Ethics Hero: Andrew Sullivan

Once again, Ethics Alarms is honoring Andrew Sullivan for unusual courage in the field of punditry. In this case, the honor is less for what he has written than the fact that he wrote it at all.

His general topic is genetic research, taking off from a recent op-ed appeared in the New York Times by Professor David Reich, a  Harvard geneticist, which broached the virtually taboo topic genetic variations between subpopulations of humans, that is to say, races. On the way through Sullivan’s essay, called “Denying Genetics Isn’t Shutting Down Racism, It’s Fueling It,” Sullivan makes many perceptive observations, like…

“This argument should not be so controversial — every species is subject to these variations — and yet it is. For many on the academic and journalistic left, genetics are deemed largely irrelevant when it comes to humans. Our large brains and the societies we have constructed with them, many argue, swamp almost all genetic influences.

Humans, in this view, are the only species on Earth largely unaffected by recent (or ancient) evolution, the only species where, for example, the natural division of labor between male and female has no salience at all, the only species, in fact, where natural variations are almost entirely social constructions, subject to reinvention. We are, in this worldview, alone on the planet, born as blank slates, to be written on solely by culture. All differences between men and women are a function of this social effect; as are all differences between the races. If, in the aggregate, any differences in outcome between groups emerge, it is entirely because of oppression, patriarchy, white supremacy, etc. And it is a matter of great urgency that we use whatever power we have to combat these inequalities.”

Agreed, and stipulated: the progressive position on this aspect of science is, as in so many other areas, a deliberate refusal to deal with reality in order that ideological goals may proceed.

More from Sullivan later in his piece… Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Dish-Faced Horse And Animal Breeding Ethics

A US stud farm has offered an Arabian Colt with an concave, or ‘dished’ profile, for sale. He looks like this:

The farm described the horse as a step towards ‘perfection’, but equine experts expressed alarm, warning that such an animal may find it difficult to breathe.

Equine expert Tim Greet told reporters that although Arabians were known for their ‘dished’ features, the new mutant colt “takes things to a ridiculous level.” Such a deformity, he opined, could be even worse for a horse than for dogs bred with pushed-in muzzles, like bulldogs…

…and pugs…

They do it to cats, too:


Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz Of the Day:

Is breeding animals to emphasize features that may constitute handicaps unethical?

I’m going to hold my fire, but suggest that any analysis consider…

the Ick Factor and the Awww! Factor.

…the fact that the animals don’t know there’s anything unusual about them

…the specific harm that makes the breeding unethical.

Go for it.


When Is Human Cloning Unethical? When You Do THIS, For Starters…

Coming attraction at the San Diego Zoo.

Coming attraction at the San Diego Zoo.

Much of the ethics debate over cloning is and has always been pure “ick factor” confusion. Cloning is strange and unnatural, and to many people, that means it is immoral and wrong, as in, “If God had wanted us to be created from nose hairs, he wouldn’t have given us sex organs!” But there is nothing intrinsically unethical about cloning. The problem is that there are many theoretical applications of cloning that are monstrous (See: “The Island”), and too many scientists whose attitude is, “Why not?”

It is difficult to imagine a more perfect example of this than the news that Harvard Medical School geneticist George Church is plotting to create a Neanderthal human, if he can find, in his words, “an adventurous female human” willing to be Mommy to Alley Oop. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Is a Transgendered Woman Ethically Obligated To Tell Her Boyfriend That She Used To be Male?”

You never know. My post about the ethics of withholding the fact of one’s past and altered gender from a potential spouse sparked the most passionate, erudite and instructive debate among readers that Ethics Alarms has seen in a long time, involving an all-star squad of some of this blog’s best minds. The prize goes to Zoebrain, though, who scores the Comment of the Day with this three part contribution. It’s long; don’t let that discourage you. It, and the whole thread, which you can find here, is well worth your time, because you will learn something. I did.

“May I give an extended set of replies here please? You see, this isn’t a hypothetical for me, it’s an actual. Continue reading

Calvin College, Forfeiting Its Right To Exist

As further proof of evolution, the chimp is behaving exactly like his distant relatives, the adminsitrators of Calvin College

I don’t know what the exact point is that marks where a religious school’s departure from legitimate adherence to its core beliefs metastasizes into a nuisance to society and civilization by affirmatively encouraging life-crippling ignorance. I do know, however, that Michigan’s  Calvin College has passed that point.

Two religion professors at Calvin wrote scholarly papers suggesting that new discoveries in genetics and evolution raised questions about the literal reading of Genesis that could no longer be brushed aside. Neither professor questioned the existence of God or the role of their church, but they argued that the findings of rigorous, modern science may require a theological re-examination of literalist Biblical teachings. Readers of The Banner, the publication of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, promptly blew a Biblical gasket:

“To protect the church and college from false teachers and contrary orthodox beliefs it would be right to let these guys go,” said one commenter. “Clearly, professors who deny the scriptures as interpreted by our creeds and who have broken the promise they made when they signed the Form of Subscription should be fired,” said another. From yet another: “Why is it that so many Christians and academics in Christian colleges seem more concerned about keeping in step with what the world teaches than they are about what God’s Word teaches? Are we ashamed of God’s Word in the face of the beliefs of our worldly peers?”

Calvin investigated the two professors, and as a consequence one of them, John Schneider, resigned the tenured position he had held for 25 years, as part of a settlement with the college. Continue reading

The Ethics Of Harvard’s “Racist E-mail” Scandal

The whole sad, sordid story of a Harvard Law student’s racially provocative e-mail that is now circling the web like the deadly virus in The Stand can be read over at Above the Law. The simple facts are these: At a dinner discussion at Harvard Law School, a law student expressed openness to the possibility of future research showing that blacks were, as a group, genetically inferior to whites in intellectual ability. After dinner, she made a fateful decision to elaborate on her views in an e-mail to two “friends” who had been involved in the discussion.

The e-mail said, in part…

“…I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair…” Continue reading