3/9/09

Obama overturns Bush-era stem-cell policy

As you have no doubt heard, President Barack Obama plans to reverse a ban on federal funding on stem cell research that involves the destruction of human embryos today (the Bush-era policy only banned funding for EMBRYONIC stem cell research, there are lots of other kinds).

Administration officials said this move was part of a pledge to "use sound, scientific practice and evidence, instead of dogma" in making decisions on scientific issues. But what does that mean?

The Vatican recently called research that destroys human embryos "deeply immoral" - because it destroys human life. Obama's policy will see the government (and us tax-payers by extension) support this very practice. But the question remains: are the human embryos human beings? Do they have unalienable rights? Is it intrensically immoral to destroy them? It seems to me that this question MUST be answered convincingly before funding this type of research can go forward (only if the answer is the negative of course).

So, let me put the question back to the administration: who then is being "dogmatic"? The administration is deciding - on behalf of us all - not to have a discussion about who is a human being (famously "above Mr. Obama's pay-grade," as he said at the Saddleback debate) and is just going to go ahead and begin destroying embryos as if they are not human after all. But the discussion has not occured. Who is being dogmatic?

The appeal to "scientific evidence" is no help here either. I have discussed the relationship between science and the definition of "human being" (the anthropological question) at length and hope you will consider that post carefully because (as I argue there) Scientific method, by its very nature (dealing with empirical evidence), is unable to provide a satisfactory answer to that question, "what is a human being," (which is spiritual or metaphysical by nature). And while it may sound nice, and make the campaign donors happy, for the White House to say "we are going to let sound scientific evidence guide our policies" in this case that is a non-answer. And, I suggest, an extremely dangerous leg upon which to stand (or upon which to base policy decisions) - because it assumes that scientists can answer metaphysical or moral questions that clearly fall outside the purview of empirical methodology.

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2 Comments:

Blogger ShlomoG770 said...

The arrogance of the church to rant and rave when the government allows the unhindered expansion of Science or abortion rights is astounding. It seems to me that the church especially in a place like Louisiana enjoys to pick and choose which biblical commandments it wishes to obey and disregard – case in point the recent animal cruelty in New Iberia and the utter silence of the church in the “Bible Belt”.

Putting all of that aside I see that you are yet another advocate of the “Pulpit Cop-out” which is becoming a plague across the religious spectrum. Allow me to explain – The church and clergy today are moving farther and farther away from teaching morality and are looking for the government to pick up the slack due to their poor leadership and teaching abilities. Religion and the church especially have no place in government therefore policy should not be dictated by anyone’s faith.

The church is afraid that the government allowing stem cell research and abortion will mean that the abortion clinics will be overflowing with debauchery and immorality running rampant. The problem is no pastor would expect the government to teach his flock morals or faith for this is the role of the church and that specific denomination. So why do these same pastors demand that the government regulate morality? If you are so afraid of people getting abortions or stem cell research then it is YOUR place as a minister to teach your flock the responsible way to act, NOT to rely on the government to make things illegal because YOU were unable to instill biblical morality on your congregants! People will always get done what they want to get done regardless of its legality. For a good case study of this I suggest you study Prohibition.

My point is that people who consider themselves to be religious leaders need to stop the crying and moaning and get off the couch and start teaching morality! To rely on the government to teach morality is equivalent to letting a deaf, dumb, and blind babysitter to watch your children! The SECULAR government will do what it wants to do and what it sees as being best for people as a whole, this includes those with no religious affiliation. Therefore if you wish for people to not destroy embryos or to get abortions it is your place to make a difference with your congregants not to try and pressure SECULAR government to regulate morality.

You are guilty of a Pulpit Cop-Out

יחי אדוננו מורנו ורבנו מלך המשיח לעולם ועד

10:12 AM, March 11, 2009  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Dear ShlomoG770,

Thank you for your post. I think you get right at the heart of the discussion I am trying to have in (relatively) short order: what is the place of morality in (as you say) a secular society?

My concerns (please be sure to read my original post on the antropological question and its reltionship to laws concerning bioethics to which I linked in the blog you commented on) are as much in the realm of political theory as they are in religion and morality and my contention is simply that these cannot be seperated and any seperation is simply an artificial one created by the selective use of labels (for example Christianity is "a religion" but Communism is "an ideology" and so on).

If you will read some of my previous posting on political theory you will see that I have a very broad definition of "religion" to mean basically a coherent worldview that addresses the meaning of existence and from which moral/ethical principles of concrete action (and therefore legislation) can be coherently derived.

If you consider the ramifications of such a definition, you will realize that I do not believe there is a such a thing as non-religious legislation/government. We ban theft either because we believe that stealing is wrong or because we believe in some utilitarian sense that it runs counter to the Greater Good (please note the moral freight of THAT idea). We legislate welfare because we do not believe it is RIGHT for some to starve in our streets or because we think it could contribute to disease or disorder which we dislike because we believe that health and order are Good (again, note the moral judgment being made).

Upon what bases do these moral judgments rest that we as a society are continuously assuming but rarely examining? THAT is exactly the question I want to explore in much of my blogging.

Questions of bioethics are extremely pertinant here because they get right to our most sacred "secular" values (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness): who is a life? What constitutes liberty? Who decides? Upon what bases (philosophically) are these decisions to be made? What happens to the collective soul of a society in which some lives are degraded or destroyed to maintain other lives?

These questions simply scream for an honest, deep, thoughtful discussion but we as a culture have too often contented ourselves with ranting and name-calling (or dismissing people based upon where they live) rather than critical thinking & engagement (considering we all grew up in the age of the TV sound-bite, this comes as very little surprise). And this goes for "pro-lifers" as well as anyone.

SO please, let us have a discussion! I am contending that, biologically speaking, the moment of conception is the only moment in our life when something fundamentally different happens; it is the only moment when what we have transforms genetically from one sort of something(s) to something else - after that it is simply a matter of sustained growth until that group of cells is able to start blogging. Or falling in love. Or curing AIDS. So I am contending that this is the moment we must admit that human life begins AS such (and in our secular system the government is committed to protecting the life of its citizenry, is it not?).

Do you disagree with my contention about when a person becomes a person or whether it IS in fact the duty of the government to protect its citizenry (please note the clearly universal and non-sectarian nature of these questions). Wonderful! Lets talk about it: explain why you think what you think. I would like to hear it. It may be that you will persuade me to think differently if you present some evidence I have not yet considered, and I can alter my positions. I would love nothing better than to not have to worry about these issues.

You can get to my email on my profile page.

God bless!

9:40 AM, March 13, 2009  

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