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Religion, ethics and scientific knowledge in the post-secular society: A case study of the stem cell controversy. Part 1.

Abstract: This paper compares and contrasts conflicting religious perspectives on the moral status of the human embryos and their use in stem cell research derived from major monotheistic religions such as Catholicism, Judaism and Islam. I examine the validity of such religious arguments in debates on stem cell research and science policy more broadly through a critical analysis of Jurgen Habermass theory of the post-secular society, particularly the claim that the clash between science and religion in contemporary liberal democracies could be offset by adopting a new concept of ethical citizenship. This normative perspective mandates epistemic flexibility by both religious and secular citizens who ought to willfully engage in complimentary learning processes in order to transcend the inherent limitations of both non-reflexive religious beliefs and narrow secularist worldviews. My analysis of the role of religion in the stem cell controversy suggests that the value positions of participants in public deliberations are deeply entrenched and ideological differences often translate into conflicting epistemic claims about science. I argue that a meaningful dialogue between science and religious traditions on the issue is largely dependent on how compatible are scientifically derived assessments of embryonic status with the respective religions fundamental theological tenets about the beginning of personhood. It is also contingent on the degree of openness of each religious tradition to both rival traditions and scientific knowledge. Additionally, I illustrate how the stem cell controversy is not reducible to the conflict between religion and scientific knowledge on the value of human embryonic life, around which stem cell debates worldwide have often been framed, by undertaking a close examination of three bioethical issues central to the debate: (1) secular perspectives on the contested moral status of the human embryo; (2) the ethics of human cloning technology; and (3) concerns about the exploitation of women as major tissue donors in the global stem cell bioeconomy.
Keywords: Stem cell research, religious perspectives on the moral status of the human embryo, bioethics, science policy, post-secularism

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