It Was a Milestone for My Career
(Interview by James Pethokoukis)
Is there any news about your efforts to verify Clonaid’s claims?
Nothing new. I’ve done my part. I’m still waiting for them to do their part, but it will take more than just another promise … I have allowed for the possibility from the beginning that is a hoax, but also for the possibility that they have pulled off what they have claimed. My only intention is to put it to the test and apply the scientific method.
For many scientists, the Raëlians’ beliefs seem to be an automatic disqualifier. Why not for you?
I’m not saying that this group should or should not be written off. I’m only interested in the fact of whether they are lying to us or telling the truth … The reality is that every single news organization in the world lent their claim credibility by covering it and publicizing it. I alone offered the world a chance to figure out whether they are lying by putting their claims to a rigorous scientific test and that’s all I am going to say.
Why are you so obviously interested in cloning?
When I was covering the Dolly [sheep cloning] story, my background as a scientist allowed me to understand just how simple the technique was, and it was obvious to me that there would be people who would want to apply this technique to clone humans. So I asked [Scottish embryologist] Ian Wilmut if he was concerned at all, and I will never forget his answer: “Why would anybody want to do that?” I thought that was naive. It seemed obvious to me that there would be people would want to do this, and that possibility gripped me as a reporter because I understood the huge ethical, social, religious and political implications of such an undertaking.
But do you find cloning to be morally objectionable in any way?
Several days later [after the Dolly announcement] on “Good Morning America,” we had a roundtable discussion and Charlie Gibson asked me what I thought of cloning. I said I was concerned about the implications of what Wilmut had done as a scientist–and as a scientist who believes in God. .
Now, I’ve never told anyone the background behind that [statement of faith], but when I was showering that morning to get ready for the show, I suddenly began to sob uncontrollably. It was mysterious to me, because it seemed to come out of nowhere. And I asked myself what this was all about, and I realized I had never spoken about my belief in God on the air, and I realized that I was about to go on the air and talk about the enoromous consequences of cloning. I realized that if I was going to be honest, I would have to confess I believed in God. I didn’t know how people would react. I had always tried to be impartial and keep my personal opinions to myself..
So I went to the phone and called my pastor–woke him up at 4 or 5 in the morning and explained the situation. I wanted him to pray with me for the strength not to chicken out at the last minute … So later I was in the makeup room and the God Squad [ABC's Rabbi Marc Gellman and Msgr. Thomas Hartman] came in and I told them the same thing and they prayed with me … Well, the moment came and I answered and the monsignor extended his hand and put it on top of mine as if to say “well done.” You could have heard a pin drop. And as I walked through the studio, every grip and camera guy shook my hand. It was a milestone for my career, but I felt ashamed for not having confessed sooner, for having been such a coward. It was also very painful when the media speculated that I was a Raëlian, and somehow I had gone over to the dark side with Clonaid.
Weren’t your father and grandfather Pentecostal pastors?
Yes, and my father was also a director of the seminary of the group of churches we belonged to. It is the largest Spanish-speaking Pentecostal group in the world with something like 200 churches in the U.S., Mexico and Central America. I grew up in the barrio of East L.A., and it seemed like we went to church seven days a week and ministers were always coming over to the house, and my mother was constantly cooking for them. All my role models growing up were religious people, and I learned what it means to be a Christian in the truest sense of the word.
You view Christianity as a divine truth, not just as a philosophy for better living?
Oh, gosh, yes, I am a good old-fashioned Christian, and that’s what is difficult for people to understand. I believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ and what the Bible says.
Is that belief uncommon in the scientific and journalistic circles you travel in?
It’s kind of like being gay in the military: Don’t ask, don’t tell. A belief in God isn’t the norm, much less believing in Jesus being the Son of God. That’s like a double whammy, and I have been reluctant to talk about it. We all like to fit in and not be thought of as odd. But at some time we all have to stand up for what we believe in. And the reaction from the stage crew and viewers was unanimous and a source of encouragement to be more open about my beliefs … I feel a profound sense of sadness that it’s become shameful to admit you believe in God in public.
Has your scientific background changed your beliefs in any way?
Yeah, it altered it–enhanced it. Here’s what I mean. I recently spent an afternoon at the NIH and spoke to a number of scientists … At the end of the day, I met a women who had spent something like 30 years studying the various layers of the retina and after 30 years she said, “We still don’t understand how it works … that it is one of the most magnificent pieces of architecture found in nature.” … Something that beautiful and remarkable that can mystify an intelligent woman for 30 years just can’t be an accident.
Do you think that your views on the compatibility of science and religion are the source of much of the criticism of your scientific credentials?
It’s a matter of public record that at least one of my two most vocal critics disagrees with my belief that science and religion can be reconciled. I think the fear is that somehow science will corrupt religion and religion will corrupt science. But my life is a testimony to how they can be reconciled.
We’re talking about James Randi and Robert Park?
I think much of the criticism I got can be traced back to these two men and it is not really about my position in the cloning story. It goes way back and is much more fundamental than that. These men are presented as champions of skepticism and critical thinking but they are really zealous defenders of a very definite world view which is different than mine …
They’re entitled to hold these beliefs. My only concern is that they be seen for what they are, and not as impartial critics. Our disagreement goes to the heart of how we see the universe and it would not surprise me that [the disagreement] is their motive to jump on the bandwagon and criticize me. I don’t fault the media for quoting them, but they didn’t raise the red flag that [Randi and Park] might not be speaking impartially.
Has your faith helped you weather the criticism you’ve received?
Over the weekend, I was listening to some sermons on TV and pastor mentioned this passage which really made me sit up because it spoke to me, particularly the first half of it, really. It was from I Peter 5, 6-9: “So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you. Be sober and vigilant …”
Look, I am completely at peace with what has happened. I am in God’s hands. He loves me and even all this has purpose which will be revealed to me.