Human Exceptionalism

Neanderthal Resurrection Would Be Wrong

This is wrong on so many levels. A professor (of course!) would like to use cloning to resurrect a Neanderthal. From the Daily Mail story:

Professor George Church of Harvard Medical School believes he can reconstruct Neanderthal DNA and resurrect the species which became extinct 33,000 years ago. His scheme is reminiscent of Jurassic Park but, while in the film dinosaurs were created in a laboratory, Professor Church’s ambitious plan requires a human volunteer. He said his analysis of Neanderthal genetic code using samples from bones is complete enough to reconstruct their DNA. He said: ‘Now I need an adventurous female human. ‘It depends on a hell of a lot of things, but I think it can be done.’

Professor Church’s plan would begin by artificially creating Neanderthal DNA based on genetic code found in fossil remains. He would put this DNA into stem cells. These would be injected into cells from a human embryo in the early stages of life. It is thought that the stem cells would steer the development of the hybrid embryo on Neanderthal lines, rather than human ones.

I can’t think of anything morally valid about this idea. The woman would be treated as a mere brood mare, and who knows what adverse physical consequences could flow from gestating a non human. The Neanderthal, if born, would likely be deformed, as we have seen with animal cloning. The human embryo would be used as a mere thing–again! The Neanderthals were a social species, rational and self-aware, probably possessed of moral agency and a sense of spirituality. A Neanderthal child, even if born without birth defects, would likely suffer from being recreated as an experiment in an act of scientific hubris, and without any others of his or her kind with which to associate. 

I suspect the point would be to undermine human exceptionalism–anathema to many within the intellectual elite. For example, Richard Dawkins has yearned for a hybrid species with which to smash HE like a cudgel, writing in The Great Ape Project:

It is sheer luck that this handful of intermediates [between humans and our evolutionary ancestors] no longer exist…But for this chance, our laws and our morals would be very different. We need only discover a single survivor, say a relict Australopithecus in the Budongo Forest, and our precious system of norms and ethics could come crashing about our ears. The boundaries with which we segregate our world would be shot to pieces.  Racism would blur with speciesism in obdurate and vicious confusion. Apartheid, for those that believe in it, would assume a new and perhaps more urgent import…

This arresting picture is hypothetical.  But I can assert without fear of contradiction, that if somebody succeeded in breeding a chimpanzee/human hybrid the news would be earth-shattering.  Bishops would bleat, lawyers would gloat in anticipation, conservative politicians would thunder, socialists wouldn’t know where to put the barricades. The scientist that achieved the feat would be drummed out of politically correct common-rooms; denounced in pulpit and gutter press; condemned, perhaps, by an Ayatollah’s fatwa.

If not a hybrid, perhaps a Neanderthal would serve Dawkins and his ilk’s desires. We would still be exceptional, of course. But if we ever did such a monstrous thing, we would be less moral.  


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