Shea’s Iron Law of New York Times Science Coverage

When Christians write about science, they are imposing their religion on the free pursuit of TRVTH. When scientists pontificate about religion, they are just innocently writing about science with no agenda at all. Nope. None whatsoever. Really.

Case in point: This little bulletin from the Ministry of Truth in the Dictatorship of Relativism called “Are Scientists Playing God? It Depends on Your Religion” which ran in the New York Times on November 20, 2007. Posing as a science article, this bit of typing is essentially a puff piece on and free advertising for a molecular biologist named Lee Silver, who is hawking his new book Challenging Nature in which he makes the case for “playing God” and getting on the biological manipulation bandwagon before Asian nations without all our ridiculous Western theological baggage win the race to the bottom.

The piece signals where it’s going from the starting gun:

American and European researchers have made most of the progress so far in biotechnology. Yet they still face one very large obstacle — God, as defined by some Western religions.

Translation: Mr. President, we must not allow a cannibalism gap!

We are darkly warned that as we fritter away our time on outdated moral principles like “human dignity” and “rights” rooted in the barbarous Judeo-Christian view of man made in the image and likeness of God, “prominent Western scientists have been going to Asia.” Why Asia? Because of “a different view of divinity and the afterlife.”

In South Korea, when Hwang Woo Suk reported creating human embryonic stem cells through cloning, he did not apologize for offending religious taboos. He justified cloning by citing his Buddhist belief in recycling life through reincarnation.

The mysterious East! A paradise of religious toleration free of all the superstitious hobgoblins that hamper Science in the West (just ask the involuntary organ donors in Chinese prisons.)

The Times reporter, as informed about Buddhism as Christopher Hitchens is about Christianity, twice repeats the trope that “research with embryos was in accord with Buddha’s precepts” and that “Therapeutic cloning in particular jibes well with the Buddhist and Hindu ideas of reincarnation.” However, the Dalai Lama would tend to dispute this.

The reality is not that the Buddha smiles on cannibalizing embryos, but that some Buddhists favor it, some oppose it, and Buddhism itself is naked and prostrate before the Western philosophical disease of an utterly desacralized technocracy. Meanwhile, in the West, Christian philosophy has developed a rather sophisticated way to treat of the question of the human person and the New York Times wishes that were not so.

That’s why the Times turns, not to a theologian or a philosopher, but to just such a desacralized technocrat, to pontificate on religion. Silver informs us that

Most of southern and eastern Asia displays relatively little opposition to either cloned embryonic stem-cell research or genetically modified crops.

And if a country as respectful of creation and human dignity as China is doing it, can Americans afford to quibble over these dumb Abrahamic superstitions? The Times continues:

In Europe, though, genetically modified crops are taboo. Cloning human embryos for research has been legally supported in England and several other countries, but it is banned in more than a dozen others, including France and Germany.

Why on earth would a nation like Germany have hesitations about playing God? Must be that damned Judeo-Christian religion again. If only Germany could find some final solution to completely extirpate the influence of this Judaic tradition in its midst, it too might be free to pursue Science as the Chinese do! I can't imagine what would make Europeans so timid about all that.

Dr. Silver explains these patterns by dividing spiritual believers into three broad categories. The first, traditional Christians, predominate in the Western Hemisphere and some European countries. The second, which he calls post-Christians, are concentrated in other European countries and parts of North America, especially along the coasts. The third group are followers of Eastern religions.

“Most people in Hindu and Buddhist countries,” Dr. Silver says, “have a root tradition in which there is no single creator God. Instead, there may be no gods or many gods, and there is no master plan for the universe. Instead, spirits are eternal and individual virtue — karma — determines what happens to your spirit in your next life. With some exceptions, this view generally allows the acceptance of both embryo research to support life and genetically modified crops.”

Prescription: Continue laboring to extirpate the Judeo-Christian tradition in the Americas and urge Euros to exorcise its last ghostly influences. Or else we lose the race to cannibalize the fetus for fun and profit. And since whatever happens to the reincarnated one is what he deserves, it is just as reasonable to ask, “Why limit the cannibalization to fetuses?” Oh wait! China’s already doing that with its political prisoners.

By contrast, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, God is the master creator who gives out new souls to each individual human being and gives humans “dominion” over soul-less plants and animals. To traditional Christians who consider an embryo to be a human being with a soul, it is wrong for scientists to use cloning to create human embryos or to destroy embryos in the course of research.

Um, no. In the Christian tradition, human beings have rational souls. Non-human living things have souls appropriate to their nature. A turnip has a turnip's soul, a dog a doggie soul, etc. Nature is not, in the Catholic view, just a pile of exploitable raw materials we do with as we will. It is sacred and sacramental, because it is God's creation. Our dominion is not absolute, it is conditioned by the command to tend the earth and care for it since it is ultimately the property of our Father.

But there is no such taboo against humans’ applying cloning and genetic engineering to “lower” animals and plants. As a result, Dr. Silver says, cloned animals and genetically modified crops have not become a source of major controversy for traditional Christians. Post-Christians are more worried about the flora and fauna.

Ah! The useful word “taboo”. In Press-speak, it means “irrational prohibition we should sweep away in the name of Progress.” Note also the use of scare quotes around "lower". This is part of the Minitrue Style Manual. It does not mean "Creation is sacred and we do not have unlimited license to screw around with it" (a perfectly Catholic statement). It means "Humans are just as much raw materials for us to screw around with as all the rest of Creation is." It's true that there is nothing wrong, in principle, with cloning a non-human life form. It doesn't mean it's always and everywhere a good idea. And this goes a fortiori for genetically modifying living things with no clear idea of what will happen when those modifications hit the biosphere.

Of course, many critics of biotechnology do not explicitly use religious dogma to justify their opposition. Countries like the United States, after all, are supposed to be guided by secular constitutions, not sectarian creeds. So opponents of genetically modified foods focus on the possible dangers to ecosystems and human health, and committees of scientists try to resolve the debate by conducting risk analysis.

Note the deployment of the word “dogma”. This is a Minitrue synonym for “taboo” or “irrational religious belief”. What this passage means is “Everybody knows that any emphasis on the dignity of the human being is ultimately a piece of religious belief. Some people try to kid us this is not so with bafflegab, but they are just blowing smoke.” To wit:

Similarly, some leading opponents of embryo research for cloning, like Leon Kass, say they are defending not Judeo-Christian beliefs, but “human dignity.” Dr. Kass, former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, says the special status of humans described in the Book of Genesis should be heeded not because of the Bible’s authority, but because the message reflects a “cosmological truth.”

It is not so easy, though, to defend supposedly self-evident truths about human nature that are not evident to a large portion of humanity.

It turns out all that “all men are created equal” stuff in the Declaration of Independence was not "self-evident" at all. It was a piece of mystical dogma that was widely accepted in provincial European culture because provincial European culture was rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. But as the Times becomes more cosmopolitan, it is pleased to inform the world that huge numbers of people who have lived in various despotic tyrannies and paganisms all over the world have no such conception of self-evident human dignity and we can therefore dispense with the concept of human dignity--especially when it gets in the way of making a great deal of money.

Never forget the Seven Basic Elements of the Modern Scientific Industrial Complex: Time, Space, Matter, Energy, Power, Prestige and Funding.

Copyright 2007 - Mark P. Shea