[extropy-chat] Bioethics Essay- Revised

Brett Paatsch bpaatsch at bigpond.net.au
Tue May 24 00:22:53 UTC 2005

The Avantguardian wrote:

[First let me say well done for turning strong emotion 
into something tangable and creating choices for 
yourself ]

> --- 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.
Still they *are* a part and how many leaks are too many
in that part for you I wonder? 
>> 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.

Think like a scientists, what would stop that from
>> 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.

Is derision a risk you have to take?  

Brett Paatsch

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