Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iran and the stem cell fatwa

Now that Iran is in the news, lets look at another aspect of this country. Here is a good segment (only 12 minutes long) from Frontline about Iran's progress regarding stem cells research - a topic still controversial in the US. But the fatwa here is to encourage scientific enterprise in Iran (tip Science & Religion Today):

Couple of interesting points: I think the segment does a fine job of presenting Iran in a more sensible light. The Mullahs in Qum look and sound quite reasonable. You can disagree with their particular position or with their beliefs, but it gives the impression that one can at least have a conversation with them.

Of course science & religion debates take a different dimension when it comes to Muslim countries like Iran. For example, it was interesting to see a shot of prayers at the institute. Similarly, imams are in charge of the ethical directions of the research. Then we also have a positive fatwa about science. So things are not as simple to categorize as science versus religion - it's more complicated than that. By the way, I don't know how their biology is taught and if evolution is included in their curriculum. I do know that two senior Iranian clerics under Ayatollah Khomeini, Behishti and Bahomar, wrote a book on Islam and devoted a section to theistic evolution. Considering their ease with stem cells research (yes, it is practical science...but still) I wouldn't be surprised if evolution is taught as a scientific fact. But more information is needed on this.

In the Frontline segment, I also liked how they took us into the home of one of the researchers - and we see him watching an episode of Friends. With all the election mess, it is also good to see this side of Iran.


Martin Riexinger said...

In fact there was a religious minded geologist named Yadollah Sahabi in the 1970s who struggled to bring the theory of evolution in accordance with the Qur'an. He prersented the scientific evidence and reinterpreted the respective verses.

Ayatollah Meshkini-Ardabili, number two after Khamenei until his death in 2007 more or less plagiated his arguments in a publication. Hence it may be assumed that the toe has gained religious approval and Iran may be considered as the great exception.

However this should not tempt us to close our eyes on more important aspects of the system.

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