[Fwd: Re: REQUEST:Cloning of sheep:Duplicate Souls?]

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at cco.caltech.edu
Sat Apr 19 02:22:25 UTC 1997

>  cloning however, raises the question of the relation between life and
> soul...and maybe time and knowledge.  

I don't think this is a very appropriate subject for this list, but here
are my $0.02 anyway. 

Strictly speaking, cloning raises no more troubling questions about life
and soul than good old sexual reproduction, or artificial insemination
and in vitro fertilization or surrogate motherhood do. It is just a
different method of moving DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) around and getting 
it to replicate. It seems to me that most of the questions raised about
cloning are based on one questionable premise, viz. that the creation
(birth, if you will) of a new body implies the creation of a new soul.
This premise is questionable because normal sexual reproduction also
results in a new body, and nobody is overly concerned about creating or
duplicating souls this way. No religion, whatever its individual
conception of soul may be, would consider that the father and mother have
actually created a new soul. They would rather assign such creatorship to
God or say that the soul is eternal and never created. Why not extend the
same religious sensibility to a clone?

The problems people perceive with cloning also overlook a more
fundamental question that biology poses - namely the fact that there is no
life (and may be no souls) without the material basis in the nucleic
acids, RNA and DNA. If you are worried about "creating" souls by cloning,
then you should be equally worried about whether the bacterium has a soul
as a human being does - after all, the life of both comes from the same
material source - and you should be worried about all sorts of ethical
problems about killing bacteria that cause infections and killing animals
to eat them. As an Indian scientist, I am almost tempted to say that
people in the West are not bothered about these questions, but get all
worked up over cloning, only because of their Judeo-Christian,
anthropomorphic constructions of soul and God. 

Really, the only moral/ethical problems with cloning (if it becomes
technically possible to do it successfully on humans, which by the way,
is not very sure) arise not from the fact that it can be done, but from
the question whether it should be done. That science can do something is
one thing. Whether a scientist should do it is another. Good scientists
will be the first to accept that, for something that affects people as
personally as the possibility of human cloning, scientists alone cannot
and should not decide the matter. From the Buddhist or the Vedantic
perspectives, the only "karmic" consequences will result from the choices
that we human beings make, and the level of avidyA that dictates such

> life can be artificially created, but can a soul be created and designed? if a

Such an argument seems to create a rather artificial distinction between
"life" and "soul" in the first place. One could argue that nothing without
a "soul" can "live", so that by definition, it is the soul that causes an
entity to live (in whatever sense you understand these two terms). 
Secondly, life cannot be "artifically created", at least not yet. Although
nucleic acids, proteins and cell wall components can all be individually
synthesized in the laboratory, scientists have not been able to put
together even the simplest unicellular organism, starting from 
artificially synthesized chemicals. Frankenstein monsters, computers with
free will and self-reproducing robots exist only in fiction. The hard fact
is that cloning, as much as sex, can only "create" new life from
pre-existing life. 

> soul were designed, how could it have a will of it's own? it's possible to
> design a computerprogram with many inpredictable reactions, the
> inpredictability is however still predictable, but don't we expect a soul to
> have a life of it's own? are animal souls the same as human one's?
> when some people say ziva creates the souls, they're talking about a myth, a
> narrative with a nonfactual content so to say. the scientific fact is that
> souls come into being when conditions are suitable and that thinking requires

As a scientist with an abiding interest in philosophy, I sharply disagree
with the above statement. Science has nothing to say about when a soul
comes into being and when it passes into non-being, nor whether it comes
into being at all, nor whether something called soul even exists. That is
the province of metaphysics/religion/philosophy, call it what you will.
Some RELIGIONS say that a soul comes into being, other RELIGIONS say that
the soul is eternal, and some RELIGIONS deny that the soul exists. Science
(and the so-called scientific method) simply do not have the means to
decide in favor of one vs. the others. 

Calling something a "scientific fact" does not invest it with any 
more or any less certitude than other kinds of fact. For that matter,
there is no fact that is "scientific" in itself, and no fact that is "not
scientific" in itself. What science does is to give you hypotheses,
theories and conclusions, which explain the observed facts. These theories
then make predictions, which can be verified or refuted. The verification
of a prediction does not make it a scientific fact; on the other hand,
what makes scientists accept a given theory is the degree to which a
prediction made by that theory succeeds in explaining experimental
results. A theory that does not make satisfactory predictions or one that
makes wrong predictions is rejected. In any case, what is "scientific" is
the theory, the explanation, the prediction; not the facts themselves.

The statements, 
	1. the soul does not exist, 
	2. souls come into being and
	3. souls are eternal 
are all equivalent, or should be, as far as scientists are concerned,
because none of these can be either verified or refuted according to the
scientist's way of thinking. They are of the same category as the
statements, "God exists" and "God does not exist". These kinds of
statements cannot be subjected to scientific examination and proof. As a
result, these notions about the soul are facts or not facts according to
your religious sensibilities, they are not scientific (not that any fact
could ever be "scientific"). Don't expect science (or scientists) to
bolster or weaken any of these notions. 

> language, so that a human soul cannot exist outside some kind of community.

You're right about language being required for thinking. And if any decent
thinking on the topic of cloning is ever to develop, we had better be
careful about the language we use, and not define things arbitrarily. 

> another fact is that the concept of a soul, implies that it has it's own will

Again, debatable. If you were to talk to advaitins, they would say that it
is ultimately meaningless to talk of the "own will" of the Atman. 

> and that excludes causal explanation. i want what i want because i want it.
> another question is wether we would call a soul an event or a thing. science
> can only create things and events. if a soul is no such thing, what else? 
> i would suggest to define the soul as the meaning of a personal name, so the
> birds in the tree outside your window don't have souls, but your cat minny has
> one. soul would then be a sociolinguistic phenomena.

This is just one step away from Descartes' argument about human beings
having souls. Are you saying that the sparrow on the tree does not have a
soul, but your parrot Polly has a soul, just because you gave her a name? 
If it were that easy to define soul as you do, the soul's existence is
based on a whim, and is effectively removed both from the domain of 
science and the domain of religion. Are you sure that is such a good

S. Vidyasankar

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