I haven’t read any of Richard Dawkins’ many jeremiads against faith, and don’t plan to as I am not particularly concerned with issues of atheism vs. religious or spiritual belief. However, I must take note of something he wrote in his blog (which he modestly touts is “a clear thinking oasis”) criticizing opponents of ESCR (and by implication, research cloning) based on the idea that we should reject human exceptionalism.
Dawkins sarcastically decries ethical objections to ESCR as “partly a mystical reverence for humanness, as though all cells of Homo sapiens are suffused with a divine essence, some sort of sacred juice called Homsap, which no other species possesses. Such a notion is fundamentally un-evolutionary.” He then describes in highly emotional terms why we should care much more about the painful killing of animals than we do the destruction human embryos–as if the two concerns were mutually exclusive.
In fact, we don’t decry the infliction of gratuitous suffering on animals because of any evolutionary imperative, but rather, because we have moved as a species well beyond behaving based on purely Darwinstic impulses. Indeed, it seems to me that it is distinctly un-evolutionary–in the Dawkins sense of a meaningless, purposeless universe–for us to give much of a damn about other species. (Elephants care very much whether a lion tries to kill one of the herd’s calves, for example, but are quite indifferent when the same lion stalks a zebra.)
We are different. We evolved into or were created to be moral beings–it doesn’t much matter which or whether we arose from a combination of the two. In this regard, we are a truly exceptional species, giving us both unique moral value and unique moral responsibilities.
The best way in my mind to support human exceptionalism–and the great good that flows therefrom–is to concomitantly embrace intrinsic human worth, a belief that is embraced by the equality/sanctity of human life ethic. But equality of human life is opposed by advocates like Dawkins, as in the quoted blog entry, who advocate personhood theory in which any being’s moral value is equivalent to its level of awareness or consciousness. But the implications of personhood theory are truly horrific since, as I have written before, it would open the door to odious practices such as fetal farming and strip mining people diagnosed as permanently unconscious for their organs.
Some materialistic Darwinists also claim–I don’t know whether Dawkins does–that because we share so many genes with other life forms, we have no greater or lesser worth than they. This kind of thinking, if widely accepted and adopted, is also un-evolutionary because it would force us to cease making the welfare of humans as our primary imperative. I mean if we have to give equal consideration to a mouse as to a child, imagine the human harm and suffering that would go unalleviated.
In summary, because we are human–not elephant, not dog, not field mouse–we do and should concern ourselves with the suffering of cows. We do and should worry about the environment. And we do and should care very much about the intrinsic value of every member of the human family–whether nascent, healthy, ill, disabled, or elderly.
HT: AJOB blog