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Jay Richards Responds to Michael Egnor on Cloning

David Klinghoffer

Cloning a human being is a terrifying prospect, from a moral perspective, and also seems inevitable. On the second point, neuroscientist Michael Egnor has staked out a fascinating dissenting view that I’ve noted here already. His challenging argument draws on scientific, theological, and philosophical supports.

Now, writing at Mind Matters, philosopher Jay Richards has offered a counterpoint. Dr. Richards and Dr. Egnor are both Catholic and both informed by the Thomistic tradition, so it’s very interesting to follow the disagreement. They concur on the moral issue, but Richards strongly disagrees as to the likelihood of cloning human coming, eventually, to pass. He regards it as only a matter of time.

Sharp, Collegial Disagreement

For Egnor, the issue comes down to the immaterial nature of the human mind and whether God would grace a clone with a soul. He argues that cloning is repugnant in such a way that this is not conceivable. Richards answers:

The Thomistic view implies that under certain physical conditions, God will create certain immaterial realities. Under certain biological conditions, for instance, God will create human souls, just as under certain liturgical conditions (such as valid consecration), Catholics believe bread and wine will be transformed into Christ’s body and blood. God has freely chosen to bind himself to his creation in this way.

Mike’s second argument is this: While God might cooperate in this way under some conditions (the normal conception of a human being, or proper consecration of bread and wine by a priest), it would be morally repugnant for God to ratify an attempt to clone a human being. That is, since human cloning is (let us grant) immoral, God would not allow himself to be dragged into creating a human soul under such conditions.

But if that followed, then in vitro fertilization and pregnancy as the result of rape should also be impossible. Rape is clearly a great evil. Nevertheless, God participates in bringing about some human beings by way of rape. Since it is possible for human beings to come about by in vitro fertilization and rape, there must be something wrong with Mike’s argument.

Does anyone think that cases of rape invalidate the idea God creates the human soul? Surely not. Rather, God apparently creates new human life whenever the biological facts are just right. That is, under certain conditions, he cooperates with the material world he created to bring about new human life. (Indeed, Thomists argue that God cooperates with every cause to produce every effect). This gives us the dignity, even when we don’t deserve it, of being true causes of significant events in the world. This can happen even through morally repugnant events such as rape, as long as the right biological conditions are met.

So, if pregnancy as the result of rape doesn’t disprove the immateriality of the mind (or the soul), then why would cloning do so?

Read the rest at Mind Matters. I can only stand by and admire the intelligence and collegiality of the exchange. Having the freedom to express sharp disagreement on profound questions is a wonderful thing. I recommend it to our critics in the materialist community.

Photo: Jay Richards in a bonus video from Science Uprising, “Why Materialism Fails.”