What identifies a human? (DNA? Artifacts? ....)

Bill Hamilton (hamilton@predator.cs.gmr.com)
Fri, 28 Feb 1997 09:42:50 -0500

Has anyone noticed that the arguments Glenn Morton finds himself engaged in
re early hominids and the arguments over cloning humans turn on the same
issue: by what objective criteria shall we conclude that something is (or
was) human? (I'm using "human" as shorthand for men carrying the image and
likeness of God)

Loren argues that planting an individual's DNA in an ennucleated (does that
mean the nucleus has been removed?) donated human egg and growing it in
vitro for a time does not produce a new, separate human, but only some of
the donor's tissue which can legitimately be used for experimentation aimed
at curing or understanding some condition. However, the egg is donated (if
the DNA donor is male) and still (I presume) has its mitochondrial DNA.
Does that change anything?

But the more significant question from a theological point of view is
whether all it takes is DNA to define a human person. A related question
is whether any of the artifacts we find in the fossil record are sufficient
to conclude that the individuals who made them are human.

It could be claimed that Genesis 2:7 teaches that God did something in the
spiritual realm to change the man he had made from just a product of an
evolutionary process He had set in place earlier to a spiritual being. If
this is accepted, then the only test of whether a creature is human is a
spiritual question and beyond our capabilities as humans. That being the
case I am inclined to give Glenn's hominids the benefit of the doubt and
accept them as men carrying the image and likeness of God. I'm not so sure
in the case Loren brought up, but I have the feeling I'm leaning toward
being very cautious about it.

Bill Hamilton
William E. Hamilton, Jr, Ph.D. | Staff Research Engineer
Chassis and Vehicle Systems | General Motors R&D Center | Warren, MI
810 986 1474 (voice) | 810 986 3003 (FAX) | whamilto@mich.com (home email)