Three Parent Babies: A Triumph for Science or Scientism?

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A few weeks ago, Saints and Sceptics wondered what, religious, ethical and moral dilemmas this new year might bring. Among them was the possibility of the Parliament of the United Kingdom approving the creation of babies with the DNA of three people: two women and a man.

Earlier this week, British MP’s voted in favour.

On Tuesday,  the Labour MP, Andrew Miller, Chair of the Commons’ Science and Technology Committee was interview by BBC Radio 4 for the PM news programme. He said that :

The scientific evidence has triumphed over people’s beliefs; people are entitled to have beliefs, I fully respect ethical views but the science this will enable to be carried out does have a profound impact to the benefit of those relatively small numbers who carry these desperately difficult diseases.”

There are any number of interesting ideas in that short quote, but the one I find most intriguing is the conflation of “beliefs” with “ethical views.”

Interesting, firstly, because we have, until now, been used with the pejorative term ‘belief’ being used solely against religious views which are deemed to be without evidence, without any basis in fact, and without logic and reason.

Now, however, the more general and not necessarily religious term, “ethical” has been framed in the same way.

Mr. Miller’s use of language is interesting for another reason too: surely this decision (whether one is for it or against it) was an ethical one? Surely it must be if it is to have a “profound impact to the benefit…”

The “scientific evidence” has certainly not “triumphed over” Miller’s particular, utilitarian ethical view.

And lastly, if, as Mr. Miller seems to suggest, the “scientific evidence” is now to be the basis for making any and perhaps every decision, and if that decision making process is to continue to “triumph”, then perhaps we need a reminder that evidence (assuming it is reliable) can tell us what we can do, but it cannot tell us what we should then do.

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