Go Science!

Hambydammit's picture


When the atomic bomb was first used in war, it killed thousands of civilians, maimed many more, and sickened hundreds of thousands, eventually killing untold numbers from after-effects. The long term effects of mid-air H-bomb testing are almost incalculable to human, plant, and lower animals. After the last series of mid-air tests in Siberia, radioactive dust was detected in major metropolitan centers in the westernmost reaches of Europe.
The use of the A-bomb also saved countless thousands of lives. At the time the bomb was delivered, the United States was planning an all out offensive against the Japanese mainland. The cost in American lives was to be staggering, but it was considered a worthwhile risk. Some estimates put the potential death toll at 40-45%. This was going to be an offensive with close to half a million soldiers participating. You do the math.
Nuclear energy has put a satellite around Saturn. With the data we're receiving from the Cassini orbiter, we're learning more about the gas giant and its moons than we've known about any other distant planet, and our understanding of the formation of the solar system is growing by leaps and bounds. With so many people wondering, "How did we get here?" it's safe to say that nuclear energy is helping to answer one of the most pressing questions in the human collective conciousness.
So. Is nuclear energy good or bad? If you're honest, you answered either "Neither" or "I don't know." The fact is, nuclear energy is just nuclear energy. The way it's used can be good or bad, but even then, it can be relative. I don't think there's any way you could convince someone dying of radiation sickness that the Cassini orbiter, or the end of World War II was worth his own death. After all, mid-air testing wasn't strictly necessary, and it's naive at best to say that any one life is absolutely worth more than any other. There are just too many angles... too many perspectives.
What about stem cell research? Good or bad? I think most scientists would say it's a good thing, but there are plenty of people who say it's bad. What if stem cell research allows us to make such leaps in genetic engineering that we can actually pre-determine the characteristics of a child that is yet to be conceived? What if it cures so many diseases that overpopulation becomes even more of a problem, and it hastens the destruction of our species through even more global warming?

What if god will burn you forever if you kill an unborn baby?

Um... wait a second... what is different about that last question? Do you see the difference? It's not what you think I'm going to say. It's true that I don't believe in any god, so it's kind of nonsense to base legislation on an invisible best friend, but that's not what I'm going for. That last question is different because it assumes absolutes. God doesn't like killing babies. Fetuses are babies. Therefore scientific research is bad when it involves fetus cells.

If you read my post on moral progression, you recognize this as stage two thinking. "X" is always wrong because So-And-So says so, and they're in authority. Therefore, "X" is always wrong. It doesn't take much thinking to realize that this a flawed rationale. Is abortion wrong when the mother's life is in danger, and it's likely that both she and the baby will die? What about if only the mother would die but the baby would live? What about rape? Incest?

What about if a Muslim woman has an abortion to avoid having her family discover she was raped by her uncle. If her family discovers that, she'll be killed. Painfully. I wonder if people who believe in God's absolute authority to declare abortion unequivocably wrong have considered this scenario. I know it doesn't apply too much to us because all those brown people who live in the sand are going to hell anyway, but it's worth thinking about if you have some human compassion.

The point is, even with the most conservative of humanitarian leanings, we can see that there are at least some circumstances where not only is abortion not bad, it's really good. Once we've admitted this, we have to admit that there's no such thing as an ultimate morality for even ordinary situations. Is it better to abort a baby than to have a baby born to a crack head mother who will not care for the child? What about a white middle class teenager who just got accepted to Harvard, but won't be able to go because she can't raise a child and attend college? What if she's bitter and will resent the child, even though all her family assures her it'll be wonderful to be a mom and give up her career?

If you knew for sure that overpopulation was going to lead to human extinction, would abortion suddenly look better?

Ok... how would we know whether or not overpopulation was going to lead to human extinction?

How would we be able to tell that a baby was going to be born with an exposed spine, or downs syndrome, or worse?

How would we know if Macular Degeneration was the cause of an old man's blindness, so that we could apply the cure (that we got from stem cell research)?

The answer to all of these questions? Science.

Science is not good or bad. It's knowledge. The use of science is up for debate, but knowledge is never a bad thing inherently. What is so evil and wrong about the U.S. stance on stem cell research is that it takes a blind absolute, sponsored by religion, and effectively stops scientists from gaining knowledge. Without knowledge, we are ignorant. Ignorance is what allowed mid-air testing of H-bombs, when there were better alternatives. Fear leads to ignorance. Ignorance leads to atrocity.

Ok. Now read this article, and say to yourself, "Wow, how awesome that we're going to be able to cure blindness through scientific advancement!"

Scientists plan stem cell cure for blindness

By Ben Hirschler 1 hour, 18 minutes ago

LONDON (Reuters) - British scientists plan to use stem cells to cure a common form of blindness, with the first patients receiving test treatment in five years.

The pioneering project, launched on Tuesday, aims to repair damaged retinas with cells derived from human embryonic stem cells. Its backers say it involves simple surgery that could one day become as routine as cataract operations.

They believe the technique is capable of restoring vision in the vast majority of patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness among the elderly that afflicts around 14 million people in Europe.

Some drugs, like Genentech Inc.'s Lucentis, can help the one in 10 patients with so-called "wet" AMD and U.S. biotech firm Advanced Cell Technology is looking at stem cells in other eye conditions. But there is no treatment for the 90 percent with "dry" AMD.

AMD is caused by faulty retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells, which form a supporting carpet under the light-sensitive rods and cones in the retina.

The new procedure will generate replacement RPE cells from stem cells in the lab, with surgeons then injecting a small patch of new cells, measuring 4 by 6 millimeters, back into the eye.


The London Project to Cure AMD brings together scientists from University College London (UCL), Moorfields Eye Hospital in London and the University of Sheffield.

It has been made possible by a 4 million pounds ($8 million) donation from an anonymous U.S. donor, who the project's leaders said had become frustrated by U.S. curbs on stem cell work.

Embryonic stem cells are the ultimate master cells of the body, giving rise to all of the tissues and organs. Their use is controversial because many people oppose embryo destruction, although Britain has encouraged such research.

Surgeons at Moorfields have already restored the vision of a few patients using cells harvested from their own eyes, which were moved to a new site. But this process is complicated and only a small number of cells can be moved, limiting its use.

By injecting RPE cells derived from stem cells instead, Dr Lyndon Da Cruz of Moorfields hopes the operation can be reduced to a simple 45-minute procedure under local anesthetic.

"If it hasn't become routine in about 10 years it would mean we haven't succeeded," he told reporters. "It has to be something that's available to large numbers of people."

Similar tests on rats have already proved highly effective.

Pete Coffey of UCL, the director of the project, said he was confident the procedure would work in humans but the team needed to ensure the safety and quality of batches of cells, which would take time.

"The goal is within five years to have a cohort of 10 or 12 patients to put the cells into," he said.

The project, which is non-commercial, was welcomed by patient support groups. Alistair Fielder of the eye research charity Fight for Sight said it represented a real chance to tackle a hitherto untreatable condition.

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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inspectormustard's picture

Hambydammit wrote: . .

Hambydammit wrote:
. . .it's naive at best to say that any one life is absolutely worth more than any other. There are just too many angles. . .

I'd like to reiterate this point for clarity, since I'm sure some people would say "no, it cannot be! What about Hitler. . ." It also begs the issue of moral relativism, that dead horse we keep beating.

A parable:

A medical student may or may not be murdered by a racist. This student, if he survives, will go on to discover hemoglobin. If he doesn't survive, others who would be saved by his discovery will have to wait until someone else discovers it. If he does survive, some people will die do to mishandleing of the research.

Circumstantially, the racist will kill someone. If it is not the medical student, it will be someone else. Because everyone is likely to save someone's life during their time on earth, chances are the racist will not only kill that person, but someone else, and so on down the chain of time. A small percentage of individuals are like the medical student, and will go on to save lots of lives.

So it is that the killing of even one person puts the lives of many others at risk, and yet may be of benefit. For sanity's sake, we choose to make choices based on immediate conseqences. You may see that, as hambydamnit said, it is impossible to perform a perfect ethical action without having both full knowledge and full control over reality.


Hambydammit's picture

Very nice parable, and

Very nice parable, and thanks for the emphasis.  That one, tiny little sentence ought to be in gigantic print with bold italics.  Understanding the concept is crucial to understanding why absolute morality is completely and utterly impossible.


Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

Books about atheism