Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Bodies Displayed Raise Questions

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Bodies Displayed Raise Questions

Article excerpt

Our cover story this week concerns the clash between science and religion. It is a conflict that has occurred repeatedly since the start of the scientific revolution, which scholars date back to approximately 1543, the year Nicolaus Copernicus published his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium ("On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres")--proposing that the earth rotates around the sun--and Andreas Vesalius' De humani corporis fabrica ("On the Fabric of the Human Body"), regarded as one of the most influential books on human anatomy. Galileo Galilei is best known because the church put him on trial for contradicting the biblical assertion that the earth, not the sun, was at the center of the universe. Such controversies were long ago put to rest with scientific evidence and a better appreciation of the separate roles that religion and science play in the pursuit of truth.

Today's controversies center not so much on the factual nature of creation as on the moral questions that new science raises. Ambitious projects are driven by venture capital and commercial expectations that sometimes seem to put profit ahead of ethics.

Many discoveries are outpacing our moral categories and analysis, creating both wonder, and controversy.

The traveling exhibit "Bodies Revealed" is one example of the dilemmas posed by the blending of science and commercialism. The public display of plasticized human bodies is now popular fare. Only since 1995 has this technology been used to offer large exhibits of bodies so realistically preserved, posed and intimately revealed. Most of us have been unaware that such displays were happening until print and television ads began appearing in targeted cities.

The first time I saw the published images of the exhibit, my immediate reaction was one of great interest and excitement. …

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