Friday, February 03, 2006

How Not To Invoke Evolution In Bioethics Debates

"The theory of evolution predicts that … humans and other animals have a strong biological incentive to clone themselves. That way they get all of their genes down to the next generation, not just half. In fact, one biological theory says that the effective limit on natural cloning, which does exist among some species, is the increased vulnerability of offspring to disease. This risk might not be great after one or two generations, the relevant time frame for an individual human’s decision to clone."

So writes Professor Grady of UCLA's School of Law in his employer's brief summary of faculty opinions on embryonic stem cell research.

This is a wrong-headed invocation of evolution. First, genetic dispersion is not a real incentive for any organism. Sexual pleasure and the pleasure of childrearing are, at least in mammals. Furthermore, human beings whose biological makeup is conditioned by millions of years of heterosexual reproduction aren't exactly going to enthusiastically embrace asexual reproduction when the old way is far more habitual, not to mention non-artificial.

Finally, it seems the professor is invoking nature ambiguously. First he treats it as a descriptive account of genetic drives, then he turns around and treats ths (badly-reasoned) descriptive account as something having moral authority to be respected in law and funding policy. This is one of the better examples showing where Hume's "naturalistic fallacy" is not always false.

Professor Grady's statements appear to have been excerpted from somewhere else, but I'm still not terribly optimistic a larger context would benefit his line of thought.

via Professor Bainbridge, who also has a statement on ESCR in the article.

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