Human Exceptionalism

Sam Harris Apparently Ignorant About ESCR Dispute

I love it when those who think they are smarter than the great unwashed, who at least believe in something rather than nothing, presume to talk down their noses–but are the ones who actually get it wrong. Atheist crusader, Sam Harris, is apparently one such advocate.

I bring this up because I was just reading today’s Nickolas D. Kristof column (who I tend to like) in the NYT (calling for a truce between religion and atheism) and he quoted Mr. Harris about the embryonic stem cell debate: “Mr. Harris,” Kristof writes, “makes some legitimate policy points, such as criticism of conservative Christians who try to block research on stem cells because of their potential to become humans. ‘Almost every cell in your body is a potential human being, given our recent advances in genetic engineering,’ notes Mr. Harris. ‘Every time you scratch your nose, you have committed a Holocaust of potential human beings.”

Ah, the hubris of the public intellectual who wrongly believes he is smarter than those he criticizes. First, the “conservative Christian” opponents of ESCR who I know do not criticize ESCR because stem cells are potential human beings. They know quite well that embryonic stem cells are just cells. Rather, they criticize ESCR because it destroys a human embryo, which is, from a biological perspective, a nascent and developing human being.

Second, cloning is the only technology by which any adult body cell could potentially be involved in the creation of a new human being. But that doesn’t make every body cell a potential human being. You see, just as in sexual reproduction, asexual reproduction–or cloning–requires an egg. So at most, every body cell is akin to a sperm cell–which is not a potential human being either, but just a cell.

Third, ESCR and “stem cell research” are not synonyms. The former is one form of the latter.

Fourth: And neither is stem cell research a synonym for somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning, (although the political-scientists pushing the cloning agenda pretend it is, and the media plays right along.) Thus, trying to block cloning is not the same at all as trying to block stem cell research.

In any event, if the quote in Kristof’s column is typical of the other arguments Harris makes, the great atheist crusader is the truly ignorant advocate. (Kristof appears woefully ignorant about ESCR, too, but at least he isn’t hubristic about it.) Then again, perhaps they both just listened to the folk affiliated with the Alliance for Medical Research, whose descriptions of embryonic stem cell research would earn them a flunking grade in a high school biology class.


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