Biotechnology

The Genetics of Ensoulment

What's an embryo and what's not?

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Until about a decade ago, there was only one way to make an embryo—the old-fashioned technique of combining an egg with a sperm. Then came Dolly the cloned sheep in 1996. Scottish scientists created her by injecting the nucleus of a breast cell from one sheep into the enucleated egg of another sheep. Dolly was essentially genetically identical to the donor of the breast cell nucleus.

Since then researchers have used reproductive cloning to produce mice, cats, dogs, horses, cows, goats, pigs, and other mammals. As valuable as reproductive cloning is for producing livestock and research animals, most researchers were excited by the prospect of using cloning to create human embryonic stem cells. These stem cells produced by therapeutic cloning might be used to grow perfect transplants to replace and repair damaged tissues and organs.

Therapeutic cloning to produce transplants fell directly into the heated abortion debate. From the pro-life point of view, cloned human embryos, like all other embryos, have the same moral status as adult human beings. The moral status of five-day embryos is still contested. Hoping to avoid controversy, researchers searched for sources of cells that would have the valuable properties of embryonic stem cells (self-renewing and transformable into any type of cell), but would be acceptable to pro-lifers.

One proposal is to create human stem cells using altered nuclear transfer (ANT). Championed by Stanford University bioethicist William Hurlbut, the technique is essentially the same as regular cloning except that it uses RNA interference to disable a single crucial gene so that the cloned entity cannot implant into a womb and thus cannot grow into a fully developed embryo. In ANT all of the genes involved would be human, even the one that has been deliberately broken.

A number of prominent Roman Catholic thinkers recently endorsed ANT as a morally acceptable way to produce human embryonic stem cells. So whether or not an entity can house a human soul evidently depends on the timing of the operation of a single gene. Other theologians question this, asking why such a cloned entity should not be considered a defective human embryo deserving of same the moral solicitude owed to disabled adult human beings.

The search for a morally unproblematic source of stem cells continued. Last fall, Shinya Yamanaka and his colleagues at Kyoto University in Japan and another team at the University of Wisconsin announced the good news that they had been able to transform adult human skin cells into cells that act very much like embryonic stem cells. Yamanaka took skin cells and inserted four genes—Oct4, Sox2, Klf4 and Myc—that are expressed in embryonic stem cells, causing the skin cells to revert to the embryonic state. These induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are generating a huge amount of excitement among stem researchers and were even hailed as the end of the stem cell wars.

Well, not quite. The Kyoto and Wisconsin researchers used skin cells originally derived from human fetuses in their research. Still, such cells are not necessary to generate new iPS cells; they were just convenient. But let's approach the moral issue from another direction.

It turns out that, at least in mice, injecting iPS cells into mouse blastocysts creates chimeric mice. The iPS cells are incorporated into the developing mouse embryo and form part of the tissues and organs of new mouse pups. Researchers at the Whitehead Institute in Massachusetts have gone even further. They created a mouse comprised entirely of iPS cells. The iPS cells form an embryo after they are embedded into tetraploid embryonic cells that grow into a placenta. There is no apparent reason why this technique wouldn't work in humans.

In April, this insight caused The Independent to hyperventilate, "Now we have the technology that can make a cloned child." The Independent quotes stem cell researchers Robert Lanza: "It raises the same issues as reproductive cloning and although the technology for reproductive cloning in humans doesn't exist, with this breakthrough we now have a working technology whereby anyone, young or old, fertile or infertile, straight or gay can pass on their genes to a child by using just a few skin cells." Maybe so, but iPS cell research raises an even more intriguing question.

Back in 1999, during a hearing of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, then-Director of the National Institutes of Health Harold Varmus made the intriguing observation that "It may eventually become possible to take a cell from any one of our organs and to expose it to the right set of environmental stimuli and to encourage that cell to return to a more primitive stage in the hierarchy of stem cells. Under those conditions, one might in fact generate the cell with as great a potential as a pluripotent cell from a very mature cell." Nine years later Yamanaka proved that Varmus was prophetic.

Varmus continued, "One might even in fact imagine generating a cell that is totipotent [able to develop into a complete organism] in that manner." In other words, researchers may one day take human cells all the way back to the embryonic stage, at which point they could be implanted into a womb, where they could eventually develop into complete human beings. This is the direction in which iPS cell research is heading. So instead of switching off one gene to make sure that an entity is not worthy of their moral concern, pro-lifers may soon have to worry about the opposite, pushing an adult cell so far back in its developmental stage that switching on a single gene will turn it into an embryo.

Advances in stem cell research may be provoking a kind of "God of the Gaps" retreat on the moral status of embryos. People who subscribe to God of the Gaps thinking believe that the hand of God can be seen in those things which science cannot explain. In this case, the closing gaps in the details of molecular biology are forcing pro-lifers into an uncomfortable corner where they have to decide whether or not a cell can be imbued with a soul by turning a single gene on or off.

Ronald Bailey
is reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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  1. Ronald Bailey looks at the search for a morally unproblematic source of stem cells and wonders if a cell can be imbued with a soul by turning a single gene on or off.

    In other words: an atheist cosmotarian who does not believe in a soul pretends to so that he can be condescending to those who do. What a fucking waste of an article.

  2. good piece Ron. don’t the more sophisticate theo-types not believe in souls, but instead say it’s all about bodily resurrection in heaven or whatever.

  3. Kind of cursory on the philosophy (“God of the Gaps”? I sort of get it but it seems kind of throwaway) but I thought the article was excellent (as usual for Mr. Bailey).

    To be fair, it takes 100% effort to focus on emerging science and 100% effort for me to focus on teleology/ontology/metaphysics, so I can’t really do both simultaneously.

  4. So whether or not an entity can house a human soul evidently depends on the timing of the operation of a single gene.

    A dead human has all the genes he had when he was still living, but he no longer houses a soul.

  5. I must have really missed the boat on this cosmotarian thing

  6. At some point science is just going to have to tell the religious whackos, “Hey, sorry but you’re just a bunch of medival nutjobs and we don’t give a damn what your particular fairy tale says.” And then get back to work on the important facts without further nonsense distractions.

    Well, I can wish anyway.

  7. If they don’t have souls, does that mean we can eat them?

  8. At some point science is just going to have to tell the religious whackos, “Hey, sorry but you’re just a bunch of medival nutjobs and we don’t give a damn what your particular fairy tale says.” And then get back to work on the important facts without further nonsense distractions.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA!!!

  9. In other words: an atheist cosmotarian who does not believe in a soul pretends to so that he can be condescending to those who do.

    Yeah, “Cosmo Ron”, who, only a few months ago, we were told, was going to get canned for being the only True Libertarian? at reason magazine.

    The Yokeltarians were SO SURE of it…they had INSIDE INFORMATION that Ron was going to get the boot.

  10. Not trying to steal your thunder, TD, but on a similar point, if one gave their target gene therapy could we then kill them like any other animal without murder charges? I don’t remember seeing any State having a “soul-less human” season requiring license or quota.

    Would have to research this a bit, I am sure there are some of those “enlightened” northeastern States where soul destruction is still a crime.

    Would this constitute soul theft, since the owner can no longer use their soul?

    Rockstar, are you reading? Grand Theft Soul featuring Guy Montag!

    Shutting off someone’s soul gene should fall into the grand theft category, but it might be just vandalism as soul valuation is so difficult. Well, unless those prosecutors of Kevin Mitnick were put on the case, then it would be a felony.

    Grand Theft Soul featuring Guy Montag and the Vandals! Montag Good, Hitler Bad.

    Wow, Godwined already. Good threads die young, souless or not.

  11. “Hey, sorry but you’re just a bunch of medival nutjobs and we don’t give a damn what your particular fairy tale says.”

    This reminded me of a scene in star wars where the imperial appointee starts telling off Darth Vader and then Vader starts to choke the guy using the dark force.

    I don’t believe in a soul but I don’t want to kill and eat people even if it is “good for science.”

  12. I don’t believe in a soul but I don’t want to kill and eat people even if it is “good for science.”

    Pick up a copy of To Serve Man and see if they have something a little more tastey than what you were thinking.

  13. it might be just vandalism as soul valuation is so difficult.

    I’m sure the actuaries can come up with something…we’ll just start with Pascal’s Wager and go from there (you know, the odds you picked the ‘right’ God and lived in the ‘right’ way).

  14. Ronald Bailey,

    I think you do need to edit the article to differentiate “stem cells” and “embryonic stem” cells. Only the latter provokes resistance on moral or religious grounds. Nobody is very concerned about stem cells harvested from other sources.

  15. Wow, tough questions. A humans is a collection of human cells. At what point does that colletive gain rights? On a tangental topic, what is the moral status of HeLa cells?

  16. In my opinion, the human soul and consciousness are essentially the same thing. The difference being a matter of your perspective… it’s basically semantics.

  17. Seems to me that soul is about the same thing as mind. The idea that there is some magical ghost living in us that somehow makes us who or what we are is a bit silly, no?
    So, a person really isn’t fully ensouled until they are 2 or 3 years old.
    The whole mumbo-jumbo notion of souls as magic ghosts really makes the debate about what should be considered a human being pretty pointless. You just can’t argue with someone who says that a stem cell is important because there is a soul living in it that you cannot see, communicate with or detect in any way.

    I tend to think that there is nothing important about my existence, or anyone’s, in and of itself. We are only relevant or important in the interactions we have with other people in the world and the things we do. So it matters not at all what happens to a little lump of fetal cells, or whether or not a particular gene is active in them.

  18. So, a person really isn’t fully ensouled until they are 2 or 3 years old.

    Infants have a lot more going on than you give them credit for…just because the primary access route we have to other’s inner life is language, doesn’t mean they don’t have an inner life until they can use language to let us know about it.

    “Fully ensouled,” may, alternatively, indicate that you feel like development of consciousness is complete by this age…that clearly doesn’t happen until you are well into your 20’s.

  19. So, a person really isn’t fully ensouled until they are 2 or 3 years old.

    I think we need a rating system for ensoulation. These guys have made a good start on one.

    http://rvalue.net/

    People should be required to have at least R-14 levels of ensoulation before being certified by a city inspector as having a soul.

  20. First, as a matter of morality it doesn’t matter whether something has a “soul” or not. This is a distractive term used by Bailey to make fun of religious people. It has not import or impact on the moral worth of an embryo.

    Second, whether or not we can make a growing embryo by switching on a gene will have no impact on the moral status of killing that embryo. As a moral matter, whether you have to switch on one gene or a hundred is irrelevant; the only thing relevant is whether the embryo should be considered a living, growing human being that will eventually, in the fullness of time, become sentient.

    Because it doesn’t grapple with these two simple concepts in any good faith way, this article is pretty much a worthless exercise in pro-choice solipsism.

  21. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the “life begins at conception” view is simply untenable.

    Personally, I feel we should count life as beginning when brain activity starts. That seems like the most sensible approach to me, given that we already equate death with the cessation of brain activity.

    Of course, the “brain activity” standard is just as arbitrary as any other standard. If you prefer a different standard, I won’t argue the point. I’ll just point out that the “conception” standard quickly leads to some pretty bizarre scenarios.

  22. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the “life begins at conception” view is simply untenable.

    I would disagree. Completely even. It is patently obvious that “life” begins at conception. It is not obvious whether a morally-relevant personhood does. From conception onward, a human embryo, blastocyst, fetus, etc is, by definition, a living human being.

    Personally, I feel we should count life as beginning when brain activity starts. That seems like the most sensible approach to me, given that we already equate death with the cessation of brain activity. Of course, the “brain activity” standard is just as arbitrary as any other standard.

    Cockroaches have brain activity. “Brain activity” doesn’t seem to be a very good standard…actually is is pretty obviously wrong. That’s worse than arbitrary.

    If you prefer a different standard, I won’t argue the point. I’ll just point out that the “conception” standard quickly leads to some pretty bizarre scenarios.

    There are only two standards that are not arbitrary – conception and birth. The latter does not only lead to “bizarre” scenarios but ridiculously contradictory and cruel ones.

  23. According to the lead paragraph, Dolly the sheep was an embryo at her creation as a clone. Yet in the ANT paragraph, Ron Bailey’s terminology seems to shift radically; not only is the new clone described as merely an “entity,” but this entity is stated to be incapable of becoming an embryo.

    Leaving aside souls and relying instead on general ethical treatment of human beings, I point to the RNAi gene knockout as the objectionable act of agression, because it is done to a cloned human being without his or her consent and to his or her detriment. My question for Mr. Bailey is: if the first paragraph is poorly put or if I am misreading it, what is the scientific term for the “entity” that is subjected to the RNAi in ANT?

  24. I have to thoroughly agree with Matt on his post.

    Independent of your religious beliefs, if you hold Humans and sentience as something of worth (which I imagine every person posting in a libertarian* website does) then understanding at what point a human life ‘becomes’ worth a life is very important.

    You wouldn’t agree to killing a 3 year old because it is ‘good for science’, so why such misdirected hate at religion for wanting to put worth to a human at a pre-birth stage. You may disagree with the actual point in time, but you can’t be so unreasonable as to ignore the topic and pretend it’s 100% a religious debate, because it isn’t.

    This article makes to attempt to argue the worth of a human, only to make fun of religious types. Drivel.

  25. I must be broken or something, because I can’t even find the ethical issue. If it were up to me, there’d be vast embryo farms supporting round the clock stem cell research. Fuck all this religious nonsense already. They just regrew some guys damned retina with stem cells. Why the hell are some ancient and childish fairy tales even mentioned in the same breath as that? Jesus can suck me and swallow.

  26. You wouldn’t agree to killing a 3 year old because it is ‘good for science’,so why such misdirected hate at religion for wanting to put worth to a human at a pre-birth stage.

    Because it’s totally stupid, and analogizing a 3 year old to an embryo is the act of someone completely disconnected from reality.

  27. Because it’s totally stupid, and analogizing a 3 year old to an embryo is the act of someone completely disconnected from reality.

    Could we say that a newborn is just as much of a person as a 3 year old? So that it is just as wrong to kill a new born “for science” as it would be to kill a 3 year old?

    Could we say the same about a premature baby (say, delivered at 7 months)?

    If so, why would it be alright to kill a 7 month old fetus that hadn’t been delivered, but morally abhorrent to kill one that had?

    Just trying to figure out where to draw the line, is all.

  28. “You just can’t argue with someone who says that a stem cell is important because there is a soul living in it that you cannot see, communicate with or detect in any way.”

    Yep, you should commit them.

  29. TD,

    rvalue, LOL! Awsome!

    So, before anybody comes up with some crazy idea th save the whales by adding a soul gene, just remember they are our ticket to renewable alternative energy independance. And the next red meat.

  30. It is very disheartening to see such irrational arguments in the comments of this site.

    Why is comparing a 3 year old to a unborn child disconnected from reality? You obviously have a point in your mind where you think the human becomes ‘worth’ being a person which is also obviously before 3, but when is it? Why?

    What scientific evidence makes you think a 3 year old is ‘worth’ but not an unborn?

    If you think birth has any meaningful significance beyond simply exiting the mother, and ‘worth’ is instilled at that point, then I can’t help but feel that that in itself is a hocus-pocus semi-religious thought. Birth, with the advent of C-sections and especially the advances in the care of early term babies is simply a ritual of sorts. As if passing out of the mother magically makes you ‘Human’.

    Back away from the religious hate and take a real hard look at your own views and superstitions.

  31. Abortion is not treated in the Ten Commandments — or anywhere in Jewish Scripture. It is not treated in the Sermon on the Mount — or anywhere in the New Testament. It is not treated in the early creeds. It is not treated in the early ecumenical councils. For that reason, Augustine, whose knowledge of both Jewish and Christian scriptures was encyclopedic, wrote, “I have not been able to discover in the accepted books of Scripture anything at all certain about the origin of the soul.”

    Similarly, Thomas Aquinas, lacking scriptural guidance, relied upon Aristotle’s natural philosophy. So he denied that personhood arose at fertilization by the semen. God directly infuses the soul at the completion of human formation.

    Much of the debate over abortion and stem cell research is based on a misconception, that this is a religious issue, that the pro-life advocates are acting out of religious conviction. It is not a theological matter at all. There is no theological basis for either defending or condemning abortion. Even the popes have said that it is a matter of natural law.

    Well the pope, as well as any other religious leader, is not the arbiter of natural law. Natural reason is.

  32. Exactly Ungar,

    If you remove religion entirely, the start of a human being human is still one of the most important issues.

    I personally have no real set idea, but I am open to facts and data. I refuse to take ‘birth’ as the start, because its the EASY answer. Life isn’t as easy as that, currently a fetus can survive outside of the womb as early as 24 weeks, and who knows what the future technology will allow. I’d bet that we will reach a point where a human womb isn’t even needed anymore.

    Real self awareness comes much later then birth itself. Again, birth is the easy answer that requires no thought.

    It’s not an easy answer for those of use trying to live our lives in support of Freedom, Rights, and Liberties for all people when so many others are so quick to ignore the issue as a religious one.

    Put your religious hate aside.

  33. I personally have no real set idea, but I am open to facts and data. I refuse to take ‘birth’ as the start, because its the EASY answer.

    The easy answer doesn’t have to be the wrong one.

    Here you go: birth is the standard because that’s when the baby takes its first independent breath. The ability to breathe on your own is fundamental to living.

    Don’t like that answer? Too bad…life be hard.

    What makes me angry about all this is that it does, indeed, take either a zealot or someone with cognitive issues to look at a clump of undifferentiated cells and a baby and say, “These should be treated the same”.

  34. I like Singer’s take on the argument:

    http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1995—-03.htm

    “Much of the debate over abortion and stem cell research is based on a misconception, that this is a religious issue”

    It wouldn’t be nearly as much of an issue without religion.

  35. Quote Ayn_Randian:
    “What makes me angry about all this is that it does, indeed, take either a zealot or someone with cognitive issues to look at a clump of undifferentiated cells and a baby and say, “These should be treated the same”.”
    __________________________
    What about looking at a child who is born but Hasn’t taken its first breath yet, and the same child 1 min later?

    Your reasoning is flawed. What is so magic about taking that first independent breath when the child could have taken it up to 3 months earlier?

    Insulting peoples cognitive ability for DISCUSSING an issue in an adult manner an issue with merit is childish.

    “life requires breathing”, how moronic of an argument is that. Life also requires the ability to eat and drink, but you can’t do that without assistance until much older.
    ALSO, there are a lot of people that require breathing apparatus to breath, elderly who need constant assistance. Etc. Now, obviously there is a difference, but you don’t seem to be willing to discuss it.

    I am really taking a leap by assuming you people hold life as *sacred.* Meaning against murder etc. NO RELIGIOUS CONNOTATIONS, Yet you take no attempt to reason what that point is. Sickening.

    Life doesn’t begin at birth because you say so, you need facts, it also doesn’t *not* because I say it doesn’t, but by God if you can’t hold a civil, intellectual conversation about it you have no right calling yourself a libertarian.

  36. Your soul is your memories and behavior – your personality. These are encoded in the detailed neural structure of your brain. Memory, behavior and personality are not contained within your genome (DNA sequence), even though your genome does predispose certain personality traits.

    Do identical twins (who share an identical genome) share only one soul? No. They are two individuals, and this individuality resides in their brains, not in their DNA sequences.

    Without the information content and processing ability of the brain’s neural circuitry, there is no behavior, no memory, no personality – no soul. An individual cell, or even an embryo without a functioning brain, cannot have a soul.

  37. Save ’em all; let God sort ’em out.

  38. More and more I am starting to think that “ensoulment” or the beginning of consciousness starts at around 49 days after conception… which is roughly the same time as gonadal differentiation and the first time that the pineal gland releases DMT.

    Read DMT: The Spirit Molecule

  39. Heavens to Haeckel, penxv, packing the soul into a dozen Daltons worth of molecule ought to win you a Templeton with oak leaf cluster and a Lenin prize to boot.

    How dim of us not to realize that ontology recapitulates theogony

  40. Life doesn’t begin at birth because you say so, you need facts, it also doesn’t *not* because I say it doesn’t, but by God if you can’t hold a civil, intellectual conversation about it you have no right calling yourself a libertarian.

    Drink, hysteria! The ability to hold a conversation is not a necessary condition for being a libertarian, your breathless prattling aside.

    I don’t need any more facts than you do, because the conditions for “rights-having being” are nebulous, and “lines must be drawn”.

  41. The human-moral-worth-begins-at-conception position comes from a different worldview than the isn’t-living-until-i-see-it position, which is empiricist. This isn’t a religious or scientific issue, it’s a philosophical one. So why all the mischaracterizing insults being hurled at those with the first bias?

  42. I agree with other commenters, soul is not the way to go as obviously it does not begin at conception while life does.

  43. Heavens to Haeckel, penxv, packing the soul into a dozen Daltons worth of molecule ought to win you a Templeton with oak leaf cluster and a Lenin prize to boot.

    It was Rene Descartes’ idea actually. he didn’t know about DMT, but he was big on the pineal gland.

  44. Quote Ayn_Randian:
    “…it does, indeed, take either a zealot or someone with cognitive issues to look at a clump of undifferentiated cells and a baby and say, “These should be treated the same”.”

    Well, I ride the bus every day, and a commuter train, and I can tell you–no, I can certify and quantify–that an unborn child is far more human than the undifferentiated clumps qualifying (to some, apparently) as “Sacred.” You want to know why it’s alright to kill a murderer but not an unborn child? Ride the bus. Find out how having 46 chromosomes, being born and able to breathe, curse and spit still leaves one very very far from being human.
    Life is not sacred. Never was. Hell, just ask Noah’s neighbors.

  45. Lisa | May 14, 2008, 6:36pm | #

    The human-moral-worth-begins-at-conception position comes from a different worldview than the isn’t-living-until-i-see-it position, which is empiricist. This isn’t a religious or scientific issue, it’s a philosophical one. So why all the mischaracterizing insults being hurled at those with the first bias?

    Exactly, Lisa. The pro-life argument is not “It’s in Bible, therefore it is so”. If it were, you could safely ignore it. Instead, pro-choicers (seemingly deliberately) interpret the correlation between pro-life beliefs and religious beliefs as to mean any pro-life argument must be religious. Yet it is not. The Bible, nor any other important religous work, says nothing about abortion.

  46. Chad:

    You’re correct that “the Bible, nor any other important religous work, says nothing about abortion.”

    But let’s not step too far, there. The Bible may not explicitly say anything about it, nor about check-kiting, or identity theft, or wife-beating. But those familiar with the document and who have steeped themselves in the moral philosophy reflected therein have found, usually quite easily, that teachings on these topics inevitably follow from what IS in there.

    And keep in mind that the New Testament books were not merely written by the apostles and their followers. It was also canonized, by the apprentices of the original followers of the original disciples, in a process culminating around 397.

    To trust the Bible, one must also trust the canonizers to have done the job right, no?

    And yet those responsible for the inclusion/exclusion of writings as canon, were also moral teachers. And what was one of the things they wrote passionately against?

    That’s right, boys and girls, abortion. And even (uh, oh, here come the Catholics) contraception. The pre-canonization church Fathers were already chastising, in the 1st and 2nd centuries, Christian free-women who married Christian men who were slaves, because, knowing the babies would be born as slaves, they were aborting them or practicing contraception.

    For those who trust the Bible at all, it is reasonable not to discount the folks who were entrusted with *selecting* it. And those folks (like the Dalai Lama, like most of the Sufi mystics, like most of the Hindu teachers, like many Greek moralists, like, in fact, the majority of humankind’s moral-philosophical tradition down to the 20th century) were against abortion.

    So, I think the observation that the Bible doesn’t teach against abortion directly is, perhaps, a weak reed.

  47. Quote Ed Ever: “Life is not sacred. Never was. Hell, just ask Noah’s neighbors”

    Well, MY life is sure as hell sacred, although I’m now not so sure about yours. However, since YOUR life is most likely sacred to you; and as I am firmly behind the concept of individual liberties; I will eschew pan-roasting your sweetbreads and serving them with a nice bottle of Chianti. For now, at least.

  48. Yeah, but who owns all these DNA sequences ? I suggest it is more of a property rights question. Should you be able to use anyones DNA ? If an embryo has a unique DNA sequence, does it belong to the Embryo, or the parents, or the doctor that created it ? Do you give up your right to your DNA, because you are going to die ? Perhaps the Embryo needs a lawyer to press its property rights, so at least it could leave money to its parents.

  49. One of the advantages of a revealed theology is that the argument “Don’t do it, because God said so” at least provides some basis for ethical action. God’s arbitrary dictates serve the same ethical function as legislative enactments in civil society. They settle the issue of whether certain action should be deemed right or wrong. As a cop might say, “We don’t care if the laws are good or not — we just enforce ’em.” In the absense of divine fiat, we have to figure out what’s right and wrong from — what? Pure reason? The categorical imperative? The greatest good for the greatest number?

    Bailey’s article is a good illustration of the problem. In the absence of a textual directive, why should we care whether an embryo has a purely human petigree, or for that matter, a soul? Why should we care, for that matter, if it is viable, or intelligent, or productive, or anything else? One of the basic connundra of 21st century popular ethics is this — the fundamentalists may be arguing from metaphysical principles which are nonsense, but at least they are arguing from principles. They can at least draw rational conclusions from their (problematical) belief in an immortal soul. What principles can writers like Bailey advance to shed any light on the issue?

  50. Quote John Mack: One of the advantages of a revealed theology is that the argument “Don’t do it, because God said so” at least provides some basis for ethical action.

    Whoops Rev. Falwell, methinks you wandered into the wrong forum by mistake.

    One of the MAJOR DISADVANTAGES of any “revealed” (e.g. anti-reason) belief system is the argument “Don’t do it because god/the state/my neighbors said so.”

    I would agree that god’s arbitrary dictates serve the same ethical function as legislative enactments in (today’s) civil society. That is, absolutely no ethical function.

    They can have my mind when they pry it from my cold, dead synapses.

  51. Also, John Mack:
    In the absense of divine fiat, we have to figure out what’s right and wrong from — what? Pure reason? The categorical imperative? The greatest good for the greatest number?

    Are you really going to attempt to elevate Kantian and Utilitarian crap to the level of reason on the forum of a mag named (gulp) REASON?

    “They can at least draw rational conclusions from their (problematical) belief in an immortal soul”

    Logic (as opposed to pseudo-logical pap) makes it impossible to reach a rational conclusion based on an irrational premise.

  52. The Bible treats the unborn as a potential life, that is, with less value than the mother’s actual life. These genetically altered cells that cannot attach to the placenta wall (birth control does this sometimes as well) have lost their potential to become humans, so it makes sense that the theologians would see it that way.

    Is it right to take away a potential human’s potential just to harvest them? I’d hate for it to have been done to me… And what about making human/mice chimeras? At what point would those be called human–if they were human enough to talk?

    I think life can be measured by consciousness/self awareness. This happens around the third trimester I believe. However, this would require the rights of humans to be given to computer A.I’s that attain self awareness. Though souls are generally seen as attached to biological beings, symbolized by the breath of life. But a person without a soul is still a person with all of the rights a person has. They just aren’t immortal. Poor computers.

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