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Vatican condemns Nobel Prize to Robert Edwards

British biologist Robert Edwards, who developed the process of in vitro fertilization (IVF), has won a Nobel Prize. But the Vatican says the choice of Professor Edwards was “completely out of order.”

This year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine has been awarded to Robert Edwards, who spent much of his career at Cambridge University. Along with Patrick Steptoe, Edwards developed IVF as a response to human infertility. The first IVF baby, Louise Brown, was born in 1978, and since then about 4 million babies have been brought into the world using the technique, enabling many couples to achieve their goals of becoming biological parents.

In response, Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, the Vatican’s bioethics spokesman, has made the arrogant statement that the Nobel prize committee’s choice of Professor Edwards was “completely out of order”; the problem, according to the Vatican, is that many human embryos end up being destroyed as a result of the creation of excess embryos during IVF.

ivf imageThis is, of course, a typically foolish statement by the Vatican. The embryos concerned are tiny dots of protoplasm that are totally unlike an adult human being, a child, or even a fetus that has undergone a period of development in the womb. These little dots are incapable of feeling pain, having any instinct to protect themselves, or possessing any other form of sentience. They possess no fear of being destroyed and experience no suffering when they are destroyed, and no one who is capable of suffering has bonded with them in the slightest. The destruction of these very small collections of cells does no harm to families or the social fabric. There is no reason for them to be protected by our moral norms and sentiments or by the law.

In short, there is no reason based on social welfare or the welfare of sentient beings why we should regret the destruction of tiny embryos created through IVF; there is no reason to condemn it morally, or attempt to prevent it by law. There is even less reason to regret the destruction of these embryos than to regret early-term abortions. The Vatican’s morality is not based on anything rational but on recondite ideas of natural law, the will of God, and the ensoulment of non-sentient life. It puts human happiness below its bizarre and miserable version of morality.

And of course, this shows exactly why the Vatican’s claims to moral authority must be questioned constantly. If the Vatican hierarchs had their way, much that is good in human life would be condemned morally and even legally prohibited - make no mistake, the Vatican presses wherever it can for the law to impose its views by force.

The Vatican regularly calls for moral condemnations and legal prohibitions, based on its understanding of transcendent purposes acting in the universe. Very well, it is entitled to do that - I respect its freedom of speech. But when it does so, we are entitled to reply by asking whether its understandings have any truth to them. Does its God even exist? Is its tradition of moral teaching divinely guided, or is it all too human and flawed? Why shouldn’t we condemn the Vatican, in our turn, when its bizarre worldview stands in the way of ordinary human happiness and reasonable aspirations?

Mightn’t the world be better without this anachronistic institution constantly telling us how to run our lives? I’m not suggesting that the Vatican be shut down by force, but I do suggest that the time has well and truly arrived for its total marginalisation. In particular, governments should ignore it, and the more sensible and humane members of its congregations should leave the pews and find themselves another church.

Russell Blackford Ph.D. is a fellow of the IEET, an attorney, science fiction author and critic, philosopher, and public intellectual. Dr. Blackford serves as editor-in-chief of the IEET's Journal of Evolution and Technology. He lives in Newcastle, Australia, where he is a Conjoint Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle.


The Decission done by nobel committee is highly admirable because Robert Edwards changed the world by his contribution.

To reduce human embryos to “tiny dots” is intellectually dishonest, because these “dots” are actually human beings. That’s why they’re needed to create children. We should always be careful about manufacturing and destroying human beings, both of which occur through IVF, or treating human lives as less than human. This has led to great atrocities, such as the Holocaust and slavery. What is the criteria used to determine who lives and who dies? Sentience is a flimsy standard, as arbitrary as any other.

I wish to suggest that the Vatican should focus on spiritual issues, and leave worldly issues to the rest of the world.

If they really want to face worldly issues, I wish to suggest that they should begin by addressing some of the sexual scandals in their own ranks.

We live in a free world, or at least we should, and Vatican officers are perfectly free to express their opinion. But we don’t have to listen or pay attention to them, let alone take them seriously.

Note: yes, I frequently defend religious believers here against “New Atheists”, and no, there is no contradiction. I believe in freedom of thought.

The article employs horrible logic. If that is what freedom of thought means, then I don’t see how it is free, when it is so constrained by its a priori assumptions that it gropes and grasps at any faulty rationale to justify those assumptions.

Look, what a human embryo is can be answered in many ways, but not all of those ways offer a true ontological definition.  It’s tiny, yes, but human begins always begin small and get larger, why is it non-human to be tiny? It is a mess of protoplasm, yes, but it’s human protoplasm and not any other kind, and we’re all protoplasm anyway.  Everything listed to justify IVF and embryo destruction is totally irrelevant. The differences between an embryo and an adult are not differences in nature but differences in degree only.

Ontologically, a human embryo is not a tiny dot of unfeeling protoplasm, even if that is a legitimate physical description.  Rather, ontologically, a human embryo can only be a human being.  None of the arguments advanced in the article logically controvert that statement. There is no science to suggest that the statement is false.  In fact, all the science that can be applied only affirms that statement. .

Mr. Blackford:

I would expect nothing less from you and your less than bioethical commentary, especially considering that you prize yourself on being a “science fiction author” appropriate. I, like yourself have done extensive studies in the area of evolution and cannot disagree more with your untactful attack on the Vatican. The Catholic Church is probably the only Church that takes seriously the whole area of science. Have you forgotten Mr. Blackford that Fr. Gregor Mendel, the Catholic Benedictine monk, discovered what we have come to refer to as DNA?
    I suggest that you find more serious means of arguing against the Catholic Church’s condemnation of awarding a Noble Peace prize to a man who has contributed to artificial scientific research, that lends itself primarily to monetary gain rather than humanitarian peace initiatives. I commend the Vatican for upholding the dignity of the Nobel Peace prize AND scientific research that serves the good of all humanity and not artificial and unnatural science.

Dr. E. Thomas

Is the Nobel Prize justified? Yes: the Nobel Prize for MEDICINE is contingent on the contribution to the field of—surprise, surprise—medicine, not peace. Besides, if profit motive was a deal-breaker for the Nobel committee, there would barely be any standing awards today since most of these contributions—even the ones for peace, like Yunus’ in 2006—involve profit of some sort to make them concretely relevant.

The article is hardly objective—it’s not like the Church is, anyway—the author makes a good point. The Church (and any other group, for that matter) is free to express itself, but they shouldn’t expect to be heard simply because they claim a moral high ground. The Church isn’t exactly in a very good position to condemn things that are “unnatural”; last time I checked, sex was a natural process for humans, yet the Church is heavily against numerous aspects of it.

If one will demand such a great burden of logical, reasonable proof from scientists, then it’s only fair that the same standard be required of religious groups like the Church as well.

We shall remember that the present pope is the former director of the inquisition remains… Congregation for Faith the Doctrine… Incredible that the previous one asked for Galileo’s pardon, the Shoa and other issues. How many Nobel Prize have they condom, excuse me, condemn… Saramago was excommunicated because of the same book he won the Literacy 1997 Nobel prize.

kashiraj joshi wrote: “The Decission (sic) done by nobel committee is highly admirable because Robert Edwards changed the world by his contribution. “

I hope you mean “changed the world for the better” and not just “changed the world.”

> “This year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine has been awarded to Robert Edwards, who (helped) develop IVF as a response to human infertility.  (A)bout 4 million babies have been brought into the world using the (IVF) technique, enabling many couples to achieve their goals of becoming biological parents.”

I’d like to hear Mike Treder’s response to this, considering that he wrote, in
“Along the way, of course, it could be quite helpful if we worked hard at reducing our rate of resource consumption and improved sustainability. One component of that would be if more people had fewer children, and to that extent, I think the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement is on the right track.”

Medical inititiatives that manipulate human life in a laboratory petri dish certainly is not a laudable medical advancement nor is it an advancement for the good of humanity in general. It serves the exclusivity of artificial science and opposes the inclusivity of nature and natural science.

The Catholic Church, the Vatican Pontifical Academy of Science more particularly, is advised by scientists the world over. The readers of this subjective article should take some time to research this before making claims that lack substance. The Vatican in particular and the Catholic Church in general object to crude science NOT because she claims “a moral high road” but precisely because the Church bases its approach to science on the Natural Law. Therefore the Catholic Church has every right to comment, just as much as you and I. Perhaps it would serve some well to listen to her voice of reason.

As regards the subjective commentary on bringing up Galileo, it may serve readers here to know that Galileo was considered to be a lone ranger as a scientist when he made the claims about the earth, sun and orbits. The scientific community of his day did not readily buy into his claims at the time, and the Church which followed known reputable science of the day also did not readily buy into Galileo’s claims. It is a credit to the Church that Pope John Paul the II lifted the excommunication in light of known scientific data of our day. This is honorable and not a matter of ridicule.

The Vatican in particular and the Catholic Church in general, acknowledges the existence of the natural law and bases its moral positions on this premiss. I do not believe that contemporary science or thought has found a valid argument to discredit that which is based in nature. It is this premiss on which the Church defends the dignity and sacredness of human life from conception to natural death AND why the same Church does not endorse any form of artificial science that violates natural law.

Dr. Thomas

Well, the Vatican’s stance here is completely ridiculous, but not for the reason the article states. The reason to be against destruction of embryos is the same as the reason to be against any form of abortion.

However, in the case of IVF, some embryos are destroyed for the purpose of actually producing a baby. These embryos would not have even been created if not to produce this baby. Thus, if you forbid IVF, you prevent that baby from coming into existence. Now the Catholic Church is against producing human life? That seems to be the exact opposite of the rest of their teaching.

So they think that Professor Robert Edwards created millions of babies at the expense of destroying human embryos, since embryos are potential humans, killing it is an immortal act and can equate to murder. Well I think it doesn’t qualify as a crime because an embryo, from 2 to 8-cell stage, cannot even think as human. I think this process will only help those couples who wanted to have a child of their own but unfortunately can’t produce through natural reproduction process. I personally believe that wanting to have a child of our own wasn’t a crime at all.

How far are we to take this “it’s human, therefore must be protected” argument. A single ovum has the potential to become a human being, as does a single spermatozoa. Of course, the two must combine, but should we be arguing for their “human rights?” Perhaps we should also look out for the rights of blood samples taken for medical purpose?

The Catholic Church is quite certainly PRO-life. However, not all ways of “producing” a life are moral.  The fact that the life is “produced” itself suggests that IVF is an immoral way. Getting a car is good, too—but not all ways of getting one are moral.

Likewise, human sexuality is considered by the Church to be wonderful, yet that doesn’t mean that all forms of sexuality are moral; in fact, it means just the opposite.  A knife designed to cut vegetables, which the Church could if it so desired endorse, can also be used as a murder weapon, and she could rightly denounce that use of the knife.

An ovum is not a complete organism, neither is a sperm. Neither alone are a human being. The power of their joining to cause a human being to come into existence warrants respect, even awe; but they are not themselves human beings nor are they subjects of human rights. It’s patently ridiculous to use that argument against the humanity of an embryo.

Again, size is irrelevant. Sentience is irrelevant. If an adult human being is billions of cells grown from a smaller, younger stage of far fewer cells, it is perfectly reasonable to say that this exact same human being began as a single cell, so the 2 to 8 stage is still a human being.

Every suggestion that it is ok to destroy human embryos or even to make them in a lab has to address this one thing: How is it that an embryo is not a human being?

People have used bigotry, ridicule, insults, bad logic, and worst of all bad science to trash the Catholic Church—and that in itself is very telling—yet no one has been at all helpful in addressing the very basis of the Church’s argument. If the embryo is not human, then the Church’s arguments are vain.

So far, BY FAR, it is not the Church’s arguments that are wanting here.

You simply fail when you compare an embryo to a fully developed person. We here are not talking about size. It is not exact same human being. Embryo is not a human being. It can become a human being, but it still has no any of properties humans have. Except that it poses DNA.

You said it well Mario, “If the embryo is not human, then the Church’s arguments are vain.” That’s what we are trying to say. Catholic church would be of more use if it focuses on protecting alive children in Africa, South America or China. (But I would sleep better if it don’t mess with them).
As soon as you can prove that embryos poses a soul or it has all that grownups have (they can feel pain, fear, think, have consciousness, have desires, they have arms, legs, eyes, ears, can talk or walk) than I would maybe consider to say that they are human beings.

The “Vatican,” the “church” or anything they say doesn’t exist either, never has, never will. All it is is a bunch of irrational, useless, and harmful memes in people’s minds.

So I don’t condemn the Vatican because it doesn’t exist, and the memes are in control of the people can’t respond to being condemned. All we can do is help these people clear their minds of the memes.

Whenever dealing with religionists, don’t forget: Memes. Nothing more.

Memecide, how do you know that memes don’t control you, too?

What is wrong with human beings using their intelligence/creativity/tools
to create a more enjoyable experience?

What does the Vatican have to do with a scientist’s life/work unless the scientist
is a Catholic?  Buddhists recommend not harming any being
but that doesn’t stop the rest of the world from doing so (even Buddhists).

I grew up in a Catholic (scientific/collegiate) household and any time a Vatican “rule” or whatever was announced I just had to laugh!  How does a micro-government in Italy have any “rule” on my actions in a lab in the USA?

Am I going to “Hell” ?  Happy Halloween too. I’m off to yoga class.



To be sure that memes aren’t in control, you only need to refrain from thinking about anything that could be a meme. You employ a few simple heuristics, e.g. if it spreads it’s probably a meme - the mainstream media and human culture is almost nothing but a meme-fest - if it’s not independently verified knowledge - science - it’s probably a meme. Be a minimalist about your mind. Keep it as empty and silent as possible when not in use. Use it only when the result is potentially productive. Intelligence, in general, helps, but it would seem that anyone can learn to stay meme-free.

That’s an interesting idea, Memecide. I hope your idea spreads. Oh wait, “if it spreads it’s probably a meme.”

Well well well, Dr. Thomas and Mr. Mario, excuse my language, but your non-arguments are pathetic.

“The Catholic Church, the Vatican Pontifical Academy of Science more particularly, is advised by scientists the world over.”

Hitler had himself also surrounded with a bunch of so-called scientists to confirm his stance on the superiority of the Aryan race. Result: Endlösung, millions killed. Not to speak of the role of the Vatican and the Catholic Church when smuggling war criminals to Latin-America after WWII (Operation Odessa), helping out nazi officers who had killed thousands of human lives, not embryos or protoplasm, but full grown human beings. Anyone nowadays can get his theory confirmed by as many scientists as he wants, while at the same time having to deal with the same number that opposes it. Look at what happened to the Global Warming Debate. It is just a matter of using data for the benefit of one’s own theory and of course money, as it is always. Rather than commending the Vatican for upholding the dignity of the Nobel Peace prize AND scientific research that serves the good of all humanity and not artificial and unnatural science, I’d rather ask myself the question if the Catholic Church is really in a position of making any moral statement at all (based on whatever research), when its Chairman, the Pope, still condemns the use of condoms in Africa, where every day thousands of human beings die a shameful death and nobody seems to even care. Murder in the First Degree I would say, and anyone still supporting that institution, you’ve got blood on your hands too…

“It is this premiss on which the Church defends the dignity and sacredness of human life from conception to natural death AND why the same Church does not endorse any form of artificial science that violates natural law.”

“The Catholic Church is quite certainly PRO-life. However, not all ways of “producing” a life are moral.”

The Vatican has freedom of speech and can express its opinion as anybody else, but give me a break when you say that the Catholic Church is PRO-Life and that it defends the dignity and sacredness of human life from conception to natural death and bla bla bla…

Be it the Inquisition, the ‘Christianization’ of the Native Americans, the Crusades or the Aids epidemic of our days (especially in Sub-Saharan Africa), the Catholic Church can easily be considered as one of the greatest mass murderers that have ever existed.

I am not tempted to listen to any (moral) statement of a mass murderer, would you..?

If this does not prescribe to “PRO-life” then I don’t know what does? And as described it opens up all kinds of possibilities, not only for infertile parents, but may even ensure humanities future in light of future existential risks.

Embryo Frozen for 20 Years Is Now a Bouncing Baby Boy

Quote - “The Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine was a fitting location for the record breaking frozen embryo implantation as it was where the first IVF was performed in the United States in 1981.

..For the record 20 year implantation, 5 embryos were thawed, 2 survived and cleaved, and one reached full term (not sure if this was due to selection or not). With those kinds of odds, couples looking to use IVF typically have to create many embryos, and extras often end up frozen. The result is what we’ve seen here: extraneous genetic material in long term cold storage is finding use decades after creation.”


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