Weigh station for the soul
who plays god
How can you tell if a person's opposition to abortion and embryo research is informed by religion and other pre-Darwinian ideas, even if the person claims otherwise? Here’s a simple acid test.
Francis Fukuyama, like many other neoconservatives, claims that religion has nothing to do with his opposition to embryo cloning and other human-affecting biotechnologies. In Challenging Nature, I wrote that Fukuyama's views were driven by a "traditional Christian conceptualization of a human soul." But the science journalist Brian Alexander (who has taken Christian fundamentalists to task in his other writings) says in a book review that "God references are just handy devices in what amounts to a hard-boiled political fight." In particular, he claims that Fukuyama is careful "not to appeal to religion," and I should take him and others (who deny religious influences) at their word. In fact, Alexander is playing right into their hands as I learned from an acid test for Judeo-Christian proclivities that I ministered personally to Fukuyama.

A primer on the science and politics of religious denial by religionists
In a twist of irony, pro-life advocates and assorted opponents of embryo research have discovered the benefits of embracing science and avoiding religion in the public square. When the South Dakota legislature voted to ban abortion, they appealed to "scientific studies" and "scientific advances" since Roe v. Wade to conclude that "each human being is totally unique immediately at fertilization." Among the architects of this new strategy is Robert P. George, a right-wing Catholic and professor of politics at Princeton, who thinks it's immoral for a husband and wife to engage in sex for pleasure alone, and who pledged (according to The Nation's Max Blumenthal) to continue "respecting the rights of conscience of my fellow citizens who believe that the killing of abortionists is sometimes a tragic necessity--not a good, but a lesser evil."

Remarkably, George claims that his Catholicism has nothing to do with his views of human life. Instead, he's written repeatedly that, "the scientific evidence establishes the fact that each of us was, from conception, a human being. Science, not religion, vindicates this crucial premise of the pro-life claim." What scientific evidence is he talking about? Eric Cohen, editor of The New Atlantis explains in his article, The Embryo Question II: The Tragedy of Equality: "If we trace an individual life backwards biologically—from adulthood to adolescence to infancy to birth to the fetal stage to the embryonic stage—there is only one bright line that separates being from non-being: fertilization." In other words, since all scientists agree that embryonic development is continuous, any sharp line that anyone attempts to draw -- after fertilization -- between non-human beingness and human beingness is arbitrary.
In fact, I think the logic of this argument is quite robust.
The problem lies entirely in the critical assumption (usually left unstated) underlying the argument. As George explains it: being a whole human organism (whether immature or not) is an either/or matter—a thing either is or is not a whole human being." But since Darwin, biologists have known this assumption is false -- there is no sharp line between non-humans and human beings during evolution, and there need not be one during development from an embryo to a baby.  Although the counter-argument {human beings were created instantaneously as a species, and they are conceived instantaneously, one-by-one} has Greek origins, it becomes entirely religious in the light of modern scientific understanding.

An acid test for religious proclivities -- which may exist covertly or subconsciously -- needs to avoid direct engagement with issues of religious contention like evolution and embryonic development. The test should instead be a thought-experiment about fully mature potential-human beings that scientists could actually bring to life based on current knowledge and technology. Here it is:
Imagine that human and chimp cells isolated from early embryos are brought together to create a mixed-species chimeric embryo. If the embryo is allowed to develop to term, a healthy partial-chimp/partial-human child could be born with any proportion of chimp and human cells (from 1% to 99%) in each tissue and organ. The question I posed to Francis Fukuyama is whether he thought every one of these individuals could be definitively classified either as a human being or as a non-human being; the alternative idea is that no sharp line exists anywhere along a continuum from chimp to human (and, by inference, between embryo and child), even though the extremes clearly fall into two different categories.
Fukuyama's response was that each adult chimera had to be a human being or a non-human being because there was no such thing as a partial human adult. This answer reveals the Judeo-Christian intuition (conscious or subconscious) at the core of a person's belief system; it is fundamentally in opposition to post-Darwinian scientific understanding. But it's not just themselves that some neocons are fooling; it's independent supporters of biomedical research, like Brian Alexander, who think it's mostly just politics.
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