The embryonic stem cell/human cloning debates are not about science. They are about ethics and morality and the proper parameters, if any, to place around the incredibly powerful biotechnological sector. Some of us have long contended that the science intelligentsia want a blank check—both ethically and financially—to pursue these agendas unconstrained by checks and balances or ethical limits.
The response by some who want to do human cloning has been diatribe, that not only pooh-poohs serious ethical concerns, but also corrupts science by mutating it into a postmodern enterprise where facts don’t matter—narratives do. And it results in some real whoppers denying basic biological truths.
A case in point is dissected in today’s First Things blog in a piece written by Ryan T. Anderson, a Christian bioethicist, and Maureen Condic, a scientist with the University of Utah. Their target is Princeton University biologist Lee Silver—and boy do they give it to him good. They quote Silver as stating that there is no essential biological difference between a skin cell and an embryo, and asserting that those who refuse to see that are merely religious ignoramuses.
Silver’s assertion is junk biology that would cause a high school student to fail if written in a test. Ryan and Condic reply:
The view—held by almost everyone irrespective of their moral opinions—that embryos are fundamentally different from other cells, has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the scientific evidence. To draw any moral conclusions on how embryos should be treated—be it from a religious or a secular ethical standpoint—one first has to answer the question What is an embryo? Only by settling what an embryo is—a question of biological fact, not theological speculation—can one determine an embryo’s moral status and what interest God and society might (or might not) have in protecting it or permitting it to be killed to benefit others. Our disagreement with Silver is over the scientific evidence. It has nothing to do with religion.To prove their point, they quote an embryology text book:
The chapter on human development in Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persaud’s The Developing Human begins with this sentence: “Human development begins at fertilization when a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell—a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.” Or their definition of embryo: “The developing human during its early stages of development.” And consider their definition of the term zygote: “This cell results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm during fertilization. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo)”This is really indisputable. But some scientists have left that enterprise behind as they pursue ideology as subjective as religion, but still call it “science.” Such scientism corrupts science, properly understood. Ryan and Condic’s article is too long to quote further here. But check it out. They take Silver down several pegs. And he deserves it.