Observations and inanities by a second-shift assistant supervisor in the Puppy-Grinding division of the Evil Atheist Conspiracy® (our motto: "Sure it's cruel, but think of the jobs!"), your host, Brent Rasmussen.
Stem Cell Research
It is a very difficult decision to be tested for a genetic disease which you may have, and for which there is no known treatment (let alone a cure). If you test positive, you know exactly the sort of future you face. And, if you test positive, it can have a significant impact on your employment and insurance possibilities, even decades before you might experience any onset of symptoms.
I've been reading a lot on evolution recently, as well as watching several really good television programs on it as well. One of the key theories regarding evolution is survival of the fittest. This is where species with traits that help them survive are able to live long enough to procreate and pass on those traits to the next generation. Over time, this strengthens a genetic line and creates a species that can exist and flourish in a given environment.
In addition, animals born with malformed DNA are typically sick or weak and killed off either naturally or by predators before they get a chance to procreate. This is yet another way that nature ensures that the strongest genetic codes carry on and that species can and will survive.
Humans and our ancestors have also played a part in this game. For hundreds of thousands of years we have evolved, taking our best genetics with us. This evolution has brought us to the level of society that we now know and enjoy today.
I want to bring up an unpleasant, if not taboo topic; has technology and advanced society negatively affected human evolution? Our species is no longer participating in survival of the fittest with regard to animal predators. Society insulates us from the harsh realities of nature. While it appears that our intelligence and natural abilities stem from evolutionary growth, we have come to a time where there is no longer any pressure on our species to maintain many of the skills we developed prior to the birth of civilization. Technology also allows people who would have died in years past to survive illnesses and genetic disorders, often at great personal and financial cost to those directly involved.
Chris Campbell is a hell-obsessed Christian opinion columnist for the online version of the Houston Chronicle. He also write a blog, sponsored by the Houston Chronicle, called Thinking Christian. Chris and I have tangled before.
Chris' latest post attempts to tackle Richard Dawkins' new book, The God Delusion. In it, Chris' employs possibly the lamest creationist apologetic of them all; The Argument From Personal Incredulity which says, basically, "I don't understand how it happened, so god did it".
[Chris Campbell] Also, I disagree with his arguement that complex things don't have to be designed and made by intelligence. When was the last time you saw a watch just evolve from a piece of metal all by itself. Even if you let the metal sit there for millions of years I bet you that a watch will never appear. What need was there for a human being to evolve by itself and how could it survive slow changes? It just makes no sense and sounds totally impossible that just by slow changes human would appear. Even over a supposed period of millions of years it just is not possible by chance or by slow changes.
More below the fold...
Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris is now available for all of your Christian friends. I got it last night and have already read it (it's not even a full 100 pages). Harris hits many of the same topics he did in The End of Faith except this time he is talking more directly to American Christians (of all denominations). With it being a rather slim volume Harris moves quickly from point to point, with great clarity and making a very strong case for the abandonment of religious faith. The apologists will have their hands full with this quick read for quite some time (I'm sure several of them are already hard at work).
So, you know the whole "embryonic stem cell" thing? You remember how the Catholic church held to the insane belief that an embryo equalled a fully-grown human person, therefore using embryonic stem cells for research and other applications was wrong? It is the same objection that they raise to abortion, basically.
Using the stem cells from dead embryos that are going to be destroyed anyway didn't seem to appease them any.
Along comes Robert Lanza and his team of scientists at Advanced Cell and they create "embryo-safe" embryonic stem cell lines. What they do is grab the embryo when it consisits of only 8 to 10 cells, remove ONE of the cells, then culture it to create a new line of stem cells. The embryo, minus one single cell, has the abiulity to be implanted into a woman and grow normally into a human being.
Wow! Embryonic stem cells wothiout harming an embryo! You'd think that the Catholic church would be ecstatic!
You'd think wrong.
[link] Advanced Cell then made things worse by extracting what could be a "totipotent" cell, Sgreccia said.
"This is not just any cell, but a cell capable of reproducing a human embryo," Sgreccia said. He added that, in effect: "a second embryo is being destroyed".
Across the Atlantic, Richard Doerflinger, a bioethics expert with the US Conference of Bishops, has accused the scientists of "killing" 16 embryos during their research.
What the fuck is a "totipotent" cell? Is the Catholic church making words up again? A "second embryo"? One cell is now an embryo? Removing one cell from 16 different embryos is "killing" an additional 16 embryos? If that's the case, then we're all guilty of murder most foul every time we scratch.
I say again, WTF? What complete and utter lunacy.
I really hope that the scientific community working on stem cells finally just ignores the prehistoric crap coming out of the Vatican and continue to do good science. Stem cell research is the most exciting thing happening right now in the biological sciences, with the greatest potential for benefit to everyone on the planet. A superstitious bunch of old men in Italy should NOT have veto power over science.
Update: Alert reader cserpent sets me straight on the word "totipotent". Dangit. I knew I should have looked that up! :)
[cserpent] Nah, the catholic church makes up a lot of batshit insane things, like the assumption of Mary, but it didn't make up the word totipotent. It means a cell capable of differentiating into any other type of cell. The cells in the earliest stages of an embryo, like a morula are considered totipotent because each is capable, under the influence of chemical signals from its neighbors, of becoming pretty much any part of the body. They usually differentiate into pluripotent and multipotent stem cells, capable of giving rise to many different tissues and many different cell types of a particular tissue, respectively.
The second part about the fate of that one cell, however, is flat-out wrong. That one cell can't become a whole embryo, absent the various chemical signals diffusing from its neighbors. Nor would anyone be able to manufacture multiple embryos from breaking apart that earlier embryo, at least not in humans. So they are off their nut on that account (and so many others). But, what do you expect from the every sperm is sacred crowd?
In the futuristic scenarios of a hundred novels and dozens of cheesy sci-fi programs, hordes of miraculous 'nanobots' patrol our bodies. These microscopic robots can fix anything, torn organs, severed spinal columns, sometimes they even reverse aging. Such therapies would endow medicine with more lifesaving and life enriching treatment since the advent of antibiotics! Sadly, such marvelous automatons remain a science fiction pipe dream. The most modest, active nano-devices are far beyond the scope of practical technology. They're not even on the foreseeable horizon.
But suppose these very machines already existed? Suppose further that Federal Law restricted using these otherwise wasted micro-devices to treat human suffering solely on the orders of a single man-beholden to a bizarre dogma of fundamentalist, religious, nuttery. And to add insult to injury the ban won't save a single human ova. Then you'd know what it feels like to be a developmental biologist held hostage in America; researching Embryonic Stem Cells.
Largish graphics below
Senator Bill Frist, a heart-lung transplant surgeon when he's not running around being a politician, has stated his support for expanded human embryonic stem cell research.
[link] Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist endorsed government-funded research on human embryonic stem cells Friday, breaking with President Bush and the religious conservatives he's been courting for a 2008 presidential bid. He drew praise from former first lady Nancy Reagan.
"It isn't just a matter of faith, it's a matter of science," Frist, a heart-lung transplant surgeon, said in a Senate speech. "The president's policy should be modified."
This, of course, has made the Evangelicals hopping mad. So, they didn't invite him to speak at "Justice Sunday II".
Welcome to the bright side, Senator.
[link] Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said Tuesday on the group's Web site that Frist's recently announced stem cell stance "reflects an unwise and unnecessary choice both for public policy and for respecting the dignity of human life."
I'm not sure how I feel about Frist in general, but on this one issue he definitely has my support. Conservative Republicans willing to go against the flow like this are rare.