I cringe everytime I hear Hillary! or some other Democratic candidate declare that they will allow real science to guide their decision making. We know what the code words mean: they won't limit research on stem cells, they won't question Darwinianism, they will let the scientists call the shots. This proud declaration suggests that "ethics" is the province of backward conservatives, those dinosaurs hung up on questions that science has rendered irrelevant.
Michael Gerson's column in today's Washington Post nicely reveals the absurdity, and more, the irresponsibility of this supposition. He chillingly quotes various statements by James Watson, perhaps the most obnoxious, but also the most honest, of today's scientists. The scientific community is embarrassed about Watson not necessarily because of what he is saying, but that he is saying it out loud. In addition to declaring certain continents to be populated by the intellectually inferior, he also calls forthrightly for the elimination of the "disease" of stupidity (among other "diseases). His arguments are revealing, and demonstrate how steep the slippery slope is. Many defenders of unfettered scientific research claim that genetic manipulation is only intended for the most harmful and obvious of diseases like Parkinson's and other hereditary ailments. Watson's words reveal how readily various other "infirmities" could be characterized as a kind of disease: what is more hereditary than IQs? What's to prevent us from curing all sorts of ailments like deficiencies in intelligence, height, looks, sense of humor, the talent for interior design?
Watson's arguments are little different than those of Princeton biologist Lee Silver, who has forthrightly declared that market forces will eventually prevail to the effect that people will either be genetically improving their children or allowing them to fall behind in our meritocratic society. Silver approves of this process, and advises those of us who might oppose it to lay back and enjoy the ride - it's going to happen whether we like it or not. Silver denies that he is arguing for a eugenic program, so much as a spontaneously ordered eugenic outcome - people will do whatever they can to help their children to succeed, and if everyone else is manipulating genetic code to help their kids get into Princeton, you can bet it will have a bandwagon effect. They're already doing it to improve their SAT scores; it's certain they'll do it if everyone else is creating little Aryans.
Silver predicts a future in which there will be two classes of once-human creatures - a recognizably human lower class composed of those who decided against (probably for religious reasons), or those who were unable, to "improve" their children; and a super-class of evolved humans who will be barely recognizable to us. He goes so far to argue that this super-class of humans will finally be able to answer the question of Who created us - us!
A few nights ago at Georgetown, there was a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Alister McGrath. The debate was entertaining but resembled a witty British bar brawl out of which little was gained except the joy of witnessing punches being landed. However, at one point Hitchens asked the audience (I paraphrase), is there any ethical norm that religion has uniquely contributed that could not be achieved by a secular means? I think the answer is, 1. yes, and 2. it is, why we should not evolve ourselves into a two-class species. The Dawkins/Hitchens/Harris wing wants to convince us that we are just blood, flesh, bone and carbon. If so, there is nothing inherently valuable to the human creature, and there can be no objection to permitting science to do what it will. Is this the kind of science that is being recommended by Hillary!? More, is this the future that awaits us through our unstinting efforts to exercise complete mastery over nature and make ourselves into gods?