Robert Edwards, pioneer of in vitro fertilization (IVF), has won this year’s Nobel Prize in medicine, and the award carries a resonance in modern science. In its early days, IVF was decried by religious leaders, who accused scientists of arrogating divine powers and of tampering with nature.
Some religious leaders insisted that their followers ally themselves more strongly to their faith instead; others feared that IVF would immorally provide same-sex or unmarried couples with children.
Those bizarre fears have now died away, but they have re-emerged in another field that, oddly, IVF helped develop: stem-cell research. The debate between science and religion over stem cells sounds startlingly similar to that over IVF. But if there is a lesson in the success of Edwards’ work, it is that the progress of sound science cannot—and should not —be stifled.