Monday, January 14, 2008

Shooting down Lee Silver's embryo beliefs

I don't think I'll ever get tried of prolifers pointing out the huge flaws in Lee Silver's "human embryos are pretty much the same as skin cells" baloney.
The view—held by almost everyone irrespective of their moral opinions—that embryos are fundamentally different from other cells, has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the scientific evidence. To draw any moral conclusions on how embryos should be treated—be it from a religious or a secular ethical standpoint—one first has to answer the question What is an embryo? Only by settling what an embryo is—a question of biological fact, not theological speculation—can one determine an embryo's moral status and what interest God and society might (or might not) have in protecting it or permitting it to be killed to benefit others. Our disagreement with Silver is over the scientific evidence. It has nothing to do with religion.....

If the capacity for organization is not a "fundamental" difference between cells and embryos, what basis is there for distinguishing highly organized molecular biologists from mere human cells? One could, in theory, manipulate the organization of Silver's body by dissociating it into a cellular suspension, without destroying cells or altering their epigenetic state. How could Silver possibly object to this transformation of his body into a cellular soup, since, in his view, there is no fundamental difference between human living cells and living human organisms?


Silver confuses what something can be converted into with what it actually is. He assumes that, because a woodpile can be made into a chair, it actually is a chair, right now. Because a piece of lumber and a chair have the same DNA and (by the action of external forces) can be changed into one another, Silver concludes, they are the same thing, or at least not "fundamentally" different. It seems to elude Silver that a piece of wood cannot become a chair on its own, any more so than an embryonic stem cell can become an embryo on its own.

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