Science in Christian Perspective
Some Personal Reflections on 1968
IRVING W. KNOBLOCH
Department of Botany and Plant Pathology
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan 48823
From: JACS 21 (Dune 1969): 50
It is coming to be expected that each year will be more exciting than the preceding one but try to sell that story to anyone who was middle-aged in 1929. Seriously there is much to remember about last year, some with pleasure and much of it with regret.
Biology and Cytology
In biology a drug named L-dopa showed great promise in 1968 in the treatment of Parkinson's disease. It must be reported, however, that not all cases responded to the drug. An interesting development concerned cytology. Some people have an extra chromosome in their cells, forty-seven instead of forty-six, the XYY complex. A study showed that persons with this cytological picture may show a higher tendency toward delinquency or criminality (although not all do). A startling aspect here is that while most legal experts are not inclined to exonerate a person because of their cytology, a court in Australia did just this thing in the case of an XYY person, allowing a killer to plead insanity.
Diabetes took another blow in 1968 when German researchers synthesized glucagon, a sugarmobilizing hormone of the pancreas.
A not-too-surprising result of the lunar orbiting mission was confirmation of the unsuitability of the moon as a future home for man, at least outside of a capsule. Man will always be tied to the ecology of the earth, or a reasonable facsimile of our mother globe.
Transplantations of human organs such as livers, lungs, pancreas, intestines and hearts accelerated greatly. Although the first heart transplant patient (in 1967) died, the first 1968 patient is still living after a year. Much is being written now about moral and legal aspects of transplants and one is asked the age-old questions again-when is a man dead?-if you remove a heart from a dying person, are you committing murder? Then there is the new question-who is going to play God in assigning priority for the few available organs? Are all men equal and does a rich playboy have as much "right" to a heart as a rich humanitarian? A good deal of soul searching is being done by Christians on these questions despite the more or less agreement among experts that a certificate of "brain death" will be the guideline before a heart can be removed. The act of saving a dying person's life by removing an organ from a person already dead, is in the last analysis, an act of conservation.
Conservation and the Leopard
Speaking of conservation, the Duke of Edinburgh persuaded the Queen to stop wearing her leopard coat in an effort to stop the senseless slaughter of these beautiful animals. We hope this strategem works and, at the same time, we shed a tear for the whales, the tapirs, the polar bears and all of the other defenseless creatures now in danger of extinction.
There has been a growing awareness in 1968 that the earth is a rather small spaceship and that its resources are definitely limited. Its water, soil and air can actually be so befouled by man himself that life can actually become impossible here. There is, too, a glimmer of hopelessness in making forward progress in the face of a forthcoming crush of unnecessary humanity. Shall the world improve or will overpopulation stifle progress? Despite heroic efforts, pills and intrauterine devices are not reaching enough women in the childbearing age.
Loser of the Year
There were many winners last year and it would be very difficult to select the top one. There is no difficulty in picking the loser of the year. I refer to Pope Paul VI. At the 1968 meetings in Dallas of the AAAS, 2,600 scientists said the Pope (by his ban on artificial contraception) "has sanctioned the deaths of countless numbers of human beings with his misguided and immoral encyclical". It is a well-known fact that about 50% of all Roman Catholics have used contraception in the past. It is my hope that, as a result of the ban, this number will quickly reach 100 per cent.