It was reported today on National Public Radio (NPR) in two separate but equally important stories, that scientists working in specific disciplines are unlocking secrets of nature in both big and small ways. I do laugh about the term "secrets" because nature really holds nothing back.
All of the apparatus and mechanics of the universe are waiting to be discovered by human intellect. Nothing is actually hiding from us. It is only our ego and ignorance which informs our language when we say something in nature is a "secret." It just means that science hasn't figured out a way to partially or completely understand a phenomenon, or invent some method to do or see things in the natural world more clearly and cleanly.
But here is science informing us through exciting discoveries how both our bodies and the universe actually work. It is wonderful to know that great minds are using the techniques of science to create and use technology all to uncover the natural world which then benefits our common humanity. That is, if we are willing to accept scientific truth and also accept that such truths could change over time if better knowledge is discovered.
The first story involves a deeper understanding of stem cells and how those cells can be manipulated to cure a range of terrible ailments such as diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's, ALS and a host of other genetic breakdowns of the body. Basically, scientist can now extract the original DNA in those cells and replace it with the genes of the person needing to grow new organs or repair other damaged DNA. Since stem cells can be grown into almost any organ, tissue, or body apparatus, they will become incredibly vital for the repair of the body's ailments from horrible genetic diseases to just plain aging.
Manipulation of stem cells do bring up ethical concerns. However, the religious one's usually come from those who view human life as starting at conception as per the interpretation of their theology. However, while this is a theological argument it isn't an accepted legal one as no law in the U.S. at least uses such a definition as the standard for labeling human life as actual life. Besides, what about ethics concerning the health of those who could use the stem cell treatments to live longer and remain vital? Don't we owe it to people who are already here and are sick an equal opportunity to continue to be essential and expressive members of our communities.
In the second news report. Scientists have found water encased in rocks which contain living organisms which are more than a billion years old. Apparently, the water entered into a steady-state system and did not evaporate. The bacteria and other organisms found in the specimins shed light on what exactly was living on the planet and how those species actually existed in their own time.
This is the equivalent of animating a species thought long gone which is frozen in ice or covered in amber. Except, the water-borne species found in these ancient rocks actually never expired and do not require any external animation from humans. These finds have shed a great deal of light on the evolution of animals from their earliest known oxygen-based lifeforms.
As the report points out, the amazing thing is that if the natural mechanics for preserving water in rocks occurs on other planets, like let's say Mars, then we could theoretically uncover ancient species of Martian life, or for that matter life found on planets outside our solar system.
What a wonderful time it is to be alive and to see all of these discoveries being made by science in our own lifetimes. It is amazing to think that we can investigate and use our knowledge of the smallest bits of the genome to save the lives of millions who are currently ill and potentially save millions of people in the future if we harness the technology to do so, and if we make the right policiy decisions regarding ethical use of cloning and stem cell research.
And then of course, to see how our own planet's evolution in the rocks (the rocks we pass every day but pay no mind) tell us truths not only about our planet but perhaps thousands of others, it is simply inspiring. Science continues to evaluate and redefine with every new discovery all that we know about the natural world.
For me, each of these stories are so much more interesting than any particular theology. Science profoundly reveals so much more about the human condition, the mind and our human ability to make to world a richer place because of the knowledge we uncover using the tools of reason.
As woody Allen stated best, "Between the Pope and air conditioning, I'd choose air conditioning" Same for me in terms of prayer or medicine, its medicine; or believing the Earth is 6,000 years old versus 4.5 billion (yes, 4.5) or if we were essentially invented versus having evolved (firmly on Team Darwin).