Ending Child Abuse!

The transhumanist Kyle Munkittrick has come after me for not making arguments.  Mainly he seems ticked off that I speculated that the biotechnological enhancement of children might well not be so voluntary.  His response doesn't seem to me to be an argument:  He asserts it will be voluntary.


But the very intolerance of his post suggests otherwise.  He says that teaching children creationism is a form of child abuse.  It's hard to know what creationism means to him; it seems indistinguishable from fundamentalism.  And he doesn't say anything to keep the reader from concluding believing the world is created--and so the theory of evolution doesn't explain it all--is always fundamentalism.  He doesn't say anything to keep the reader from concluding that teaching children to believe in a personal Creator is child abuse. Who doesn't believe that child abuse should be illegal?

He also says it's clear to him that, as people get smarter, they get less religious.  Religion is evidence for stupidity.  So it's reasonable for him to believe it will wither away as cognitive enhancement kicks in.  He criticizes me for saying that the enhanced or designer world will be Godless (which I didn't say). But that our future will be and should be Godless seems self-evident to him. 

I actually think that enhanced people will become in some ways more miserable than people ever have been and long for God more than ever. I can't help but notice how neurotically self-obsessed and death-haunted people sophisticated people already are.  

I also notice that all kinds of serious believers aren't fundamentalists and are actually quite brilliant, just as I notice that dogmatic atheism is making lots of smart people kind of silly.  Our nouveau atheists are trying to lose themselves in fantasies about an impossible transhumanist future.  They're futilely trying to divert themselves from their anxious experiences of personal contingency. All the HOPE I have for our REAL futures is for another post.

But for now:  Our transhumanist believes that designing babies--including basic cognitive and emotional upgrades--is self-evidently beneficial.  And so those who choose to have unenhanced children the old-fashioned way for (obviously stupid) religious reasons will obviously be engaging in child abuse.  That'll be child abuse much worse than merely teaching children immoral lies; it'll be denying them for no good reason the best possible biological or post-biological life available.  Why does he think that will be legal?

I do agree with Kyle that there's a stong merely speculative dimension to anything we say about designing babies and all that now.

So the only thing he says that's genuinely objectionable is his completely misinformed and prejudiced dissing of President Bush's Council on Bioethics.  Adam Keiper sets the record straight here.

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If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.

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  • A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
  • It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
  • Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.

Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.

elephant by Guillaume le Clerc

Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons

13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.

It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.

But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.

John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."

What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.

Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.

Why cauliflower is perfect for the keto diet

The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.

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