Last week we heard from Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology, who bragged that his company was bringing "some science, some reality" to the debate over human cloning. Those who object to human cloning, in other words, are simply out of touch with reality.

Not all scientists—not even a majority, one hopes—would endorse Lanza's boast. But many would. To any moral objections that might constrain their research, they have an all-purpose answer: "We now know."

We = the experts, the scientists, the Masters.

Now = the enlightened present, as opposed to the superstitious past.

Know = beyond question, beyond doubt; anyone who disagrees with us is foolish, wicked, or insane.

The Astonishing Hypothesis is that "You," your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.

—Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul

The supposedly immaterial soul, we now know, can be bisected with a knife, altered by chemicals, started or stopped by electricity, and extinguished by a sharp blow or by insufficent oxygen.

—Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works

"In mid-continent Europe," writes Alexander Marshack in The Roots of Civilization,

below the northern ice, in the corridor stretching from Czechoslovakia through Poland into the Ukraine and eastward to Siberia, was a vast forestless tundra of flat land, rolling hills and passes, and cold rivers and streams along which the herds of mammoth fed, migrated, and roamed.
Hunting these herds around 27,000 B.C. was an exceptionally skilled and intelligent Homo sapiens. In skeleton and brain capacity he was a modern man, in culture he was an astonishingly sophisticated human.

But these people, our ancestors, didn't know what We Now Know. They prepared their dead for burial with care, "with ornament and ceremony," as if for a journey.

The central act of preparation for death in the Roman church of antiquity was the reception of the Eucharist under one or both forms as a "viaticum"—that is, a provision for the journey to the other world. A person would receive the body and blood of Christ while on his or her deathbed, as close to death as possible. … Among Roman pagans the Latin term viaticum, related to the Greek epodion, had referred to the practice of placing a coin in the mouth of the dead as payment to Charon, who ferried shades over the river Styx to the underworld.

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—Frederick S. Paxton, Christianizing Death: The Creation of a Ritual Process in Early Medieval England

In 1935, James Glass tells us in Life Unworthy of Life, Dr. H.E. Kleinschmidt, the director of the U.S. National Tuberculosis Association, visited a race hygiene exhibit in Berlin. Glass quotes from Kleinschmidt's enthusiastic report:

Eugenics charts and family trees abound. Sad galleries of unfortunate biological misfits—idiots, people with heritable deformities, incurable criminals—drive home the logic back of the new sterilization laws. The anti-Semitic policy is meticulously explained. … [The exhibit] serves also to help people discriminate between sound and unsound health advice; to distinguish between scientific medicine and quackery. Above all, it impresses upon even the most casual the "Wonder of Life." Admiration for the marvel of the human body, reverence for the mysterious thing we call life, is worth cultivating in this surfeited generation.

Within a very short time after Kleinschmidt's visit, scientific medicine took a great leap forward. The rounding up of the Jews and other biological misfits created a truly vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules, accessible to study as never before:

Researchers at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology experimented on gypsy eyes (to discern differences in color abnormalities) obtained by Josef Mengele from twins and gypsy families killed in Auschwitz. … Scientists could inject live bodies with contaminated vaccine compounds; harvest fresh brain tissue; perform bone grafts, and examine organ and limb transplants on live subjects; submerge subjects in freezing and boiling water; put them into chambers testing for high altitude tolerance; burst skulls open, or mutilate and kill in countless other ways.

We Now Know.

John Wilsonis editor of Books & Culture and editor-at-large for Christianity Today.

Related Elsewhere

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Related Christianity Today articles from last week include:

Opinion Roundup: 'Only Cellular Life'? | Christians, leaders, and bioethics watchdogs react to the announcement that human embryos have been cloned. (Nov. 29, 2001)
"24 Cow Clones, All Normal" … | Oh yes, and a few cloned human embryos that died. (Nov. 26, 2001)
CT Classic: Doctors Under Oath | Modern medicine has misplaced its moral compass. Can Hippocrates help? (Nov. 26, 2001)
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Christianity Today recommended against human cloning in a 1997 editorial, "Stop Cloning Around."

See our October cover story, "A Matter of Life and Death: Why shouldn't we use our embryos and genes to make our lives better? The world awaits a Christian answer."

Christianity Today articles on cloning and bioethics include:

The New Tyranny | Biotechnology threatens to turn humanity into raw material. (Oct. 5, 2001)
Gen-Etiquette | Scientists may be mapping the genome, but it will be up to us to determine where the map will lead. (Oct. 4, 2001)
Manipulating the Linguistic Code | Religious language falling into the hands of scientists can be a fearful thing. (Oct. 4, 2001)
Times Fifty | Can a clone be an individual? A short story. (Oct. 2, 2001)
The Genome Doctor | The director of the National Human Genome Research Institute answers questions about the morality of his work. (Oct. 1, 2001)
Wanna Buy a Bioethicist? (Editorial) | Some corporations have discovered that bioethics makes good public relations. (Sept. 28, 2001)
Two Cheers | President Bush's stem-cell decision is better than the fatal cure many sought. (August 10, 2001)
House Backs Human Cloning Ban | Scientists say they'll go ahead anyway. (August 27, 2001)
Embryos Split Prolifers | Bush decision pleases some, keeps door open for disputed research. (August 27, 2001)
House of Lords Legalizes Human Embryo Cloning | Religious leaders' protests go unheeded by lawmakers. (Feb. 2, 2001)
Britain Debates Cloning of Human Embryos | Scientists want steady stream of stem cells for "therapeutic" purposes. (Nov. 22, 2000)
Tissue of Lies? | Latest stem-cell research shows no urgent need to destroy human embryos for the cause of science. (Sept. 28, 2000)
Beyond the Impasse to What? | Stem-cell research may not need human embryos after all. But why are we researching in the first place? (Aug. 18, 2000)
Thus Spoke Superman | Troubling language frames the stem-cell debate. (June 13, 2000)
New Stem-Cell Research Guidelines Criticized | NIH guidelines skirt ethical issues about embryo destruction, charge bioethicists. (Feb. 7, 2000)

Books & Culture Corner appears Mondays at Earlier Books & Culture Corners include:

"24 Cow Clones, All Normal" … | Oh yes, and a few cloned human embryos that died. (Nov. 26, 2001)
"Discovering" Islam: The Intellectual Challenge | There's good reason to believe that there will be staying power to the West's belated "discovery" of Islam. (Nov. 19, 2001)
Disturbing the Peace | Is art always subversive when it's doing its job? (Nov. 12, 2001)
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Play Ball | Baseball, leisure, and worship. (Nov. 2, 2001)
Is God a Body-Snatcher? | The restless intelligence of philosopher Peter van Inwagen. (Oct. 30, 2001)
"Science and the Spiritual Quest" | A place at the table for Christians, but at a price. (Oct. 22, 2001)
Beyond Belief? | Nobel Prize-winner V.S. Naipaul's accounts of Islam presuppose the superiority of modern skepticism. (Oct. 15, 2001)
Covering Islam | Getting beyond the feel-good bromides. (Oct. 8, 2001)
Christian Scholarship … For What? | Academic speakers affirm the value of beholding God's creation. (Oct. 1, 2001)
Myths of the Taliban | Misinformation and disinformation abounds. What do we know? (Sept. 24, 2001)
The Imagination of Disaster | "We thought we were invulnerable." Really? (Sept. 17, 2001)