There has been much discussion of Steven Pinker’s broadside against the President’s Council on Bioethics and its recently released report on Human Dignity and Bioethics, an article that begs the central question under discussion in its first paragraph when Pinker asserts that embryonic stem cell research will benefit many and make “no one worse off,” without ever arguing, much less establishing, that the embryos destroyed in this research should in fact be regarded as “no one.”
Undergirding Pinker’s argument is his hostility to religion. My friend Scott Richert, the Executive Editor of Chronicles, posted an excellent piece today highlighting the anti-Catholicism of Pinker’s piece, and I invite everyone to read Scott’s analysis.
Since Scott was writing for a Catholic website, his focus on Pinker’s anti-Catholicism is understandable. But Pinker’s animus toward religion is hardly confined to the Catholic Church. Central to his argument is the claim that the Council report may safely be ignored because “three quarters of the invited contributors hav[e] religious entanglements” and the Council generally is motivated “by fervent religious impulses.” Apparently, anyone with religious views against doing research that destroys human embryos has nothing to contribute to the discussion. In other words, atheists only need apply.
Pinker’s hyperventilation is more than a little strange, since research on embryonic stem cells is legal in the United States, and is even funded by taxpayers in some jurisdictions. The principal public policy question at this point is the extent to which the Federal Government should also foot the bill. One would think that all taxpayers have a right to be heard over that. But Pinker, impatient with a public he sees as hopelessly ill-informed and needlessly worried about cloning and the like, does not seem to think so. Instead, taxpayers should merely pay scientists to do whatever it is scientists want to do, without question or cavil.