For my Topics in the Philosophy of Religion (Philosophy 441) class, we have to write an informal, one page, reaction paper for each of the reading assignments. I would like to share it with you.
Here is my second reaction paper for you to read and critique!
“We . . . know that research on embryonic stem cells requires the destruction of human embryos at the 150-cell stage. . . . We know that embryonic stem cells promise to be a renewable source of tissues and organs that might alleviate . . . suffering in the not too distant future.”
(Sam Harris, The End of Faith, p. 166)
Continuing in the usual condescending attitude towards “faith based religion,” Sam Harris goes on to complain in the fifth chapter of his book about how the “capricious, petulant, and cruel” God of Abraham has so much influence in the determination of government policies in the United States: “The degree to which religious ideas still determine government policies,” Harris points out, “presents a grave danger to everyone.” The opposition to research on human embryonic stem cells, Harris believes, is a case in point.
In order to demonstrate just how wrong “religious dogmatists” are in their “pernicious opposition” to the progress of scientific medical knowledge, Harris goes on to cite a number of diseases and disabilities that could be alleviated or cured if only research on human embryonic stem cells was given free reign. Millions of people, Harris claims, would be alleviated from Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and diabetes. But, is this true? What does the evidence say? Are good ethics and good science in opposition as Harris would like us to believe?
Four full years have passed since Harris’ book was published in August of 2004; to date, the much touted human embryonic stem cell research has not produced a single therapeutic cure –not one. In fact, Ryan T. Anderson, a junior fellow at First Things: The Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life and assistant director of the Program on Bioethics and Human Dignity at the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, wrote that “there are no human embryonic stem-cell therapies even in clinical trial, let alone ready for therapy, and there have been no major treatment models in animals, either.”
Very much against Harris’ anti-faith cause, however, is that there has been a stem cell research breakthrough reported in November of 2007 by Dr. Shinya Yamanaka and Dr. James Thomson, that basically states that pluripotent stem cells can be obtained from human skin cells without the need to destroy human embryos; this technique and other reported techniques that do not require the destruction of human embryos, therefore, are perfectly compatible with Christian ethics.
In light of other ethically sound scientific techniques that have been reported in other research papers, it seems to me that Mr. Harris’ accusation that “faith based religion” stops scientific progress is unfounded and irrational.
Recommended reading: What We Know About Embryonic Stem Cells