Tuesday, February 02, 2016

British Embryology

UK scientists have finally been given the go-ahead to modify human embryos; this is good news, it's work that will help to advance our knowledge of how embryos develop and also what happens when that development process goes wrong. Other countries around the world are already working in this area, China, for example are already working on fixing certain blood disorders by manipulating DNA in embryos.

Of course we see the usual voices speaking out against this work; religiously inspired naysayers who like nothing better than to pretend they know better than anyone else "a priori" because they believe that their particular god has a plan for us (and that plan obviously includes birth defects). Luckily this vexatious "whine", which invariably objects to all scientific advances in the teeth of all evidence is not as powerful as it used to be. We have learned over the years that it's much more successful to debate ethics in a modern, inclusive and pluralistic way and not submit to the unfalsifiable whims of one particular special interest group whose expertise is based upon (at best) nothing more than vague notions of what constituted "submissive behavioural best-practice" in the middle-ages. 

It's a familiar and tiresome position, "meddling" is a word that's often used by the detractors, the irony of this runs deep. Most detractors seem oblivious to the fact that as a species we've been meddling with the genomes of humans and animals ever since we discovered that biological traits are heritable. One wonders why they don't realise that we never see great big fat, pink pigs running around our forests naturally or wheat kernels so heavy with grain that the stalks can barely hold the weight. A more enlightened realisation might be that this so-called deity whose plan we are supposedly "meddling" with and who is waved in our faces as supposedly having made this universe just for us, has apparently done a pretty crappy job of it, a job that needs to be fixed! 

Let's take a look at this "God's" plan. Sure, we get nice sun-sets that make us feel all warm and fuzzy but the vast majority of both the universe and our planet is uninhabitable and instantly lethal to Human-kind. Until recently (geologically speaking and pre-science) the most people could expect was 20-30 odd years of hard slog, famine, disease and inexplicable terror finally dying in agony of sepsis from tooth decay, never mind the fact that most of the other species here want to kill us and/or eat us, or failing that just use our bodies as hosts to be disposed of once our shelf-life has expired. Even if we do survive all these external perils for a bit then the emotional defects in our brains that cause us to be superstitious, tribal and surprisingly keen on slaughtering each other over entirely fruitless disputes will certainly polish us off long before the final thermodynamic heat death of our solar system happens. Oh yes, and if we happen (through accident of birth) to pick the wrong God to praise for this buggers-muddle of an existence, then we burn for eternity in a lake of fire... God's plan you say? Some plan!


Chairman Bill said...

All I want is teeth that grow back.

Steve Borthwick said...

Ha! and hair (but not through ears and noses!)