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May 25, 2010

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the media labels Venter's work wrong a lot.

here

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKZ-GjSaqgo

you can hear him keep repeating:

"this is not genesis"
"this is not genesis"

when he's not being careful, in the parlance of speech, the words probably do come out sounding like it is though.

He's got a lot of religious nuts who write him weird letters and accuse him of basically being satan. So he has to be careful. you can read some of their (often VERY funny) comments here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47rUrlzdK3k

>> "But it doesn’t represent the creation of life from scratch"

well they made the genome from scratch. So I guess you can say they made *half* of life from scratch.

It's not particularly important or economically viable for them to even bother with the other half -- researching the process of creating a cell membrane. It just simply probably isn't particularly necessary or useful at this time.

It would kind of be like opening a Pet Rock factory, and then using concrete to manufacture your own rocks. Why bother? they are everywhere and they're cheap.

>> not the creation of a new life form

well, their goal in this experiment was to scan and print a genome.

Now comes the next phase, to tweak the genome (of algae probably) to excrete fuel we can use (hydrocarbon-ish).

When that phase is done, by most definitions, they will have indeed created a new life form.

And then, a few decades down the road, that's when things get interesting.

Suppose you own a factory and you need some cheap slave labor. It is immoral to make a slave out of Melinda. But, not such a big sin to make a slave out of chimpanzees. But it's hard to get chimps to concentrate on their work. So if we take Melinda's genome, and tweak it, such that the resulting construct is, a bit more like a chimp, what have we produced?

humans?
chimps?
something in-between?

How much can we tweak a human genome, before God decides that it is no longer one of his creations. And hence, it will not be judged as such after its death?

Who holds the master definition of what exactly is a human, and what is not?

It's cool that the Philosophy of Biology is finally getting some airplay.

Gonna get pretty complicated for Christians though. If I was still Christian, I don't know how i'd answer the above questions...?

It proves that someone researched, put the items together that they wanted and then said, "Wow, things could have happened by chance!" So-called science certainly requires a great deal of faith.

Wow, what does someone have to do to get some respect here? It's not quite fair to use the fact that someone's research is misrepresented in the news media as a weapon against the person doing the work. It sounds like you are criticizing them for not doing something that they never claimed they were doing.

These people have accomplished something amazing. In the process they developed new methods that are likely to prove very valuable for future research. Sometimes it's okay to step back and admire something that someone has accomplished, even if you don't agree with them on everything.

"Gonna get pretty complicated for Christians though."

Nah...

Prince,

Are these people guilty of murder or animal cruelty?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6o_Vl2f07Q

eric,

ya its sad some people don't get it.

they don't realize that Venter and his team are quite possibly the savior of mankind.

These discoveries could in theory lead to clean energy that is basically free, and an end to world hunger and bacterial infection.

I don't think the media hyped it enough.

This is, in my opinion, much more important than the moon landing.

ToNy,

I guess my enthusiasm for this falls somewhere between your's and Melinda's. I think what they've done is very cool, and has great potential, but I would hold off on predicting an end to world hunger and all that.

Wake up.

This talk about who hyped, over-hyped, or hyper-over-hyped is a distraction.

This is a really big deal assuming even that it has no implications whatsoever for origins.

Here's what to talk about about: risks and benefits.

RonH

It seems to me that if we have the ability to create organisms that can do good, we can also create organisms that can do harm. That, to me, is a scary thought. But I still think it's very cool.

Tony, as far as creating critters that are more similar to humans than monkeys are and where to draw the line between human and non-human, I think you're right that it could become difficult for us to say who is human and who isn't. But I don't see how that is a problem uniquely for Christians. As far as practical ethics, it seems to be an equal problem for everybody. As far as figuring out whether the promises of God apply to them, I'm sure Gid knows who counts as human and who doesn't.

Tony,

"How much can we tweak a human genome, before God decides that it is no longer one of his creations. And hence, it will not be judged as such after its death?"

That is a simple question to answer. When that organism has no concept of moral categories. At that point, we will not have improved the species, but made it worse...far worse and along with it, the world as well. You, Tony, will hate a world like that because it will stand for everything you consider evil.

I should point out that it is pure speculation regarding our ability to effect changes of this kind in offspring of human beings.

I think Dr. Venter just provided some scientific evidence to support the notion that life is the product of an intelligent designer.

Louis,

>> When that organism has no concept of moral categories. At that point, we will not have improved the species, but made it worse

some people have no "concept of moral categories"

are they not human?

Sam,

>> But I don't see how that is a problem uniquely for Christians.

because Christians think some constructs have souls that go to heaven.

Now they just have to decide which constructs are soul-worthy and which ones arent.

Tony, I and most Christians I know think all animals have souls whether they are human or not. I still don't see what problem there is for Christians or Christianity. I can see why there might be ambiguity in whether somebody is human enough to be a player in the whole salvation scenario, but I don't see why Christians need to be able place everybody in the proper category. I'm sure God will handle it just fine.

Sam,

For example, this will be really an interesting question when designer babies come out.

If I tweak my kids genome such that its 5% different than mine, can my kid still go to heaven?

p.s. chimps are 5% different than you

"p.s. chimps are 5% different than you"

It is the differences that usually matter.

ToNy,

I don't see that the raw amount of genetic change would be important. It's the effect of the changes that would be important. After all, if we took the DNA sequence coding for a single 100 amino acid protein, there are more than 1.27^30 DNA sequences that can encode that exact same amino acid sequence. We could change somewhere beaten 1/3 and 2/3 of the coding DNA sequences without changing a single amino acid in a single protein. That would be a huge amount of genetic difference relative to the phenotypic difference we would see. (There would be some phenotypic differences, but that's not really important to the point here.)

If we imagine that the Christian worldview consistently holds that judgement is dependent on the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, then there doesn't seem to be a problem. Even if no human can decide where along the spectrum an individual lies, an all-knowing God would be able to do so.

I am curious if Christians think this is an all-or-none proposition. Is there, theoretically, some point at which the moral sense is so reduced that judgment no longer applies? If so, is the default destination Heaven, or Hell, or neither? (I would think neither, the same as any non-human animal.)

A few things. First, I didn't read any moral stance or claim by Melinda in her post other pointing out that what the media said happened isn't what scientists are saying happened. She in no way maligned the researchers work, but questioned whether or not we were given the real picture by those who gave us the information (ie, the media who published the findings).

Second, there is virtually no implication for the Christian here. How would man creating or altering life change whether or not God is the original author of it? Does this scientist doing this prove that humans created humans? No. Though, as one person pointed out, it does show evidence of intelligent design. It certainly isn't any proof for random chance and evolution, since this wasn't a random creation of life but an extraordinarily designed and purposed attempt at it.

As far as implications go, ethical implications aren't challenges for Christians, but for those who are blurring ethical boundaries. I don't know how we will determine human from unhuman thanks to such genetic modification. But I won't be guilty of any sin with regards to this science if I don't participate in it. So there are zero implications for me as a Christian.

To clarify my last point a little bit, I am challenging the contention that every time someone broaches some ethical boundary, such as cloning, genetic modification, etc., the claim is made that this poses problems for the Christian. I just don't see how someone else crossing ethical boundaries, is an issue for anyone other than the one who made the decision to cross it. The ability to cross boundaries doesn't pose a threat for Christians. We already know that humans are capable of doing amazing, and amazingly dangerous things. The question of whether or not we should hardly poses a challenge for the validity of the Christian faith. The fact that we are asking if we should, though, seems to be a support for the Christian claims to objective moral values. We wouldn't even have a discussion on ethics if there wasn't some natural sense of morality within us.

And to ToNy's point about some humans not having moral categories- we tend to call them sociopaths and see them as a threat to society. They are not normative to our species. This isn't the same as the creation of an entire species that lacks moral sense. It is just as much of a red herring to this discussion as using incest or rape as your argument for abortion on demand. One has nothing to truly say about the other.

Nice, Michael.

>>"Who holds the master definition of what exactly is a human, and what is not?"

Funny thing to ask on a Christian blog.

Tony, yes, that is an interesting question, but you still haven't explained why such a scenario is a problem for Christianity. Supposing Christians just don't know who is human, who isn't, who is going to heaven or hell, or who isn't going anywhere, how does that work out as a problem for Christianity?

Sam,

>> Supposing Christians just don't know who is human...how does that work out as a problem for Christianity?

If they no longer know who is human, the prolife movement is dead -- for starters.

Michael,

>> I just don't see how someone else crossing ethical boundaries, is an issue for anyone other than the one who made the decision to cross it.

Well, the Nazi's deciding to kill all Jews became "an issue" for Christians eventually.

And, many Christians asserted their right to put a stop to it.

Eventually, bioethics and the Philosophy of Biology will come pounding on your door.

It's just a question of when.

Eric,

>> I don't see that the raw amount of genetic change would be important. It's the effect of the changes that would be important.

I'm using the percentage as an abstraction. Truly, the epigenetic instruction sets are of utmost importance as well. But they don't change the problem at all.

>> Even if no human can decide where along the spectrum an individual lies, an all-knowing God would be able to do so.

It is not disputed that God knows which constructs are his people.

The question is, how will his people know?

>> Is there, theoretically, some point at which the moral sense is so reduced that judgment no longer applies?

well ya.

kids who die via miscarriage have no 'moral sense'

>> If so, is the default destination Heaven, or Hell, or neither?

Most Christians say heaven. Though the bible isn't too clear about it.

David Hawkins,

>>"Who holds the master definition of what exactly is a human, and what is not?" Funny thing to ask on a Christian blog.

good

if the question is so easy, write down the answer so we can solve the Species Problem.

ToNy,
What ever these "things" ever become in the future will be no problem for Christians since we don't judge, God does.

Tonya, we've been going back and forth because I misunderstood what you were saying. I originally thought you were saying that if it ever becomes ambiguous whether somebody is a human or not that that somehow works out as an argument against Christianity. But now it sounds like you're just saying it would creates some ethical difficulties for Christians, since Christians have to decide how to treat ambiguous "people." I agree with you about that, but I wouldn't go so far as to say it would kill the pro-life movement. Scott Klusendorf and others have argued for a long time that even if we didn't know whether the unborn were human beings worthy of life, that would still not justify abortion since it's better to err on the side of life. I'm sure you've heard his building demolition analogy. But besides, if it turned out there were some ambiguous "people" in wombs, it wouldn't follow that everybody else would become ambiguous, and the pro-life movement could continue to defend the life of unambiguous people--people who are not the result of artificial DNA tampering. Of course given enough generations and interbreeding, it may get to the point that everybody is a descendant of somebody whose DNA has been tampered with, which would raise the question of what a human is or where to draw the line. And that will have important ramifications for the pro-life movement. But I don't think it will kill the movement.

I mean Tony, not Tonya. Sorry. :-)

ToNy,

I took/am taking your claim that these issues are somehow problematic for Christianity to be you somehow suggesting that we, as Christians, must be able to provide an adequate ethical/philosophical response to what someone else does or else Christianity is either false, or simply not viable. If this isn't what you are suggesting, then I apologize for assuming it is. If it is what you are suggesting, then I am not real sure what Nazi Germany has to do with it. I think it is pretty clear that, as a Christian, watching a country exterminate people it doesn't like is a problem. But even if we, as Christians, don't act/react/respond appropriately or fast enough, it doesn't change either the ethical decision of the perpetrator (such as Hitler), or whether or not God exists or approves of what that person is doing. In other words, I don't have to be able to provide an expert ethical answer or counter to everything anyone brings up in order for Christianity to be true. But the people actually blurring ethical boundaries, such as Hitler, are the ones actually responsible for, at the very least, providing THEIR philosophical and ethical argument for why they should be allowed to do something that seems wrong to the rest of us.

Sam,

>> even if we didn't know whether the unborn were human beings worthy of life, that would still not justify abortion since it's better to err on the side of life.

This whole argument is based on a subjective analysis of the construct in question.

How sure are you that a gorilla is not a "human being worthy of life"?

If you're not 100% sure, then we should give gorillas 'human rights' of course.

>> it may get to the point that everybody[s]...DNA has been tampered with, which would raise the question of what a human is or where to draw the line.

We don't even know where to draw the line now.

For example, given a sample of the following genomes, circle the ones that are children of God like Sam is.

(Homo antecessor, Homo rhodesiensis, Homo rudolfensis, Homo habilis, Homo cepranensis, Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, Homo floresiensis, Homo georgicus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis)

NWNCMike ,

>> What ever these "things" ever become in the future will be no problem for Christians since we don't judge, God does.

Every time you have dinner, you make a judgment about whether or not the construct you're about to eat is human or not.

Michael,

>> the people actually blurring ethical boundaries, such as Hitler, are the ones actually responsible for, at the very least, providing THEIR philosophical and ethical argument for why they should be allowed to do something that seems wrong to the rest of us.

Well you can definitely adopt a 'bury my head in the sand' stance for a while.

But eventually, something like the following scenarios will come up in your life, or the lives of your posterity:

Suppose your daughter wants to marry a chimpanzee. Do you give her your blessing?
ANSWER: No.
Suppose your daughter wants to marry a man with a 5% altered genome. Do you give her your blessing?
ANSWER: I don't know.

Suppose you have to choose to save a sinking ship full of 100 chimpanzees, or 100 students. Who do you save?
ANSWER: The students.
Suppose you have to choose to save a sinking ship full of 100 chimpanzees, or 100 men with 5% altered genomes. Who do you save?
ANSWER: I don't know.

Suppose your military commander tells you to use some chimps to clear a mine field so he can cross it and save an orphanage? Do you do it?
ANSWER: Yes.
Suppose your military commander tells you to use some humanzees to clear a mine field so he can cross it and save an orphanage? Do you do it? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanzee)
ANSWER: I don't know.

Suppose your kid goes to the pet store and wants a pet mouse. Do you buy it for him?
ANSWER: Sure.
Suppose your kid goes to the pet store and wants a mouse that's been modified using human genes -- to have increased life span. Do you buy it for him? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humouse)
ANSWER: I don't know.

As I said in my last post, I assumed your point was that Christians need to answer these questions to somehow offer validity to the Christian worldview. If that wasn't your point, then we don't seem to have the disagreement I thought we did. If that was your point, then I am not sure how we are "responsible" to answer any of these questions in a way that is different from anyone else. Don't non-Christians also need to decide if killing Jews, marrying chimps, or marrying humanoids with 5% altered dna are acceptable? These aren't uniquely Christian problems. And I never suggested the "burying your head in the sand" approach you suggest. I never said that we should just avoid answering any questions we don't want to answer or don't feel prepared to answer. I said we aren't bound to provide answers to every question asked, just because someone asked it. That isn't the same as burying your head in the sand. I don't need to be able to provide an ethical answer to a hypothetical question about 5% altered dna humanoids since they are hypothetical, don't exist now, and likely won't exist in my lifetime. If this issue becomes a reality, it may or may not need addressed by Christians (but no more so than by any other human with an ethical or moral compass).

You also assume answers to questions that might not have "I don't know" as the answer. No, I wouldn't by a mouse altered with human genes/dna. I would easily choose to save humans with 5% altered genome over chimpanzees. Chances are, I wouldn't risk my life for chimps regardless of if there are humans to save or not.

Michael,
>> As I said in my last post, I assumed your point was that Christians need to answer these questions to somehow offer validity to the Christian worldview.
Nah my point was in my first post:
"Gonna get pretty complicated for Christians"
>> I am not sure how we are "responsible" to answer any of these questions in a way that is different from anyone else... These aren't uniquely Christian problems.
it's uniquely Christian because Christians believe that some constructs have been selected to glorify god and love him forever, and some haven't.
So the question is, which constructs are the selected ones, and which ones aren't.
Christians of the future will have to devise a taxonomy for separating the children of god from the "animals".
>> If this issue becomes a reality, it may or may not need addressed by Christians
this is true with every issue
>> I would easily choose to save humans with 5% altered genome over chimpanzees.
What about 15%?

How sure are you that a gorilla is not a "human being worthy of life"?

About 99.9%. That 0.1% is only there because of the possibility that I'm plugged into the matrix or something like that.

We don't even know where to draw the line now.

You may not know, but the rest of us do.

For example, given a sample of the following genomes, circle the ones that are children of God like Sam is.

(Homo antecessor, Homo rhodesiensis, Homo rudolfensis, Homo habilis, Homo cepranensis, Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, Homo floresiensis, Homo georgicus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis)

First, you circle the ones that are alive today.

Sam,

>> How sure are you that a gorilla is not a "human being worthy of life"? About 99.9%.

So you're saying you're not 100% sure.

Then by your above logic, whenever we're not sure that a given construct is a human being, we should err on the side that it is. Hence, Sam must believe gorillas are humans beings.

>> You may not know [where to draw the line], but the rest of us do.

If you do, then you could solve the Species Problem for us and you could be famous.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Species_problem

>> First, you circle the ones that are alive today.

Would it change the question? Could we not talk about the ethical rights of Sam's genome, even if Sam was dead?

Michael,

I pretty much agree with the points you made in your comment containing this, but I couldn't let this gem just pass by:

" I think it is pretty clear that, as a Christian, watching a country exterminate people it doesn't like is a problem."

It is not at all clear that Christians necessarily see this as a problem. See, for one of several examples, 1 Samuel 15.

""3 'Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'"

And God was mad afterwards, because they didn't kill all the sheep.

So, no, it is not clear that Christians (qua Christians) think it is a problem for a country to exterminate people it doesn't like.

Tony, how certain would you have to be that nobody was in a building before you'd feel comfortable blowing it up? Do we have to solve the problem of heaps before we can even address the question? I don't know exactly what % doubt should make the difference in whether we should err on the side of caution, but I don't see why we need to put a number on it. We all know what humans are and that gorillas are not humans. Anybody who says otherwise is just playing a game.

Likewise, I don't see why we need to solve the species problem before we can tell a human from a gorilla. Good grief. Are you even being serious?

If none of your examples of humanoids are alive today, then they create no moral difficulty for Christians. We don't need to figure out whether it's okay to kill something that isn't alive.

Now let's try to stay focused. You thought the emergence of human-like creatures with tampered DNA would put a stop to the pro-life movement. I agreed that it would create a difficulty, but disagreed that it would put a stop to the movement. If you think the problem of heaps is enough to kill the movement by refuting Klusendorf's argument from the building analogy, you are far too optimistic.

sam,

>> how certain would you have to be that nobody was in a building before you'd feel comfortable blowing it up?

the building analogy doesnt really work here because no one INTENDS to dismember any creature in a demolition. Whereas in abortion, dismemberment of a creature is the goal.

In other words, a shoddy demo-man is not guilty of the same sin as an abortion doctor.

>> Do we have to solve the problem of heaps before we can even address the question?

nah. unrelated.

>> I don't know exactly what % doubt should make the difference in whether we should err on the side of caution, but I don't see why we need to put a number on it.

That's the point.

There is NO objective scale with which to use Scott Kluesendorfs argument for utility.

>> We all know what humans are and that gorillas are not humans. Anybody who says otherwise is just playing a game.

Nah. Not a game.

The Philosophy of Biology.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_biology

>> Likewise, I don't see why we need to solve the species problem before we can tell a human from a gorilla.

Then you are merely asserting your will to divide the world as Sam sees fit.

The pro-choicers are doing the same thing.

>> Good grief. Are you even being serious?

Dead serious.

This is the answer to the abortion issue.

>> If none of your examples of humanoids are alive today, then they create no moral difficulty for Christians.

Well these were just examples of genomes that have existed -- whos theological status is in question.

My goal was to show that such genomes have existed in the past. And such genomes will exist in the future.

>> We don't need to figure out whether it's okay to kill something that isn't alive.

Well they ain't here yet.

Soon.

>> You thought the emergence of human-like creatures with tampered DNA would put a stop to the pro-life movement.

No. You said "suppos[e] Christians just don't know who is human...how does that work out as a problem?"

I said one problem would be, if you "no longer know who is human, the prolife movement is dead."

Which is true.

Surely it would be silly to argue to keep humans alive, if you don't know "who is human".

Tony,

First, you tried to refute Klusendorf's argument using the problem of heaps. Now you're trying to refute the argument by saying it is disanalogous. But you are missing the point of my question. My question was meant to rebut your argument from heaps. So how would you answer the question? Or COULD you answer the question? Or do you NEED to be able to answer the question before you could make a decision about whether to blow the building up?

There is NO objective scale with which to use Scott Kluesendorfs argument for utility.

But do we even NEED an objective scale? Let's just forget about abortion, extinct humanoids, and enhanced DNA humanoids from the future, and let's just talk for a minute about blowing up a building. Do we need an objective scale for how sure we are that there are no people in a building before it's okay for us to blow it up? If so, tell me exactly how sure you would need to be before you'd feel comfortable blowing it up. And make it accurate to four significant digits while you're at it.

Nah. Not a game.

The Philosophy of Biology.

I'm sorry, Tony, but I'm just having a hard time taking you seriously. You don't need to be a philosopher of biology to tell a gorilla from a human. We could tell gorillas from humans before we even discovered DNA. It isn't that hard. If you're confused about it, then I don't know what to tell you.

Then you are merely asserting your will to divide the world as Sam sees fit.

...because I can tell a human from a gorilla. Uh. Okay.

>> Good grief. Are you even being serious?

Dead serious.

Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle!

Well these were just examples of genomes that have existed -- whos theological status is in question.

My goal was to show that such genomes have existed in the past. And such genomes will exist in the future.

More specifically, your goal was demonstrate an ethical difficulty for Christianity. But that didn't exactly work out. Maybe if they were still alive today, it would have. But, it would've been just as much of a difficulty for non-Christians as it would've been for Christians since we'd all have to live with them and make ethical decisions regarding them.

Surely it would be silly to argue to keep humans alive, if you don't know "who is human".

And that brings us back to Klusendorf's building analogy. Tell me something, Tony. Since you can't tell a human from a gorilla, do you think it's wrong for the government to punish people for murder?

>> First, you tried to refute Klusendorf's argument... So how would you answer the question?

well its just quite a tangent from the philosophy of biology - which is what this thread is about. And i'm just not all that interested in it. cuz as far as the problem of heaps goes, it's not related to the question about whether or not the Linnean taxonomy stands as a referent for natural kinds. As far as erring on the side of utility goes, there's LOTS of ways to approach the abortion issue via that route.

Why don't you just say:

"I Sam know that human life doesn't begin at the sperm stage, because, if it did, our jail system couldn't handle the amount of murdering masturbators we'd have to prosecute."

>> let's just talk for a minute about blowing up a building. Do we need an objective scale

In demolition, the city planning commission oversees the modus operandi. So their checklist is the metric for safety.

>> Then you are merely asserting your will to divide the world as Sam sees fit....because I can tell a human from a gorilla. Uh. Okay.

Ya

For example, you're just invoking a rule set to decide which things are ok for Sam to not bestow human rights upon.

Like, "This thing has more hair than me, so it's not like me."

or

"This thing has a smaller head than me, so it's not like me."

One could use the same method for claiming blacks aren't human, for example.

It's not enough just to fold your arms and say "I can tell them apart." You have to provide reasoned arguments and metrics when you make a taxonomy.

>> it would've been just as much of a difficulty for non-Christians as it would've been for Christians since we'd all have to live with them and make ethical decisions regarding them.

Surely this is why bioethics and the philosophy of biology exist.

But in addition to that treatment, Christians believe that there exists a Natural Kind for the set of humans. So they will be further tasked with the challenge of unearthing this divine set. Whereas non-believers don't bear that burden.

>> do you think it's wrong for the government to punish people for murder?

I don't believe in objective morality. But it wouldn't change my arguments either way.

I would argue the EXACT same way (that the Linnean Taxonomy does not stand as a referent for natural kinds) even if I were a fundamentalist Christian.

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