Reality served best by unemotional reason

OK, I don’t want to start a fight. I only want to assist in creating more reason, for a moment, in our world of emotion. If I offend you, well, I guess I don’t care. It wasn’t my intent, so get over it and think some things through a little deeper. Nuff said.
We have got to do away with certain ways of thinking about the world. They don’t assist reason, and they withhold us from understanding each other and our world in any sort of coherent, cohesive way. I am not saying, “Stop racism. No nukes. Keep your laws off my body.” I hate being told what to do, so I will not play the role of the God of Moses. The imperative is one of many outmoded ways of thinking that plague our society.
The contingencies to which we absolutely must react are created by the social and natural environment, and bossing each other around does nothing but create resentment. A command is not too different from a punch in the face. But on to one particular question that has given me difficulty in trying to find rational dialogue about our universe.
Do clones have souls? I have heard a lot of parlor-type argument over this issue. People’s faces get red. They don’t laugh when I say that a more important question is whether or not Britney Spears’ clone would be as totally devoid of soul as its prototype. The emotional response is so deep regarding matters of Soul, it is a wonder that biological science, medicine and astrophysics ever made any progress. I have some thoughts on the thoughts on the matter of genetic cloning.
First off, clones would be made of the same flesh and blood as the rest of us, and exactly the same flesh and blood of exactly one of us. If the person who was to offer up his or her genetic material to be copied were a normal human and not some kind of demon or malicious creation, then it follows that his or her clone probably has no inherent defect of soul. I can assume this because God must have created the cloner’s genes. I have heard some argue that the cloned person is of “unnatural” birth and is therefore lacking the special je ne sais quoi (at least, I have no idea what they are trying to express) that makes humans spiritual beings.
My retort: The clone is probably holier than he or she born of a woman because the original sin was not transferred to the clone’s body. I say this with a smile. The point is that scientific advances must accompany cultural advances in order to be meaningful and understood. In other words, it would be nice if we as a people could get over our fear of things which have never had efficacy, like divine retribution (think of poor Onan, Gen 38:8-10). If we clone a living soul, we will not be inviting wrath and hellfire to rain down on us, just like masturbators and condom-wearers do not have their lives rudely taken away by a jealous deity. This analogy might appear to be a non sequitur, but it is part and parcel of the same thing: God is not doing anything about our so-called sins. Perhaps it is time to look at the world a little differently.
This issue makes me think of Rene Descartes, who can be thanked for his large contributions to Western, modern, scientifically oriented thought.
One reason the Cartesian maxim “cogito, ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am) is so appealing is that it feels right initially and, for some, after analysis. While this argument is in itself not a proof for the existence of reality — though it may be used that way to some degree of success — it is an indication of a sense of self that is intimately tied to thinking. We don’t call ourselves Homo sapiens for nothing! It is not a proof that our flesh is here and now and that our mind or soul rests in another realm. Parsimony would lead a rational thinker to conclude that the mind is most likely a product or intrinsic part of the body itself. Thinking that the mind is elsewhere is what neuroscientists have dubbed “Descartes’ error.” Would a clone have a sense of self like the rest of us? I would bet so.
On the other hand, the act of reason breaks down as well, at least so far as our current capabilities can carry us. The proof against the existence of a god or gods is as shaky as the proof for such an existence. When looking at the evidence, like the fossil record or the seeming impossibility of quantum mechanics, it is equally sensible to resolve to have devout faith in the divine or to place all bets on a completely secular reality. But to have decided that one can prove either the existence or the denial of a god is to show incredible (perhaps sinful, in the appropriate milieu) egotism. If one thinks that he or she has proven the existence of God, then one claims to be able to understand the fundamental existence of that which is greater than can be conceived (c.f. Anselm).
The secular counterpart is similarly claiming definitive comprehension of a vast universe that has not yet been adequately mapped, much less fathomed. Has anyone yet even traveled to the center of our home planet? I might have been having fun with XX and XY chromosomal Xerox copying, but I am serious about this. We, the specious species, don’t know very much. I am humbled to be alive — or at least to have the impression that I exist, via my sense of self which is discerned through the act of thinking!
I have nothing against emotion. Honestly. I just feel that the mark of a mature society, which has not yet been born, is for reason to prevail over superstition and emotion. This is an appeal to common and uncommon reason, not a lurid beckoning to a fantastic utopia. The heart of superstition is lack of knowledge, so I say nothing bad about it, per se, but can’t we re-assess what we know to be known? Where is the proof that non-Christians or non-Muslims go to hell? Where is the proof that one race is superior to another? People hold strong feelings surrounding their reasons for believing these things, but they are not supported by consistent evidence.
These thoughts are still around and still prevalent because of the emotions that are tied to them. Thinking — good thinking — doesn’t come easily, and there are many forces at work that wish to subvert much of it. I could name names, but there are already too many name-callers out there. I don’t want to start any fights. I don’t want anyone to get angry, but if you do, I don’t care. Will you think before you respond? Do clones have souls? I think the question asked is more important and more revealing than the nature of the query.
Mark Stromer is a senior in English. He welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]