Phi Beta Cons

Modern Science: No Place for Soul?

Here is an example of how modern science prompts people to reason about human cloning.  In a recent Commentary article, author Leon Kass cites this 1997 statement on human cloning from the International Academy of Humanism, which includes such luminaries as Francis Crick, Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, Isaiah Berlin, W.V. Quine, and Kurt Vonnegut:

What moral issues would human cloning raise?  Some world religions teach that human beings are fundamentally different from other mammals–that humans have been imbued by a deity with immortal souls, giving them a value that cannot be compared to that of other living things.  Human nature is held to be unique and sacred.  Scientific advances which pose a perceived risk of altering this “nature’ are angrily opposed …. [But] as far as the scientific enterprise can determine … [h]uman capabilities appear to differ in degree, not in kind, from those found among the higher animals.  Humanity’s rich repertoire of thoughts, feelings, aspirations, and hopes seem to arise from electrochemical brain processes, not from an immaterial soul that operates in ways no instrument can discover …. Views of human nature rooted in humanity’s tribal past ought not to be our primary criterion for making moral decisions about cloning …. The potential benefits of cloning may be so immense that it would be a tragedy if ancient theological scruples should lead to a Luddite rejection of cloning.

The whole article, titled “Science, Religion, and the Human Future,” is in the April issue and is highly recommended.    Kass counters the assault with weapons from that “tribal past” and proposes scientific alternatives to such abject materialism, but warns, “No one should underestimate the growing cultural power of scientific materialism and reductivism.”