August 3, 2007

Letter to a Christian Nation

I've been a bit slow these days to read the latest rants from secularism's more provocative thinkers. I'm still recovering from the Humanist Manifesto 2000. Anyway, Sam Harris write this hilariously "philosophical" epistle that has me both ticked off and laughing hysterically. I want you to see a bit of the "logic" this man of "reason" is putting out as thoughtful.
You believe that "life starts at the moment of conception." You believe that there are souls in each of these blastocysts and that the interests of one soul-the soul of a little girl with burns over 75 percent of her body, say-cannot trump the interests of another soul, even if that soul happens to live inside a Petri dish...Your resistance to embryonic stem-cell research is, at best, uninformed. There is, in fact, no moral reason for our federal government's unwillingness to fund this work. We should throw immense resources into stem-cell research, and we should do so immediately...anyone who feels that the interests of a blastocyst just might supersede the interests of a child with a spinal cord injury has had his moral sense blinded by religious metaphysics. (pp. 31-32)
Firstly, speaking for myself and most other bioconservatives, one life is never more valuable than another. Whether her body is covered with burns or she has a spinal injury, she is no more and no less valuable than any other human. She has dignity because she is human. Consequently, no human should ever be sacrificed for the health and welfare of another, yet this is exactly what Harris would have you hold. Size is obviously his justification for the destruction of human life. And don't be deceived, those blastocysts are both human and alive or they wouldn't be coveted as they are for research.

This whole discussion about human dignity, what human life is and when it begins, etc, is beyond the scope of Harris' understanding.


Anthony said...

It is obvious that blastocysts are alive, and it is obvious they are human.

But so is the human appendix. And certainly, the human appendix possesses many, many more cells, than a three day old blastocyst.

Shall we forbid the removal of the human appendix, which is living human life, which dies if it is removed?

The death of the appendix means the death of many, many more cells, much more life, then the use of a blastocyst in embryonic stem-cell research, remember.

You state one life is never more valuable than another.

So, this is true, regardless of sentience? Is a brain-dead person, who will never feel, think, or experience anything ever again worth, in that present form, as much as the people whose lives would be saved, say, if the brain-dead person's organs were harvested?

Perhaps I am ignorant of bioconservatism, but how far does it go?

Further, Haris' view is not based on size. It is based on the fact that a blastocyst has no brain, cannot feel, suffer, or anything of the kind.

The little girl, however, is suffering immensely.

Perhaps our views are simply different: I feel sentience, or at the very least the ability to feel, as in animals such as the cat I own, who is at the moment feeling upset because I'm typing instead of petting her, is the thing that is worthwhile, not life in and of itself.

I do not hold the life of a bacterium to be worth the same as that of a human. Further, a human whose brain is dead, whose sentience, feelings, memories, thoughts, that is, all that makes them worthwhile, is lost, is not worth the same as a human who is feeling pain, and whose life could be saved, or whose suffering could be ended, by the use of said brain dead individual's organs.

The blastocyst, remember, is a cluster of 150 cells, which cannot feel, which has no brain and does not even have any brain cells, no neurons and no connections between them.

This entity, while certainly human and certainly alive, possesses none of the qualities, that is, physically does not possess the qualities, which makes a human or an animal worthwhile.

Its life is still at the bacterial level. And while valuable, and should not be destroyed needlessly, should not be valued as highly as, say, the little girl suffering burn wounds.

Take a look at her, and her suffering, then take a look at the blastocyst that could, eventually, be used to decrease her suffering, with your own two eyes.

How can you claim the discussion about human dignity is beyond Harris' understanding, when you would allow a human, with feelings, memories, thoughts, and above all, terrible pain, to suffer, for the sake of an entity that does not feel pain, and due to the source from which blastocysts for embryonic research are aquired, certainly never, ever will.

Of course, our perspectives are different. I find sentience, feelings, to be of worth. You find life in and of itself to be fundamentally worth more than feelings, than the pain of a little girl. (Am I correct, or misunderstanding you?)

Further, from my perspective, good is that which increases human happiness or decreases human pain, and evil is that which increases human pain, or decreases human happiness. (by habit I say human. I do think, for example, most other life is worthwhile as well, though I do not emphasize that as much, considering that I am forced to eat living entities to survive, due to the evolutionary design of my body! Certainly my cat, the lion at the zoo, the dog on my bed, the birds in the trees, etc, should not be needlessly hurt either.)

From my perspective, considering the lack of capacity for happiness in the blastocyst which would be used, and the fact that it will never have a capacity for such a thing, using it to decrease pain in other humans who DO possess those things which matter is, in fact, good. Or at least morally superior to not using said blastocysts, since not using them would, while defending the life of said blastocyst, cause proportionally more harm to the people who would be saved, if weighted by their ability to feel it.

You have a different view, obviously. I may have misconstrued your view, and if I have, I deeply apologize, and will happily accept correction on the nature of your beliefs, and alter my arguements and comments with that information in mind.


On another note, you speak solely of this point of Harris' book, and with much derision.

Yet you ignore the rest of the book, or at least don't choose to speak of it.

I wonder what your view of those things are?

And what your view of the fact that there is both no evidence for God's existence, and incredible evidence for natural causes for all things, or at least everything on this planet, is.

adam said...

I totally agree with you Anthony. I'm from sweden so I have not been following this stemcell debate very closely. We have the debate over here as well but in a very small scale since we are a rather seculized society compared to the U.S. The vast majority of Swedes are of course pro stemcell-research.

The fact that religious fundamentalists want to reject people in great suffering for the benefit of a human organism equally advanced as a bacteria is frightening. Perhaps even more frightening is the fact that a majorety of the american public will back these people up.

The american christian funtamentalism has increased alot lately, perhaps as a result of the increasing islamic fundamentalism over the last decades.
And quite frankly us europeans are getting nervous. Creationism and ideas like ID are now starting to spread to us. Yet the EU are now setting up barriers and laws to preserve the ideas of the age of enlightenment. Today the Swedish government passed a law that banned the teachings of fundamenalist ideas in Swedish schools. Morningprayer is allowed but ID and creationism is banned, at least in biology class. We can still read of it in religion class but it will never be teached as a complement or a substitute to real science based on empiric observations.

I personally haven't read "letter to a christian nation" but I'm sure I would find it an important book. But it's not all that important that I read it. The book is written for you guys, the Americans.

I hope all americans read it, because we need america to be a healthy country, you have too many guns for us to feel safe. But we will feel alot safer as long as we know that America is not beeing run by a bunch of fundamentalists.

I know I sound like a snugg european writing this but I'm not really. I like the U.S and you guys have alot of great stuff, and we have alot of problems over here as well. But you must realize that it freaks us out seeing how controlled you are by the bible, and by how much power is lying in the hands of fundamentalists. I saw that documentary "Jesus Camp" and than I heard that one of the leaders in that movie was Bushes personal religious advisor. Scary stuff!