What do you say to someone who prefers that real children die so that stem cells can live? Notes on Proposed Missouri Amendment 2

| October 30, 2006 | 45 Replies

An evangelical acquaintance recently wrote me a letter arguing that the pro-stem cell research proposal (Missouri Amendment 2) A) is geared to financially enrich its sponsors, B) that it will invite reproductive cloning and C) that poor women will result in poor women selling their eggs.  She urged me to oppose the Amendment and oppose various promising forms of stem cell research. 

For information on the proposed amendment, see here. 

Even before receiving this letter, I knew that my acquaintance believed that a one-minute old fertilized human egg in a Petri dish is a baby that deserved full legal protection and priority over the children with horrible illnesses who occupy hospital beds. My acquaintance indicated that she was part of an organized effort to defeat Missouri Amendment 2. 

I am not thrilled with my response (see below), but I couldn’t think of anything better.  If anyone has any ideas as to a more effective way to deal with those who oppose stem cell research on religious grounds, I’m all ears.

Dear [Acquaintance]

I realize that you feel hurt and attacked by my previous email.  In this e-mail, I will attempt to put our recent exchange of e-mail in perspective.

The technology for making insulin is currently based on recombinant DNA techniques; the human gene which codes for the insulin protein is cloned and then inserted in bacteria.  I want you to assume for a moment, though, that my religion holds that both the cloning of genes and recombinant DNA techniques are morally and spiritually repugnant.

Let’s assume further that one of your daughters has diabetes and she needs insulin in order to live (assume that insulin obtained through older methods—derived from pigs and cows–causes a dangerous reaction in your daughter and is the thus un-usable). 

Assume further that one fine day I proudly send you an e-mail announcing that I am sponsoring legislation across the entire state, legislation that will make artificial insulin illegal.  The legislation I am pushing will put your daughter’s health at great risk, but I have nonetheless inserted myself into your family’s most personal medical decision-making process. The legislation I am pushing will deny you medical treatment that has been saving your daughter’s life.  I forge ahead, though, because I am certain that God has sent me on this mission.  In other words, I am doing the equivalent of forcing my way into your house, raiding your medicine cabinet and throwing away your daughter’s insulin.  How would you feel if I did that under those circumstances?

Assume some additional background.  Assume that I have long claimed to be absolutely certain that I am correct regarding numerous aspects of morality based on my reading of my version of the Bible, which I repeatedly declare to be inerrant (that is, absolutely literally true), despite the fact that my Bible contains hundreds of statements that conflict with common sense and reality (for instance, the Bible claims that the mustard seed is the smallest seed when it is actually not the smallest seed).  Assume further that you know from talking with me that I refuse to question the highly-questionable origins of the Bible.  Further assume that I refuse to consider overwhelming evidence that several key stories in my English translation Bible conflict with the earliest known reliable manuscripts.

Assume further that my e-mail contains an attachment that disparages the lifetime dedication of medical professionals who have done laudable work developing new sources of insulin using medical techniques that, several decades earlier, were severely criticized by many religious conservatives. 

The above closely resembles what you have done to me by sending me an e-mail that proudly announces that you are attempting to fight the passage of Missouri Proposed Amendment 2, thereby narrowing the range of medical treatments available to people close to me, including my daughters. I would ask you: what kind of parent would you think I was if I did not severely question your knowledge and motives?  Now, I am extremely fortunate that my daughters are not stricken with a horrible disease.  But someday they might.  It that ever happens, I insist on having available every possible means of restoring their health.

I have a hard time believing that you have made the alleged financial greed of the Stowers family a centerpiece of your argument.  I would dare you to stand up in front of the world-class researchers of the Stowers Institute (see their photos here) and announce to them that they are a bunch of money-grubbing self-centered lackeys.  Same point for John Danforth and William Danforth.  Take a look at what these people have done for our community and the self-sacrifice involved in doing it, then ask your God and your self whether you are really sufficiently informed to cast the aspersions that you are casting.

Yes, I was angry when I read the baseless indictments in the attachment to your letter.  You know, I have often dealt with people who put their own hopes for Heaven ahead of the lives of real live human beings.  That was not the main reason I was angry this time.  What angered me was your blithe willingness to propagate slander toward venerable community leaders. Just because my tone was not “more gentle and respectful” does not mean that I wasn’t correct.  I would highly recommend that you do serious research into the characters and accomplishments of the people you have slandered before further impugning them.

You have attempted to further impugn William Danforth by referring to one of his letters that was published in Science.  The full text of his letter can be found here.  That letter recognizes the following undeniable facts:

Before implantation, [stem] cells can become any type of cell. If separated into two parts, they can yield two embryos; if cells from two different blastocysts are merged, they can result in a single embryo; if cells from two different blastocysts are merged, they can result in a single embryo.

You will not find a single early stem cell in a real baby.  Human embryonic stem cells are derived from fertilized embryos less than a week old. Early stem cells  (sometimes called “embryonic stem cells”) are thus long gone by the time any organs develop.  The clumps of early stem cells that can be used to research medical cures have no brain–not even a single neuron.  That is why I disagree with you that microscopic clumps of stem cells in Petri dishes are “babies.”  The belief that unimplanted stem cells constitute “a baby” can only be a religious belief.

You’ve repeatedly asserted that I just don’t “understand” many things.  I think I do understand the issues raised by your email.  If I sound “insulting” or “demeaning” or overconfident, it is because I base my entire worldview on periodically attacking my own most cherished beliefs.  I embrace the naturalistic method.  I work hard to frame my beliefs as testable working assumptions; they are always prone to being disapproved.  My beliefs that have survived have been repeatedly tested. 

On the other hand, I know that your most cherished beliefs are never questioned.  You’ve told me this.  The Bible is the word of God and that is that.  When we had lunch last year, you were surprised to hear that there were two versions of creation contained in Genesis.  You were surprised to learn that the New Testament contains two contradictory genealogies leading from David to Joseph. You urged me not to “dwell” on the genocidal God of the Old Testament despite your claim that the entire Bible was absolutely true.  This is the context of my frustration with the religious foundation for your political positions.  Can you blame me?

I attended two church services at your evangelical church in order to better understand why you and I see the things so differently.  Your spiritual leader told everyone in the church to trust only him.  He told the church-goers to read no books about Christianity but only to return for more lectures by him.  They were repeatedly told to not think for themselves.  [see here ] He threatened them with eternal torture of hell if they fell out of line.  In threatening them to self-censor, he thus restricted the flock’s access to neutral sources of information regarding Bible interpretation.  This is a tried and true method of brainwashing. If you think my tone could be more gentle or respectful, I challenge you to go back to your church and pay particular attention to the condescending tone of your spiritual leader.  I urge you to then get enough distance from your church to see it from a neutral perspective.

Ideas have consequences.  Your participation in the organized resistance to Amendment 2, if successful, will put horribly sick people at risk, many of them children.  But somehow, out of all of this, you characterize me as the ignorant and arrogant one.  I am the arrogant one even though I am the one who refuses to give up on developing all possible medical cures for all severely sick people. 

You have argued, contrary to all medical evidence, that a microscopic clump of undifferentiated cells in a Petri dish (without a single brain cell or heart cell) is more deserving of protection under the law than a 6-year-old girl stricken with leukemia, a walking, talking little girl fighting for her life. You are the one that is arguing that a microscopic clump of undifferentiated stem cells is more deserving of our care than a nine-year-old boy with third-degree burns over 60% of his body.  Or that that an acquaintance of mine must forever remain a quadriplegic, unable to lift a cracker to his own lips for the rest of his life.  Or that my friend [I’ll call him George here] must be denied any chance to regain some of the tissue he lost in a quadruple amputation resulting from meningitis that nearly killed him five years ago.

All of this must simply be so, in your view, so that a microscopic clump of un-implanted cells entirely lacking in neurons can live.  Or even worse, it must be so, in your view, that each of these victims must simply suffer and die so that a frozen embryo at a fertility clinic will be thrown away rather than donated to research to give hope to these tragic victims.

Love is sometimes not about communicating with a gentle tone.  Sometimes love is about shooting straight and letting other people know that you are concerned about them and their views. If you find my method of communicating too difficult, I sincerely recommend that you don’t write e-mails to me about your political positions.  I promise that I will not torment you in writing if don’t promulgate your political or religious views to me in writing.  If you do write to me, I will answer directly and honestly.   I might not always be correct, but I take every serious issue seriously.

If I didn’t care about what you wrote or thought, I would not have taken the time to write my previous e-mail, or this one.

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Category: American Culture, Health, Meaning of Life, Medicine, Politics, Psychology Cognition, Religion, Reproductive Rights

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (45)

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  1. Chris says:

    What if a father wants to donate cells for research but a mother wants to keep them for potential future implantation? What if they are divorced, or one has died? What if we let researches compensate people for donating stem cells? Is that a problem? I fail to see this as a black and white issue and resent politicians and people who claim as much in either direction. My biggest point getting back to the purpose of the letter is to be careful you don’t fall into the same trap as the fundamentalist, which is those who disagree with you are either dumb, irrational or immoral.

  2. Henry says:

    Chris I did not at any point impugn anyone's intelligence or morality, which ever way it is you prefer to define that term. I still believe that, given the way and the context in which you identified yourself as agnostic or atheist, you were being disingenuous. That is my opinion based on your post – I stand by and am entitled to it. My other assertions were also based solely on the content of your postings, and I feel I am accurate in my assessment. You employ tactics used regularly and almost solely by fundamentalists (for lack of a broader term), which include: drawing tenuously, if at all, related comparisons; choosing clearly inflammatory subject matter or verbage to elicit an emotional response; applying, far-reaching hypothetical(i.e., made up) situations to the current subject; rampant out-of-context quoting; ignoring the actual germaine points. This is not to say that these tactics are used only by fundamentalists, just most often, since their positions are usually dictated by doctrine i.e., the Christian bible in this case, and not logic or science necessarily. Thus it is clearly difficult to defend one's position, and verbal sucker punching generally ensues.

    Your hypothetical situation of babies being born outside of the womb seems random and unrelated to me. I don't understand how increasing the chance of survival for an in vitro embryo impacts the validity of stem cell research, so long as they are extracted from embryos that would otherwise be destroyed. I assume that you do not mean that an infertile couple living in a future society could face rearing some large number of children based on number of eggs fertilized.

    Your hypothetical examples regarding donrs' consent and compensation are completely separate issues – from the one we are debating, and from each other for that matter. For the record, I don't know what the current consent laws are, but I favor requiring explicit consent from all parties involved. I belive compensation is a non-issue since the very property that makes stem cells valuable scientifically eliminates any advantage amongst discrete samples.

    Regarding your contention about not having compared Nazi research on Jews and stem cell extraction, I'm afraid you are wrong. Despite your claim both in your more recent and original posts, you first equate considering a blastocyte less than human with Nazis regarding Jews as less than human. You then go on to explain your position – here's the quote:

    "We were all a cluster of cells at one time, and looking back I am glad my cluster matured into me, and as nice as your children might be I am not willing to sacrifice my cluster to save them…I would rather exist."

    You equate your cluster, which I take to mean embryo, with your adult self. Thus you are equating destroying an embryo with destroying a human, and thus comparing it to Nazis experimenting on Jews, as per your statement earlier in that post.

    You will notice that I address every single one of your concerns as best I can, which I feel is a cornerstone of effective and courteous debate. While I see that you too in your most recent posts address some of my points, I still don't think you've responded to my actual germaine point. Which is of course, that here in the USA, in 2006, and for any accurately predictable period of time hence, stem cells are extracted from embryos, produced from unrelated procedures, that are marked as medical waste and will be destroyed if not used for another purpose, an example of which is research. I simply do not know how to make it more clear. Please explain to me how morals enter into this given that premise. To me, this particular issue is starkly black and white.

    And lastly, as I stated just one post ago, merely disagreeing with me does not indicate stupidty, irrationality or immorality. But, again, employing only dubious and meritless methods of debate in espousing one's viewpoint casts one in such a light.

  3. grumpypilgrim says:

    Chris says, "The core argument of stem cell research is that the cluster of cells is not fully human therefore we are justified in experimenting with them."

    No, that is not the core argument. The core argument is that regardless of how we classify the cluster of cells, the parents should have the option of donating them for life-giving medical research, just as parent already have the option donating their dying child's organs for life-giving medical transplant.

    As regards your other questions:

    "What if a father wants to donate cells for research but a mother

    wants to keep them for potential future implantation? What if they

    are divorced, or one has died? What if we let researches compensate

    people for donating stem cells? Is that a problem? I fail to see this as

    a black and white issue and resent politicians and people who claim

    as much in either direction."

    these questions can be resolved exactly as other life-and-death medical decisions (e.g., questions about organ donation) are resolved now. What if a father wants to donate a dying child's organs for transplant, but a mother does not? What if they are divorced, or one has died? What if we let researchers compensate people for donating organs? All of these questions have already been encountered and addressed, and their solutions are undoubtedly perfectly suitable for stem cell research. These are not new questions.

  4. Chris says:

    Grumpy, those questions have been addressed but are still hot topics for debate. Like many other bioethical dilemmas those questions are constantly in flux. A look at any recent court decision or scholarly writing on the subject would illuminate how malleable the decisions are. The trade in human body parts has become big business despite regulations against it. Many judges advocate for allowing people full possession over any genetic material related to them, giving them full property rights over it, including the right to convey it for a profit. Other judges say that it is in society’s interest to regulate such activities so that we don’t exploit the poor etc. (Ironically it is often liberal judges who advocate for control over body parts and conservative judges advocating for a free market in it…I’m sure you can see why, who would gain if not pharmaceutical companies who are largely supported by Republicans.) I think it avoids the issue to say it has already been addressed therefore it is ok. For those who claim that society has an interest in regulating such activities (as I might, regardless of religious or moral persuasion) I think finding the boundaries and defining them independent of religious teaching or dogma is extremely important.

    Henry- I am starting to think you are a Scientific Fundamentalist. Let’s see…you want “verbage to elicit an emotional response” how about “equivalent of forcing my way into your house, raiding your medicine cabinet and throwing away your daughter’s insulin.” I could list that one under “tenuously related comparison” or “far reaching hypothetical” as well. I am guessing the author is not a fundamentalist but according you your analysis he might be.

    My hypothetical was to pose the question of what to do if the cells do not face destruction? Is it still ethical to use them?

    I did indeed compare when I was an embryo to my adult self. If you can find any situation where, destroying me as an embryo would NOT destroy my future adult self, I would love to hear it. If you kill a pregnant mother you get charged with killing two people. We can argue the exact time where cells become fully human all day, my only point regarding that is, if not destroyed, those cells will become a human.

    Your point about the pragmatic nature of stem cell research is well taken. They will be destroyed anyway so why not get some use. You would make a great imperialist with that attitude. They have a weaker economy and their children are starving so why not let them sew the stitches in my Nike’s. “Pragmatism not idealism.” -Radiohead.

  5. Henry says:

    Chris-

    Umm, yeah… that quote you used? Erich was writing in the context of a hypothetical situation and speaking in the voice of a fundamentalist. So, wrong again. Chris do you do stuff like this knowingly, just hoping not to be called out, or is all of this really that lost on you?

    And wow, did you actually just equate stem cell research to national imperialism? And still no responce to my one, direct question. STILL. Well at least you're consistent. Do you mind if I use your posts as examples in my "Fundamentalists Guide to Internet Debate"? Seriously, I'm working on it right now, and you are a veritable wellspring of ideas. The funny thing is in my rough outline, the first thing I wrote down was the last step, which is "if all else fails (which it will), wear your opponent down with more of the same rhetoric". It's true I swear!

    I usually have little patience for fools, but for some reason you got me posting and I thank you for helping to frame my ideas more clearly, if only for my own benefit. I was hoping, through our discourse, to cut through the massive amount of bullshit you were handing out and really hear what you think about all this. As careful and thorough as I was, however, I failed. Read your first post, then read your last one – sound familiar? And no, that's not being consistent or sticking to your guns. It's rehashing the same tactics in the absence of a sound argument. Ha in fact not only do the two constitute an example of circular reasoning (look it up, please), you use circular reasoning within the post itself -that's like concentric circular reasoning or something! The Radiohead quote – you realize that supports buying Nikes, more or less, right?

    Lastly – dude, learn when and when NOT to use a freaking apostrophe!

  6. Chris says:

    Henry- I notice you have stopped attacking the argument and have started attacking me… "is all of this really that lost on you?" "I usually have little patience for fools" "massive amount of bullshit" "look it up".

    When did I ever try to insult you? In my guide for the “Pseudo Intellectual” I will note to label all dissenting opinion as stemming from a religion and to make sure you include as many personal digs as possible, even childish name calling. I can see you’re getting upset so I will stop posting. I wanted a discussion not a fight.

  7. David says:

    Wow, there is a lot of confusion on this page. First, there is a difference between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. On is taken from the organs and tissue of adults, the other is taken from non-differentiated cells of a human embryo. One cluster of cells does not have the capability of forming a new life, the other cluster of cells does. I am hard pressed to find anyone against the harvesting and research of adult stem cells. As a matter of fact, several cures have been found using them. Embryonic stem cells, however, have not been found to cure anything.

    Second, and I must make these points for a portion of your argument rests on them, some key biblical assertions you made are incorrect.

    1) "you were surprised to hear that there were two versions of creation contained in Genesis" – There is only one version with two different styles. Genesis 1 gives a chronological account of Creation. Genesis 2 gives a topical account of events specifically related to the creation of man.

    2) "You were surprised to learn that the New Testament contains two contradictory genealogies leading from David to Joseph." This is not necessarily true. While both differ for reasons that I will not delve into here, they both accomplish their points by tracing back to the same source: David.

    3) "You urged me not to “dwell” on the genocidal God of the Old Testament despite your claim that the entire Bible was absolutely true." I can only say that God's judgement is just. The term genocide is incorrect. Genocide is done with the intent of annhialating an entire race or ethnicity. God's judgement annhialated sin irrespective of race or ethnicity. Believe me, this is a hard subject to grasp (I still work on it from time to time), but it is through God's son who died on the cross that we are spared from this type of judgement.

    I am sorry that your experience at a church was not good. I assure you that the object of Christianity is NOT brainwashing. Quite the contrary. Christianity encourages open discussion and questions. Granted, some groups that profess to be Christian do not practice Christian ideals, but the same can be said for any large and diverse group.

    Back to the point of embryonic stem cells. (I encourage you to differentiate in your debate the difference between the two types of stem cells.) I admit that a sick, dying 6-year-old girl commands much more sympathy from me than a "clump of undifferentiated cells." But it is undeniable that a human embryo has the potential to be a living person. This is where the argument persists. Which is more deserving? Better yet, which is right? Fortunately, we do not even have a gray area since Embryonic stem cells, despite all of the research, have not been shown to effectively treat anything.

    So now the question is this: Destroy a possible life for the possibility of saving another, or save a possible life without any negative affect on the other? We must seriously debate and consider this question, because the answer is not light. My honest opinion is that it depends. Some embryos are created for invitro fertilization, but never used because the couple gets pregnant and desires no more children. If the couple wishes, I believe that they could donate the unused embryos for this advancement. This,however, would require strict regulations so that people do not perform such actions for the sake of making money or fulfilling a research need.

  8. Jason Rayl says:

    David,

    "Potential" doesn't equal fulfillment. I had the potential to be a world class dancer. For many reasons, that didn't happen. No one laments my failed career as a dancer because I never became one, therefore the hypothetical of its potential means nothing.

    Regarding the genealogy of Jesus–your counterpoint is facile. In the debate with those who claim biblical inerrancy, both genealogies ought to be identical, since both "came from god." They are not. Besides, there is a subtler problem. Both do in fact end at Joseph, Jesus father. But the christian position is that Jesus' father is Yahweh. Therefore, both genealogies ought to have been traced through Mary, not Joseph. Had the "word" been handed down verbatim, this point would also be there.

    The problem with adult stem cells in the treatment of certain diseases is that if the disease is genetic in the first place, the genetic coding for that error is already expressed in the adult cells. Therefore, useless. What is vital to discover in embryonic stem cells is not so much specific cures but the mechanism of differentiation, which could allow for doctors to develop cell lines without error-filled coding to address specific conditions. Adult stem cells, having already differentiated, do not offer this potential.

    There is an assumption made–by both sides–over the issue of human life. Are embryos People? As an individual, you may assign status any way you choose in this regard, so that if you and your significant other decide to have a child, that fertilized egg is human at whatever stage you decide it is. No one can argue this. But likewise, someone else may only see it as a collection of dividing cells. Is it human? Well, it's on its way, but for my money, it ain't there yet. And since it is not independently viable in any meaningful sense, it's not a Person until it can breathe on its own, think on its own, make demands on the world at large on its own (which every newborn does; I'm not talking rocket science here). There are people on life support, brain dead, who are certainly by some definition "human" but they are no longer a person. We protect People by our laws–not cell clusters. For me, the choice is immediate–the sick six year old (or whatever) trumps an embryo every time.

  9. I hate to be the one to pose this question…but where do we draw the line?

    For me, and I have not researched the biology of embryos (yet) the line would be after around 3 months pregnancy it would be morally wrong to have an abortion, in that you would be harming a person. I say "around" because the gestation may vary. For some people 3 months may sound too long, and that it would hurt the baby. Others may think that 3 months is not long enough and that abortions should be allowed up until the 9th month of pregnancy, or even terminated at birth, as a partial birth abortion. Sorry it had to be me to breach the subject of drawing the line. But, how else are we going to explore our differences? How do you folks feel on the issue…how many months of pregnancy until an embryo becomes a person? Again my answer was 3 months, but that is without conducting any significant amounts of research on *modern* biological embryonic developmental theory.

  10. grumpypilgrim says:

    David writes: "First, there is a difference between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells."

    I'm pretty certain the people who have contributed to this thread are fully aware of this difference, even if they did not emphasize it.

    "Embryonic stem cells, however, have not been found to cure anything."

    That comment utterly distorts the picture. Research on embryonic stem cells is still in its infancy, but offers enormous potential, so it is simply nonsensical to dismiss it. It is like dismissing a two-year-old child on the grounds that it hasn't achieved anything yet.

    "I can only say that God’s judgement is just."

    Exactly whose authority do you rely on to make that assertion? God's? A bit convenient, don't you think, for God to declare his own judgment to be just? If Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, or some other genocidal maniac were to declare his own judgment to be just, would that make it so?

    "The term genocide is incorrect. Genocide is done with the intent of annhialating an entire race or ethnicity. God’s judgement annhialated sin irrespective of race or ethnicity."

    I love that comment, because it is so utterly dishonest. Give the Church enough time (two millenia in this case) and it will find a way to sugar coat global slaughter. "God didn't commit genocide; he "annhialated sin" (sic)." What utter nonsense! Genocide by any name and for any reason is still genocide.

    Besides, why should God annihilate the human race when God's own incompetence is to blame for sin? (See http://dangerousintersection.org/?p=166/.)

    "I assure you that the object of Christianity is NOT brainwashing. Quite the contrary. Christianity encourages open discussion and questions."

    It's hard to keep a straight face while reading that portion of the comment. The word "brainwash" means to "wash" away a person's existing beliefs so you can replace them with the beliefs you want them to have. That is *precisely the stated goal* of every evangelical Christian who has ever walked the face of the earth. Moreover, when people go to church, they are told what to sing, what to pray, what to believe and when to say, "Amen." In what way is this not brainwashing?

    Furthermore, the dearth of "open discussion and questions" is obvious: when has anyone ever stood up in church and asked the preacher a question? There is *never* any discussion in church and there are *never* any questions. The people in the congregation are expected to *do what they are told.* The suggestion that "Christianity encourages open discussion and questions" is laughable. Christianity encourages people to *stop* asking questions and swallow its doctrine whole. Indeed, so-called "True Believers" don't ask questions; they merely regurgitate what they have been fed. Questions only arise when people who *think for themselves* notice all the gaps and contradictions.

    "I admit that a sick, dying 6-year-old girl commands much more sympathy from me than a “clump of undifferentiated cells.” But it is undeniable that a human embryo has the potential to be a living person."

    Wait a second there, David. One minute you're talking about undifferentiated cells and the next you're talking about a human embryo. Funny how you want to be clear about distinguishing between adult and embryonic stem cells, but unclear when distinguishing between a fertilized egg and a human embryo. It's obvious why: your argument gets a whole lot stronger when a fertilized egg, a human embryo and a crying baby are all one-and-the-same, even though they're not.

    "Fortunately, we do not even have a gray area since Embryonic stem cells, despite all of the research, have not been shown to effectively treat anything."

    Sorry, David, but that's just nonsense. They gray area exists regardless of the early performance of embryonic stem cell research.

    "Destroy a possible life for the possibility of saving another, or save a possible life without any negative affect on the other?"

    Again, David, let's be clear. Embryonic stem cell research is not about destroying a "possible life;" it's about using cells that would otherwise be discarded and destroyed. And not just using them for the heck of it, but using them for good and potentially life-saving work that might save the lives and reduce the suffering of thousands, if not millions, of people. Embryonic stem cell research is likely to be the most promising and life-enhancing medical research ever in the history of the human race, and the stem cells that are used would otherwise be sterilized and dumped down a drain. It is clearly not a one-for-one swap or, as you say, "destroy a possible life for the possibility of saving another." It is nothing like that at all. Not even close.

    Is it intentional dishonesty or mere ignorance that causes (Fundamentalist?) Christians, like David, to distort the truth when they get involved in moral and ethical debates? It's as though they won't debate an issue on its merits; instead, they begin by warping the issue into a falsehood. Whether the issue is stem cell research, abortion, evolution, prayer in school, homosexual marriage, or any of the (many) other issues they rant about, these Christians are astonishingly disingenuous when it comes to moral and ethical debates — which is really frustrating, because meaningful discussion cannot begin until after their twisted language is unwound. Whether it is dishonesty or mere ignorance, it is sad to see such behavior from people who think of themselves as morally superior.

  11. Magnificent post Grumpy. Amen.

  12. David says:

    grumpypilgrim,

    You are entitled to your opinions and I do not wish to start a religious grudge match here (Sorry Jason, I've made my points and didn't want to delve into heavy theology on this forum). However, please note the following:

    "I’m pretty certain the people who have contributed to this thread are fully aware of this difference, even if they did not emphasize it."

    Granted, but emphasis is not the same as ommission.

    "Exactly whose authority do you rely on to make that assertion? God’s?"

    Absolutely. And if you could open your mind and observe this from my point of view, you would surely agree. (Just as I would agree that from your point of view this reasoning does not make sense.)

    "I love that comment, because it is so utterly dishonest."

    Genocide by any other name IS still genocide. However, I never said it was genocide and do not believe it to be genocide (God's "chosen people" did not fare any better on certain occasions).

    "The word “brainwash” means to “wash” away a person’s existing beliefs so you can replace them with the beliefs you want them to have. That is *precisely the stated goal* of every evangelical Christian who has ever walked the face of the earth. Moreover, when people go to church, they are told what to sing, what to pray, what to believe and when to say, 'Amen.'"

    Pronunciation: 'brAn-"wo-shi[ng], -"wä-: noun

    Etymology: translation of Chinese (Beijing) xinao

    1 : a forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas

    Please show me any church's, Evangelical or other otherwise, mission statement, vision, objective, etc… that states this. I will show you a church that does not espouse Christianity.

    "There is *never* any discussion in church and there are *never* any questions."

    During church is not the place for questions for the same reason that during a song is not the time to shout a request. My preacher freely gives out his cell phone for anyone to call him with questions or discussions. Biblestudies are also a place where fervent discussion takes place. Go up to a local preacher, outside of his sermon of course, or to a bible study and fire away. You don't have to believe what they say, but I bet you find more people open to questions and discussion than you think.

    "One minute you’re talking about undifferentiated cells and the next you’re talking about a human embryo."

    I am quoting from a previous post on the cells.

    "And not just using them for the heck of it, but using them for good and potentially life-saving work that might save the lives and reduce the suffering of thousands, if not millions, of people"

    I admitted that there could be a use for certain embryonic stem cells. Recent findings suggest a different method of harvesting them without using an embryo. But your claim is unfounded.

    "these Christians are astonishingly disingenuous when it comes to moral and ethical debates — which is really frustrating, because meaningful discussion cannot begin until after their twisted language is unwound."

    I said and freely accept that open discussion is necessary.

    "Whether it is dishonesty or mere ignorance, it is sad to see such behavior from people who think of themselves as morally superior. "

    Name-calling and stereotypes are no way to proceed in meaningful discussion. I make no claim to be superior to you in any way.

    There are moral absolutes in the world. This is why we jail murderers instead of letting them off because they felt it was the right thing to do. And this is exactly why discussion is necessary.

  13. grumpypilgrim says:

    I'll let several of David's replies stand as they are, but will respond to these:

    As regards God's authority to declare his own judgment just, David has not addressed the issue I raised.

    Ditto, the issue I raised about genocide.

    As regards "brainwashing," it is a broader term than David's definition suggests. Brainwashing does not necessarily require coercion; mere propaganda alone is sufficient. Either way, the point I raised remains valid and unchallenged: churches are places where coercion does occur and where people are expected to do and believe what they are told.

    "I am quoting from a previous post on the cells." No, David, you wrote a paragraph in which you used the phrase a "clump of undifferentiated cells" interchangeably with the phrase "human embryo."

    As regards discussions and questions in church: allowing private questions while disallowing public ones is a standard method of indoctrination.

    I'll stand by my comments concerning dishonesty versus mere ignorance, because there were so many distortions in David's earlier post that it appeared to be one or the other.

    "There are moral absolutes in the world. This is why we jail murderers instead of letting them off because they felt it was the right thing to do." In fact, David, we do not jail all murderers. Why? Because the world has no moral absolutes; it is a big grey zone, open to all sorts of exceptions. This is why we have judges, juries and courts: because true justice requires hearing *both* sides to every situation, not ignoring one side on the grounds that there are moral absolutes. The moment we conclude there are moral absolutes, justice vanishes.

  14. grumpypilgrim says:

    David wrote: "During church is not the place for questions for the same reason that during a song is not the time to shout a request."

    Huh? How is a church service like a song? A church service is filled with a wide variety of activities, some of which invite audience participation and some do not. There are all sorts of opportunities to "shout out a request" or to simply raise your hand and wait to be called on. Indeed, there is absolutely no good reason why one of the audience participation activities can't be a question-and-answer session. The format of a church service is not substantially different from that of a college lecture, where people are encouraged to ask relevant questions, because:

    (a) professors sometimes speak unclearly, misspeak or even err;

    (b) when one person has a question, others are likely to have the same question;

    (c) questions will often stimulate valuable discussion;

    (d) sometimes people in the audience know more about a subject than do the professors; etc.

    Where is it written that "Thou Shalt Not Interrupt Whilst A Preacher Is Pontificating To An Audience?" Questions in church would be a useful check-and-balance against some of the nonsense that gets foisted onto church members in the name of faith. Indeed, college lectures about important topics (evolution, abortion, stem cell research, etc.) routinely benefit from taking questions from the audience — including from religious conservatives — so why shouldn't preachers be subjected to the same scrutiny? Maybe because many would collapse if they were?

    Questions can be very helpful and educational, so they should be a routine part of any church service. Forcing congregation members to telephone the preacher afterward simply does not have the same value as does encouraging immediate questions in front of the congregation. It does, however, serve many functions that benefit the *preacher*:

    (1) it enables the preacher to hide from hard questions, thereby not looking ignorant in front of the entire congregation;

    (2) it enables the preacher to maintain distance between himself and the congregation, keeping himself in a superior position as their unchallenged (i.e., unquestioned) spiritual leader;

    (3) it enables the preacher to isolate insurgents (people who ask dangerous questions), and thereby reducing the chances that heretical beliefs might lead to mass rebellion (also, insurgents can be excommunicated before their beliefs infect the group); etc.

    Notice that Martin Luther spread his "heretical" message by nailing it to the front door of the church, presumably because he could not publicly raise the issues during church services.

    Having the audience ask questions during church services would be an enormous benefit to the congregation. The fact that no (Christian) church allows this speaks volumes about who the service is primarily intended to benefit.

  15. Jason Rayl says:

    Grumpy,

    Gotta disagree with you almost entirely. David has a point. A church service is almost entirely a choreographed ritual and THAT IS ITS ENTIRE PURPOSE, to proceed in a predictable fashion in order to reify the emotions and beliefs of the attendents. Q & A can follow in the after service socials or in Sunday School, but not during the primary service. If you really think people attend worship services to actually LEARN something, it is no wonder you misapprehend David's point.

  16. grumpypilgrim says:

    Thanks, Jason. Indeed, David and I see things very differently. In my case, I have observed that church services are attended by people with a wide range of needs and desires; likewise, they are given by preachers with a wide range of concerns and objectives. Certainly among both groups there are people who see the service as nothing more than mere ritual to renew the emotions and beliefs of the attendees. However, most services I have seen contain more than that: teaching also is attempted, along with whatever learning the attendees absorb. In most cases, the teaching is about moral values — some parable is given to illustrate a desired behavior — however, I have also seen preachers rant about all sorts of political opinions — everything from condemning homosexual marriage, abortion and the teaching of evolution, to assertions about the constitutional separation of church and state. Teaching, and in some cases political activism, is definitely attempted. Maybe this is a small minority of sermons or maybe not: each of us has seen only a miniscule percentage of all the sermons given each week, so we are equally ill-eqipped to make broad generalizations. But examples do exist, which brings me back to my assertion: that sermons — or at least some sermons — should have a Q&A, rather than require people to deal with questions only off-line. Why should valid, potentially important questions *all* be relegated to the back-alley?

    Taking this case a bit farther, I reject the suggestion that people who attend worship services *should* be taught nothing. Even if a large percentage of believers attend services merely to renew their emotions and beliefs, I see nothing wrong with giving them a little learning, too. Clearly, some of them desperately need it, as demonstrated by the many bizarre beliefs about the material world that they appear to learn in church. Spiritual doctrine is one thing, but when believers — large numbers of them — come out of church believing that our planet is 6,000 years old, that a woman should have no right to make her own medical decisions, or that stem cell research is evil, clearly some Q&A is badly needed.

  17. Jason Rayl says:

    Grumpy,

    I wasn't disputing that learning and teaching go on during a worship service–indeed, that's part of it–but if a Q & A session is not programmed in as part of the service, jumping up to ask a question would blow the function of it. I did not mean to suggest learning shouldn't happen there, though–if you got that inference from what I wrote, I apologize. It's just that, as I said, primarily the history of church services is more about ritual and reification than anything else. Hence the more modern addendum of Sunday School.

  18. grumpypilgrim says:

    I agree, Jason, that church services are more about ritual and renewal than anything else, and I would also agree that an unrestrained Q&A session would likely disrupt, even ruin, the proceedings — just as it does in a college lecture, a political rally, or any other large gathering where speeches are given. Nevertheless, to some extent, I think this would be a healthy thing for a preacher to do — most church services seem like they could benefit from some shaking up. But, in lieu of that, I'd be happy if preachers would simply make a Q&A session a programmed part of the show, or even a *tolerated* part of the show, but they don't even go that far. They should, because the notion that *any* leader — religious, political, military, corporate, sports or otherwise — should *never* face public questioning is a step down a dangerous path. It creates a breeding ground for fraud, propaganda, paranoia…the list goes on. George Bush's cabal is a great example: he surrounds himself with yes-men and yes-women, and loathes being questioned in public…and look where that behavior has taken America. I shudder to think where America might be today if Bush and his cronies *never* had to face public questions: Saddam Hussein's regime quickly comes to mind. Likewise, the long history of the Catholic church provides all sorts of examples of "infallible" popes wrecking havoc. Would (more) public accountability have prevented it? I don't know, but my hunch is it would have stopped some of mankind's nightmares — including some of the injustices we see today in America and the rest of the world.

    Of course, I am not suggesting that all church services are comparable to Saddan Hussein's regime or the Spanish Inquisition, but some have been. For example, we don't use the phrase "drink the Kool-Aid" for nothing: religious despot Jim Jones orchestrated a mass-suicide of his followers (or was it murder/suicide?) by having them drink poisoned Kool-Aid.

    The point I'm making is that *some* amount of Q&A during church sermons — including from skeptics and non-believers — would be better than none at all. Better for the community, better for the attendees, and better for the preacher (because the best way to understand a topic is to become a *teacher* of that topic, not merely a *reciter* of that topic). The details of *how* this might be managed matter less than *that* it is done. Would such a change cause some church-goers to turn away from their church? Almost certainly. Would it cause some non-church-goers to begin going to church? Again, almost certainly. It all boils down to whether or not church services should be conducted the same way they have been conducted since the Dark Ages. Some people certainly benefit from keeping them the same. More, I believe, would benefit from not doing so, for the reasons I have mentioned.

  19. Raste says:

    Even though this topic seems to have died out months and months ago, it's managed to keep me up for the last hour reading through. (forgive my poor grammer, spelling, tense errors, etc… it's crazy late)

    Well, I sat here for hours looking at this topic. And had written out a response saying how I felt, and why. But I've decided it doesn't matter. I hope that research will continue in this field. I hope religion either fades away entierly or a single faith encomapsses the globe and minds of people. Either way, I won't see it. so much pointless debate on matters of belief. I agree with the original post. The knowledge should be there if it is wanted (not needed) that's a choice people should be allowed to make.

    My final, small, incoherant point is that really… looking on my own life. If I had the choice of sacrificing myself to save uncountable masses of people from disease, pain, disability, death. Whatever it may be that this research could be used for. I would.

    sleepy time zzzz

  20. WriterWriter says:

    Hi,

    Long letter, which I hope your acquaintance will read, but which I suspect she/he will not. In my experience, religious people are so desperate to cling to a philosophy they know is false (becuase they do have working brains and consciences and, well, according to Jung, a collective unconscious) that they will fight the most illogical battles in order that their ears never hear reality.

    I agree with you that a five-day old embryo is not a baby, although it is human, and that's where it's hard for some to make that moral/eithica choice.

    Where there's a moral choice to make, when we are required to actively kill someone for the benefit of many, as opposed to causing someone die as a result of trying to save many, most people find it far easier to choose the second option. See Richard Dawkins' discussion of Hauser's Moral Dilemmas in The God Delusion for a much more intelligent discussion of these choices for clairificaiton (pages 222 – 226)

    However, given recent advances in stem cell research, it seems that embryonic cells may no longer be used anyway.

    Anyway, as I'm sure you also do, I wish enlightenment for your friend. They will surely be happier in the long run.

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