Re: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Tue Mar 17 2009 - 12:12:35 EDT

Scientific data don't really help unless there is first some sort of
agreement on a definition of personhood that includes some
scientifically measureable parameter. Having a certain level of
intelligence, mental function, etc. is far from satisfactory-how do
you test it equitably for everyone? what about those unable to
respond clearly (too young/some sort of mental or physical
incapacitation/asleep/thoroughly foreign culture)? etc.
Although there is a degree of process involved in conception itself,
it is the only point at which a firm division can be made between
something that can eventually become an adult human and something that
cannot. Certainly it would be hard for the secular advocates of
unlimited abortion to claim that a miracle occurs somewhere around
birth to transform an embryo into a human.
Paleontology does raise a number of interesting speculations regarding
Neandertals, etc., but the question of their spiritual status is
purely academic and not a matter of practical ethics.
Utilitarian arguments run into trouble quickly-would it not be a
medical benefit to distribute a utilitarian's organs among multiple
needy recipients, akin to Monty Python's suggestion? ("We've come for
your liver.") Similar scenarios are quite easy for the "We must allow
any sort of scientific experiment to take place" line. Yet the
popular and scientific literature is overwhelmingly dominated by the
claim that embryonic stem cell research is justified by the potential
medical benefits (exaggerated) and the potential for scientific
discovery. No doubt there is potential for medical benefits, though
(1) there is no evident reason why embryonic stem cells would be more
beneficial than other types now available, (2) the ability for
unlimited growth into several types of tissue is also a property of
many cancer cells, which should make for caution in using them-there
may be reasons why the body is not already using existing stem cells
in these ways, (3) advocates of embryonic stem cell research make it
sound like a guarenteed panacea.

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Tue Mar 17 12:13:01 2009

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