[extropy-chat] Bioethics Essay- Revised

The Avantguardian avantguardian2020 at yahoo.com
Mon May 23 23:54:20 UTC 2005

--- Damien Broderick <thespike at satx.rr.com> wrote:

> I hope what follows is regarded in the spirit of
> collegial critique, rather 
> than gratuitous insult, but I don't intend to mince
> words. Several people 
> (including me, off list) have advised deleting the
> "theology". Instead, 
> you've added this ridiculous spiritualist/new-age
> item, which for most 
> traditional Christians schooled in the elements of
> theology will look like 
> either barefaced parody and mockery, or tone deaf
> positivism.

Of course I take this in the spirit of scholarly
critique. In fact your critiques early on gave me much
food for thought in writing this essay. I know the
theological arguments are not water tight but they are
only a small part of the whole argument.

> The idea of an immortal soul is that its "essence"
> is metaphysically 
> disjunct from corruptible, measurable matter and
> energy. This is precisely 
> what is supposed to grant the soul its incorruptible
> immortal character. 
> Angels and souls have no extension, no footprint, as
> it were, in the world 
> -- hence the celebrated (although mythical) debate
> over the number of 
> angels that can dance on the head of the pin. Of
> course, this mental 
> construct seems incoherent. How can something with
> no palpable material 
> reality supervene upon, interact with, let alone
> command the physical body? 
> But that's allegedly the mystery of the thing. For
> many Christians, the 
> sheer vulgarity of supposing that you can put a soul
> on scales and weigh it 
> is (arcane pun intended) breathtaking. You will win
> no significant number 
> of supporters with this line of argument.

I am first and foremost a scientist. I know that the
results of a single experiment cannot be taken as
"truth" but I also realize that the results of any
experiment should be taken seriously enough to repeat
them in some way to either verify or falsify them. If
there is a mass loss in dying patients, then that
phenomenon needs to be addressed, with or without a
"soul hypothesis". Especially in this day in age where
even physicists are invoking higher dimensions and an
insubstantial vacuum seething with "dark energy" that
apparently has mass.

> If you must persist, consider the equally misjudged
> possibility that souls 
> also develop in size and mass from conception to
> death. The reason a 
> blastocyst doesn't weigh very much, on this unlikely
> argument, is that its 
> soul is proportionately less massive. That doesn't
> mean God fails to love 
> it, nor that killing its material substrate, however
> underdeveloped, is not 
> murder most foul of the innocent.

I actually considered this possibility, which is
precisely why I am calling for the ban on reproductive
cloning to remain in effect in my essay. I shudder to
think that Christianity might be wrong and that I am
dooming future fully developed clones to
stigmatization as souless slaves. Therefore I
sincerely hope we are never foolish enough to allow a
clone to reach full development.

> I think the way to go with an essay like this is
> either to stick very 
> closely to elucidation of the physical and
> developmental facts, or to 
> provide a sophisticated theological argument for why
> the ensoulment theory 
> is a culturally-specific importation of certain
> historically located and 
> limited philosophical opinions, as corrigible as the
> rest of the largely 
> fallacious Greek biology of that time. That would
> require hard work by a 
> theologically informed theorist, and probably should
> not be tried at home.

There are plenty of essays out there that try to
justify therapeutic cloning from a secular humanist
POV, but it is obvious that those arguments are not
swaying either the bioethicists or the policy-makers.
Like I said, I am targeting this essay at the people
that are not likely to believe the secular arguments
precisely because of the theological implications.

> In addition, many sophisticated Protestant
> theologians, and I imagine 
> Jewish theologians as well, no longer countenance a
> dualist model of the 
> human person. Spirit is not any longer regarded as a
> gadget that gets stuck 
> on, at conception or any other time. Admittedly,
> believers of this sort are 
> probably not your natural audience, since they very
> likely won't object to 
> stem cell research in the first place.

I have preached enough to the choir, it is time to do
missionary work.
> There's much to admire in your draft essay, Stuart,
> and I hope you'll 
> consider this critique seriously, because it would
> be a shame to provide an 
> unnecessary opportunity for derision rather than
> reflection.

Derision is a risk I will have to take. It would be
better then me having to live in Korea in order to
pursue my research.

The Avantguardian 
Stuart LaForge
alt email: stuart"AT"ucla.edu

"The surest sign of intelligent life in the universe is that they haven't attempted to contact us." 
-Bill Watterson

Do You Yahoo!?
Tired of spam?  Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around 

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list