Tuesday, May 31, 2005

IAP Update

Sounds like things are hopping at the Institute for Advanced Physics. According to the Summer 2005 newsletter, the IAP has added four new certified members, and acquired office space. It also looks like Dr. Rizzi is working on a cable-TV series on his book The Science Before Science.

Congratulations to Dr. Rizzi and the IAP!

Smart People Don't Know Everything

There's a lot of wisdom here:

Why smart people defend bad ideas by Scott Berkun

(thanks to Slashdot Science)

I particularly like the part about group-think.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Smith's Alloyed Wisdom

A friend lent me an interesting book called The Wisdom of Ancient Cosmology: Contemporary Science in Light of Tradition by Wolfgang Smith. The book is difficult to summarize: while it contains many startlingly significant insights, it also contains an embarrassing admixture of error. These errors may in fact be relatively minor (and they are compared to what "Enlightened" people spout these days), but they seem so sophomoric as to impair the objectivity of my review. But if you, dear reader, keep this caveat in mind, I will give my best shot at objectivity. (Some of these ideas are rather complicated and I'm not sure I've explained them adequately; please let me know if anything is unclear.)

The great aim of the book is return to the titled "wisdom of ancient cosmology." Smith sees the entire science-inspired contemporary worldview as radically hostile to ancient wisdom. He defends the perennial (Thomistic-Aristotelian) philosophy, and furthermore the traditional cosmology in which it grew.

Part of Smith's self-appointed task is to refute the error in modern thinking that he calls "bifurcationism"—what is generally called dualism (mind/body or subject/object)—that has plagued human thinking explicitly since Descartes. The quality of his thought on this subject is wildly uneven; containing much truth, the book is unable to fully exorcise the Cartesian-Kantian demons in the end.

Intelligent Design

The best part of the book is chapter X's explanation of intelligent design (ID). The subject of evolution is one on which the author has written before in Teilhardism and the New Religion. Here he likewise rejects Darwinism, and more generally, the theory of common descent.

I can't claim to have more than general notions of ID, but Smith's prose made a lot of sense to me. He distinguishes complex information (e.g., the positions of all the rocks that make up a mountain) from complex specified information or CSI (e.g., the arrangement of rocks in the form of the words "Welcome to Boulder"). CSI, as William Dembski has shown, cannot come about randomly, at least not fast enough to generate in the lifetime of the universe even the simplest creature's DNA.

Smith's idea of "vertical causality" is an interesting (and I think helpful) reconception of intelligent causation. The terminology highlights the fact that, unlike purely material causes that are unable to create CSI, intelligence acts "above time," i.e., outside the stream of deterministic, temporal causality. (I would add that intelligence acts with a telos or end in mind, and I wonder how this fits into the scheme. Does purpose transcend material time?)

Quantum Mechanics

Smith does not fare so well in his treatment of physics and modern scientific cosmology. I suspect his training in mathematics1 is the main hindrance.

The treatment of quantum mechanics is well intentioned, but naive. He fails to grasp the point of the famous Schoedinger's cat paradox. Recall that the cat paradox goes something like this: imagine a box containing a live cat along with a poison-releasing mechanism. The mechanism is connected to a radioactive particle whose half-life is one hour, which means it has a 50% chance of decaying in an hour. Should the particle decay, the mechanism will release the poison, killing the cat.

According to the standard Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, at the end of an hour, the cat will be both half-dead and half-alive until someone opens the box and observes the cat, at which time the "wavefunction" of the cat "collapses" from 50-50 dead-alive to 100% either dead or alive. (Physics terminology: the Schroedinger equation of quantum dynamics gives a "wavefunction," i.e., a range of possible values each with a probability of occuring. According to the Copenhagen interpretation, on measurement the range of possibilities coalesces or "collapses" to the actual measured value, which then has a probability of one. This coalescence is known as "wavefunction collapse.") Common sense tells us that a cat can only be dead or alive: there is no half-and-half.

Schroedinger devised the paradox to show the absurdity of the Copenhagen idea that a particle has no definite position, for example, until it is measured. (In a nutshell, the Copenhagen school mistakes epistemology for ontology.)

On top of this problem, Copenhagen also creates an arbitrary boundary between observer and observed (subject/object dualism). Think about the cat paradox: why should the wavefunction collapse when a scientist opens the box? What's so special about observation by a person? Would the scientist need to be observed by another scientist before his wavefunction collapses (and this process could be carried ad infinitum)? Or perhaps the cat's "observation" of itself causes the collapse?

The underlying problem is the arbitrary distinction of physical interactions that are part of a measurement from "ordinary" interactions. If one assumes such a dualist distinction, it is no surprise that one gets dualism in the result.

Smith follows Eddington's distinction of the "corporeal" realm in which we live from the "physical" world that is the subject of mathematical physics. "The credo of bifurcation thus entails a reduction of the corporeal to the physical," Smith observes rightly. Unfortunately the writing in this section is somewhat unclear about the actual relationship between the two, so that the reader can easily misunderstand Smith to solve the confusion of the two by imposing an absolute distinction between them. For example, Smith writes,

...the Schrodinger evolution operates within the physical domain, whereas the projection has to do with a transit out of the physical and into the corporeal.
Statements like this seem to imply that the physical and corporeal are exclusive of each other. Such a division merely substitutes one form of dualism for another. In actuality, the quantitative, physical world, must be an intrinsic subset of the real, corporeal world. (For more on the relationship between form and matter, see Schindler's "The Problem of Mechanism," about which I've written here.) Later in the book Smith's belief in this truth does come out (e.g., 222), but the initial lack of clarity is confusing, especially for beginners.

Modern Cosmology

Oskar Milosz's observed: "Unless a man's concept of the physical universe accords with reality, his spiritual life will be crippled at its roots" (170). Smith tries to remedy this spiritual void by justifying ancient cosmology, specifically by addressing two of its inadequacies: (1) the distinction between terrestrial and celestial matter, and (2) geocentrism.

In chapter VII, Smith attempts to revive the ancient idea that celestial matter, unlike matter on earth, is incorruptible. To do so, he has to ignore the expansion of human knowledge since the middle ages, such as the observed changeability of the heavens (e.g., supernovae, movement of stars, comets) and human space exploration. He does in fact allude to the moon-landings, but he explains the apparent mundaness of lunar matter by waiving away the ability of our senses to properly perceive them as anything but terrestrial (143)—an argument that undercuts his defence of the perennial philosophy's insistence on the primacy of sense knowledge. (Pierre Duhem and Stanley Jaki maintain the scientific "democratization" of matter that Smith abhors is the product of the Christian belief that Jesus Christ, instead of the universe, is the Only-begotten of God.)

In chapter VIII, Smith charges at the windmill of heliocentrism. This is Tychonian, not Ptolemaic geocentrism he defends. Tycho Brahe's model is simply the Copernican system, but with a stationary Earth: the planets orbit the Sun, and the Sun and Moon orbit the Earth. He tries to show that this view is compatible with Newtonian physics via Einstein: "Relativity implies that the hypothesis of a static Earth is not incompatible with the laws of physics and cannot be experimentally disproved" (159). There is some truth in this claim: Einstein's theory tells us that we can't distinguish free-fall (as the Earth does as it orbits the Sun) from uniform motion or even from rest. But to claim the Earth is motionless necessarily negates its daily rotation in favor of the Sun's movement, and this motion can be measured. In fact, if you've ever seen a Foucault pendulum in a science museum, you've seen the empirical evidence: a motionless Earth cannot explain the strange precession of the pendulum; if Newtonian physics is at all applicable to terrestrial matter (and it certainly is as a limit to Einstein's theory), the Earth rotates and the stars are fixed. It's not a big jump to "discover" that the Sun is (relatively) stationary in the center of the solar system.

Smith also rejects stellar parallax as evidence of the Earth's motion: "The logic here is once again of the ponendo ponens variety, which is to say that the hypotheses in question are judged or validated by their success in 'explaining' observable phenomenon" (159, cf. 118). Could anyone but a mathematician mistake reasoning by observation and induction for begging the question?

(Such mathematical apriorism is, I believe, also behind Smith's advocacy of "Fisher information" theory (50): that laws of physics can be deduced from the process of measurement—as if our intellects aren't primarily recipients and not creators of sensory information; this is a basic tenet of the perennial philosophy that Smith is ostensibly defending.)

Other notable ideas

A interesting insight in the quantum mechanics section. After observing that transcendence is the mark of objectivity, he writes,

How can somthing that is defined mathematically exhibit such a mark [of transcendence]? Here again Nature contrives to outwit our simple logic: the probabilities of physics manifest transcendence precisely when they "collapse" into objective fact; it is at that moment that they suddenly and unexpectedly, as it were, reveal their objective side by violating the Schrodinger wave equation, which up to that point they had strictly obeyed. (66)

I'm not sure of the value of this statement Smith quotes from Eddington (p. 53), but it is thought-provoking nonetheless:

The new conception is not merely that the whole is analysable into a complete set of parts, but that it is analysable into parts which resemble one another... I will go farther, and say that the aim of the analysis employed in physics is to resolve the universe into structural units which are precisely like one another.

From chapter IV on "Bell's Theorem and the Perennial Ontology":

The astrounding fact is that in the form of Bell's theorem physics has declared its own boundedness, its own incapacity to deal with the deeper strata of cosmic reality....

What physics can prove, and what it has indeed established beyond a reasonable doubt, is that external reality, and thus the cosmos as such, cannot be confined within the bounds of Einsteinian space-time: for if it could thus be confined, it would satisfy the Einsteinian condition of locality, which in fact it does not obey. (74, 77)

In discussing anthropic "coincidences":

If you break a clay pot, you will find that the resultant shards fit together perfectly so as to consitute the pot in question; and obviously this 'fine tuning'—which seems quote miraculous so long as one does not know the true provenance of the shards—is the result neither of chance nor of design. In short, the physical universe is fine tuned because the corporeal world demands as much. (222)
I would add that the wholeness of the universe is summed up in man (cf. St. Maximus the Confessor).
What both the Darwinians and most creationists have failed to grasp is that the corporeal universe in its entirety constitutes no more than the outer shell of the integral cosmos.... So long as one thinks tha the origin of a plant or an animal can be conceived as a spatio-temporal event, one has entirely missed the point. (80)


The friend who lent me the book called it "eclectic." This description is apt on multiple levels. No only does he mix Eastern philosophical terms into his Western traditional philosophy, but also Kantian and Cartesian dualism.

Smith's aims are noble, his methods unorthodox. I certainly sympathize with his abhorrence of modern errors, but a blanket rejection that excludes even genuine developments in human knowledge is not just scandalous, but foolish. The book contains unique insights, but unfortunately the mutiplicity of mistakes compromises its value. The tragedy is compounded by the fact that many of these mistakes could have been easily avoided by allowing a working physicist1 to review the book, or even by simply taking to heart the perennial philosophy's foundation in the reliability of the senses. Smith's attempt to forge a unified view of the world is so reactionary that it ironically ends up incorporating the modern ambiance that it set out to exclude.

1. Though Dr. Smith received one of his undergraduate degrees in physics and a masters in theoretical (a.k.a., mathematical) physics, his doctorate is in mathematics, as was another of his (three) bachelors degrees, it seems fair to say that he is more of a mathematician than a physicist.

Wolfgang Smith, The Wisdom of Ancient Cosmology: Contemporary Science in Light of Tradition, (Oakton, VA: Foundation for Traditional Studies, 2002).

David L. Schindler, "The Problem of Mechanism," Beyond Mechanism: The Universe in Recent Physics and Catholic Thought (Lanham, New York: University Press of America, 1986).

Stanley L. Jaki, Science and Creation (Lanham, New York: University Press of America, 1990).

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

George Lucas Is Darth Vader

I know I've been rather slow with coming up with posts of late. This is not for lack of ideas. In addition to a score of incomplete posts, I'm presently working on a substantial book review involving complicated ideas that require explanation.

In the meantime, I hope a short topical comment can tide you over. It's difficult, even for someone as isolated from popular culture as I, to miss the advent of the latest and final installment of George Lucas's Star Wars films. A work associate of mine evaluated the film thusly: the special effects were stupendous, not only in themselves, but also because they crowd out the wooden dialogue that plagued the previous two films. (He's a big fan and plans to go back several times.) Admittedly I haven't seen the film (I bailed out after Episode I), but I am toying with the idea of seeing it on the big screen for the SFX.

I thought this would make a great occasion to step back and think about the artistic arc of the whole Star Wars enterprise. Like so many children of the day, I could only find the first film enchanting. I disliked The Empire Strikes Back initially; it took me several years to arrive at my current position: that it was by far the best of the bunch.

The series took a serious dive with Return of the Jedi (1983). As a teenager, I didn't see a reason that the film didn't meet my inflated expectations, but in retrospect, it's apparent that in this film Lucas began to engage in what Mel Brooks's parody of Yoda called "moichandizing":

Merchandising, merchandising, where the real money from the movie is made. Spaceballs-the T-shirt, Spaceballs-the Coloring Book, Spaceballs-the Lunch box, Spaceballs-the Breakfast Cereal, Spaceballs-the Flame Thrower.

Ten years later, the New York Times's Stephen Holden put it this way:

In one sequence after another, you can sense that the story is being compressed to make room for increasingly flashy special effects. No sooner have the characters landed on that moon (a spot that bears more than a passing resemblance to Northern California) than the narrative comes to a dead halt, so the characters can be shown scooting around a redwood forest on jet-propelled air sleds.

It is also at this point that the trilogy's fascination with alien life forms turns mushy and cute with the entrance of the Ewoks. Those plucky little teddy bears with their bows and arrows belong more to the world of "The Wizard of Oz" (or on safari with Abbott and Costello) than in a "Star Wars" movie.

I've heard that Lucas had originally planned to have the wookies (Chewbacka's people) fill the role that the Ewoks occupied. Holden exceeds his insightful comments on Jedi with a broader cultural perspective on the trilogy:

One way to look at the story is that "Star Wars," which was released midway between the heyday of hippie culture and the rise of the yuppie, looks in both directions at once and decides to have it both ways. The story is an elegy to a hippie dream of a planet saved by flower children wielding light sabers. At the end, Luke, the idealistic peacenik who rejects anger and hate, so moves his square, warmongering father, Darth, that the father impulsively saves his son's life (and sacrifices himself) by killing his evil imperial boss. The hippies take over, Dad dies and the world is made safe for peace and love to triumph.

But in unraveling its sci-fi dream, the "Star Wars" trilogy did more than any films in the history of Hollywood to dehumanize movies by ushering in the brave new world of "Mortal Kombat," Terminators, "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" and "Independence Day," with its plastic little humans staring up at a new and scarier version of the fearsome Death Star.

The transformation from imaginative storytelling to extended infomercial was complete by Episode I: Phantom Menace: in contests pointless to the plot, the main character was a child through whom audience of children triumphed vicariously. And not coincidentally these same children would be the ones to buy (with their parents money) the video game-versions of these contests. (It is interesting to note that before World War II, businesses never advertised directly to children. There was wisdom in this forebearance.)

Change in the aim of an artist necessarily accompanies change his worldview. Episode I also reduced the religious mysticism that transfused the original film ("the Force") into biological mechanism ("mitichlorians") as well as flattened the backstory (i.e., "layering"). While I'm certainly no fan of new-age religion, these two ingredients gave the films a sense of authenticity, as if the characters occupied a real three-dimensional world, instead of a paper-thin video-game backdrop.

Lucas's evolution from underdog filmmaker to ruler of a mechanized commercial empire roughly parallels Anakin's transformation from childlike innocence into the imperious Darth Vader.

Mel Brooks, Spaceballs (1987).

Stephen Holden, "The Euphoria of the Force, or, So Long, Darth Vader and Company," New York Times. (New York, N.Y.: Mar 14, 1997, late edition), p. C3.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Another "Great Leap Forward"

Ten whole days since I last posted! You might be wondering what happened. On top of trying to do too much at once, I've been suffering from a cold (perhaps these two are related?—d'ya think?) from which I am now (thank God) almost fully recovered. I'm a bit busy even now trying to get out the door for the last day of my internship, but I felt obliged to comment on the big biotech news:

South Koreans Streamline Cloning of Human Embryos and
Human embryo cloned for first time in Britain

Two points:

  1. The scientists' (and the journalists') insistence on the distinction between "therapeutic cloning" and "reproductive cloning" is pure garbage. The technologies needed for for former are (for the most part) necessary for the latter. While scientists have yet to bring a cloned child full term, you can rest assured they will. The Raelians if no one else, but I think it's safe to say that with scientific addiction to "technically sweet" projects—in utter disregard to their moral implications—that there will be plenty of others joining in.
  2. The leader of the South Korean team, Professor Woo Suk Hwang, appraised the result
    This report brings science a giant step forward toward the day when some of humankind's most devastating diseases and injuries can be effectively treated through the use of therapeutic stem cells. (Quoted on ABC Online)
    Like Mao's "Great Leap Forward," this development purports to draw us closer to our imaginings of what the future should be like, but will have devasting effects on human life.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Basis of All Other Rights

Noteworthy conversation with a somewhat liberal but very knowledgeable friend last week. He wondered how pro-lifers like me can prioritize abortion over (say) capital punishment.

I was a little surprised that a well informed man like my friend would not know better, so it took me a moment to respond (and rather imperfectly) that the right to life is the basis of all other rights. I should have also preceded that statement by observing that there are a hierarchy of rights, and adding that if a government can arbitrarily deprive the innocent of life, then no other right has any meaning.

(Whereas one may argue with the practicalities of capital punishment—whether the innocent are being executed—, the condemned are at least supposedly guilty of infringing on the rights to life of others, or of similarly grave crimes like rape.)

In 1993 Mother (now Saint) Teresa of Calcutta said with her characteristic simplicity:

Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign.

It is worth noting that there are limits to the validity of "rights talk." The idea of rights assumes that each human being is an autonomous, impenetrable individual bearing an ever-escalating number of priviledges, past even the "right to a paid vacation." A much better way to speak is traditional idea of justice, which incorporates the idea that each individual (or better: "human person") is part of a much larger whole that must be ordered to the (common) good of all. With our individualistic American mentality, we might smell socialism (or communism!), but I think the truth is that these modern ideologies incorporate elements of truth along with their falsehoods. (As the saying goes, the devil tells us nine truths to get us to believe a single lie.)

In truth, the individual is meaningless without a society in which to live, just as society can have no meaning unless the individuals who compose it have an absolute, God-given right to life. As Benjamin Franklin wisely said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence:

We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.

Mother Teresa's letter to U.S. Supreme Court regarding Loce v. New Jersey and Krail et al. v. New Jersey. [Full text] [Alt]

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Human Egg Factories

Science Blog recently included a significant item: Human eggs coaxed from ovarian surface cells.

It seems that scientists have been able to get cells from the surface of human ovaries ("adult ovarian stems cells") to turn into egg cells ("oocytes"). This development has broad implications for biotechnology. As the abstract of the original article notes:

Development of numerous mature oocytes from adult ovarian stem cells in vitro offers new strategies for the egg preservation, IVF utilization, and treatment of female infertility. In addition, other clinical applications aiming to utilize stem cells, and basic stem cell research as well, may employ totipotent embryonic stem cells developing from fertilized oocytes.1

It is much, much easier to harvest ovarian surface cells than to harvest actual egg cells, so this technology will make not only in-vitro fertilization (IVF), but also cloning experiments significantly easier.

Hold on. Our pace toward the Brave New World quickens....

There's no earthly way of knowing
Which direction we are going
There's no knowing where we're rowing
Or which way the river's flowing
Is it raining?
Is it snowing?
Is a hurricane a-blowing?
Not a speck of light is showing
So the danger must be growing
Are the fires of hell a-glowing?
Is the grisly reaper mowing?
Yes, the danger must be growing
'Cause the rowers keep on rowing
And they're certainly not showing
Any signs that they are slowing.2

1. Antonin Bukovsky , Marta Svetlikova and Michael R Caudle, "Oogenesis in cultures derived from adult human ovaries," Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology 2005, 3:17.

2. Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1964).

Personal Note: My computer is acting mischieviously and it looks like I'll have to reinstall the OS. There may be some delay in this week's posts.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Scientific Manipulation

A New York Times story from last week, Scientists Draft Rules on Ethics for Stem Cells, sadly not only typifies today's journalism, but also illustrates a truism of post-Newtonian science mentality.

The news is that the National Academies of Science have devised "ethical" guidelines for research using embryonic stem cells. Some of the research possibilities these guidelines mention are disturbing.

The report paves the way for research involving animals called chimeras that have been seeded with human cells....to test first in animals the human organs that could be grown from embryonic stem cells.

...there is a remote possibility that an animal with eggs made of human cells could mate with an animal bearing human sperm. To avoid human conception in such circumstances, the academy says chimeric animals should not be allowed to mate.

A second possible hazard is that the human embryonic stem cells might generate all or most of an animal's brain, leading to the possibility of a human mind imprisoned in an animal's body. Though neuroscientists consider this unlikely, it cannot be ruled out, particularly with animals closely related to people, like monkeys and apes. The academy advises that human embryonic stem cells not be injected into the embryos of nonhuman primates for the time being.

Third, like many previous committees, the academy says human embryos should not be grown in culture for more than 14 days, the time when the first hints of a nervous system appear.

On the first two points, even raising the possibility of creating what we might call "manimals" makes me wonder if we've gone too far.

These scientists would have us believe there's no intrinsic worth in an embryo. The third recommendation makes me wonder why 14 days should be any different than 13. If the nascent nervous system gives you qualms, why not apply an anesthetic?

Here's another doozy:

The academy also says that donors, including women who donate unfertilized eggs, should not be paid.

I suppose egg donation is analogous to organ donation. As happened with the pill, the unmentioned victims of this research are women. But I'm afraid that a ban on paying for eggs is not enough. Harvesting eggs is a traumatic, dangerous process. I've mentioned the February 28 bioethics conference I attended in Chicago. Nigel Cameron explained the reason the U.N. General Assembly voted so overwhelmingly to ban all human cloning: the research would require many more human eggs than can possibly be harvested from fertile women in the developed world, that they would have to turn to the developing world, i.e., exploit women in poor countries. I can imagine a similar dynamic at work with stem-cell research.

The Times shows great restraint by reserving the political axe grinding (or since they're always engaged in monkey-business, should that be "organ grinding"?) for later in the article.

The agency [N.I.H.] has been prevented from playing a similar role with human embryonic stem cells because of the Bush policy and the Congressional ban. Many scientists regret the forced absence of the health institutes' leadership.

"This shows how far this country has gone toward being controlled by religious precepts rather than scientific opportunity," said Dr. David Baltimore, president of the California Institute of Technology....

It "is a terrible omen for our being able to maintain our position as the country that leads in biomedical technology," Dr. Baltimore said.

Dr. Harold Varmus, president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and a former director of the health institutes, said the academy's proposed rules "offer what the government cannot: reasonable guidelines for the several kinds of research being conducted with various sources of non-federal funds." Dr. Varmus said.

Following the reasoning of Drs. Baltimore and Varmus, perhaps the President should authorize federal funding for human vivisection: it's an area of research in which we have fallen far behind the noble scientists of mid-20th-century Germany!

Implicit in this entire discussion are a number of fallacies. In the first place, there is no ban on any form of stem-cell research, merely on federal funding of research on stem-cells derived from unauthorized embryonic stem-cell lines.

In the second place, the push for federal funding for embryonic stem cells has more to do with money than with science. Recall that there are actually two kinds of stem cells: embryonic and adult. Embryonic stem cells are derived by dismembering a human embryo (i.e., a developing human). Adult stem cells are merely a special kind of cell in a developed human and their derivation does no more harm than taking any other kind of cell from your body. In fact a great source of adult stem cells is post-delivery umbilical cord blood, which would be discarded anyway.

The dirty secret of stem cell research is that ALL of the positive clinical results come from adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells have given NO positive results. Conducting this morally dubious research requires federal funding for that very lack of results: no private investor is stupid enough to throw his own money at something so speculative, so why not throw away someone else's money?

Scientists are drooling over the possibilities "pluri-potent" embryonic stem cells. The irony is that this characteristic of plasticity is precisely what makes these cells so difficult to control: they so very easily mutate into tumors. For example, Chinese scientists injected embryonic stem cells into a Parkinson's patient's brain. Following the patient's death (unrelated to the therapy), the autopsy revealed a tumor in his brain composed of many kinds of human cells: skin, bone, heart, etc.

Meanwhile, in order to create political pressure, scientists hold out the possibility of miracle cures to diseases they know they could never treat with embryonic stem cells even if they could control their development. Of course, there's no one so gullible as a liberal, so California tax-payers continue their noble tradition of throwing their money away. (If it had to happen, is there a better state this could happen to?)

And of course the pseudo-controvery allows the media not only to sell advertising, but also to pillory their favorite whipping-boy: the "religious right"—those conniving anti-scientific, anti-choice fiends intent on robbing women of their "right" (to some unspecified something or other...).

As I've said before, liberals can only talk about themselves because they can only see themselves. When they speak of believers imposing their creeds on others, they are really talking about their imposing their anti-religious disbelief on the rest of us. The sacredness of human life is a "religious precept"—little more than a subjective feeling. (A "feeling" that forms the basis for our society's notion of right, I might add.) They see no intrinsic worth to human beings or to nature in general, and they want the rest of us to pony up the money for their embryonic stem-cell romper room.

Nicholas Wade, "Scientists Draft Rules on Ethics for Stem Cells" New York Times (April 26, 2005).