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A Real Scientist Agrees with ME (on the Designer Baby Dispute)!

February 26, 2011, 3:46 PM

The blogging scientist Minerva agrees with ME against the transhumanist on the future pressure to design or enhance your offspring or else.  She's surprised that it's possible to agree with someone who was on Bush's Bioethics Council, but that may be because nobody told her there were lots of prolific and highly respected scientists on that Council. 

Minerva--so that I don't feel the love too much--begins by agreeing with my critic that the enhanced folks of the future won't necessarily be athests.  But as I said before, I'm sorry if anyone misunderstood me on that point.  Let me make it clear that, because I believe that studies show that very, very smart people can be religious, I believe religion has a bright future.  It also has a future, of course, because it's far from clear that the genetically upgraded will necessarily be happier than we are.  I'll have more to say on this soon.

But for now, let me give you a taste of the wisdom of Minerva:

He argues that there will be no mandate for enhancement by the state, so we won’t have “godless achievement machines,” but he fails to see the point that state pressure is not the only pressure that will be experienced by people in an age of genetic enhancement. Social pressure, Brad, tell me you’ve heard of it? It is dangerous to assume that governmental or economic pressures are the only ones that act upon parents in relation to decisions about their children. Cultural norms and beliefs about “what makes a good life” will make much more of an impact on the perceived necessity of “enhancement” than any governmental mandate could.

Also, he argues that “enhancement” will lead to a “flush of inventive, moral, empathetic, charming, attractive and beneficent people.” I’m sorry Kyle, but you also assume that those individuals who choose to have their children enhanced will value traits such as empathy and beneficence. Maybe they will, but that’s a big assumption, because arguments supporting “enhancements” have pretty much focused on physical capability and not moral character. Also, the opportunity to alter a relatively “simple” trait such as height will be available long before we figure out the soup of probable genetic determinants of “empathy”, so physical trait enhancement will surely precede character trait enhancement.

And lastly, what about nurture, Kyle? If you want more charming, empathetic, innovative, beneficent kids, it sounds to me like you might try to raise them to engage with other people regularly (instead of the PSP) and teach them to view themselves in the shoes of others before they make judgments. I’m just saying.

One problem Minerva points to, of course, is that empathy and beneficience might be, in themselves, "risk factors."  They can turn people into suckers and even cause them to put their personal survival on the line for the good of others.  Our designer personal goal, first of all, seems to be something like indefinite longevity, which is not the literal immortality some transhumanists misleadingly promise.  And so my personal qualities--physical, cognitive, and emotional--should be reconfigured, most of all, with keeping ME around as long as possible in mind.  Accidental death will remain possible, and we won't be able to stop working to fend off the nature out to kill each of us.  So people might well be--and seemingly have to be--more self-obsessed than ever.  Nothing seems more horrible than dying when death itself has become avoidable through perfect pesonal prudence.

My own view is that we might readily figure out how to make people smarter and stronger and in many ways less physically vulnerable (by, for example, using nanotechnology to wipe out disease).  But it's far from clear that we will know how or even intend to make them more virtuous--or BETTER PEOPLE in the crucial sense.  Yet it will remain the case that folks will have TO BE GOOD in order to reliably FEEL GOOD.

I also like Minerva's shot against Kyle about putting himself in the shoes of other before being so intolerantly judgmental.  Many religious people, after, do a great job raising their kids with the old-fashioned virtues like courage, charity, generosity, humility, moderation, frugality, and even chastity in mind.  Meanwhile, sophisticated Americans really do have a hard time aiming higher than middle-class productivity and autonomy.  Autonomy--or being one's own person, having one's own point of view--suffers as a result

The point about social pressure is too obvious to emphasize: It'll be impossible to have the only unenhanced kids on the block or in school etc.  I will also say more about that issue later.

Minerva concludes by saying that she's still all about the promise of science.  Well, I am too.  But, as usual, our future is likely to be full of both promise and peril.


A Real Scientist Agrees wit...

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