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Calling Lee Silver to account

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I debated Lee Silver last year at Princeton and reported it on this blog (for a video of the debate, go here). Silver is a Princeton bioethicist with a Ph.D. in biology. He and Peter Singer are soulmates.

Fundamentalists? We?
Bad science, worse philosophy, and McCarthyite tactics in the human-embyro debate.

An essay by Patrick Lee & Robert P. George

We have in many places argued for the humanity and fundamental dignity of human beings in the embryonic stage of development and all later stages. In defending embryonic human life, we have pointed out that every human adult was once an embryo, just as he or she was once an adolescent, and before that a child, and before that an infant, and before that a fetus. This is not a religious claim or a piece of metaphysical speculation. It is an empirical fact. The complete human organism — the whole living member of the species Homo sapiens — that is, for example, you the reader, is the same human individual that at an earlier point in his or her life was an adolescent, a child, an infant, a fetus, an embryo. From the embryonic stage forward, all you needed for your survival and continued growth towards adulthood along the continuum of human development was a suitable environment, adequate nutrition, and freedom from grave disease.

In short, we have argued — though it is fairer to say that we have pointed out, since the scientific facts are not in dispute — that human embryos do not differ in kind from (other) human beings; rather, they differ from other human beings merely in respect of their stage of development. Embryos, fetuses, infants, adolescents, and adults are not different kinds of being — the way a human, an elk, a spider, a cucumber, and an amoeba are different kinds of being. Embryos, fetuses, infants, adolescents, and adults are the same kind of being at different developmental stages.

Still, Lee Silver in “The Biotechnology Culture Clash,” published in Science and Theology News (July 18, 2006), and more fully in a new book entitled Challenging Nature, insists that our views about the humanity and dignity of the human embryo are grounded in religious beliefs. He accuses us of concocting a scientific sounding case against embryo-destructive research in an effort to impose our religious beliefs on others while evading the constitutional prohibition of laws respecting an establishment of religion.

MORE: http://books.nationalreview.com/review/?q=OTNiYWM2ZjJiYWVlN2IyMzFjOWYwMDZmMTc4MzU2MGU=

Douglas: "How do YOU define “human being”? And please provide TESTABLE means for determining whether something, or someone, is or is not a human being. " If you don't mind, I'd like to make a try at this question. I define "being" as an entity that is conscious - one that can think. You and I and other humans are thus beings. God, if he exists, is also a being, as are Satan, angels and probably demons, if they exist. I define "human" operationally as an organism having two human parents. You could also define "human" as having a certain type of body, a certain type of flesh, etc., but I'll stick with the two parent definition. If you accept these two definitions, then you and I are human beings because we are both conscious and have two human parents. Your leg, on the other hand, is human, but is not conscious, therefore it is not a human being. The fictional ET was a being because he was conscious and could think, but he didn't have two human parents, so he wasn't a human being. A chimp would be (in my opinion), a being because it is clearly conscious and thinks, as would many other animals, but by the time you get down to the insects, it appears to me that there is no consciousness displayed, so they fail the "being" test. One "TESTABLE means for determining whether something, or someone, is or is not a human being" is to check it to see if it has two human parents and is conscious. Another testable means would be to look for signs of a brain, which is essential for consciousness and thinking. An oak tree has no brain, so we do not expect oak trees to be conscious and thus we do not expect oak trees to be any kind of beings. Ditto for rocks, concrete and jellyfish. Embryos do not have brains, thus they are not conscious and are not beings, though an embryo may be human. (This is responsible for lots of the confusion that abounds in abortion arguments. The embryo is correctly proclaimed to be human, but it's not a being, so it's not a human being.) Since I think you're a YEC, I won't attempt to prove that humans and apes have a common ancestor, but if you want to see 'a gradual “continuum” of beings in various stages of “non-humanness”, limbo, and “humanness”', look at the animal world. Chimps and bonobos are clearly in the being range, and nearly as smart as humans, cats and dogs are much farther from human intelligence and thus much lesser beings and amoebas are not beings at all. With regard to abortion and human rights, the question is not, "When does life being?" because the egg and sperm were alive before they fused and the embryo and fetus are also alive. The key question is whether a human embryo or fetus is conscious and thus a being. Medical science has been very clear on this since the sixties: they are not. No embryo has a brain, not even a human embryo and human fetuses have incomplete non functional brains. (This knowledge was why the supreme court legalized abortion in Roe v Wade. Not being too well versed in science, the religious right immediately assumed that the Supreme Court had gone over to Satan. But they pretty much felt that way before Roe v Wade anyway.) Humans are, in fact, born grossly prematurely as far as the central nervous system is concerned and a newborn's brain is far from finished and working. A fetus does not become conscious and thus a being until sometime after birth which means that abortion at any stage before birth is never killing a human being. Note that if you concentrate on whether the entity is conscious and thinks - whether it is a being - then you automatically get the "right" answers not only with human fetuses, but with ET, chimps and any other non-human intelligence we encounter. If they're beings, you can't kill them, if they're not, the question remains open. Houdin
Someone Wise once said, I think, "Fear not!" I quoted, on an older thread, a recent essay by Gene Callahan, The Pope Is Right About Science.
If I am right, then why are so many intelligent people so wedded to the materialist dogma? Its appeal is perhaps made more comprehensible when seen in the light of the mistaken view, adopted by the leaders of various religions at various times, that the unfettered advance of science presented a threat to their faith. To the contrary, if what I see as the true role of any religion is recognized – namely, that it provides guidance, coherence, and intelligibility to its adherents concerning their moral life, then it is clear that no discovery of a physical science can conflict with its vital essence. Those who thought that, for instance, the value of Christianity somehow would be reduced or destroyed if was admitted that the Sun, and not the Earth, was at the center of the Solar System, simply had misapprehended the source of its worth. Materialism was embraced in an over-reaction to the unjustified efforts of religious authorities to prevent scientists from pursuing their investigations in whatever direction their evidence and intuitions led them. But today it has become the very sort of rigid orthodoxy it pledged to oppose, a faith whose creed must be recited to gain admission into the highest echelons of respectable scientific and philosophical society. It is now as harmful to the human spirit as was any religious orthodoxy in its heyday. Therefore, I think it is vital to understand that materialism is justified neither by the findings of science nor by sound philosophy.
http://www.lewrockwell.com/callahan/callahan161.html Therefore, as both I.D. and its adversary, N.D.T. are materialist in nature, they are ultimately incomplete views, I believe, about "life" and "the universe" and what is "important". However, at was written today in an editorial at Opinion Journal, this is important to recognize: http://www.opinionjournal.com/taste/?id=110009052
Although SEA clearly is not nonpartisan in the way most people understand that word, it is of course free to have a point of view: Political activism is a hallmark of a democratic society. The more disturbing disingenuousness here involves the suggestion in some SEA statements that there is such a thing as absolute, accurate science--a body of facts--that is beyond further investigation. And that certain subjects or findings are not open to interpretation or discussion by nonscientists, including policy makers. In other words, when Americans raise questions about the moral implications of, say, stem-cell research, they are trumping science with "ideology." Presumably, those who disagree have no ideology or political agenda, only factual knowledge on a case that is closed.
Consequently, those who attempt to cut off consideration and debate, whether they are I.D. proponents or opponents, should be wary as to the consequences. P. Phillips
Wow, I just watched that debate from last year... Silver really got schooled by Bill. With enemies like Silver, who needs friends!? Scott
To Lee Silver, A brilliant defense of your position. Except you forgot to address one thing: How do YOU define "human being"? And please provide TESTABLE means for determining whether something, or someone, is or is not a human being. Thank you. (Oh, and by the way - if "human being" is as amorphous a concept and term as your argument implies [referencing Darwin and apes, and all], I will respectfully withhold acceptance of that argument until you can provide TESTABLE evidence for the assumption that human beings and apes share a common ancestor, and that there is, or was, a gradual "continuum" of beings in various stages of "non-humanness", limbo, and "humanness". Thanks again.) Douglas
Bill, in case you only read your own posts, I thought you'd appreciate this. Then again, who knows? Moore is Catholic. Interesting that I myself quoted Shakespeare here tonight, prior to reading this piece. You have to register (free) to read the entire review. Here is another essay of Moore that I think any person of faith will respect: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2005/01/08/do0801.xml Link to book review: http://www.spectator.co.uk/the-magazine/books/25609/a-voice-crying-in-the-wilderness.thtml E X C E R P T
A voice crying in the wilderness Charles Moore Without belief in God, saith the atheist preacher, there would have been ‘no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian Partition’, no Northern Ireland Troubles, ‘no flogging of female skin for the crime of showing an inch of it’ neither. But the same assault could be made on science — without it, there would be no napalm, no atom bomb, no global warming, no asbestosis, no car crashes, no BSE, no internet pornography and no gas chambers. These statements may be true so far as they go, in both cases, but as arguments against God or against science they are utterly unfair. There are many things in this entertaining book which should certainly give religious people pause. Dawkins makes powerful attacks on the shiftiness of many religious apologists, and gives good examples of the sheer absurdity of some deference to religious belief. Did you know, for instance, that in the United States the Reverend Green in Cluedo has been renamed ‘Mr Green’? His points about the abuse of power by religious leaders are not new, but that does not make them less telling. Because Dawkins is an evangelical, however, he never does his opponents the justice of taking their position seriously. Just as the televangelist takes disagreement as showing sin, so Dawkins, as his book’s title states, speaks of belief in God as a ‘delusion’. This may be an appropriate word for those who died in the Jonestown massacre, but it simply does not tell you anything worth knowing about John Henry Newman, or George Herbert, or Thomas Aquinas. If Dawkins really wants readers like myself to check into the atheist equivalent of the Priory for what he calls ‘recovery’, he must first of all understand the condition which he seeks to relieve. He doesn’t. One of the things which sends him into paroxysms of fury, for example, is the idea that children should be brought up in a particular faith. He thinks that this turns them into ‘demented parrots’ and may make them suicide bombers. It is wrong to speak of a ‘Catholic child’, he says, or a ‘Muslim child’, because such a child can give no real consent. One should speak only of ‘a child of Catholic parents’. The reason that Dawkins is so angry about this is that he conceives religion simply as a set of opinions: opinions, to be of value, must be genuinely, personally held, and children are not ready for this. (Actually, I don’t agree even with this: children can and must develop their opinions, and can and should be guided, though not coerced, in them by parents, and I bet Dawkins in practice thinks the same.) But religion is not, at root, a question of opinions. It is the collective (and personal) attempt to live life according to a belief about everything. The whole of each human life, from conception, is therefore part of it. Most, though not all, Christians hold that God’s grace is channelled through the sacraments, and that the sacrament of baptism makes a child a Christian — i.e. a member of Christ’s family, not a person with a set of views. It is the spiritual equivalent both of the polio vaccine and the birth certificate, and it would therefore be unnecessarily risky to withhold it. Dawkins would think this all rubbish, of course, but he ought to acknowledge that ‘brainwashing’ need not be involved. Most churches have a later rite (confirmation) which depends on the free assent to beliefs given by people judged old enough for that assent to be real. Similarly, the story of the Fall of Man excites Dawkins’s contempt because he thinks the punishment of Adam and Eve incredibly ‘vindictive’ for the minor offence of what he calls ‘scrumping’. That wasn’t the offence: it was disobedience of the one prohibition God had given them, the eating of the fruit which bestowed the knowledge of good and evil that would lead to death. Dawkins should acknowledge the internal logic of what he does not believe. If the tree guaranteed all life, then the intrusion of death by man’s wilfulness was indeed the ultimate wrong. It is interesting, however, that Dawkins’s devotion to Darwin’s theory of natural selection produces in him a simulacrum of religious belief. He describes the pity we feel for the unfortunate and the desire we feel for members of the opposite sex even when we cannot have children with them as ‘misfirings, Darwinian mistakes: blessed, precious mistakes’. This is the Dawkins version of the ‘felix culpa’ of Adam and Eve, ‘felix’ because it led to Christ’s incarnation as a man, and to his saving death and resurrection. And what Darwin called the ‘daily and hourly scrutinising’ carried out always and everywhere by natural selection ‘working … at the improvement of each organic being’ is expressed just as absolutely, and just as much in terms of intention (though Dawkins denies this), as is any statement about the purposes of the all-seeing God. Darwin was a very great man, but Darwinism can turn into a Victorian faith as dated as the Clapham Sect. It is important for Dawkins to deny a real distinction between ‘moderate’ religion and fundamentalist extremism. He needs the cannabis-leads-on-to-heroin argument so beloved of schoolmasters. Yes, there are lots of nice religious moderates, but they set children off on the slippery slope, he says. This reveals his misunderstanding of what he attacks. The difference between moderates and bigots in religion is just as vital as is the difference between liberals and fascists in politics. Moderates (inadequate word, but I haven’t got another) see man’s relationship to his creator differently from fanatics. Their religious belief in man’s sinfulness leads them to humility: how can fallen man, with his partial understanding of everything, kill in the name of God and thus arrogate Godlike powers to himself? The fanatic’s attitude is different not in degree, but in kind: God tells him to kill, he believes, and so he must. Dawkins appears not to accept this distinction, and it leads him to the most extraordinary omission in his book — the failure to discuss, beyond a couple of perfunctory, derisive mentions, the belief in divine love. Such a belief, which is at the heart of Christianity, does not, in itself, refute atheism. But it does explain the other aspects of faith which Dawkins barely notices — the lives devoted to teaching, medicine, care for the poor, the visiting of prisoners, the abandonment of material things, the creation of beauty, the dying that others might live — which a pathologist inspecting the corpse of religion might see as even more marked than the cruelties inflicted in its name. To ignore it is Hamlet without the prince, or rather, Lear without Cordelia. Dawkins does treat, briefly, of love. He links human ‘falling in love’ with religion, each being ‘an accidental by-product — a misfiring of something useful’. He is puzzled why the majority of the human race remains unpersuaded by such language. Could it be that this man, so clever, so confident, so scientific, so modern and so liberal, has nevertheless missed something? For all his advocacy of the inquiring mind, this is not a question that seems ever to have occurred to Professor Dawkins.
P. Phillips
bfast In regards to post 9 I would agree that Thou shalt not kill is a universal rule within human societies that generally does have religious overtones. It is also often a social and civil commandment as well. jmcd
RESPONSE TO BE PUBLISHED AT NRO I thank my colleagues Patrick Lee and Robert George for the time and effort that they put into reading and critiquing my recently published book, Challenging Nature.   Since I present a lengthy discussion of -- and challenges to -- their previously published views in the first half of my book, I was not surprised that they found much to criticize there.   I am disappointed that they had nothing to say about the second half of my book, where I direct my fire at "New Age secularists [who] rail against genetically modified crops."  I suspect that many NRO readers will find much to agree with in this portion of my writing (which elicited an enraged review in the American Scientist from the post-modern historian Nathaniel Comfort). Before I respond to the main points of disagreement, I want readers to know that I wrote about leaders of the Catholic  Church in the U.S. with the utmost respect.   In describing my meeting with bishops who sit on the Committee on Science and Human Values of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I wrote, "At the outset, I was impressed by their genuine inquisitiveness, their desire to understand the most recent advances in science, and their willingness to admit that important questions existed for which they had no answer."  As I have written, the thrust of my challenge to Lee and George was on scientific grounds, not theological ones. Professors Lee and George think that human embryos are undisputedly human beings.  Millions of other people brought up in the Western religious tradition hold the same view, but what sets Lee and George apart is their claim that the "scientific facts" alone prove that human embryos are human beings.  Lee and George have read and heard challenges to their claim by scientists, writers, theologians, and other academics. Most notable are the able arguments presented by Ron Bailey in a previous NRO debate.   But Lee and George haven't budged, and I doubt there is anything I can say or write that will ever make them budge.    My perception of their attitude should make scientists suspicious because it suggests that Lee and George cannot conceive of an empirical experiment (with results that can be objectively verified) that would falsify their claim.  If this is true, their claim is not a scientific one.  If they've got an experiment, I'd like to hear the operational details. Lee and George base their embryo-is-a-human-being claim mainly on two propositions.  One is that a human embryo has an "internal active disposition for self-directed development toward the mature stage of a human."   Since we know that a single cell can separate from a 4-cell embryo and develop into a separate human baby (on rare natural occasions), Lee and George would argue that this cell has the "internal active disposition"  that makes it a human being.  On the other hand, they argue that isolated embryonic stem (ES) cells are not human beings because they do not have this "internal active disposition."   But "internal active disposition" is not a term that has any meaning in the context of cellular or molecular biology.  If George and Lee want to claim otherwise, I'd like to know their perception of the molecular attributes that distinguish human being-cells from non-human-being, yet still fully viable and human, cells. Those of us who have worked only with early-stage mouse embryos (which are essentially identical in size and appearance to human embryos) don't have the same qualms as colleagues in the human stem cell field do when it comes to speaking honestly about the relationship of embryos to stem cells.  In the summary of a meeting of mouse geneticists published in the journal Science, the reporter wrote, "the participants agreed that it would be most economical to avoid trafficking in live mice and instead decided to maintain the knockouts as embryonic stem (ES) cells: clumps of tissue that can be frozen down and later grown up into full-fledged mice." (Science 312: 1862-1866; June 30, 2006)    Furthermore, as I wrote in my book, human ES cells have already been differentiated into placenta.  This means that, in theory, the requirement for a second source of cells to reconstitute an embryo may be nullified, and ES cells -- all by their lonesome -- could develop into a fetus and human baby.  This discussion was conveniently left out of Lee and George's review.  But, if theory becomes practice, and ES cells can be grown directly into a fetus, at what point during continuous development from a bunch of cells to a fetus does a human being instantly appear? Tell me what the molecular correlates are for such an event. The second proposition that Lee and George use in their appeal to science has been simply stated on many occasions by Professor George: "a thing either is or is not a human being."   Lee and George provide several arguments in support of this proposition.  One is that it is simply common sensical to most people.  I have no doubt that this observation is correct, but as many examples from science demonstrate, common sense is no predictor of truth.   Furthermore, it is not surprising that so many philosophers have also held this position.  Two millennia ago, in the absence of modern scientific knowledge and biomedical technology, Aristotle would certainly have convinced me of its veracity.  Modern psychologists have evidence that normal human brains are hard-wired to categorize everything into distinct classes (including human beings and non-human beings). Scientific knowledge challenges this instinct on many occasions.   The most serious challenge, of course, came from Darwin whose theory of natural selection suggests that in the evolution of pre-human apes into human beings, there was no first human being.  Instead, there appear to have been a continuum of evolutionary forms in a process during which no child was significantly different from its parents. The scientific implication is that some "things" might be in-between non-human and human.  An alternative suggested by Pope John Paul II is that while physical evolution was continuous, spiritual evolution was not. The Pope specifically ruled out an appeal to science when he described this idea. And here's another scientific challenge for Lee and George.  If a perfectly normal human embryo is grown in a laboratory incubator, it can develop without any discontinuity into a teratoma.     According to Lee and George, during the first week in the petri dish, the embryo is a human being.  But no one believes that an embryo-generated teratoma is a human being, even though it can be kept alive as a unique, integrated organism, and even though it is certainly not part of any other organism.  So when during the continuous life of this organism did the human being suddenly disappear?  Again, what molecular or cellular correlates would you expect to see at the moment of passing? I would like to end this response with the telling of an episode that occurred while I was hiking through the jungle with my two sons and my wife in West Africa last summer.   At one point, my son walked past what looked like an eight-foot long yellow-greenish tree tree branch that had fallen onto the path.  But the "branch" suddenly became animated and slithered off into the undergrowth. It was a snake of the Green Mamba species, our guide told us.   "Is it dangerous?," I asked.  "It depends," he said. "If the snake is able to deposit part of its spirit into the person, it will consume the person's spirit and death will surely follow.  However, if the snake's spirit doesn't make it across in the bite, the person will suffer no permanent harm." This was not a parable, it was cultural knowledge -- an attempt by uneducated people to make sense out of the otherwise unexplainable observation that some people died while others recovered completely after a Green Mamba bite.  I didn't believe it, but I couldn't disprove it.  It failed to provide any predictions -- it was not falsifiable and, therefore, it was not scientific. Professor Lee and George have argued that embryos with wrong numbers of chromosomes are not really embryos because they do not have the capacity to develop into mature human beings.  This is true for 90% of human embryos which have an extra copy of chromosome 21 (in particular), but 10% do develop into human beings born with Down Syndrome.  In these cases, according to Lee and George, we can tell in retrospect that the embryo must have been a human being as well. Lee M. Silver Professor of Molecular Biology and Public Policy Princeton University Lee Silver
Ekstasis I agree that we will need strong moral foundations more than ever in the coming century. As I mentioned earlier I am not religious but a christian upbringing provided me with a solid moral compass. (While I may not believe in the divine origin of Jesus I still feel the Truth in his teachings) I guess you could refer to me as a non-believing pragmatist and I do believe in the need for more moral conviction and virtue in the interest of all mankind. And as religion is the only traditional source of that conviction you could say that I desire more religious conviction. bfast Empathy obviously gives us more than the capacity to share other's pain. It also gives the ability to share hopes and dreams with people. That can provide us with an inate appreciation for other human life. I want to make it clear though that I was making a hypothetical argument from Silver's point of view and that perspective does not necessarily match my own. jmcd
jmcd, You raise a great point when you say "I think the scarriest thing on the horizon that threatens our notions of humanity is genetic modification. If we have the ability to use it to cure harmul mental disorders one could readily make the case that it would be inhumane not to do so. Well what about someone that we know will be alright but exceedingly dim witted and presumably will have great difficulty succeeding in life? Is it our duty to help this individual or will “helping” this person in effect be robbing them of a crucial element of their humanity? " Look at what we have now -- wealthy people pay big bucks to get all sorts of cosmetic surgery in a vain (in more ways than one!) attempt to perfect themselves and perpetuate their youth. Personally, I think growing old gracefully gives us the opportunity to forget our physical appearance and move on to more important things. But at any rate, what about genetic modification? Suddenly we will have the opportunity to enhance all sorts of features and capabilities, for the right price. Talk about a nightmare for the haves vs have-nots in the world!! Remember in Brave New World how humans were breeded to perform different functions? What is our only hope to, as you say, manage or channel these incredibly dazzling technologies on the horizon and fast approaching? Only our moral convictions and principles. And where do these come from? Our metaphysical beliefs, i.e, our religion (yes, as discussed many times, Darwinism is a religion). So, the very moment that the Materialists are trashing "religious" beliefs as any basis for decisionmaking is the very moment when these beliefs are needed the very most for promoting moral principles!!! Even a non-believing pragmatist should, in their very own self-interest, desire more religious conviction. Ekstasis
we tend to put humans in a special category of life. We generally have empathy for the depths of human suffering and that keeps us from hurting eachother most of the time.
I bet bones that evolutionary psychologists can explain this phenomenon from an evolutionary perspective. It seems to me to be evolutionarily adaptive to not kill one's own kind. Therefore the "thou shalt not kill" prohibition may have a religious overtone, but it has an evolutionary one as well. Evolutionists should therefore respect this credo as areligous even though religions recognize it. bFast
The question becomes is there any reason to have empathy for a cluster of cells wholly incapable of any sort of suffering that we can relate to?
To be philosophically consistant with this argument, we must therefore conclude that if I were to kill someone in a manner that does not have them suffer (especially someone who nobody knows, therefore no living person suffers) my actions should be socially acceptable. bFast
jmcd, The authors make a scientific argument, a biological argument, which you seem to agree with when you say that “there is little doubt that a human embryo is biologically a human in a very early developmental stage.” Biologically a human--that’s the key. The biology then, is the issue, not the authors, their world view or their “spiritual motivation.” Silver, however, apparently doesn’t understand this (or worse, can’t muster any other argument...), discounting their claim out of hand because the presenters of the argument are “fundamentalists.” Sigh. Beyond this, it’s not just about empathy and suffering, it’s about life and death. Because, as you say, “we tend to put humans in a special category of life,” we not only seek to alleviate their suffering, we also allow them to live to the natural end of their developmental potential. Again, this fits right in with the thesis of the writers: if adult humans have that right, and if embryos are biologically human, then embryos have the same right to life as adults—regardless of whether we can feel "empathy for a cluster of cells” or not. SteveB
He accuses us of concocting a scientific sounding case against embryo-destructive research in an effort to impose our religious beliefs on others while evading the constitutional prohibition of laws respecting an establishment of religion.
This is the exact same tactic used by Darwinist Eugenie Scott, from the National Center for Selling Evolution. Not being able to cope with the scientific evidence pointed out against unguided evolutionism, Darwinist Eugenie Scott says that criticisms of evolution are founded on religion, therefore against the Constitution. The opposition is ruled out without even having presented their case. Seems like Darwinist Lee Silver is catching on to Eugenie's tactic. Mats
Ekstasis Those are all very good and difficult questions. As to the last question, if we can avoid using embryonic stem cells and achieve equivalent results then we should absolutely not cross the line. As far as growing limbs or organs goes, I think that would be positively wonderful. The trouble in my opinion comes when we deprive conscious or potentially conscious human beings of the right to, well, be a human being. I am not religious, but I instinctively place value in all life with humans being in the highest echelon. Why do I do that? I am not able to answer that question objectively. You are right to fear a changing sense of humanity. I cannot predict with any certainty how such changes would affect me. I also cannot imagine thinking any less highly of human beings or any other lifeform for that matter, but that does not mean that I wouldn't. In the end we cannot prevent the changes we fear but we can manage them to a degree. There will be many questions with no simple answers. Thankfully it is in our nature to try and improve the human condition. Unfortunately it is also in our nature to at times have little or no pity for beings that are somehow not like us. Ultimately, I think it would be ideal if we drew the line at modifying anything that has the full potential to be a human which would obviously include embryos. I think the scarriest thing on the horizon that threatens our notions of humanity is genetic modification. If we have the ability to use it to cure harmul mental disorders one could readily make the case that it would be inhumane not to do so. Well what about someone that we know will be alright but exceedingly dim witted and presumably will have great difficulty succeeding in life? Is it our duty to help this individual or will "helping" this person in effect be robbing them of a crucial element of their humanity? jmcd
jmcd, Setting the religious aspects aside for the moment, there is another aspect that must be considered. That is, how does the practice impact how we view life? And where does it end? In other words, what will the world be like if we begin growing spare body parts for our handy utilization? Sure, in a sense our "quality of life" will be improved. But what about how we view humanity in all of its aspects? And beyond that, given the fact that we do not even begin to understand human consciousness, how do we make a call regarding when the embryo gains this important feature? Finally, can we not achieve the same results with adult and umbilical cord stem cells? Why not pursue the medical benefits without crossing the line? Ekstasis
Oh yea, Not to mention that the "scientists" in Missouri have redefined cloning as the implantation of an embryo, to get around it. I put "scientists" in quotes b/c the scientific definition of cloning is roughly the "generation of genetically duplicate/identical cells" not implantation. No surprise if they mess with the definiton of clonging in textbooks they are going to change the definition of humanity. jpark320
So, they call it "bad science", do they? Hmm, I seem to recall truly bad science pertaining to embryos. Oh, that's right, it was that old Recapitulation Theory. You know, the one we like to now conveniently sweep under the carpet. Oh sure, it was easy to believe that the so-called gill slits were really fish gills as the embryos passed through all the amazing phases of evolution. Of course, this was proven to be false. And, you can't really blame poor ole' Haeckel for practicing artist's license when exaggerating those embryo sketches, because his intentions were no doubt good. And so what if the discredited theory was taught in our government schools long after it was proven false. And what if it contributed to society's low view of unborn humans? That is the price of scientific progress, after all. But, once again, reality has a way of intruding on our pet theories. Yes, the sonogram did what no bio-ethicist could ever achieve -- it proved humanity in the womb. Ekstasis
It seems to me that the religious or at least spiritual motivation should be somewhat obvious yet the author never aknowleges it. There is little doubt that a human embryo is biologically a human in a very early developmental stage. The thing is we tend to put humans in a special category of life. We generally have empathy for the depths of human suffering and that keeps us from hurting eachother most of the time. The question becomes is there any reason to have empathy for a cluster of cells wholly incapable of any sort of suffering that we can relate to? I suspect that Silver would say no, especially when their destruction is serving those members of humanity with which we do feel empathy. Silver probably believes all rejections of that notion are religious in nature because you would have to ascribe a sacred reverence to human life at every stage that goes beyond natural reasons for compassion. jmcd

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