“Creating” Reality vs. Respecting Reality

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Hill of Slane ruins

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Women go against the natural impulse to care for their offspring and kill their children via abortion. Academics and the media deny that marriage and the family are natural institutions and believe that marriage and the family are whatever we make them. The tradition, dating back thousands of years, of marriage being between male and female is denied by academics and judges. Children no longer have a mother at home and are reared in day care centers, and academics and the majority of the media rejoice. Pundits talk about “designer babies” created through genetic engineering. Weapons of mass destruction are created out of thin air, and a Bush administration official says that “Reality is what we decide it to be.”

Most ancient and medieval philosophers believed in a natural order that human beings were required to respect. A violation of the set order of nature would lead either to societal chaos and the destruction of the proper natural order. That began to change in the modern era, with Rene Descartes (1596-1650) moving the direction of philosophy away from nature to the self. The idea that things had real natures was cast off by William of Occam’s nominalism in the fourteenth century, so it was easy to move from the emphasis on self to the notion that categories in the mind account for the general structure of the world we experience. This was Immanuel Kant’s (1724-1804) position. But Kant believed these categories were the same for all rational beings, so we all experience the same world. Once this assumption was abandoned, then reality was thought to be what man willed it to be. In this view, there is no natural order that exist prior to man; it is man who makes reality what he wants it to be.

I offer a long-term empirical test of the idea that we can manipulate reality to be what we wish it to be. America and Western Europe are trying to mold reality in a way that supports an overly-individualist, self-centered, and materialistic lifestyle. If a pregnancy gets in the way, kill the fetus–after all, life begins when we say it begins. If old people get in the way, kill them–after all, life is meaningful when we say it is meaningful. If politicians want to profit from war, they should go ahead–they will invent reality to justify starting a war. If the family gets in the way of our desires, there is divorce, and for those who prefer lovers of the same gender, they can adopt, too. Reality is what me make it.

My proposal for an experiment is this: Let society go the direction of trying to create reality in the image of its desires. If my belief that the actions resulting from that view violate the natural order is correct, society will inevitably descend to chaos and ruin. Either social order will disappear into crime and chaos, or a strongman will take power to restore order through dictatorial force. If I turn out to be wrong, I am willing to stand corrected. Deal?

Sperm and Egg from Stem Cells

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A colony of embryonic stem cells, from the H9 ...

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What if sperm and eggs could be manufactured by scientists from any cell in the body? In an article by Fiona MacRae in the October 29, 2009 issue of Mail Online, she describes a recent Stanford University study in which sperm and eggs were produced from embryonic stem cells. The researchers want to move on to producing sperm and eggs from other cells.

This study raises the possibility that such manufactured sperm could join with a manufactured egg to conceive an embryo, and then the embryo could be implanted in a woman, who could then give birth to a healthy baby. Medical ethicists who advocate absolute autonomy would argue that there is nothing wrong with this. If someone wishes to have a child this way (for example, a homosexual couple), why not? If an egg could be coaxed out of a male’s stem cell or a sperm out of a female’s stem cells, the theoretically, a lesbian couple or a male homosexual couple could have children genetically related to both partners. Or, it would be possible for a man to be both a father and a mother (genetically) or a woman a father and mother (genetically). But in a world in which we all are our own lawgivers, and have the power of self-determination, why not?

However, as ethicist Leon Kass has long pointed out, questions about reproduction are not questions about our private desires. They reach to the very heart of human and family identity. Even adopted children sometimes struggle with their identity. Would it not be more of a struggle for the child who is genetically related to one father-mother? And is the male-female family relationship really just a matter of choice rather than a matter of nature? Is a child more than a product of manufactured sperm and a manufactured egg? Isn’t there something wrong (as Kass notes concerning another issue, reproductive human cloning) for a child to be a manufactured product?

Human beings are biological creatures who are the products of evolution (although I believe that God guides the evolutionary process, this discussion is neutral on that point). Evolution has led to the development of biological creatures who are sexually differentiated, who are naturally social, and who naturally come together as men and as women into some kind of family arrangement. Children arise due to sexual intercourse between a man and a woman, normally (and I do mean “normally” as a normative and not only a descriptive term) in the context of a family relationship–a husband and wife. (Even polygamous or polyandrous societies have stable family units). Exceptions make bad law, and this is the case in ethics as well as in the legal system. To form “family units” with manufactured sperm and egg in the context either of homosexual relationships or in the context of one person wanting to have a child genetically related to him or her is against the natural ends or goals of human beings re reproduction. Questions about inheritance, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family members are not trivial issues. They are issues that would involve real children with real feelings. Human beings are not their own masters; any practice that violates human nature will eventually be destructive of society. If the technology of producing sperm and eggs via stem cells is expanded to the point that children are born as a result, this “expansion of freedom” will only result in a more confused and chaotic society in which family relationships become twisted to the point of becoming mere matters of choice.