Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Politics, religion, science, and art

I've started about five different posts since last week, but haven't really finished with any of them. The time I used to spend in the evenings musing about the world has been replaced by the joys of being a father to a marvelous 3-year-old daughter. I've found lots of new stuff to discuss in botanical and alternative medicine, but I thought I'd reflect a bit on how extreme views of any sort have tainted what is good about science and art, and even politics and religion, for that matter.

Our developmental biology colleague, PZ Myers, took some grief the other day when posting about Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion show at the University of Minnesota at Morris. Prof Myers and some commentors were a bit put off by the abundance of gospel music at the show. The subsequent thread then degenerated into a discussion that was philosophically a bit over the head of this reductionist scientist. Apparently, some folks have trouble with religious values coexisting with contributions to the arts, much less the sciences.

I thought about this a little more over the weekend as I received some info on my 25th high school reunion from a small Catholic high school I attended in the Northeast. I wasn't really a terribly devout Catholic and I consider myself among the legion of tongue-in-cheek "recovering" Catholics. My sister and I were at least raised in one of the more palatable "National Catholic" offshoots of Roman Catholicism: birth control was cool, priests could marry and have children, and abortion, while obviously not encouraged, wasn't necessarily prohibited.

Anyway, PharmMom sent me to small Catholic high school more to get me out of our crappy public school system since she thought I'd have a better chance of getting into premed university programs - I chose the PhD route, of course, and it's only taken her 20 or so years to come around and forgive me for not becoming an MD. My postdoctoral advisor was fond of saying that being raised Catholic was great preparation for becoming a molecular biologist because both disciplines required belief in things that could not be seen.

The point of talking about this is that I can point to a couple of outstanding teachers of chemistry, physics, and biology at this Catholic school who were incredibly formative in developing my appreciation of the scientific method and my ultimate decision to pursue the medical side of biochemistry as a career. I'd venture to say that I'd not be where I am today without the science education I received in this Catholic school. Moreover, my class in world religions gave me a greater appreciation of other faiths at a much younger age than I would have gotten in most public school systems. As a result, I feel that I was equally prepared for college with both scientific skills and an open and tolerant worldview of cultures and religious practices that were not my own.

I was reminded further of my formative years yesterday by PharmGirl, MD, who turned me on to a USA Today op-ed by Rob Borsellino of the Des Moines Register. Mr Borsellino just returned from a trip to Italy where he encountered the old Jesus, the one that America seems to have lost.

Perhaps I was naive or completely ignorant some 25 years ago; the late 70s and early 80s were not easy or simple times for the world.

But those days did at least seem closer to a peaceful coexistence of people and ideas.


Back to pharmacology and pharmacognosy in my next post.

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