On Air America's Morning Sedition they had Fordham University theology Professor Jeannine Hill-Fletcher on to talk about the alleged conflict between science and religion. She was a reasonable person, the kind of theologian that can stay after the Evil Atheist Conspiracy purges the--I've said too much.
Anyway, one thing that I thought illustrated the difference between a religious and a scientific outlook was when she tried to give an example of a question that science couldn't answer: when does personhood begin? She said, as most people might agree, that we have no way of really knowing, and so it was a matter of religion. I think this is nonsense. As long as we can agree on a definition of what a person is, science is perfectly adequate to answer the question. If a person is a being with human DNA then personhood begins at conception. If a person is a thinking, rational being then personhood begins sometime during the first year after birth. The point is that the current difficulty with personhood is one of definition, and no religious text I am aware of gives any clear-cut definitions. In other words, all the religious thought in the world is just the same speculation as any other philosophical discourse. But once the terms are defined, only science is capable of answering the question itself. If society agrees that a person is X, reading the Bible, praying, and meditating aren't going to tell anybody where X is. Looking at the developing mind and seeing when it reaches whatever milestone we set will.