you would like to think this. In reality, a great many scientific observations are beyond the comprehension of the average citizen, regardless of how passionate the emotions of the average citizen are. However, this may not be one of them. Since you have not attempted to address the science, I will assume that maybe you could understand it, if you cared to. So far as I can tell, you do not.


John Myste said...

MR. Deming summed it up perfectly:

I did attack your self-contradiction: that adult stem cell research is indistinguishable from embryonic cell research, and that adult stem cell research is worthwhile, while embryonic stem cell research is pretty much worthless [since it is no different from adult stem cell research].

Your assertion implies that embryonic stem cell research does not bring something to the table that adult stem cell research lacks. If you understand the scientific explanation of what embryonic stem cell brings, but your scientific understanding refutes that, then you should make a scientific argument against it, which you have not done.

Again, you are trying to prove that embryonic stem cell research brings nothing to the table because, and only because, you have a moral problem with it. Your argument will always be stronger if you argue what you believe for the reason you believe it, because if you don't, then you are leaving holes in your argument that even you could refute, which is a bad way to start. It is not good to make an argument, all the while thinking: I hope no one thinks to rebut my argument thus...


If you truly believe something, perhaps other could truly believe it for the same reason. The truth is a good place to start, either way; and in the final analysis, if you are patient enough, the truth is very difficult to rebut.

FandB said...

The strongest argument against the use of embryonic stem (ES) cells is an argument of morality, but that certainly is not the only argument.

As T. Paine and others have correctly pointed out - most of the work that has been done with stem cells has been done with adult stem cells. There are a number of reasons for this, and mainly these reasons are related to the success of this approach.

It is also true, as J. Myste and others mentioned, that ES cells have greater ability to be transformed into a wider variety of tissues than typical Adult Stem Cells. This is one of the greatest strengths of ES cells, but is also one of ES cells' greatest weaknesses. The ability to grow into virtually any organ or structure includes the ability to grow into cancer. This has been seen on numerous occasions and is a serious problem with ES cell treatments.

Adult stem cells have a much lower propensity to become cancerous, but scientists have realized success in many areas as long as the right stem cells are harvested and cultivated. When adult stem cells are harvested from the patient, as is usually the case for adult cells, there is no problem with rejection. This, however, is another common problem when using ES cells.

A personal friend of mine, who has been almost fully quadriplegic for 25 years due to a car accident, has regained the use of his arms and legs after two stem cell treatments. He has even been able to walk a limited amount, mainly with a walker but even short distances without any assistance. Stem cells were taken from his bone marrow, cultivated, and are apparently repairing his spinal cord. It has been amazing to see.

Scientists have also been able to modify Adult Stem cells to become "pluripotent" like ES cells. These "Induced pluripotent" stem cells have the ability to become nearly any tissue, similar to ES cells, but again without the problem of rejection experienced with ES cells. The induced pluripotent cells, however, do have more of a propensity to cause cancer (or become cancer), like the ES cells.

So, based on the advances that have been made with Adult stem cells, and the ability to transform Adult stem cells into Pluripotent cells that mimic Embryonic stem cells, and the problems associated with the use of ES cells, such as cancer and rejection, it makes much more sense to spend our research time and money pursuing the adult stem cell approach.

ES cell research has taught us what stem cells are capable of doing, and we learned how to make safer versions of these cells from adult stem cells. Maybe that is what ES cells needed to bring to the table, and now that it has been accomplished, they can goo they way of slavery and labor unions - maybe useful at one time, but no longer needed.



Some informational links:

http://www.wellsphere.com/bioethics-article/embryonic-stem-cell-cancer-issue-remains-unresolved/549945

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=stem-cells-without-cancer

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/27148/title/Stem-cell-therapy-triggers-tumor/

http://www.empowher.com/cancer/content/embryonic-stem-cells-can-cause-cancer

T. Paine said...

FandB, I greatly thank you for your contributions to the debate. The links are terrific.

I guess, Mr. Myste, that you assume that I don’t understand the science behind the pluripotent nature of embryonic stem cells and what that portends. I do understand it, albeit on a basic level, and based on the overwhelming amount of evidence I have seen thus far, I have concluded that there is nothing that embryonic stem cells are capable of in treating maladies that adult stem cells cannot do better. Further, embryonic stem cells do NOT have the efficacious therapies developed from their research and use that adult stem cells do. So again, I go back to my “philosophical question” of why would we continue to use what many would consider an immoral destruction of embryos that yield no net positive results when we can morally harvest adult stem cells that do have wonderful results? If that is not a strong refutation of the science of embryonic stem cell research, than I really don’t know what is.

You seem to be caught up in the fact that I have not provided a formulaic scientific refutation on the use of embryonic stem cells and instead have bypassed that step to go directly to the final results of them not being useful in treating human beings, whereas adult stem cells are. I suppose I could do a lot more research and give you specific scientific reasons for why that is so, but the results would be the same as the conclusion I have already accurately stated. Besides, I am too lazy and too busy to do the research simply to appease what I consider to be a specious argument, my friend.

John Myste said...

Mr. Paine,

Most of the funding has been for adult stem cell research, so we should expect it to currently bare most of the fruit.

For treatment, the correct adult stem cells may prove to be superior. For research, I don't think so.

F & B,

Your response was very well done. I don't think those who favor support of embryonic stem cell research are thereby renouncing the use of adult stem cells. Instead, they are admitting that adult and embryonic stem cells are different and both have a place in science. I have yet to hear a reasonable rebuttal to this. That said, your response was very reasonable, though it does not rebut the contention.

Anonymous said...

John,
"Science can cause embryonic stem cells to form into almost any type of cell, whereas adult stem cells are limited in what they can do. Therefore, you can do more embryonic stem cells."
If this true, where are the results to support your claim?

Look I found the answer for you Mr. Myste! Thanks to FandB

"So, based on the advances that have been made with Adult stem cells, and the ability to transform Adult stem cells into Pluripotent cells that mimic Embryonic stem cells, and the problems associated with the use of ES cells, such as cancer and rejection, it makes much more sense to spend our research time and money pursuing the adult stem cell approach.

This is like the statement made by Democrat Congressman, "Its not the proof we have to support the charges, its the seriousness of the charges."

T. Paine said...

"Its not the proof we have to support the charges, its the seriousness of the charges."

Anonymous, such is often the case with most progressives in their debating. I am simply unaccustomed for our progressive friend, John Myste, to lower himself to be amongst the "typical" progressives. :)

Just the Facts! said...

Mr. Paine
I thought I had signed correctly on the post of 12/5/12 1:05, sorry.

SomeDaySomeSay said...

Hello! I just wanted to highlight the fact that you sure succeeded in making a stunning site. Will you be so nice and provide an answer to my question. Do you have an idea to write professionally or online blogging is basically just a hobby?

T. Paine said...

SomeDaySomeSay, thanks for stopping by and for your very kind comment. I am a engineer by trade and design and optimize wireless cell phone networks. I do enjoy writing very much, but it is just a hobby. Your comments to the contrary, I think there are thousands of far more talented writers than I out in the blogosphere. My friend and political nemesis, John Myste, who frequents this blog is one such.

That said, if I could ever pay the bills by writing, I certainly would love to do so. Right now, I am happy with the blessings God has given me, and writing is simply a way for me to voice my largely irrelevant opinion.

Take care and please do stop by again. Your comments, whether you agree, disagree, or have something totally unique to say are always welcome.