Similar views underpinned Mao’s Great Leap Forward. The Taliban, with their heavy curtailment of access to new technology and denial of access to education for women, provide an extreme example of these phenomena. But other forms of Fundamentalism still march, albeit much less dramatically, in the West. They show in quarrels about the teaching of biblical literal Creationism as a valid alternative to evolution in science courses in schools, and in a kind of Fundamentalism that wistfully looks to a throw-back world in which nineteenth century agricultural practices can feed today’s burgeoning population and unproven alternative medicines can afford the same protection as the products of the pharmaceutical industry.
Such Fundamentalist appeals to authority can cloud my simple distinction between "the scientific background which constrains choices" and "the value-laden debate about which choices we make". This distinction becomes meaningless if doctrine or ideology can trump observed facts and experiments. It is not so much that opponents may distrust the science, but rather that their world view is disjunct with that of the Enlightenment. Complex examples of this can be seen in some current debates.
For example, until 1869 the Catholic Church’s doctrine, derived from Thomas Aquinas and ultimately Aristotle, was that the soul entered the embryo on the 40th day after conception if male, and up to the 90th day if female (14). But Pope Pius IX changed all that by declaring the soul enters the embryo at the moment of conception. And one year later, in 1870, the doctrine of Papal Infallibility cemented this declaration. For someone deriving values and opinions from this essentially Fundamentalist position, I suspect there would have been no serious objection to research on embryonic stem cells, as provided by recent UK legislation, on the basis of pre-1869 doctrine, whereas today such research – despite its promised benefits – is understandably unacceptable on ethical grounds.
There seems to be an escape, however: a handful of tentative scientific papers can be read as suggesting research using adult stem cells will serve equally well, thus providing the medical benefits without the ethical anguish. The overall balance of informed scientific opinion, however, is that we are far from unlocking the potential of adult cells to differentiate in medically-useful ways as embryonic stem cells do, and that the road to one day maybe using adult cells is paved with embryonic ones.
But if revealed doctrine is your guide, you have access to truth, which transcends scientific knowledge. And you can – in good faith – according to your Fundamentalist beliefs – honestly believe that research on adult cells (and prohibiting embryonic stem cell research) is the solution to the dilemma. The "scientific background" blurs, and the debate is ineluctably tricky.