I think it should go without saying (but of course, nothing does) that anytime someone wants to protect something from “denigration” or other forms of criticism, we should all grab hold of our rights and hang onto them with a death grip. To put this case most eloquently, I offer the following.
As with Prohibition and Abortion, the Stem Cells and Cloning issues are handy distractions from real issues of national import, like infrastructure, economy, and war. The War on Drugs is every bit as successful now as was Prohibition in the 1920’s. Abortion is a medical procedure that blatantly favors the rights of the host over the cluster of human cells growing within. Although abortion is periodically effectively outlawed, its incidence is never significantly reduced.
Oddly, to mention stem cells brings a knee-jerk retort of “Cloning!” from some quarters. Cloning is only a dangerous issue to those who don’t actually know what it is. Let’s suppose that the technology were developed to create a healthy baby genetically identical to an existing adult. It would be an expensive procedure, and necessarily take as long as a normal gestation. But mutations occur with every cell division, so the original cloned blastocyst would be subtly different than the donor’s original blastocyst, however perfect the methodology.
The clone would also be raised in a different family, so we are now slightly farther apart then identical twins raised apart. Much more significantly, the gestation would be in a different environment (womb, timing, nutrition) creating many significant physical developmental differences between donor and clone.
I laugh when movie clones have all the same freckles, scars and other developmental marks as the donor. A perfect clone would resemble the donor much like a normal sibling raised separately.
Why would anyone bother?
Even with livestock. The genetic and health dangers of monoculture tree and vegetable farming are bad enough as a cautionary tale. Most people well enough educated to develop cloning know enough about the principles of evolution to know that duplication of a genome (however ideal it may be) in bulk is a Very Bad Idea.
But cloning research is a different issue. The research has very high potential for serendipitous results. As with the accidental discoveries of antibiotics and Teflon, one can only find things by looking for something in the same area, but rarely for the thing itself. Some of the possibilities include:
* Growing cloned organs in vitro or in a host. Crichton wrote Congo based on the idea of cloned organs raised in host animals.
* Learning enough about gestation to create artificial wombs would be of enormous benefit to premies and other medical problems.
* Knowing how to start and stop cell and organ development could well lead to regrowing limbs and teeth and other organs directly in the host.
Some legislators are moving to block such research, in case it may lead to the possibility of someday making a clone. But why?
Soul? Find me two theologians who completely agree on when and where a soul is created and when it enters a body. Now find me as many who agree as scientists who agree that the soul is a product of biological structure and heuristic experience, a quickly growing number.
HIV/AIDS is possibly the worst health crisis to hit this planet. It’s also arguably the worst thing to happen to the African continent since white people were regularly kidnapping its inhabitants and trading them like farm machinery.
But the one hopeful thing about the whole situation is this: while there’s no cure yet, AIDS is easily preventable. Ridiculously easily preventable. Avoiding the sharing of needles & using contraception are the two most effective ways to avoid the long, tortuous, wasting death we’ve all come to associate with this horrendous epidemic. And if you’re not an intravenous drug user (or you studiously avoid sticking sharp, blood-stained things in your body), there’s 50% of your prevention pretty much sorted already.
So … how the hell are you supposed to react when the gold-robed, paedophile-protecting dictator-for-life of the Catholic Church continues to threaten people with eternal torment for using contraception during sex (based on a very, very, um, interpretive interpretation the Bible) and instead tells people “just say no” to sex? In this story (BBC) Pope Oberstumbannfuhrer Herr Kaiser Ratzinger (I refuse to use his picked-out stagename, he’s not Axl Rose for crying out loud) once again proves to the world that not only is his outlook anachronistic, unrealistic & laughable, it’s also flat-out fatal. To millions upon millions of people.
The writers on this blog are generally aware of the problems caused by population growth, for example here and here. But there is a movement in modern American Fundamentalist culture that puts the Catholic baby mill mentality to shame.
They call it the Quiverfull Movement. The idea is basically that a woman is a quiver full of potential babies, and therefore must produce as many babies as possible. Only when she runs out of eggs may she consider another career.
It began a generation ago:
Since 1985, Quiverfull has been thriving in the Southern and Sunbelt states. Although the conviction of “letting God plan your family” is not an official doctrine in many churches, there are signs of its acceptance in high places; the Rev. Albert Mohler, Theological Seminary president of the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention, argued, for example, that deliberate childlessness was “moral rebellion” against God.
It is mainly a propaganda campaign,
Quiverfull has gained exposure through cable TV’s fascination with extraordinarily large families, including the 18-child Duggar family. The Duggars, an Arkansas couple whose husband Jim Bob was a former Arkansas state representative, have appeared on several Discovery Health Channel specials about their immense brood and currently have a TLC reality show, “18 Kids and Counting,” that focuses on the saccharine details of large family life.
So the principle of outbreeding your opponents is now a conscious tack of the American Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. Thoughtful citizens of this world intentionally breed less. Therefore we are bound to be ever more seriously outnumbered with a couple of generations of this nonsense.
“Did you know there’s totally science behind muffins? Totally ruined muffins for me.”
Ah, the wisdom of youth. That particularly large & shiny pearl came from a blazered private school girl of perhaps 15 who I was standing next to (almost on top of) on my Connex-brand cattle-truck – I mean, “train” – this morning. Girl Student (henceforth “GS”) was bemoaning the fact that in her cooking class her teacher explained that the release of carbon dioxide during the cooking process was responsible for the rising of muffins and for the tiny little pockets of air that end up being formed in all things baked. So, in response to this new but unwanted & unwelcome knowledge, GS now proclaims her hatred for – or at least new found apathy toward – the little round cakes she used to love.
Naturally, her comment got me thinking. Does GS approach every mundane mystery in her life in such a manner? Would she disavow Myspace if she figured out that barely any of those seventeen thousand and eighty-four “friends” of hers actually qualified for such a title? Would she stop catching the train if she knew a tad more about electricity? What if she found out what keeps planes in the air? Sweet flaming crikey, no more summer trips to the Whitsundays then (probably a good thing, it’d totally suck to find out how that big hot disc in the sky is making you slightly darker). Safer stuck at home I guess, with just the TV/Wii/Blu-Rayer/microwave/mobile phone for company … on the other hand, perhaps not. Perhaps all those modern wonders are just a fresh crop of parades waiting to be stripped of their brilliance by the acid rain of knowledge. You never know what awful, awful knowledge might leach into your brain if you sit on the remote and accidentally switch to the Discovery Channel.
Writer A. J. Jacobs embarked upon a one-year attempt to follow all of the rules in the Bible. To do so, he first wrote down every rule he spotted in the Bible (he came up with 700). Following those rules was difficult, however, especially when he didn’t quite understand them. For instance, where are the “corners” of one’s beard?
Though his talk is often humorous, Jacobs reveals some serious epiphanies he had along the way. For instance, he found that his behavior sometimes changed his thoughts (he found that visiting sick people made him more compassionate rather than the other way around). He learned to give thanks for the hundreds of things that went right every day, rather than focusing on the few things that went wrong. He learned to have reverence for many aspects of his life, even though he remained an agnostic through the whole experience. He also learned that he shouldn’t completely dismiss that which is irrational, and we all have irrational aspects of our lives (is blowing out birthday candles on a cake rational?).
You’ll enjoy Jacobs’ understated delivery and his respect for those who are different. His talk is well worth a viewing, no matter where you fall on the belief continuum.
In case you missed it, asteroid 2009 DD45 passed the Earth today at a distance of about 1/7th of the way to the moon. It was noticed about 3 days ago, and apparently has an orbit that will bring it close to home every so often. See here.
It is relatively tiny, about 30 meters across. Therefore, when it hits it’ll only make a hole a few miles across. Maybe the size of Manhattan or the Greater Chicago area. Yes, when. It’ll probably hit in the ocean, in which case only seaside towns will be destroyed, like Miami, D.C, or Los Angeles.
But this is only one of thousands that have been discovered so far. No need to worry. When the sky does fall, we’ll find out eventually. With a bit of pork barrel spending, we might be able to predict and prevent such things. But it might cost as much as the current bailing out of mismanaged banks.
But I’ve discussed the end of the world before.
“True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason.” – HH, the Dalai Lama
Think of people as a cross between ants and marbles constantly moving in somewhat random patterns. A mass of movement, whirring about, jostling for position and direction going about our business of motion. Sometimes we bump into each other and those bumps impact direction and velocity. When we bump, it is a function of being in the right place at the right time to have whatever impact we do. We go about our days, bumping into other marbles in the checkout line, while making lane changes, and while making a living. Many contacts happen without us being aware of them, without thinking. People often have tunnel vision and are focused only on our own paths. The reality is, though, that the opportunity for real connection is always there, we simply must expect it from ourselves. Even amidst seemingly random patterns we can choose to forge bonds with each other, but we must be committed to seeing other people with compassion.
One day I was on my way to the grocery store to pick up a prescription. It was a gray, blustery day. Traffic in the parking lot was horrible, and I could see an even more frustrating backup while a car inexplicably sat in the way of any traffic in any direction. I hate that. I was not in the best of moods that day, and after I waited five long minutes I got out of my car and walked to the head of the line, which was now edging out into the street. I gestured at the driver and at that moment a man walked out of the store and headed over to the waiting car. He asked me what my problem was, and I said that I was going to ask her to move the car so the traffic could pass. I was on my best behavior, I was professional, pleasant, not at all nasty. I really didn’t expect the vitriol that spewed from his mouth at me. I can’t remember the details but I remember my reaction. Instead of flinching back I took a step forward, straightened my posture, stuck out my chin, and said his attack was unnecessary. He then said, “What are you going to do, hit me? You big dyke.” Bizarre. I am anything but big. I am a little thing, even if I am strong, and I don’t necessarily transmit dykeness, at least that is what folks tell me. I was really taken aback . . .
My growing impatience with creationists: a side by side comparison of evolutionary biology and creationism
Over the past three years of writing for DI, I have discussed evolution with many creationists who have posted comments at this site. These exchanges have been good for me. They have forced me to think harder about exactly what it is that I understand about evolution and what evidence supports my understanding. These exchanges have also helped me to understand the concerns and mental gymnastics of creationists.
I now find myself getting increasingly impatient with the creationists, however. It was initially interesting to banter with creationists because I enjoyed the challenge of trying to understand why they claimed the things they claimed. I’m now getting annoyed with these creationists arguments, and it mostly has to do with the refusal of creationists to acknowledge relevant scientific observations from the real world.
My frustration also stems from the anti-scientific mindset of creationists. As a group, creationists refuse to argue even-handedly. They become skeptical only when it suits their immediate needs—they don’t apply skepticism equally both to their own claims and to the claims of those with whom they disagree. As a group, they scurry to find disingenuous arguments to support points that they actually learned in churches, not in science books. Many of them are consciously dishonest, and when you call attention to their obvious untruths, they try to change the subject. There are exceptions to this rule. There are some creationists who aren’t consciously being dishonest, but those creationists tend to be so incredibly ignorant of the principles of the scientific theory of evolution that they lack the ability to meaningfully criticize evolution. Their arguments are aimed at things that no competent scientist has ever claimed. For numerous excellent examples of this problem, see these videos by AronRa here and here.
It is well-established that humans are susceptible to committing errors caused by the confirmation bias. We seek out evidence that supports our current beliefs. Scientists are imminently aware of this danger and they work hard to design experiments to counteract this bias. Creationists (who don’t even try to run experiments) excel at feeding their confirmation biases. They proudly exclude evidence that threatens their opinions. Creationists come to mind when I consider David Hume’s quote: “Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” [A Treatise of Human Nature, (2nd Ed.), Book II, Part I, Section III (“Of the influencing motives of the will”) (1739)].