Notes from the first world-wide conference on the "Future of Science"

Venice 21-22-23 september 2005

by Luisa Spairani


The conference has been publicised (but not enough by the media). The main objective of the conference, organized by the Veronesi Foundation and Tronchetti Provera Foundation was to introduce the media ,rather than a specialist audience, to a dialogue with science about its major topics, where ethical and political issues play a relevant role. In its conclusion, the Conference of Venice has produced the Charter of Venice, underwritten by many of the participants, which seeks a greater dialogue between scientists and the rest of world, and which calls for the constitution of an Authority composed of theologians, philosophers, politicians and scientists to discuss the scientiphical issues that touch the conscience and upon which this Authority should then deliberate. TDF has participated in the event; hereafter, simple notes and impressions are given, leaving the full coverage of the event in the records which are available on the conference web site ,as well as in the national and international traditional Press that attended the conference. Unfortunately many cuts have been made in these notes: the conference has covered many scientific topics and, even if sometimes in an academic style, it has supplied incredible intellectual stimuli ,thanks to "parterre de roi" that has ennobled the event (Nobel, politicians EU, family Kennedy,..). TDF will attend the next edition. The notes are subdivided into two parts; the first part follows.








The first day has been dedicated to the ethics and science; were present three representatives of the monotheistic religions were present, as well as and a representative of Buddhism, together with philosophers, scientists and lawyers. Here is a synthesis of the contributions , although it does not seem that a real effort has been made towards a constructive dialogue.

First issue: what is Knowledge? According to the mystic Bernardo (XI century) 5 types of knowledge exist:
- to know for knowledge’s sake (bad)
- to know for the sake of scholarship (bad)
- to know for commercial gain (bad)
- to know for moral development (full of charity)
- to know for the sake of Wisdom (the best)

Since the Renaissance there has been an evolution from natural ethics to an ethics in which the nature is not understood but its fruits are collected.

Humanistic Sciences are necessary in order to provide genetic Biology, cures for cancer, reproduction, and are controversial because ethics are involved. Therefore, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, science needs a guide.


In Islam

"A technological product involves also the acquisition of a cultural model".

In Islam there is not an univocal spiritual chief, therefore there exist various positions in bioethics. In Islam, a multiplicity of opinions is a sign of weakness- therefore there is not an open discussion and no sign of it is shown to the Western World.

A fundamentalist bioethics exists, but there are others completely different (In the scientific field, the more aggressive Muslim countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia are also the more advanced).

All research is OK if applied according to the rules. In the first place it is mandatory not to destabilize the social order, or the fundamental relationships (family). To this end, in every Muslim state there are courts committed to ensuring that social, technical, and legal behaviours do not diverge from the Koran, a text written directly by God and therefore true (Sharia =Muslim law contained in the Koran) but this makes so that, as an example, there are diverse positions on the legitimacy of the transplant of organs and on the definition of death (in Egypt there is no law on the organ transplants because the religious authorities have not agreed on the definition of death (cardiac arrest, cerebral death) and how to make the transplant); on the other hand, in Syria from the '70 it is possible, in Iran from 2000, in Lebanon from '65. In order to avoid dependency on Western societies, the sharia is the point of reference.

4 positions exist on cloning:

1. (common strong majority position , but not unanimous). Rejction of human cloning (but permission for research)

2. cloning succeeds only if God allows it (predestination)

3. Cloning is just a new procreative instrument (an alternative to "in vitro" fertilisation which is accepted throughout Islam if couples are homologous)

4. Cloning helps to understand the final Resurrection.

A motivation for banning cloning is that, with cloning, the family, deemed of fundamental value, becomes useless (this is unacceptable because the Koran speaks about the family as the fulcrum of the society); for instance Islam does not completely forbid abortion contrary if not executed after 120 days at hich time the spirit penetrates the fetus, therefore the fabrication of embryonic stem cells is not a problem (the issue is not life but management of the spirit).

There is not an official position expressed on biotechnologies.
On embryonic stami cells there is not a clear position in Islam (not mentioned in the Koran). Generally Islam is in favor because it is useful for health. But not embryos for the sole purpose of research.

In order to estimate the importance of biological sciences in Islam, it is enough to note that 4% of births in Saudi Arabia come from conception "in vitro", 1% in USA, less in Europe. Iran is the country that supports the techniques for staminali mainly.

In Jewish view

Search of the good and the truth. God is outside the world. In God‘s plan , man is to be the gardener in Eden (with many duties, and few rights). He Has more power than animals, but more responsibility and this is not an advantage. This view is favorable to the rational and practical sciences (no position against cloning). They seek Actual movement in science from individual issues to the public domain (e.g. Medicine in combatting the epidemiological diseases)

As in Genesis, Science answers a question and raises many others. Individual freedom between good and evil. God, as the Bible says,is outside from Nature. A good Hebrew must study God; instead, human science does not take care to understand God, but to make and to catch up the "tov" (that is good and well)

In Buddhist view

Do not trust on what has been said or written, but be guided by your experience and the facts.”

the confusion in our minds prevents us from understand how . Why it is not important”.

Nothing exists for itself but all depends on everything else”.

"The buddhist vision approaches the vision of the physicists"

The physicists study the interrelation between particles”.

Elimination of suffering” therefore science combined with the buddhist techniques of meditation carries a benefit for all.

Example: Meditation can reduce anxiety; the meditation can contribute research in medicine." There is a New alliance between buddhism and science.

Buddhism can review its fundamental positions if science demonstrates a new truth.

All the religions would meet and collaborate in order to manage change. The technological progress has proceeded very rapidly (all the processes are faster) therefore the sense of becoming is more emphasised (It has always been true that nothing is static - but in the past the slower rhythms of life gave the impression that things did not change ).

In the past, tradition meant to maintain, hour tradition means point of departure for the evolution.

Buddhism is favorable to relativism.

The progress of science leads one to a new morality. The religions must collaborate in order to support a laical spirituality. The The Theological sciences derive from sacred testimony, and they are not capable of developing beyond their sacred texts .

Mr. Atkins (atheist Position)

Atkins, physicist of Cambridge absolutist, does not think that science (at least physics) gives partial answers but fundamental truth. The Theory of Everything will answer all the fundamental questions. The applications will be be instead infinite and complex. He support the strong A.I. theory (A.I.= Artificial Intelligence).

Giorello (position of the philosopher of science)

The Contemporary history to be studied, would have to be also the history of science the last 100 years (Darwin and following). In the XI century the scientist and canonical Ewel (great epistemologist) defined the criterion of mixing experiment and imagination, within which scientific discovery can find the extensive explanation of unexpected facts.

The greatest philosophers of the ' 1900's, according to Giorello are: Pierce, Popper (science and fallibility) Enriquez, (great logician of the Bologna University' and victim of fascism). The Proposal is for the several religions to work together, assuming only methodologically that the sacred witnesses are written by men (not ontologically). (nd.r. This premise for the collaboration turns out to be unattainable). The religion must pass to the ermeneutics.

At what serves science? to eliminate the questions without answers (why am I born? is there a scope?) (nd.r: It is not the maturity that eliminates desire to find an answer to the adolescential questions but is the caught rationality that eliminates it.)

Cognitive sciences = arguments of discussion x the philosophy, soon for science.

Last consideration on the issues of science. Who makes science must also make marketing for the science/research and publicise the findings of research in an appropriate way. It is possible to give examples of fundamental information which has been only communicated to adepts, which have not had the public recognition that they deserved.

An interesting argument treated during the conference regards morality and science; it is not possible to go into detail, but the issue is that there is no legislation on how to use sciences within the civil community(e.g. the acquaintance of the D.N.A. of a person or his relative can give information useful to the police but can be harmful for the privacy to which all we have a right. In order to produce laws, it is necessary to go back to the fundamental rights of man, which can be counted on the fingers of one hand. It is Necessary to define an international right; An international work group of judges exists who have founded an association with center in Pavia near the Ghislieri college. To go deeper.

[End of part one]


[Editing by Franco Pallavicini, English revision by Michael Martin-Smith]

[031.LS.TDF.2005 - 19.11.2005]