The quest is to clone a mammoth. The question is: should we do it? The Observer

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The idea would make headlines around the world and bring tears of joy to the planet's journalists. An adorable baby woolly mammoth, tottering on its newborn legs, is introduced to the media. Cloned from a few cells scraped from the permafrost of Siberia, the little creature provides the latest proof of the might of modern science and demonstrates the fact that extinction has at long last lost its sting.


It is a fascinating prospect, one that was raised again last week when the most recently discovered carcass of a mammoth was revealed to the public in Yokohama, Japan.

The female, thought to have been around 50 when she died, had lain frozen in the ground for tens of thousands of years. Yet she still had hair, muscle tissue, and possibly blood. Samples have now been sent to South Korea, where scientists say they are planning to use them to clone a mammoth, though the proposal is considered to be highly controversial.

"The hunt for mammoth corpses has been transformed in recent years," said Professor Adrian Lister, of the Natural History Museum, London, and one of the advisers for the museum's current "Extinction" exhibition. "We have found as many mammoths in the past five years as we did in the previous 50, partly because global warming is melting the Siberian permafrost and is revealing more and more bodies and partly because local people realise it is a lucrative business. Mammoth ivory is viewed as a legal and ethically acceptable alternative to elephant tusks.

"The only trouble is that every time a new well-preserved mammoth is found, people also repeat the claim that we will soon be able to clone them, and I very much doubt that we will."

Mammoths ranged from the British Isles to eastern Asia and northern America until they disappeared around 10,000 years ago, though one small population was recently found to have survived to around 4,000 years ago on the Russian island of Wrangel.

Hunting by cavemen or climate change, or a combination of the two, are generally blamed for their demise.

Now some scientists are talking openly of bringing them back to life. Yokohama mammoth samples have been sent to the private laboratory of the disgraced South Korean cloning expert Hwang Woo-suk, who is co-operating with Russian scientists with the specific aim of recreating mammoths. Similarly, Semyon Grigoriev, who led the team that excavated the mammoth, has speculated that fluid found near the creature may be blood that contains intact cells which could be used to bring about their resurrection. "This find gives us a really good chance of finding living cells, which can help us implement this project to clone a mammoth," said Grigoriev.
 

Written By: Robin McKie
continue to source article at guardian.co.uk

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  1. Short answer: no.

    Long answer:

    1. It would serve no purpose because we already know how to clone things
    2. It is unlikely that there is a suitable habitat on Earth for them to live
    3. Even if there was a habitat, introducing them into it would be highly destructive– the world has moved on
    4. If they don’t have a home, they could only be kept in captivity.
    5. A completely captive population would eventually become extinct again because nobody would commit the long term funding to keep them alive
    6. The only way to fund keeping the animals alive is to make them economically productive
    7. “Economically productive” means turning them into food .. good luck with that marketing plan

    All of that raises many and various emotional and ethical concerns, of which the ethical ones are by far the easiest to deal with. So, scientists of the world, study away, but stop short of cloning an entire animal.

    Please.

      • In reply to #6 by giggity:

        In reply to #1 by todd.templeton1:

        “Economically productive” means turning them into food .. good luck with that marketing plan”

        “Mammoth Burgers”–world’s largest burgers!

        giggity

        According to Robert Graves, a mammoth was served at one of Claudius’ feasts, from memory discovered in frozen tundra and brought to Rome in ice. I wonder where he got that story and if there’s any truth in it?

        • In reply to #27 by Kevin Murrell:

          According to Robert Graves, a mammoth was served at one of Claudius’ feasts, from memor…

          I love those books and Graves knew a lot about Roman history but he took huge liberties and dramatic license. I doubt very much that part of the story was based on anything that could stand up to a rigorous analysis.

    • Not entirely sure I agree with your response.. There are suitable places/climates where they could live today. Anyone interested in this, might want to watch the Ted talk on this topic:

      http://www.ted.com/talks/hendrik_poinar_bring_back_the_woolly_mammoth.html

      In reply to #1 by todd.templeton1:

      Short answer: no.

      Long answer:

      It would serve no purpose because we already know how to clone things
      It is unlikely that there is a suitable habitat on Earth for them to live
      Even if there was a habitat, introducing them into it would be highly destructive– the world has moved on
      If they don’t h…

    • That would be most stupid to clone the mammoth in my opinion. It would be a huge source of hazard. Considering the amount of time elapsed since the last mammoth died, it would be potentially as dangerous as it sould be to meet aliens.

      Example. What if the mammoth creates huge gaps in our ecosystem, forcing it to recombine in a way that humans are not able to survive in it ? Or even if we make a “controlled” experiment, what if it happens to be able to release deadly pheromones that we did not know about ?

      I’m taking the worst possibilities here. But I just mean to say that mammoths were not born in this ecosystem. No need to play with fire.

      As for the ethical argument pro-cloning, like “we destroyed them, they deserve another chance”, too much time has passed since we did. Ethics didn’t even exist at the time.

      • The mammoth is a vertebrate. It survived on the planet at a time when the atmosphere was virtually identical. The organisms are essentially the same , carbon based, they metabolise and respire in essentially the same way , they essentially have the same anatomical and physiological features, some have just died away, I can’t see how it would introduce any problems that couldn’t be taken care of by man , another vertebrate , but of higher intelligence.

        But I agree, there is absolutely no benefit to cloning a mammoth , science , especially science related to genetic engineering , is serious , its suppose to be rational , this would be pure voyeurism , not fitting of the ethical and rational nature of scientific endeavour.

        In reply to #102 by lhommealenvers:

        That would be most stupid to clone the mammoth in my opinion. It would be a huge source of hazard. Considering the amount of time elapsed since the last mammoth died, it would be potentially as dangerous as it sould be to meet aliens.

        Example. What if the mammoth creates huge gaps in our ecosystem,…

  2. ” The question is: should we do it? “

    Who is this we?

    Whether it is possible to do or not seems the question and if possible someone, somewhere will likely answer that question. If ethically correct or not.

      • In reply to #9 by Vin2:

        In reply to #3 by Floyd:

        Yes.

        Without personal sentience to offset the tyranny of my own DNA, I should not want to be cloned. Would you?

        If my DNA is used to make a clone it still won’t be “me”. The clone would be like an identical twin that grew up apart from me. I’m pretty sure my clone would be happy to live much like everyone on this site is glad to be alive.

  3. If we (the cloners) cannot guarantee their social infrastructure (they are almost certainly herd animals which means cloning several animals at the same time), AND their living space (possibly very large areas of Siberia or Northern Canada) then I would say no.

    • In reply to #7 by cornbread_r2:

      If the pictured animal is supposed to be 50 years old, then they’re a lot smaller than I thought they’d be.

      Yes, they stated in the article “The female, thought to have been around 50 when she died, had lain frozen in the ground for tens of thousands of years. Yet she still had hair, muscle tissue, and possibly blood.” — I’m really confused because the label to the picture clearly labels it as a “baby” AND… I found this: “Average life expectancy of the average mammoth was 60 to 80 years.” at http://www.thebigzoo.com/animals/Woolly_Mammoth.asp So something is simply not right at all.

  4. Would the ethical argument be less difficult if it concerned an animal that had become extinct as a result of human activity? My instinct is that it would be “right” to bring back creatures that humanity had deliberately, or by negligence, wiped out.

    • In reply to #10 by Jabarkis:

      Would the ethical argument be less difficult if it concerned an animal that had become extinct as a result of human activity? My instinct is that it would be “right” to bring back creatures that humanity had deliberately, or by negligence, wiped out.

      I think in most cases it wouldn’t be all that clear cut which species humans “deliberately” caused to go extinct. Since humans dominate the planet so completely especially since the industrial revolution you could make a case that just about any animal that went extinct during that period was caused to go extinct as the result of human activity. And its pretty rare that humans deliberately try to make a species extinct. There are plenty of cases where most people don’t care but except for the Americans wiping out buffalo in order to starve the native americans its not common for humans to try and make a species extinct.

      I don’t see the reasoning behind caring anyway. It seems a mindset left over from theism where there is some notion of a super agent in the sky who watches things and who we have to appease by making amends for our sins. It seems to me the questions we should ask are questions like: 1) what scientific questions might we answer by cloning and 2) what are the potential environmental effects of bringing a species back?

      From what I know we aren’t going to learn all that much from cloning any specific species and the environmental impacts are chaotic and we usually are going to be much more likely to cause more harm by bringing something back so my default position would be to just concentrate on stop destroying the planet now rather than trying to bring back species.

      • In reply to #11 by Red Dog:

        Interesting points, Red Dog. Notice that I said “or by negligence”, but yes, I’m sure most extinctions have been non-deliberate. There are exceptions, though. The thylacine (Tasmanian tiger), for example, was more or less deliberately wiped out because of the threat it posed to introduced livestock.

        I personally favour the idea of restoring animal species that human activity has destroyed, not for some supernatural reason but because those species had just as much right to exist as we do. Perhaps this argument treats humans as somehow exceptional, as being distinct from, or above, the natural processes which influence the rise and fall of other species, but, as far as we know, humans are uniquely capable of analysing our behaviour in terms of responsibility, and also of causing destruction disproportionate to our “natural” (non-technological) capacity.

        The question of environmental impact is also relevant to the re-introduction of captive-bred animals into wild settings where they have gone extinct – e.g. the wolf into large parts of the United States – though I suppose it becomes more relevant the longer the species has been absent from the relevant environment. In future, I can see good arguments for rapid repopulation of recently eradicated species, where that eradication is humanity’s responsibility.

        In reply to #14 by Roedy:

        I guess that is a risk, but why would bringing those species back be left to “some future generation”? Why shouldn’t the very generation that caused the extinction be the one to undo it?

        • In reply to #16 by Jabarkis:

          In reply to #11 by Red Dog:

          Interesting points, Red Dog. Notice that I said “or by negligence”,

          That was my point though, once you broaden it to include “by negligence” it becomes a meaningless criteria. It doesn’t get you anywhere because essentially someone who wants to clone any animal that went extinct in the last few centuries can make a case that the animal went extinct due to human negligence. So your criteria is useless to help make decisions.

          but yes, I’m sure most extinctions have been non-deliberate. There are exceptions, though. The thylacine (Tasmanian tiger), for example, was more or less deliberately wiped out because of the threat it p…

          There is really a more basic question that I’m getting to and that we disagree on. That is “what is your foundation for morality?” My foundation (something I mostly agree with Sam Harris on) is consequentialism. What are the effects of an action in terms of human and animal well being? I think those are the grounds that a discussion about cloning (or really any discussion involving ethical decisions) should be waged upon. You seem to have some form of Kantian model where some acts are inherently good or bad based on…. well IMO based on nothing. I don’t think your model is logically viable unless there is some big daddy in the sky who can evaluate things and say “that act was unfair so thou must repair it”

          • In reply to #22 by Red Dog:

            My use of the word “negligence” is quasi-legal in this context. To be negligent legally (at least in common law terms) you have to fail in a duty of care, which means, of course, that you have to establish that such a duty existed in the first place. I agree that the standard would be difficult to apply, especially if you extended the analysis to past centuries, but there are certainly clear examples of human activity having unexpected but direct and terrible consequences on animal populations (use of pesticides, introduction of pest species, environmental degradation etc.).

            As for my philosophical grounding, I don’t know where you are getting the evidence for your assertion about it. If you take my comment that animals have a “right” to exist, that’s justifiable in purely consequentialist terms (assuming it’s better for those species to be alive rather than dead, for the animals themselves, for the biosphere and for humans), as are (obviously) my considerations of the impacts of the re-introduction of extinct species to a natural environment, especially after a long absence.

          • In reply to #69 by Jabarkis:

            As for my philosophical grounding, I don’t know where you are getting the evidence for your assertion about it. If you take my comment that animals have a “right” to exist, that’s justifiable in purely consequentialist terms

            Once you start talking about some animals or people having rights as opposed to talking about their utility or well being function you are no longer a consequentialist. Its why Jeremy Bentham the father of Utilitarianism which makes him the grandfather of consequentialism said that “rights are nonsense and natural rights are nonsense on stilts”

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeremy_Bentham

            And its why Sam Harris won’t accept a general rule against torture on pinciple and thinks that if you can make the world as a whole better by torturing some people its OK.

          • In reply to #70 by Red Dog:

            There may be utility in restoring certain species, and a simple way of achieving that utility may be to offer certain beings protection (even if purely rhetorical) in the form of a “right” to exist – breaches of which could be redressed, on a species-level, by cloning or, more prosaically, by the reintroduction of captive-bred individuals.

            I’m well aware of Bentham’s views on rights, and I generally agree with them, and although I do support the idea of affording certain rights, that support is purely for consequentialist reasons and requires no “objective moral standard” (beyond the assumption that pleasure is good and pain bad) nor any divine umpire.

            Bentham’s criticism of the idea of natural rights was a response to rights-based political movements of his time, including the French Revolution. His objection, it seems to me, was based more on the fact that rights are not in any sense intrinsic to entities, nor do they exist in any objective sense. This could perhaps be given as something like: rights other than those granted by humans do not exist. I accept that proposition.

            To summarise: rights can exist when people agree that they exist and they become stronger the more firm the consensus about them. Agreeing to afford and defend certain rights (even in the knowledge that those rights are built merely on human preference) can increase the chances that certain goods (utility, happiness etc.) are maximised. Beyond that, we just need to decide which good/s to maximise. Is life good and death/un-life bad? Will granting a “right” to life help to protect that good? Is diversity good, either of itself or because it promotes one of the desired goods? Etc. etc. until we come to the specific question of whether re-introducing an extinguished species promotes the good, the answer to which may be informed by, or most efficiently couched in terms of, a “right”, for example, to live.

            I don’t see how Sam Harris’s position on torture is relevant in any specific sense, so I’ll ignore it, if I may.

          • In reply to #71 by Jabarkis:

            I don’t see how Sam Harris’s position on torture is relevant in any specific sense, so I’ll ignore it, if I may.

            Its relevant because Harris is a consequentialist. And the reason he rejects arguments about why torture must never be used is because he is a consequentialist. As a consequentialist he says that it makes no sense to appeal to principles about fundamental rights, like the right not to be tortured. So if you are a consequentialist but you believe that some animals are more deserving, have more right to be born, due to past actions of humanity then you are being inconsistent. You aren’t arguing that the overall welfare of all animals will be better but that the well being of the mammoths matters more than the well being of say the elephants. That’s not consequentialism.

  5. We should at least clone a couple if we can. We would learn a lot by studying them, and it would renew interest in science to a lot of people in the same way that space exploration did(does). The real question is should be clone and then reintroduce them? That’s a tough one. There are a lot of ecological issues to consider there. The thing is though, it’s such a large animal that it’s not that big a deal if we did. If we found it to be a problem, it would be trivial to just go shoot them all. It’s not like we are cloning an ancient mosquito that, once it got out, we could probably never reign it back in.

  6. Should we clone a Mammoth?

    • What would we, potentially, learn?

    • How valuable is what we could, potentially, learn?

    • Is what we would learn available from other sources of study?

    • What are the resources required to clone a Mammoth?

    From the answers to the above: It makes sense to attempt this if we can justify the use of the resources. That doesn’t just mean direct costs. There is the significant loss of other research and constructive work that the scientists, technicians and others involved in the project will not be achieving while they work on the Mammoth project.

    As the OP points out – it makes far more sense to use these resources to assist with slowing down the current Great Extinction event.

    To achieve a level of justification that trumps biological conservation, clearly, we would need to see a significant probability that we would learn something pretty amazing that is not available by any other route. I just don’t see that.

    The OP is typical of a modern newspaper story: Lots of poseurs pontificating, plenty of didactic data – facts in very short supply.

    Much as I like the idea of reviving a fossil from a political perspective (by extension such a revival would paint Creationists and ‘Flood Historians’ into an even smaller corner), I can see that there is far more important work to be done.

    Should we clone a Mammoth?

    Pending (possibly) more data: No.

    Peace.

    • In reply to #20 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

      Should we clone a Mammoth?

      What would we, potentially, learn?

      How valuable is what we could, potentially, learn?

      Is what we would learn available from other sources of study?

      What are the resources required to clone a Mammoth?

      Sometimes you don’t know what you’ll learn until you learn it. I say yes. If we are facing a climate changing future that will change faster than life on earth is able to, DNA manipulation could be a very viable alternative to extinction. All lessons in the cloning/DNA/biology arena are welcome. It’s also a large mammal and not likely to get loose and affect the ecosystem one shred. Nothing a good rifle couldn’t fix. Might save a lot of zoos.

      • Why not just clone a mouse? You could do everything you wanted by this process.

        Why do you want to clone an extinct creature , surely you could set-up an experimental process that will satisfy all the legitimate scientific questions , but by using current organisms.

        Also the ‘because it would be cool’ answer whilst funny is not something science should be subscribing to. Slippery slope and all that…
        In reply to #103 by aquilacane:

        In reply to #20 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

        Should we clone a Mammoth?

        What would we, potentially, learn?

        How valuable is what we could, potentially, learn?

        Is what we would learn available from other sources of study?

        What are the resources required to clone a Mammoth?

        Sometimes you don’t know…

      • In reply to #103 by aquilacane:

        Hi Aquiacane,

        Of course research reveals things we didn’t expect – why else would we do it?

        Research grants are usually awarded on the basis of probability. We know how to clone , and we know how to take a cloned zygot and make a viable offspring using an existing adult. We also know about gestation outside the womb, and how to recover a full DNA sequence from variously sourced fragments. On that basis, the probability that we would learn something useful is vanishingly small.

        As to your point that learning how to clone would potentially help us to revive species post the current Great Extinction; the problem we face is much larger than that. We’re talking about millions of species being lost to Earth every week. To revive top level species like animals would require that we revive entire Eco-systems. That is clearly, and simply, not a viable plan.

        Prevention is better than cure.

        Learning about existing species is exploration of a far more exciting and rewarding kind – and the probability that we will learn new things about our Home Planet – Earth – is 100%.

        Peace.

  7. I think it should be done at least once to prove to ourselves that it can be done even if it is euthanased after that. After that there would be little point in doing more. Those that think that it might be cruel are right but it would be absolutely trivial compared to the millions of animals and fish etc that are brutalised daily for human consumption. One needs to maintain perspective!

  8. Neat trick to being able to do. The more we know and we do about the technology, the better for us.

    As for actually doing it, I don’t know. I’m sure there would be some valuable scientific lessons in there somewhere, but it just feels wrong. These are not toys.

  9. Relax, we don’t have to take the rap for killing off the mammoths. It was a hairy cousins homo neanderthalis who probably helped them on their way. They are the ones with the “smoking gun” of mammoth bones in their caves.

    • In reply to #24 by mr_DNA:

      Relax, we don’t have to take the rap for killing off the mammoths. It was a hairy cousins homo neanderthalis who probably helped them on their way. They are the ones with the “smoking gun” of mammoth bones in their caves.

      The neanderthals have a pretty good alibi, having died out long before the mammoths did.

  10. Doing something just because you can is not rational. i.e. would they be equally keen to clone a T Rex? (some might).

    I see one very debateable moral argument for ‘resurrectionists’ and that is if the cloning of an extinct species was vital for genetic research to correct a problem or eradicate a disease, say, in the way that maintaining relic crops is then it starts to make sense.
    For example say the answer to eradicating a human pathogen lay in the necessity to clone a Neanderthal (I’m not even considering the feasibility here just the moral case) then is that OK or is it a no no?

    Otherwise the dead should respect the divide and stay dead.

    So why are they bothering to clone a mammoth? What is the case for doing it?

    • This is exactly like the sort of arguments used against manned space exploration. We should do it because it would be awesome and magnificent and inspiring etc. Goodness people, have you no souls? No sense of adventure?

      In reply to #25 by Vorlund:

      Doing something just because you can is not rational. i.e. would they be equally keen to clone a T Rex? (some might).

      If I could, I most certainly would. It would be amazing to see a real, live T Rex!

      What good would rationality be if we couldn’t use it to do stuff we like?

      • In reply to #32 by Peter Grant:

        This is exactly like the sort of arguments used against manned space exploration. We should do it because it would be awesome and magnificent and inspiring etc. Goodness people, have you no souls? No sense of adventure?

        In reply to #25 by Vorlund:

        Doing something just because you can is not ration…

        Of course we have no souls- we’re athiests!

        • In reply to #33 by Kevin Murrell:

          Of course we have no souls- we’re athiests!

          Yes, I was using the term metaphorically, as in the “soul of an adventurer”. I often use religious terminology in this way, as it is part of a shared cultural heritage. Terms I steer clear of using like this are “God” and “free will”

          • In reply to #34 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #33 by Kevin Murrell:

            Of course we have no souls- we’re athiests!

            Yes, I was using the term metaphorically, as in the “soul of an adventurer”. I often use religious terminology in this way, as it is part of a shared cultural heritage. Terms I steer clear of using like this are “God” an…

            I was only being smart. As a literary gent I fully understood your use of ironic metaphor. I hate the way Americans say “My Gaaad,” but as a logterm resident of Ireland I’m occasionally heard to ejaculate, in times of extreme frustration (usually with my wife), “Sweet sufferin’ heart of divine Jaesus!” I hope that I didn’t offend you.

      • In reply to #32 by Peter Grant:

        If I could, I most certainly would. It would be amazing to see a real, live T Rex!
        What good would rationality be if we couldn’t use it to do stuff we like?…..

        This sounds a tad misguided… Maybe you haven’t applied enough rational consideration…doing something cause you can is one thing but not when its for the wrong reasons….there is an ethical difference ? incidentally I’m all for space exploration and wouldn’t dream of taking a stand against progress and scientific stuff generally unless its just ethically wrong in my opinion…..Evolution is a forward flowing mechanism not backwards to extinct species…

        • In reply to #40 by Light Wave:

          This sounds a tad misguided… Maybe you haven’t applied enough rational consideration…doing something cause you can is one thing but not when its for the wrong reasons….there is an ethical difference ?

          My reason is that I and others want to. It would be awesome, cool, etc to see a real, live mammoth!

          incidentally I’m all for space exploration and wouldn’t dream of taking a stand against progress and scientific stuff generally unless its just ethically wrong in my opinion…..Evolution is a forward flowing mechanism not backwards to extinct species…

          From a moral standpoint, I don’t really care about evolution. Evolution may have gifted us with the rudiments of moral feeling, but evolution has nothing to do with morality.

          • In reply to #42 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #40 by Light Wave:

            My reason is that I and others want to. I would be awesome,…

            I understand honestly…as a kid I wish I could have met Neanderthal…but it doesn’t mean I agree that we should clone one even if we could….Do you think any crazy people should be allowed to clone anything they want ??? I really don’t…..Things like that could have dire and unpredictable consequences in future years…Beyond proving that we have already cloned a living animal – what then ? Who governs this ?

          • In reply to #43 by Light Wave:

            I would like a clone army, and should probably be stopped, but up until this point I say let them play.

          • In reply to #44 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #43 by Light Wave:

            I would like a clone army, and should probably be stopped, but up until this point I say let them play.

            I truly hope you are not in charge of any genetic labs…..That would be like North Korea but much much worse….
            At least this shows how different Atheists are…..I would never agree with this kind of viewpoint

  11. No… we should never clone an extinct species…that is just so egotistical of humans to even contemplate that…. science labs cloned an animal decades ago we know that from Dolly the sheep …..Is there any laws on who and what gets cloned and why ?…..this technology could be misused for the wrong reasons…..But if it was controlled ethically maybe it could be useful for generating exact copies of organs for individual bodies of living beings to cure them of illness…but not full creatures and not extinct species and definitely not on a whim…we don’t have to do it…. just because we can ?

    • In reply to #31 by Light Wave:

      No… we should never clone an extinct species…that is just so egotistical of humans to even contemplate that…. science labs cloned an animal decades ago we know that from Dolly the sheep …..Is there any laws on who and what gets cloned and why ?…..this technology could be misused for the wr…

      Where does your moral law come from? What reason based in logic and reality leads you to state so boldly and vehemently that “We should never…” We are trying to escape the occult pronouncements of the pulpit, and we don’t profit from being preached at in such strident terms, or in any other terms for that matter.

      • In reply to #35 by Kevin Murrell:

        …Where does your moral law come from? What reason based in logic and reality leads you to state so boldly and vehemently that “We should never -

        [Para removed by moderator]

        ” We are trying to escape the occult pronouncements of the pulpit, and we don’t profit from being preached at in such strident terms, or in any other terms for that matter. -

        Neither do I and I’m an Atheist ….. But according to you Jurassic park wouldn’t just stay science fiction? just cause WE want a dinosaur…its not a human right to re create creatures that have had their day – just because we can….all the other animals in the world may have a say in that if they could….

        • …Where does your moral law come from?

          seems like a good question. Why is cloning a mammoth “immoral”?

          What reason based in logic and reality leads you to state so boldly and vehemently that “We should never -

          [Edited by moderator to remove quote of and response to moderated post]

          ” We are trying to escape the occult pronouncements of the pulpit, and we don’t profit from being preached at in such strident terms, or in any other terms for that matter. -

          Neither do I and I’m an Atheist ….. But according to you Jurassic park wouldn’t just stay science fiction? just cause WE want a dinosaur…its not a human right to re create creatures that have had their day – just because we can….all the other animals in the world may have a say in that if they could….

          but why not? It may not be a “human right” but why is it ethically or morally repugnant?

          • In reply to #146 by nick keighley:

            …Where does your moral law come from?

            seems like a good question. Why is cloning a mammoth “immoral”?

            What reason based in logic and reality leads you to state so boldly and vehemently that “We should never -

            My own Atheist view…..are you more right than me ?…I think not ….I don’t agree…..

            lets pick an easier example. I accept that finding a habitat and constructing the complex social environment of mammoths might be difficult. So what about the dodo or the passenger pigeon is that wrong? Is it wrong to try and preserve species that are nearly extinct? What about one that went extinct only a decade ago?

      • In reply to #35 by Kevin Murrell:

        I was initially commenting on the article ….Not to anyone’s comments and you trolled on my first comment….I don’t appreciate being insulted or shut down by people who’s opinions differ to mine – I come to this site to speak freely without bullshit….I’ve heard this kind of response before…. If your not with us your against us …..I’m neither….deal with that if you must respond to my comment…..

  12. In reply to #36 by Smill:

    In reply to Peter Grant, post 34 and Kevin Murrell. It’s not soul of an adventurer, it’s spirit of adventure, and the latter doesn’t require an apology about using religious terminology…’part of a shared cultural heritage’…aha?

    Spirit and soul were both originally religious terms, but language evolves.

    Also the attitude, ‘let’s do stuff cos we can’ is a bit gung ho.

    Sorry, I am a bit gung ho. Haven’t you noticed?

    Also, who says an atheist has no ‘soul’? It’s just god atheism doesn’t recognise.

    Strictly speaking true, but my atheism is based on my skepticism.

  13. Moderators’ message

    Please keep disagreements civil and good-tempered. This is a site for discussion, which means that any user commenting must expect to have their views challenged. That is well within our Terms of Use, provided positions are argued thoughtfully and not abusively.

    The mods

  14. In reply to #45 by Smill:

    In reply to Light wave, post 43. Yes, I’m glad you highlighted this issue; a rational decision must also be based on universal ethics. Doing something because ‘we can’ does not represent an ethics I can support.

    What about doing something because we want to? Not just me, but many of us.

  15. In reply to #47 by Smill:

    In reply to Peter Grant, post 44. Maybe it is time to put away the toy soldiers Peter and …..other….recreational activities?

    Not until it is time to put away life as well.

  16. In reply to #36 by Smill:

    In reply to Peter Grant, post 34 and Kevin Murrell. It’s not soul of an adventurer, it’s spirit of adventure, and the latter doesn’t require an apology about using religious terminology…’part of a shared cultural heritage’…aha? Also the attitude, ‘let’s do stuff cos we can’ is a bit gung ho. A…

    Soul/God. In the words of an old song, “Dad was told by mother / You can’t have one, without the other, du..du ..dududududu..du. du”

  17. In reply to #57 by Smill:

    In reply to Peter Grant, post 55. That statement is a semantic failure. How can you be ‘as atheist’ unless you are suggesting there are degrees of atheism?

    There are degrees of everything. Nothing is absolute.

  18. In reply to #54 by Smill:

    In reply to Kevin Murrell, post 50. It’s good to know that you can still ejaculate in Ireland.

    Oh, I love it when people pick up my clever double entendres. Even in Ireland they haven’t made that illegal yet, though I’m sure that the Iona Institute are working on it.

  19. Moderator ….Is it fair to ban my non offensive comment about freedom of speech while other people are allowed their responses…I wanted to defend myself and my view….banning it proves that freedom of speech is not equal…

  20. In reply to #31 by Light Wave:

    No… we should never clone an extinct species…that is just so egotistical of humans to even contemplate that….

    Surely returning an extinct species to existence would be the ultimate act of altruism. I don’t see how it could be seen as egotistical, unless one is of the view that anyone doing so would be playing God.

    science labs cloned an animal decades ago we know that from Dolly the sheep …..Is there any laws on who and what gets cloned and why ?

    Additional Protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Dignity of the Human Being with regard to the Application of Biology and Medicine, on the Prohibition of Cloning Human Beings;

    EU position on GMOs, Animal Cloning and Welfare

    this technology could be misused for the wrong reasons…

    Any technology could be misused, and for the wrong reasons. A friend of mine works in the Casualty dept. at a busy London hospital and informs me that at least once a week someone comes in with part of a vacuum cleaner or other household appliance inserted into… well, let’s just say into an bit of the anatomy which tends not to get sunburned.

    Explosives have many legitimate uses but can also be used by safe-crackers or terrorists. Airplanes, pressure cookers, computers… you name something a human has invented and I’ll show you how it’s been used nefariously. Go ahead: anything at all.

    But if it was controlled ethically maybe it could be useful for generating exact copies of organs for individual bodies of living beings to cure them of illness…but not full creatures and not extinct species and definitely not on a whim…we don’t have to do it…. just because we can?

    This seems very arbitrary. If we farm animals in order that we might eat their flesh or wear their hide, I don’t see the ethical distinction between doing that and cloning a creature, extinct or extant, which might prove equally helpful to our needs.

    Such debates are academic anyway. You can’t put the lube back in the tube, as my aforementioned doctor friend likes to say. Cloning technology exists, therefore it will be used; for reasons both good and bad.

    • In reply to #63 by Katy Cordeth:

      In reply to #31 by Light Wave:

      No… we should never clone an extinct species…that is just so egotistical of humans to even contemplate that….

      Surely returning an extinct species to existence would be the ultimate act of altruism. I don’t see how it could be seen as egotistical, unless one is…

      I don’t think its necessarily an ultimate act of altruism. I’m not even sure it has to be altruistic. If this happens I would bet that the people who do this have all kinds of selfish reasons to want it to succeed: fame, status, money. BTW, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

      • In reply to #65 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #63 by Katy Cordeth:

        I don’t think its necessarily an ultimate act of altruism. I’m not even sure it has to be altruistic. If this happens I would bet that the people who do this have all kinds of selfish reasons to want it to succeed: fame, status, money. BTW, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

        As so often happens on this site, I haven’t read the article, so I don’t know what the clone guys’ motives for resurrecting this extinct species are. But I think altruism itself is inherently selfish. It exists in order that those species which exhibit it can form close bonds, which means they get to live in big groups, which ensures greater protection from predators or strength in numbers when it comes to attacking rival groups or their own prey, which means the likelihood they’ll live longer goes up, which means more time to disseminate their genes, which makes Darwin’s ghost smile.

        Just because the scientists responsible for this… I’ll say project (again, I haven’t read the thing) may be fame-seeking, status-hungry and avaricious doesn’t mean their motives can’t be described as altruistic. BMWs, fat wallets and their face on the front of Time magazine surely can only increase the likelihood of these fellas’ getting laid.

        If you’re speaking in non-Darwinian terms, I stand by my assertion that returning the hairy mammoth to existence will stand as the ultimate act of cross-species magnanimity to date.

        • In reply to #66 by Katy Cordeth:

          In reply to #65 by Red Dog:

          I was speaking as a biologist would. There are other things I would like to respond to but I want to say why I don’t see this as any “ultimate altruism” From the standpoint of biology if I save some other animal’s life at the expense of my reproductive success than its altruism. Whether the other life comes out of a test tube or a lab or is born in the wild is totally irrelevant.

          • In reply to #72 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #66 by Katy Cordeth:

            I was speaking as a biologist would. There are other things I would like to respond to but I want to say why I don’t see this as any “ultimate altruism”

            I’m intrigued what the other things you would like to respond to but choose not to are. I do hope you’re not sparing my feelings. If I’ve said something dumb I don’t mind being called on it.

            From the standpoint of biology if I save some other animal’s life at the expense of my reproductive success then its altruism. Whether the other life comes out of a test tube or a lab or is born in the wild is totally irrelevant.

            I was the one who said it was an act of altruism and you disagreed with me, in your post #65. You sound like you’re now trying to convince me of the assertion I made myself which you took issue with. The only complaint now seems to be with my use of ultimate as a qualifier.

            I love it when I manage to change someone’s mind and they don’t even know it. It’s like Inception!

            By the way, I was being perfectly sincere on that other thread, as Inquisador pointed out. I wouldn’t have included the word probably if I had have been being sarcastic. Wow, parse that last bit and win a cookie. I think the have is superfluous but I like the way it reads so I’m gonna leave it in.

          • In reply to #86 by Katy Cordeth:

            I’m intrigued what the other things you would like to respond to but choose not to are. I do hope you’re not sparing my feelings. If I’ve said something dumb I don’t mind being called on it.

            LOL. Don’t worry. I thought it would be obvious by now I’m not here to make friends or get people to like me :) Seriously though, I like to try and have real discussions so I tend to be a bit more serious. I realize in retrospect that my comment was kind of cryptic, the long story is I read your comment just before going to bed and thought “respond tomorrow” but as I lay in bed I kept on thinking about it (that’s ok the things I normally worry about when trying to get to sleep are a lot less pleasant, it was a nice distraction) so I wrote the quick reply. Your comment actually made me think about a lot of interesting issues about altruism, e.g. is kin selection “real altruism” or not but as I’ve been trying to think about them I can’t organize them right now in a way I’m confident would make sense to others and wouldn’t vere too far off topic to earn the wrath of the Mod Gods. I’ve been reading a lot about these things, the overlap between ethical philosophy, biology, and anthropology so its extremely interesting to me but not always that easy to communicate without writing a book.

            See what I mean, I can’t even explain why I’m not commenting more on something without a long winded comment. But I absolutely never hold back a comment from you or really anyone for fear of hurting their feelings. Their are some comments that are so ridiculous I don’t even consider dignifying them with a reply (see comment 85 on this thread) but yours are never in that category.

          • In reply to #86 by Katy Cordeth:

            I love it when I manage to change someone’s mind and they don’t even know it. It’s like Inception!

            I suppose there is a certain thrill to be had in manipulation of the unconscious, but my human side craves recognition and would much appreciate greater evidence of self-awareness amongst his readers.

    • In reply to #63 by Katy Cordeth:

      In reply to #31 by Light Wave:

      No… we should never clone an extinct species…that is just so egotistical of humans to even contemplate that….

      Surely returning an extinct species to existence would be the ultimate act of altruism.

      I don’t understand what’s altruistic about it. Creating life is morally neutral in itself, and whether it’s good or bad depends on how it will effect already-existing life and on what’s going to happen to the living thing after it’s born.

      • In reply to #77 by Zeuglodon:

        In reply to #63 by Katy Cordeth:

        I don’t understand what’s altruistic about it. Creating life is morally neutral in itself, and whether it’s good or bad depends on how it will effect already-existing life and on what’s going to happen to the living thing after it’s born.

        I don’t agree that if newly created or returned life turns out to have a deleterious effect on something else which already exists, that means it’s bad. No one knows what the long-term effects of creation will be, unless you’re deliberately trying to engineer a new strain of smallpox or similar. Something can’t be evil after the fact. If it can then we do have a moral responsibility to abandon all projects like the mammoth one and to stop procreating ourselves, before one of us pops out another Hitler.

        Even if an organism were brought back through cloning and it ended up causing the extinction of another species, the thing we cloned would still have reason to be grateful to us; from its point of view its resurrection would count as good – and Darwin’s ghost is still smiling.

        Nor do I think it’s accurate to say that creating life is morally neutral but morality kicks in as soon as the thing is born. This is sort of the reverse argument to the one the anti-abortion lot in the US put forward: conception and everything leading up to parturition is sacred but once the kid comes into the world it’s on its own.

        It’s an all-or-nothing package: if morality factors into things at all, then it’s there from start to finish.

        • In reply to #82 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #79 by Zeuglodon:

          The thought experiment isn’t about its practicality or likelihood. Thought experiments aren’t about building an exact replica of reality, but about using concrete examples to make an abstract case. In this particular case, pointing out that torture is ineffective is be…

          Firstly, for the purposes of this discussion, I wasn’t the least bit interested about Harris’ stance on the Bush administration. That comment of yours about the ticking time bomb scenario showed signs of not really appreciating the point behind it, not least of which was the “unrealistic” criticism. FYI, most of us already know it’s unrealistic. Picking apart philosophical thought experiments for their realism is beside the point.

          Secondly, from the horse’s mouth:

          It is important to point out that my argument for the restricted use of torture does not make travesties like Abu Ghraib look any less sadistic or stupid. I considered our mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib to be patently unethical. I also think it was one of the most damaging blunders to occur in the last century of U.S. foreign policy. Nor have I ever seen the wisdom or necessity of denying proper legal counsel (and access to evidence) to prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. Indeed, I consider much of what occurred under Bush and Cheney—the routine abuse of ordinary prisoners, the practice of “extraordinary rendition,” etc.—to be a terrible stain upon the conscience of our nation.

          I’m not sure there’s any proof Harris was trying to cover up or excuse the Bush administration, nor that insisting on confronting the double standard over torture/”collateral damage” is the same as endorsing any contemporary acts of torture.

          In reply to #83 by Katy Cordeth:

          In reply to #77 by Zeuglodon:

          In reply to #63 by Katy Cordeth:

          I don’t understand what’s altruistic about it. Creating life is morally neutral in itself, and whether it’s good or bad depends on how it will effect already-existing life and on what’s going to happen to the living thing after it’s bo…

          I don’t agree that if newly created or returned life turns out to have a deleterious effect on something else which already exists, that means it’s bad. No one knows what the long-term effects of creation will be, unless you’re deliberately trying to engineer a new strain of smallpox or similar. Something can’t be evil after the fact. If it can then we do have a moral responsibility to abandon all projects like the mammoth one and to stop procreating ourselves, before one of us pops out another Hitler.

          This is a poor argument. Firstly, it’s possible to say it’s specifically bad to produce, say, a psychopath without having to condemn the whole method of production. The possibility that one in every ten children will become a criminal, say, requires a different treatment from the fact that nearly every child born will become a criminal, and the difference lies in the risks, the probabilities, and the payoff for taking the risks. I’m frankly surprised you apparently think otherwise. Secondly, ignorance is strictly irrelevant. Insofar as you can know or estimate the risks in advance, then you can make some probabilistic judgement and acknowledge the risks ahead of time. Even if you can’t – say, you don’t know if any particular medicinal product will have dangerous side effects in the long-term – there’s still a difference between taking reasonable precautions and being reckless. And when all’s said and done, stuff happens. Some things you just can’t predict in advance, so there’s nothing you can do about them anyway. So no, the possibility that cloning mammoths will create more harm than good doesn’t lead down the slippery slope to compulsory sterilization in fear of a second Hitler, if only because the creation of life, being morally neutral, doesn’t demand a wholesale measure. What made Hitler evil was what he did once he existed, but nothing about the fact that he existed can factor into it beyond the banal.

          Even if an organism were brought back through cloning and it ended up causing the extinction of another species, the thing we cloned would still have reason to be grateful to us; from its point of view its resurrection

          A species is not in a position to be resurrected. The mammoths of 30,000 BC are still as dead as ever regardless of how far cloning technology develops. If I died and someone used my DNA to create a clone, that clone wouldn’t be me any more than my identical twin would be me. The notion of gratitude in any case is predicated on there being someone to bestow a favour towards who is then in a position to be grateful. It can’t apply if the person didn’t exist in the first place, so there are no grounds to be grateful to one’s creator unless they also take care of you once you exist. Lastly, if we created a murderer who went on to claim a victim, I think the murderer’s gratitude towards its creator would be a pretty moot point.

          would count as good – and Darwin’s ghost is still smiling.

          Again, there is no real resurrection going on. How good it is depends on how it affects other living things. Nearly every ethical question in the form of, “Is X good?” revolves around this issue.

          Nor do I think it’s accurate to say that creating life is morally neutral but morality kicks in as soon as the thing is born. This is sort of the reverse argument to the one the anti-abortion lot in the US put forward: conception and everything leading up to parturition is sacred but once the kid comes into the world it’s on its own.

          So what? I can think of reasons good and bad for having a child as opposed to not having one, but nothing that categorically proves that having children is inherently good as opposed to its being circumstantial. Having kids in an overpopulated world of dwindling supplies, for instance, carries different weighting to having a kid when things are more relaxed and stable.

          It’s an all-or-nothing package: if morality factors into things at all, then it’s there from start to finish.

          The ultimate logical consequence of this argument is that morality factors into everything in existence simply because it can’t factor into a part of it, being an all or nothing package. But since ethics is meaningless outside of living things that can feel and think and so on, it can’t be the case that morality is “all-or-nothing”, so therefore your premise can’t be true. So I reject your conclusion because I doubt your premise’s truthfulness.

          Let me see if I can clarify my position with a thought experiment. Someone is planning to build a robot with an advanced AI that, when finished, will be turned on, already programmed with all the knowledge, skill, and wisdom that would ordinarily require two decades of childhood learning in a human with supporting family (this is to cut out any “debt” the robot might have to its maker during its actual lifetime). This means that the robot will be fully autonomous once it’s activated, or “born”, so to speak. There’s no spark of consciousness before the machine is turned on, but most philosophers agree, if only provisionally, that it will have consciousness once it’s activated. However, before the robot is turned on, the construction team have second thoughts and ask the project director if they want to abort the project and salvage the money and material for other industries.

          The key element here is the question of whether denying a living thing the opportunity to live is an inherently good thing or not. I maintain that, unless preexisting entities are involved, it isn’t, because the notion of ethics relies on there being people – or “agents”, if you think the word “people” is too narrow – who already exist and who interact with each other. In other words, ethics is contingent on there being entities to whom it could apply. In the absence of such entities, ethics makes as much sense as biology without so much as a replicator molecule. So, a fortiori, the question of whether “to bring something to life or not is good” is no more straightforward or self-evident than asking if genetic therapy or GMOs are good. They can be good if X, Y, and Z contingencies are fulfilled, but might be bad if A, B. and C conditions are met (for instance, GMOs are good if they are used with the highest possible security measures in place and only for essentials, but are bad if used frivolously and left to unscrupulous and unregulated commercial practices).

          • In reply to #89 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #82 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #79 by Zeuglodon:

            The thought experiment isn’t about its practicality or likelihood. Thought experiments aren’t about building an exact replica of reality, but about using concrete examples to make an abstract case. In this particular case, pointing out that…

            I have a response to the quote from Harris but his stance on torture is OT so as I said I’m not going to talk about it anymore here.

          • In reply to #90 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #89 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #82 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #79 by Zeuglodon:

            The thought experiment isn’t about its practicality or likelihood. Thought experiments aren’t about building an exact replica of reality, but about using concrete examples to make an abstract case. In this par…

            That’s fair enough: it is OT, when all’s said and done. Maybe if it comes up again elsewhere, but not here and now.

          • In reply to #89 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #83 by Katy Cordeth:

            This is a poor argument. Firstly, it’s possible to say it’s specifically bad to produce, say, a psychopath without having to condemn the whole method of production. The possibility that one in every ten children will become a criminal, say, requires a different treatment from the fact that nearly every child born will become a criminal, and the difference lies in the risks, the probabilities, and the payoff for taking the risks. I’m frankly surprised you apparently think otherwise.

            We’re not talking about the risk individual members of an newly created species may present. If one in ten of our new mammoths is the pachyderm equivalent of [insert name of famous psycho here], then that can be dealt with. If ten out of ten fit this category then the payoff, as you call it, becomes irrelevant and the bolt guns should be brought in.

            Well, this is the risk that cloning technology presents; not sociopathic animals of course but revived species which, when introduced into a particular ecosystem, upset the balance and bring about the extinction of other species.

            Secondly, ignorance is strictly irrelevant. Insofar as you can know or estimate the risks in advance, then you can make some probabilistic judgement and acknowledge the risks ahead of time.

            No, this is hubris. The probabilities just cannot be evaluated. The results of these risks you talk about so cavalierly may take decades or even centuries before they become apparent, by which time it will be far too late to rectify any mistakes. That is of course if it’s the intention eventually to give the beasts their freedom and not isolate them until the time comes when we lose interest and their keepers make the painful if lucrative decision to sell their charges to some supermarket chain which will turn them into frozen lasagnas. I am assuming – dammit Cordeth, read the bloody article already – that the final goal is to let nature have at them and vice versa.

            Even if you can’t – say, you don’t know if any particular medicinal product will have dangerous side effects in the long-term – there’s still a difference between taking reasonable precautions and being reckless. And when all’s said and done, stuff happens. Some things you just can’t predict in advance, so there’s nothing you can do about them anyway.

            Hang your yoked-tooth head in shame. This is a disgraceful ethical position to adopt. Tee shirt philosophy on a site dedicated to science and reason. Why, I never thought I’d see the day! If we’re dealing with a technology which may bring about the demise of entire species then simply shrugging our shoulders and saying, “Well, ur uh, stuff happens, yuk yuk yuk,” just won’t do.

            So no, the possibility that cloning mammoths will create more harm than good doesn’t lead down the slippery slope to compulsory sterilization in fear of a second Hitler…

            Is that the argument you think I was making? What’s that expression the younglings use… palmface, is it? This for me is a palmface moment. I may be dumb as a box of frogs when it comes to sciency stuff, but I thought I was at least fairly okay when it came to articulating my viewpoint.

            Even if an organism were brought back through cloning and it ended up causing the extinction of another species, the thing we cloned would still have reason to be grateful to us; from its point of view its resurrection

            A species is not in a position to be resurrected. The mammoths of 30,000 BC are still as dead as ever regardless of how far cloning technology develops. If I died and someone used my DNA to create a clone, that clone wouldn’t be me any more than my identical twin would be me.

            No, but both your clone and your twin would still be BasilosaurusesBasilosauri? If what you’re saying is that the newly cloned mammoth wouldn’t have the personality of its long-dead DNA donor then I am of course in agreement. But I don’t think character is a major factor when it comes to determining what makes an individual a member of a particular species.

            The notion of gratitude in any case is predicated on there being someone to bestow a favour towards who is then in a position to be grateful. It can’t apply if the person didn’t exist in the first place, so there are no grounds to be grateful to one’s creator unless they also take care of you once you exist. Lastly, if we created a murderer who went on to claim a victim, I think the murderer’s gratitude towards its creator would be a pretty moot point.

            Sorry Zeugy but this is sophistry, and isn’t worth responding to. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume the water in your tank just needs changing. It is looking a little murky to me.

            Nor do I think it’s accurate to say that creating life is morally neutral but morality kicks in as soon as the thing is born. This is sort of the reverse argument to the one the anti-abortion lot in the US put forward: conception and everything leading up to parturition is sacred but once the kid comes into the world it’s on its own.

            So what? I can think of reasons good and bad for having a child as opposed to not having one, but nothing that categorically proves that having children is inherently good as opposed to its being circumstantial. Having kids in an overpopulated world of dwindling supplies, for instance, carries different weighting to having a kid when things are more relaxed and stable.

            You’ve shifted position from one of concern about the welfare of the being being introduced into the world in your comment #77, “whether it’s good or bad depends on how it will effect already-existing life and on what’s going to happen to the living thing after it’s born,” and adopted the point of view of the creator of said being. That isn’t a criticism; it’s just an observation. So what indeed.

            It’s an all-or-nothing package: if morality factors into things at all, then it’s there from start to finish.

            The ultimate logical consequence of this argument is that morality factors into everything in existence simply because it can’t factor into a part of it, being an all or nothing package. But since ethics is meaningless outside of living things that can feel and think and so on, it can’t be the case that morality is “all-or-nothing”, so therefore your premise can’t be true. So I reject your conclusion because I doubt your premise’s truthfulness.

            Nice try, but the fact that rocks and electric fans don’t have consciousness doesn’t have a bearing on anything. If you want to play the reductio ad absurdum card then knock yourself out; but don’t say it’s “the ultimate logical consequence”.

            Re your thought experiment:

            …The key element here is the question of whether denying a living thing the opportunity to live is an inherently good thing or not. I maintain that, unless preexisting entities are involved, it isn’t, because the notion of ethics relies on there being people – or “agents”, if you think the word “people” is too narrow – who already exist and who interact with each other. In other words, ethics is contingent on there being entities to whom it could apply. In the absence of such entities, ethics makes as much sense as biology without so much as a replicator molecule. So, a fortiori, the question of whether “to bring something to life or not is good” is no more straightforward or self-evident than asking if genetic therapy or GMOs are good.

            As I understand it, your hypothetical metal man isn’t alive until he’s activated, so you seem to be slightly loading the dice when you speak about “the question of whether denying a living thing the opportunity to live…”

            Although at this point I couldn’t honestly say whether you’re in favour of cloning or not. You seem to think I disapprove of it to such an extent that I’m prepared to compare it to the horrors of the Third Reich, so we seem to be equally at cross purposes.

          • In reply to #106 by Katy Cordeth:

            You are making a sincere effort to engage, right? It isn’t coming across at times.

            We’re not talking about the risk individual members of an newly created species may present. If one in ten of our new mammoths is the pachyderm equivalent of [insert name of famous psycho here], then that can be dealt with. If ten out of ten fit this category then the payoff, as you call it, becomes irrelevant and the bolt guns should be brought in.

            Well, this is the risk that cloning technology presents; not sociopathic animals of course but revived species which, when introduced into a particular ecosystem, upset the balance and bring about the extinction of other species.

            Pay attention to the original point. You were saying this:

            I don’t agree that if newly created or returned life turns out to have a deleterious effect on something else which already exists, that means it’s bad. No one knows what the long-term effects of creation will be, unless you’re deliberately trying to engineer a new strain of smallpox or similar. Something can’t be evil after the fact. If it can then we do have a moral responsibility to abandon all projects like the mammoth one and to stop procreating ourselves, before one of us pops out another Hitler

            This was in response to my point that the creation of life is not inherently a good or bad thing but depends on what happens afterwards, specifically how it would effect others, which in turn was my response to your suggestion that returning an extinct species back would be “the ultimate act of altruism”. My point of contention has nothing to do with the possibility of ecological damage or of psychopathic mammoths (I only brought up the notion of psychopathic children as an example of how “creating life” could be a little bad and very bad indeed). It’s about the notion that creating a living thing is an act of altruism, the implication being that it was an inherently “good” thing.

            I explained the logic behind my counterpoint later on in my post, to which you gave this reply:

            Sorry Zeugy but this is sophistry, and isn’t worth responding to. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume the water in your tank just needs changing. It is looking a little murky to me.

            So if it’s sophistry, you shouldn’t have any difficulty in pointing out what’s wrong with it. On my part, kindly explain to me how “bringing something to life” is automatically doing it a favour (i.e. being altruistic and doing something deserving of gratitude) when it strictly only changes the premise “I don’t exist” to “I exist”. And by this, I don’t mean whether it gets looked after by its parents afterwards. I mean what about the act of creating a living thing with consciousness demands gratitude or a recognition of kindness? If I were to wave my hands and chant a magic spell and a chimpanzee/chameleon/cockroach pops into existence, what about the act is altruistic? By this, I am not talking about what around the act is altruistic or good (e.g. the effort put into it, the care given to the living thing afterwards), but asking what about the act is inherently good.

            No, this is hubris. The probabilities just cannot be evaluated. The results of these risks you talk about so cavalierly may take decades or even centuries before they become apparent, by which time it will be far too late to rectify any mistakes.

            My point about ignorance was your use of it to cast doubt on my claim that bringing an animal to life was not inherently altruistic. I’m saying that how “good” or “bad” it is to bring an animal to life – whether it involves reviving a species or not – depends on what happens afterwards, but since we don’t have perfect knowledge of the future, the understanding must inevitably be probabilistic, inductive, and hedged. Either way, the point still stands that how good it is to bring an animal to life depends on the consequences of that actio., and bringing something to life cannot be described as an act of altruism, at least in the sense of being good. This point is crucial whether it involves categorical knowledge that it is good/bad or a bet that things have a 10% chance of cocking up (which, by the way, was why I brought up the “one out of ten kids” thing as an example.

            Hang your yoked-tooth head in shame. This is a disgraceful ethical position to adopt. Tee shirt philosophy on a site dedicated to science and reason. Why, I never thought I’d see the day! If we’re dealing with a technology which may bring about the demise of entire species then simply shrugging our shoulders and saying, “Well, ur uh, stuff happens, yuk yuk yuk,” just won’t do.

            My gods, I was not casually dismissing an ecological disaster, for crying out loud! My point was based on the notion of moral luck, the fact that, in a world where knowledge is less than perfect, an enterprise taken with the highest probabilities of success and every safety measure taken can still turn out with a disastrous or potentially immoral result in spite of the odds. “Stuff happens” is the acceptance that such risks are ever-present, and it was not a cheery “I don’t give a crap if we do it wrong from start to finish”. It’s opposed to the notion that anything that goes wrong must have a definite cause or a clear culprit behind it, so we have to accept the limitations of our processes. Geez, I’d have thought that would have been obvious from context, given as you presumably read the sentence and the rest of the paragraph before that line:

            Secondly, ignorance is strictly irrelevant. Insofar as you can know or estimate the risks in advance, then you can make some probabilistic judgement and acknowledge the risks ahead of time. Even if you can’t – say, you don’t know if any particular medicinal product will have dangerous side effects in the long-term – there’s still a difference between taking reasonable precautions and being reckless. And when all’s said and done, stuff happens. Some things you just can’t predict in advance, so there’s nothing you can do about them anyway.

            Which comes back to my point about the notion of creating life being a good thing, and why it’s not inherently so (and therefore not an ultimate act of altruism). Creating life is not always good because it can lead to terrible consequences, sometimes in spite of good intentions. Whether you’d call that evil or not is another question entirely, but it isn’t an automatic good.

            Is that the argument you think I was making? What’s that expression the younglings use… palmface, is it? This for me is a palmface moment. I may be dumb as a box of frogs when it comes to sciency stuff, but I thought I was at least fairly okay when it came to articulating my viewpoint.

            You made the point about categorical morality using the Hitler card, not me:

            I don’t agree that if newly created or returned life turns out to have a deleterious effect on something else which already exists, that means it’s bad. No one knows what the long-term effects of creation will be, unless you’re deliberately trying to engineer a new strain of smallpox or similar. Something can’t be evil after the fact. If it can then we do have a moral responsibility to abandon all projects like the mammoth one and to stop procreating ourselves, before one of us pops out another Hitler.

            I never once made the point that the process of bringing things back to life was a bad thing, but you clearly thought I was. You made the suggestion that we should stop cloning and procreating, and this was on the grounds that, if it turned out the results of creating life were bad, therefore the process of creating life was categorically bad. I was merely repeating your all-or-nothing logic back at you, as it came across to me.

            Quite apart from the failure of logic this is, it had nothing to do with my original point about how creating life is morally neutral. I certainly do not support the “all-or-nothing” nature of your thinking here, which was, if anything, my issue with your comment in the firs place: that you seemed to think creating life was a categorical good or “the ultimate act of altruism”!

            Speaking of which:

            Nice try, but the fact that rocks and electric fans don’t have consciousness doesn’t have a bearing on anything. If you want to play the reductio ad absurdum card then knock yourself out; but don’t say it’s “the ultimate logical consequence”.

            You do know that’s the point of reductio ad absurdum, right? To take someone’s logic and extend it validly to a conclusion that is contradictory, or at least absurd. You said morality was an all-or-nothing thing in the sense that:

            if morality factors into things at all, then it’s there from start to finish.

            And since I was talking about the universe here, I think “ultimate” is pretty much justified. I already pointed out that ethics is contingent on there being people/agents who interact with each other, so it’s relevant only so long as they’re around. I don’t deny that, once the condition is fulfilled and a life form is created, it then has a bearing on ethics, and we can plan ahead for it. I thought I made that clear enough when I spoke about bringing up kids in overpopulated as opposed to more stable worlds. But this is strictly about the consequences of creating life in a given scenario and to a backdrop of ethically relevant considerations. The act of creating life is itself ethically neutral because it depends on its subsequence effects on others (and on the created life form, of course, now that it exists).

            You’ve shifted position from one of concern about the welfare of the being being introduced into the world in your comment #77, “whether it’s good or bad depends on how it will effect already-existing life and on what’s going to happen to the living thing after it’s born,” and adopted the point of view of the creator of said being. That isn’t a criticism; it’s just an observation. So what indeed.

            “So what?” as in “so what if it is the reverse of the anti-abortion argument; what’s that got to do with anything?” I can’t tell if you’re twisting my words or making honest mistakes, to be frank.

            I have not switched perspectives. I am not interested in being provincial, but in getting the big picture. My concern about the welfare of the being being introduced into the world, as well as that of the preexisting inhabitants of that world, is still as present as ever. Of course the creating person is going to be effected, given that he or she is presumably a member of the “preexisting living things” I also expressed a concern for, but somehow I don’t think you had that in mind when you wrote your reply.

            As I understand it, your hypothetical metal man isn’t alive until he’s activated, so you seem to be slightly loading the dice when you speak about “the question of whether denying a living thing the opportunity to live…”

            Oh, please. That was a convenient idiom, not an attempt at loaded language. It has no more consequence than saying “He is in a better world now”. If it could have been “loaded” in any way, it would have been loaded in your favour. If you think creating life is an act of altruism, then framing it as a favour to a being otherwise denied life would have made some sense of your notion of “ultimate altruism”.

            FYI, my “hypothetical metal man isn’t alive until he’s activated” thought experiment was making that precise point, with the larger purpose being to address the point I raised in the very next paragraph.

            The key element here is the question of whether denying a living thing the opportunity to live is an inherently good thing or not. I maintain that, unless preexisting entities are involved, it isn’t, because the notion of ethics relies on there being people – or “agents”, if you think the word “people” is too narrow – who already exist and who interact with each other. In other words, ethics is contingent on there being entities to whom it could apply. In the absence of such entities, ethics makes as much sense as biology without so much as a replicator molecule. So, a fortiori, the question of whether “to bring something to life or not is good” is no more straightforward or self-evident than asking if genetic therapy or GMOs are good.

            So if he isn’t alive until that point, I invite you to explain to me how he should be in any way grateful if anyone turns him on. While you’re at it, you could perhaps also explain why you managed to miss the colossal and as-carefully-explained-as-I-could-manage point I was really making, and somehow focus on the one thing that was not only utterly irrelevant, but wouldn’t have made sense if it had been.

            No, but both your clone and your twin would still be Basilosauruses… Basilosauri? If what you’re saying is that the newly cloned mammoth wouldn’t have the personality of its long-dead DNA donor then I am of course in agreement. But I don’t think character is a major factor when it comes to determining what makes an individual a member of a particular species.

            This is one point of yours I can agree on, given that species are defined genetically. I apologize in this instance for going off on a tangent, so allow me to rectify it.

            Species revival, in this case, would either be for scientific curiosity or for public entertainment (think Jurassic Park, but without the disastrous breakouts and collapse). I no more see it as an inherently good thing than I would see cloning of a dead person as a good thing. To me, it’s ethically just the same thing applied to lots of individuals. It’s ethical considerations are focused on what kind of lives the revived creatures would live, how it would effect humans, and how it would effect other animals, but there’s also considerable room for contemplating how much it could mess up ecology and destroy potential scientific information in a chaotic system. There might be one or two other things I haven’t considered in the matter of ethics, and there are certainly others when it comes to pragmatics, politics, and how society will judge it, but I think I’ve covered most of it at least.

            Although at this point I couldn’t honestly say whether you’re in favour of cloning or not. You seem to think I disapprove of it to such an extent that I’m prepared to compare it to the horrors of the Third Reich, so we seem to be equally at cross purposes.

            Don’t be like that. I personally would love to see mammoths brought back, but I cannot ignore the huge costs and effects such an enterprise would have, and my current verdict is “it should be indefinitely delayed until more pressing ethical and scientific issues have been addressed”.

  21. Surely you would be producing some hybrid creature if it succeeded. What kind of container egg would be used. Surely the organelles of the egg container could not work with this implanted DNA. What creature could actually grow the egg in the womb. Is their something in cloning I’m missing.

  22. Cloning one or several is no more ethically wrong than cloning sheep. It’s all about science and learning, so I’m for it. Ever since there has been discussion of cloning extinct species, it excites me to think about. I want to send astronauts to Mars, clone any and all extinct animals we can, and quickly please before I die! While it might be extremely difficult to do, once we have success, we would have fresh cells for future cloning if ever desired or needed (maybe to populate other planets). It would be similar to the world seed bank for animals. Who among you Nay Sayers don’t get excited thinking about it? Ethics are so subjective. Such a wonderful mammal brought back from extinction would be the pride of mankind.

  23. In reply to #74 by Smill:

    In reply to Red Dog, post 70… “if you can make the world as a whole better by torturing some people then it’s OK.”. Can you not see how disturbed that line of thinking is…how opposed to the goals of a humanistic ethics, and so deeply cynical? It condemns the tortured, the torturer and the rest of humanity as an accomplice.

    Yes. I do. I didn’t say I agreed with him on torture. I don’t. In fact I couldn’t disagree more. But my reasons are consistent with a consequentialist ethics. IMO the history of torture is clear. People use justifications like the “ticking time bomb” in philosophical discussions but in the real world its almost never used for that reason. Its used primarily as a means to intimidate a foe. That is really the reason behind the Bush use of it IMO. When you have a foe that is so fanatical that they are willing even to sacrifice their lives they may still think twice about not just blowing themselves up but having to spend months in agony in some dungeon in Iraq or Khurdistan. The evidence is clear to me that for the overall benefit of humanity there are some things it makes sense to just ban completely. To realize that any justification of only a few exceptions will inevitably be abused. Also, that even from a practical standpoint torture doesn’t provide good information.

    That kind of argument is different than the kind of argument who say mammoth lives count more than elephant lives because mammoths were destroyed by humans so therefor we have a moral duty to bring them back. That kind of reasoning is not consequentialism its what philosophers call deontological ethics, appealing to some set of basic rules about what is and isn’t moral. And usually Deontological ethics (e.g. Kant) rely on God in some ways as the ultimate foundation for which set of rules are considered sacred.

    • In reply to #78 by Red Dog:

      In reply to #74 by Smill:

      In reply to Red Dog, post 70… “if you can make the world as a whole better by torturing some people then it’s OK.”. Can you not see how disturbed that line of thinking is…how opposed to the goals of a humanistic ethics, and so deeply cynical? It condemns the tortured,…

      The thought experiment isn’t about its practicality or likelihood. Thought experiments aren’t about building an exact replica of reality, but about using concrete examples to make an abstract case. In this particular case, pointing out that torture is ineffective is beside the point. The thought experiment is asking: which is worse, letting mass murder occur or inflicting serious pain on an individual? It isn’t asking, “Was the Bush administration justified?” or “Is torture OK?” It’s asking “Is it worse than mass murder?” It certainly can’t be refuted by a slippery slope fallacy.

      • In reply to #79 by Zeuglodon:

        The thought experiment isn’t about its practicality or likelihood. Thought experiments aren’t about building an exact replica of reality, but about using concrete examples to make an abstract case. In this particular case, pointing out that torture is ineffective is beside the point. The thought experiment is asking: which is worse, letting mass murder occur or inflicting serious pain on an individual? It isn’t asking, “Was the Bush administration justified?” or “Is torture OK?” It’s asking “Is it worse than mass murder?” It certainly can’t be refuted by a slippery slope fallacy.

        We are getting OT so I’ll just respond once. If all Harris did was make philosophic arguments then your argument would be valid. But he didn’t. He published Op Eds about torture when the Bush administration was doing it and when people like me were trying to stop them from doing it. And his op eds clearly (along with people like Alan Dershowitz) were providing an intellectual smoke screen for some of the most vile and disgusting behavior my government has ever done. And Harris has never really admitted that he was wrong about torture. He has never admitted that at a time when he said it was morally OK for the Bush administration to torture people that many of the people who were tortured were not even terrorists and that virtually all the evidence provided by that torture turned out to be unreliable and often wrong. When you go from the classroom to political op eds the “I’m just doing a thought experiment” defense is no longer valid.

        There is a Canadian citizen who was kidnapped by the US and sent to Egypt (or somewhere like it) and tortured for months. They were torturing him to get him to say things that weren’t true (that bin Laden and Hussein were allies) and the whole thing was a case of mistaken identity anyway, the guy being tortured wasn’t even political much less a terrorist. Harris owes people like him an apology.

  24. I’ve been thinking about the general question a bit more. Not just on the questions of how people make ethical decisions (which its probably obvious is more interesting to me than cloning mammoths) but on the mammoth cloning my opinion is that if there is really a sound scientific reason to do it then OK yes we should. But if the justification is “the big bad humans want to make amends for being mean to the poor mammoths” I call BS for the following reason. Humans are in the process of destroying the current ecosystem. Global warming is the most obvious thing we are doing and not addressing but there are other issues as well. We are contaminating our oceans, we are releasing more and more radioactivity into the environment via our use of nuclear power that doesn’t have appropriate safe guards, etc.

    Every time we F up the environment we introduce more chaos into a system that has made it into a pretty stable equilibrium over billions of years. If we really care about animal well being those are the problems we need to put all our energy into. The idea of wasting resources to bring back an extinct species, a species that will bring even more chaos into the system, that will intrude on niches currently filled by other species, that is introducing more chaos into the system as well. Now granted a bunch of mammoths roaming around Siberia doesn’t introduce nearly as much chaos into the system as a tidal wave hitting a nuclear power plant but the point is its still making the wrong kind of progress. Its an emotional appeal to value some animal suffering over others for no good reason that I can see.

    • In reply to #80 by Red Dog:

      Now granted a bunch of mammoths roaming around Siberia doesn’t introduce nearly as much chaos into the system as a tidal wave hitting a nuclear power plant but the point is its still making the wrong kind of progress. Its an emotional appeal to value some animal suffering over others for no good reason that I can see.

      Ah, you mean Fukushima, the Nuclear disaster that never was, or at least not like people envisaged.

      An Emotional appeal of your own?

  25. “Would the ethical argument be less difficult if it concerned an animal that had become extinct as a result of human activity? My instinct is that it would be “right” to bring back creatures that humanity had deliberately, or by negligence, wiped out.”

    I don’t think our ancestors have yet been exonerated of playing an important part in the Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions.

  26. Short answer: yes

    Long answer:

    1. It would serve a huge amount of information about mammoth and mammals history and evolution.
    2. At least every ZOO will die for have a mammoth.
    3. The world has not moved so far in last 10.000 years. They could help on places where other animal were eradicated by humans.
    4. If and only if they don’t have a home, they still could be kept in captivity.
    5. Like dogs, cats, horses, they would not be the first animals depending on humans.
    6. The only way to make them economically productive is absolutely not turning them into food.
    7. As i do not think that all elephants in ZOO or domesticated for work should be killed, I do not think mammoths should not be bring to life again.

    As we might be the reason why mammoths eradicated, it is our moral duty to bring them back to earth.

  27. I think cloning could have big advantages in finding cures rather than treatments for genetic and biological diseases. I don’t know how the ‘cure’ option would go down in the pharmaceutical industry though

    An advantage would be
    Tracking biological expression of genes, theoretically the cloned creatures should have very similar DNA.

    Exposing cloned creatures to different environmental pressures and watch how genes behave in terms of their expression. It could work the other way too, watching the phenotype for pathology and then cross referencing its biological markers to the biological markers of the healthy clones. We’d have a whole host of specific unambiguous information to compare; genetic,anatomical,biological and environmental. A large part of this could be done mathematically and computationally.

    We could also specifically target and prove once and for all the role of epigenetics in biological expression.

  28. Simple study of predator reintroduction, and its benefit to habitat should make the question easier to answer.

    This is a creature we hunted to death (most likely). And if you think there aren’t vast tundras that miss the big herbi, the maximum pay cheque for carrion feeders… you’re sorely mistaken.

    BTW this wouldn’t be the first extinct animal cloned, for all those who seem to have skipped reading, and headed straight for RDFRS.

    If you somehow doubt this, and need a search engine prompt, try:

    “Stewart Brand: The dawn of de-extinction. Are you ready? “

    Not only does the recorded lecture (above) illustrate successful de-extinctions via cloning, It pours red-hot liquid logic upon all those who think the “should we?” question deserves two microphones.

    • In reply to #93 by Timothy McNamara:

      I had a look at an article about an Ibex sub species that became extinct when the last living one was found dead…. cells were taken from it in 2000 – The article also reported……
      (It’s a limited success: the cloned ibex hybrid only survived a few minutes. Its lungs were malformed, a common problem in cloned animals, says Folch.)
      Does this really justify cloning a mammoth…? Natural reproduction seems to be working well in farm animals – so why clone them ?

  29. Of course they should clone a mammoth. That’s the kind of thing that science is all about. No, they should not create herds of them and reintroduce them into the environment, but yes they should clone one or two. We could learn a lot about them and science would progress.

  30. I think it’s not something we should do for the moment.

    1 – Many species are on the brink of extinction right now, because of pressure on their habitat, poaching and global warming. I think those species living at the moment but possibly going extinct have precedence over an animal that has gone extinct 10.000 years ago to pump resources into than any other.

    2 – One lone individual of a species is an incredibly sad and irresponsible thing to do for an animal that cannot be domesticated.

    3 – One of the biggest issues for conservationalists trying to get small populations that are on the brink of extinction to survive is gene divirsity. A small, isolated population is bound to inbreeding, which makes the species genetically weaker, since chances on genetic flaws or genetic related disease will rise. 30% more young die than normal in a genetical isolated, small population. Since a lone individual is just ethically irresponsible, one would have to create a small herd, but since they would all come from 1 genetic source, this small population is doomed from the start.

  31. Yes, we need to, Imagine the numbers of Kids that would be exposed to Science if we clone a Mammoth.
    What could the Pope say? The seeing is believing crowd might wake up and decide to stop mindlessly following the theocrats.
    It will also prove the possibility of bringing back lots of other DNA to add to our knowledge base. I’m really suprized this has not been crowd funded since Governments can take too long.

  32. I think we are getting way ahead of ourselves here. Just because we can clone other animals by no means proves that we could clone a mammoth. Cloning requires a surrogate mother to gestate and give birth to the cloned embryo. Where are we going to find a mammoth to give birth to our clone? The idea that we could use an elephant is a leap at best.

  33. Duh!! Mammoths ARE EXTINCT. Clonning a few wont change that because that will never establish a viable population. Extinct species will remain extinct even if we manage to produce a few individuals. As for the moral question: there is no reason not to clone some memmoths. It would be fun to go visit the wooly mammoths with cute names like Woolly Willy and the like… no harm in that. The problem is that it would make people believe that the sting of extinction has been dulled; that species do not go extinct as long as we preserve some DNA to clone them back to life. THAT is perverse… ooops! too late, that is what everybody in this post is assuming already.

    • In reply to #111 by kso721:

      This article
      says it is ten years old

      Seems to be a wild goose chase trying to find the exact age – 2, 5-7, 10 years of age(?)


      OP- adorable baby mammoth – tottering on its newborn legs

      Objection: speculative and biased.

    • In reply to #113 by DavidCatleugh:

      What sort of a life would it have (Wooly Mammoths have feelings too you know).

      The same question could be asked regarding most human children being born right now. With a team of dedicated scientists concerned solely with its health and well-being looking after it, I think it would do pretty well. Certainly better than any wild animal ever does.

    • In reply to #113 by DavidCatleugh:

      What sort of a life would it have (Wooly Mammoths have feelings too you know).

      The same question could be asked regarding most human children being born right now. With a team of dedicated scientists concerned solely with its health and well-being looking after it, I think it would do pretty well. Certainly better than any wild animal ever does.

  34. We should absolutely try to clone a mammoth. It is important to conserve living species, but it is also important for science (and nature) to capture the imagination of the public, especially children. This is why we have museums as well as laboratories.

    I would feel sorry for a lone mammoth, if it is ever born, but I also feel sorry for the thousands of elephants in zoos.

    Sounds like it is highly unlikely to succeed, but I don’t see the harm in trying. You never know what they might learn.

  35. In reply to #117 by Smill:

    In reply to post 115. It just doesn’t seem an appropriate reason to clone a mammoth in order to pander to the imagination of the public. The Blue Whale is every bit as enigmatic and it is our contemporary.

    Generally, the public has no imagination. Generally, the public wants to burn geneticists at the stake.

    Perhaps if we feed the public mammoth steaks they will leave the whales alone.

  36. My first immediate inclination is we should definitely attempt a clone, but the more I think about it, the more I think cloning should be disallowed. Yes, we would learn a great deal about the animal and yes, we would have shown the world that we have the power to bring back extinct species to the world. However, does anyone else think these reasons may promote a form of laziness to both the scientific community and the general public?
    By this, I mean it would seem that protecting currently living, endangered species would no longer seem as important and critical an act as it rightly is. I mean, why spend the extra time, money, and effort to protect animals when we can now simply clone them? Better yet, let’s clone more and more animals so we can grow them and simply harvest their ivory, or meat, or some other resource the creature produces.
    Secondly, since the mammoth was only recently extinct, scientists should still be able to gather enough evidence to show its behavior and habits without observing a live specimen. Does waiting for a cloned animal to study it imply a form of laziness?
    I’m curious about the thoughts of others.

  37. In reply to #119 by nancynancy:

    I don’t see the problem. All you would need to do is clone two mammoths — one male and one female. The two calves (that’s what the babies are called) can keep each other company.

    I would think that if you only start with a male and female you would have a lot of potential problems with inbreeding. I have no ideas what the behavior of the mammoths was like but my guess is that the siblings would be unlikely to mate with each other in the wild.

    But I disagree that a new species (for all intents and purposes that is what they would be, they’ve be gone so long) would not have an ecological effect. Especially something like a mammoth that is fairly high up in the food chain. It eats lots of other organisms and there is no certain way to predict the effect that their new numbers would have on those other species or on the other species that currently rely on those organisms. There are precedents that introducing a new species into an ecosystem (e.g. by colonists) can have chaotic and serious changes.

    If the earth is going to hell in a hand basket, cloning a couple of wooly mammoths isn’t going speed up our demise and not cloning them isn’t going to save us either. Pretending that recycled grocery bags and an all insect diet will alter our fate is just as laughable. With over seven billion humans stuffed into a dying planet and no one willing to set mandatory limits on the number of offspring any human can have, our fate is already sealed. It’s just a matter of time.

    I always try to keep emotions out of my comments. One other commenter called me “Mr. Spock” once, he meant it as a friendly dig but I took it as a great compliment. So with apologies to my fellow Vulcans I have to say that part of your comment disgusts me. Its one thing when I see Christians who think that God will eventually fix everything and if he doesn’t that’s his will. Those people are part of the problem but at least I can understand their ignorance. But you seem to be fairly well educated and its people like you who are well educated and should know better but instead of trying to do things to improve the problems just sit back all smug and condescending and laugh at those of us who do try to conserve and recycle that, well as I said I find it rather disgusting.

    • In reply to #121 by Red Dog:

      I have no ideas what the behavior of the mammoths was like but my guess is that the siblings would be unlikely to mate with each other in the wild.

      Most wild animals will have a go and, since most species are not already as inbred as humans, this may even result in viable offspring.

      But I disagree that a new species (for all intents and purposes that is what they would be, they’ve be gone so long) would not have an ecological effect.

      Not a new species, mammoths evolved alongside most of the same species still alive today.

      Especially something like a mammoth that is fairly high up in the food chain. It eats lots of other organisms and there is no certain way to predict the effect that their new numbers would have on those other species or on the other species that currently rely on those organisms. There are precedents that introducing a new species into an ecosystem (e.g. by colonists) can have chaotic and serious changes.

      You do realise they were herbivores? That puts them only one level above the autotrophs, hardly high on the food chain.

      Elephants eat a lot of low quality food like grass and leaves. Here in Africa they are an essential part of the maintenance of grasslands.

  38. In reply to #122 by nancynancy:

    In reply to #121 by Red Dog:

    If you read my comment carefully, you’ll note that I do propose a way to avoid environmental catastrophe — simply place a strict and mandatory limit on the number of offspring any one human being can have (I propose 1 as the number) and do this throughout the planet wi…

    Your solution to the earth’s problems makes about as much sense as abstinence only sex education or “just say no” to drugs. “If only people didn’t have these irrational urges we would all be better off” Well, probably true but that doesn’t get you very far.

    You actually remind me of a fundamentalist christian. You have made certain decisions about your life and you think the world would be better off if everyone were like you and since they aren’t you just hate the ones that aren’t and don’t care what happens to them or their innocent children.

  39. In reply to #126 by nancynancy:

    I will ignore the gratuitous insults and limit my comment to the following. Mandatory limits on the number of offspring any one individual (male or female) could spawn would go a long way towards securing the future health, happiness and wellbeing of millions of children already on this overcrowded and struggling planet.

    So are you saying you want a policy similar to China’s? Where the state can force women to get abortions against their will? How far do you think the state should take this? Should the state go so far as to have the police forcibly bring women to doctors?

    BTW, I’m not denying that the world would be a better place if people had less children. And I agree that the current system that rewards people who reproduce is archaic and needs reform. But I think you are swinging way too far the other way when you talk about “mandatory” enforcement by the state of how many children women should have. A much better approach is education. All the literature I’ve ever seen overwhelmingly shows that when women are educated they have far fewer or no children. Rather than focus the state on intruding on a woman’s reproductive rights decision so much better to use those resources to educate women and provide them with free birth control completely. It actually amazes me that someone who is for the right to an abortion (I assume you are) could seem to be against the right to choose to give birth.

  40. In reply to #128 by nancynancy:

    A mandatory limit on reproduction doesn’t necessarily mean women will be forced to undergo surgical abortions. Women and their partners, however, would be required to practice effective birth control, including vasectomies/sterilization for those men and women who have already reached the mandatory limit.

    First of all you don’t need to say anything more about overpopulation I agree with you. The question is what to do about it. So how would this “couples are required to practice birth control” work exactly? It sounds to me like we are back to the days of laws about sodomy where people can only have sex if they do it the way the government says is OK. When a woman gets pregnant who is over her quota do the police threaten her with jail if she doesn’t confess who her accomplise in the crime of illegal copulation was?

    And how about us guys who over procreate? Do we get a visit from the state sanctioned doctor with his scissors ready to snip away at our scrotum?

    Your “solution” is like so many other terrible solutions to the problem of people doing irrational things and trying to legislate morality. Prohibition, the drug war, abortion, abstinance only education, all are miserable failures and led to disrespect for the rule of law and various kinds of black markets and increased criminal activity. Followed by increased state power, loss of money spent jailing people who weren’t violent, etc.

    And even regardless of all that as a feminist I disagree on principle alone. Its essential to me that a woman has the right to control her own body. For me that is as much about controlling the right to give birth as the right to an abortion. Education and free birth control and incentives to not over procreate absolutely. Mandate no way.

  41. No. But economically, there might be some lawyers who can find loopholes to get this through, or people to do it illegally. Imagine what tourism it would attract; Mammoth safaris. Mammoth steaks, geniune mammoth wool sweaters, mammoth tusks to increase virility, etc. Just because history has done it before to other animals doesn’t mean we won’t do it again. I think at least we should be aware that already now there will be people thinking about how they can make money off of this. Whoever had the rights or ability to take economic advantage of mammoths would become very, very rich, and that’s a scary thought.

  42. In reply to #134 by nancynancy:

    In reply to #130 by Smill:

    In reply to nancynancy, post 125. You make no acknowledgement of the abuses suffered by indigenous women regarding compulsory sterilisation and you make limited comment on human reproductive rights and issues.

    The rules would apply to all human beings equally, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, income or class.

    Well that’s a relief. I guess it would work just like abortion restrictions. Those apply equally to everyone as well right? Of course they don’t! Wealthy women who live in the US South don’t care about all the draconian regulations that are putting abortion clinics out of business. They prefer to get their abortions somewhere away from home anyway, less chance of people talking. Not to mention if you don’t go for the more draconian measures like putting people in jail for having illegal sexual intercourse then you are back to monetary penalties, loss of tax breaks, loss of support like food stamps, fines, etc. And who does that really impact a lot more, the poor of course.

  43. In reply to #110 by Zeuglodon:

    In reply to #106 by Katy Cordeth:

    You are making a sincere effort to engage, right? It isn’t coming across at times.

    This is all getting a little deep for me. I am making a sincere effort to engage but my time is limited and your comment was rather long, so I apologize if I misunderstood any of your points in what was a bit of a rushed response. Not that I think I did.

    That being said, I’ll dive in and see if I can make sense of your latest opus:

    This was in response to my point that the creation of life is not inherently a good or bad thing but depends on what happens afterwards, specifically how it would effect others, which in turn was my response to your suggestion that returning an extinct species back would be “the ultimate act of altruism”. My point of contention has nothing to do with the possibility of ecological damage or of psychopathic mammoths (I only brought up the notion of psychopathic children as an example of how “creating life” could be a little bad and very bad indeed). It’s about the notion that creating a living thing is an act of altruism, the implication being that it was an inherently “good” thing. It’s about the notion that creating a living thing is an act of altruism, the implication being that it was an inherently “good” thing.

    I will continue to insist that this is true, even if it’s only from the point of view of the thing being returned. Giving an extinct species that’s been consigned to oblivion a second bite of the peach is an act of altruism. Putting all other considerations aside just for a moment, how could it be anything else?

    There are two categories of thing in the universe: living things and non-living things. I don’t have any scientific training, as I think I’ve mentioned before, but I’m fairly confident in making this assertion. The universe is also quite big, I’m given to understand. And rather old as well. If by some grotesque miracle our planet is the only one in all this vastness ever to have produced life then that makes it unique, and every single living thing on it pretty darn special. If that doesn’t at least suggest to you that life might be innately ‘good’ then I don’t know what will.

    I should probably say that I’m not altogether convinced by my own position here. Everything up to the final sentence is fair, I think. But once you get into the territory of whether something can be good… well it’s like arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or the thing about there always being more turtles to stand on. You’ll never get a conclusive answer because none exists, and you end up going around in circles. You do seem rather preoccupied with how something can be said to be good, when goodness itself is an abstract concept which can never be quantified.

    I don’t understand what’s altruistic about it. Creating life is morally neutral in itself…

    If you’re talking about creating life generally then, okay, an argument can be made that it’s morally neutral. But this falls apart when you get into specifics. How many pigs are bred each year to be slaughtered and end up on the dinner table? A couple hundred million or thereabouts, presumably; each and every one capable of experiencing fear and pain on a level comparable to our own. So is the propagation of porcine life morally neutral?

    Or how about a couple with a sick child who have another just so its bone marrow can be harvested to help its sibling, which does happen, I’m led to believe.

    …and whether it’s good or bad depends on how it will effect already-existing life and on what’s going to happen to the living thing after it’s born.

    Whether it is good or bad. You’re talking about the life itself in responding to a comment about the altruistic motives of the scientists. If someone makes you a sandwich because you seem a bit glum and they want to cheer you up, but the mayonnaise happens to have spoiled without their realizing it and you get sick, this doesn’t negate the kindness of what they did. You can berate them for not checking the mayo, but nothing else.

    What happens to something after it’s born can be carefully determined by its creators, as in the example of the future pork chops, or its fate can rest in the hands of the gods. These mammoths are presumably not being engineered in order that they can be farmed for their meat. The scientists are motivated by altruism, with all the baggage that comes with (see comment #66 for clarification). But suppose a herd is created and given a habitat in which to thrive, and then one night the poachers drive up and brutally kill the lot of them for their enormous tusks. The… I’ll say cloners, it’s just quicker – the cloners then find themselves in the position of having created a number of animals which ended up suffering a horribly painful death. According to your own logic, the act of creating these beasts was good, right up until the point at which the poachers arrived, whereupon it can be described, and retroactively so, as bad.

    Stuff happens, as you said in an earlier comment. If you believe this then you must also accept that what happens after creation, within reason, doesn’t have any bearing on the moral status of the creative act.

    I explained the logic behind my counterpoint later on in my post…

    The notion of gratitude in any case is predicated on there being someone to bestow a favour towards who is then in a position to be grateful. It can’t apply if the person didn’t exist in the first place, so there are no grounds to be grateful to one’s creator unless they also take care of you once you exist. Lastly, if we created a murderer who went on to claim a victim, I think the murderer’s gratitude towards its creator would be a pretty moot point.

    to which you gave this reply:

    Sorry Zeugy but this is sophistry, and isn’t worth responding to. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume the water in your tank just needs changing. It is looking a little murky to me.

    So if it’s sophistry, you shouldn’t have any difficulty in pointing out what’s wrong with it.

    If you insist:

    The notion of gratitude in any case is predicated on there being someone to bestow a favour towards who is then in a position to be grateful. It can’t apply if the person didn’t exist in the first place…

    Yes, this is true, this is very true: something does have to exist in order for it to be in a position to be grateful. Never a truer word was said. Something definitely has to exist for it to be hungry, sleepy, happy, horny or occupy any other state of being or pantomime role. Actuality is vital to most aspects of life. Try eating an ice-cream cone when you don’t exist; I attempted to in 1980 and can tell you it’s very difficult if not well-nigh impossible. A few years later and it was a cinch.

    …so there are no grounds to be grateful to one’s creator unless they also take care of you once you exist.

    This is less true. Someone can be grateful for the gift of life even if they were given up for adoption immediately after being born. I’m afraid I still haven’t read the article we’re discussing – it may have become a point of honor now for some weird reason – but if the mammoth cloning thing is successful, I imagine it will involve the clone embryo being implanted into the womb of a female elephant where it will gestate. When the infant arrives in the world, it won’t immediately be snatched from its ‘mom’, will it? She will presumably be entrusted to raise junior, and the ‘creator’ will take a passive role, or hopefully none at all if junior thrives in her new environment.

    Anyway, the sophism lies in the conclusion drawn in the second part from the premise put forth in the first: the metaphysical assertion that something has to exist in order to exhibit gratitude leads us to the claim that gratitude is only to be bestowed upon a nurturing parent. It’s a non sequitur.

    …Lastly, if we created a murderer who went on to claim a victim, I think the murderer’s gratitude towards its creator would be a pretty moot point.

    In Darwinian terms, if your murderer returns home after a hard day’s murderin’ and makes love to Mrs Dahmer, impregnating her in the process… well, Charlie’s ghost is now grinning from one side of his spectral beard to the other, and salivating ectoplasm while he’s at it. It’s most undignified.

    Why on Earth wouldn’t this murderer have cause to be grateful to his creator? His victim won’t be, that’s true enough; but there’s no explicit reason for him not to.

    On my part, kindly explain to me how “bringing something to life” is automatically doing it a favour (i.e. being altruistic and doing something deserving of gratitude) when it strictly only changes the premise “I don’t exist” to “I exist”. And by this, I don’t mean whether it gets looked after by its parents afterwards. I mean what about the act of creating a living thing with consciousness demands gratitude or a recognition of kindness? If I were to wave my hands and chant a magic spell and a chimpanzee/chameleon/cockroach pops into existence, what about the act is altruistic? By this, I am not talking about what around the act is altruistic or good (e.g. the effort put into it, the care given to the living thing afterwards), but asking what about the act is inherently good.

    Let me see if I’ve got this right: you want me to explain why life is good as opposed to bad? I don’t know, Zeuglodon, I honestly don’t know. You’re asking me to answer a question which has plagued humanity since the good Lord saw fit to create us over 6,000 years ago. If Shakespeare couldn’t satisfactorily answer it – see The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act 3, Scene 1, I think – then I’m fairly certain you’d be disappointed with anything I could offer.

    If you’ll forgive me, you’re beginning to sound slightly like a whiny if ever-so-precocious little teenager engaged in an argument with its parents: “I didn’t ask to be born you know!!”

    Hang your yoked-tooth head in shame. This is a disgraceful ethical position to adopt. Tee shirt philosophy on a site dedicated to science and reason. Why, I never thought I’d see the day! If we’re dealing with a technology which may bring about the demise of entire species then simply shrugging our shoulders and saying, “Well, ur uh, stuff happens, yuk yuk yuk,” just won’t do.

    My gods, I was not casually dismissing an ecological disaster, for crying out loud!

    I know. If I thought you were I wouldn’t have responded so flippantly.

    I never once made the point that the process of bringing things back to life was a bad thing, but you clearly thought I was. You made the suggestion that we should stop cloning and procreating, and this was on the grounds that, if it turned out the results of creating life were bad, therefore the process of creating life was categorically bad. I was merely repeating your all-or-nothing logic back at you, as it came across to me.

    The suggestion that we should stop cloning and procreating was contingent on the proposition that something cannot be evil after the fact. I was positing a moral universe in which any action that could conceivably result in something bad happening would necessitate our never doing anything at all, ever, which could only lead to the atrophying of our own species.

    Just for the record, I’m thoroughly in favor of cloning myself – not cloning myself, that would be a nightmare: I’d steal all my clothes and boyfriends from me; although we could take it in shifts to respond to your comments and I wouldn’t be late for appointments the next day – and procreating, or rather the act I’m given to understand has been known to lead to the production of those mewling, puking cash vampires, and which is one of my most favorite things in the world.

    …Either way, the point still stands that how good it is to bring an animal to life depends on the consequences of that action, and bringing something to life cannot be described as an act of altruism…

    No, it can. It really can. See above. Once more with feeling: if some boffins bring something into the world which goes mental and centimates (hey, new word for genocide; today’s gift from me to the world; tune in tomorrow), another species, then no matter how bad it is for the one centimated, it’s good for the newly created thing. Unless of course the former had become the latter’s only food supply and both species end up extinct.

    …at least in the sense of being good.

    Oh thank God, I’ve finally figured out why you have such a problem with the idea that creating life can be altruistic. Altruism isn’t synonymous with goodness; the two things can be… sorry, I don’t know what the antonym for synonymous is.

    You do know that’s the point of reductio ad absurdum, right? To take someone’s logic and extend it validly to a conclusion that is contradictory, or at least absurd.

    I’ll be completely truthful and say I do now.

    The key element here is the question of whether denying a living thing the opportunity to live is an inherently good thing or not. I maintain that, unless preexisting entities are involved, it isn’t, because the notion of ethics relies on there being people – or “agents”, if you think the word “people” is too narrow – who already exist and who interact with each other. In other words, ethics is contingent on there being entities to whom it could apply. In the absence of such entities, ethics makes as much sense as biology without so much as a replicator molecule. So, a fortiori, the question of whether “to bring something to life or not is good” is no more straightforward or self-evident than asking if genetic therapy or GMOs are good.

    Again, something it’s impossible to argue with. Ethics is indeed contingent on there being entities to whom it can apply. It’s also necessary for a universe to exist before we need concern ourselves with such matters. This was what I tried to convey when I made incorrect use of the reductio ad absurdum thing in response to this:

    The ultimate logical consequence of this argument is that morality factors into everything in existence simply because it can’t factor into a part of it, being an all or nothing package. But since ethics is meaningless outside of living things that can feel and think and so on, it can’t be the case that morality is “all-or-nothing”, so therefore your premise can’t be true. So I reject your conclusion because I doubt your premise’s truthfulness.

    I should have said it was a false syllogism. My claim that morality factors into everything, if that was what I said, begins and ends with living things. For you to reject my conclusion for the reasons you did doesn’t do you credit. It’s like gay marriage opponents (I may already have invoked them in an analogy on this thread, I can’t recall. Sorry for being unoriginal if I have) saying it will lead to people getting hitched to ducks or toaster ovens.

    So if [the metal man] isn’t alive until that point, I invite you to explain to me how he should be in any way grateful if anyone turns him on.

    Easy. He has been “programmed with all the knowledge, skill, and wisdom that would ordinarily require two decades of childhood learning in a human with supporting family”

    You’re talking about morality here; you didn’t say two decades in a cell with Charles Manson. Your automaton has been programmed with human, and indeed humanistic, values. Gratitude is a human… feeling, I guess; emotion doesn’t seem quite right. Therefore if he isn’t grateful to his creator or activator, his programming has been unsuccessful and Dr Soong needs to go back to the drawing board.

    While you’re at it, you could perhaps also explain why you managed to miss the colossal and as-carefully-explained-as-I-could-manage point I was really making, and somehow focus on the one thing that was not only utterly irrelevant, but wouldn’t have made sense if it had been.

    Fair point, although the gracious response would have been to take it as a compliment, or at least proof that the only thing I could find to take issue with was a bit of semantic irrelevance. Either that or you didn’t explain it as well as you thought. Articulacy can be a bit like a sense of humor: everyone thinks they possess it, not everyone does. Kidding.

    Species revival, in this case, would either be for scientific curiosity or for public entertainment (think Jurassic Park, but without the disastrous breakouts and collapse). I no more see it as an inherently good thing than I would see cloning of a dead person as a good thing. To me, it’s ethically just the same thing applied to lots of individuals.

    You don’t see experiments conducted out of scientific curiosity as a good thing, Zeuglodon? No wonder the rest of your species went all extinct.

    Although at this point I couldn’t honestly say whether you’re in favour of cloning or not. You seem to think I disapprove of it to such an extent that I’m prepared to compare it to the horrors of the Third Reich, so we seem to be equally at cross purposes.

    Don’t be like that. I personally would love to see mammoths brought back, but I cannot ignore the huge costs and effects such an enterprise would have, and my current verdict is “it should be indefinitely delayed until more pressing ethical and scientific issues have been addressed”.

    This is the same attitude that killed the Space Program stone dead and the reason I’m writing this on the boiling-hot Planet Earth rather than in a nice, cool condo with a view over the Sea of Tranquility. Boo. Hiss.

    • In reply to #138 by Katy Cordeth:

      In reply to #110 by Zeuglodon:

      In reply to #106 by Katy Cordeth:

      You are making a sincere effort to engage, right? It isn’t coming across at times.

      This is all getting a little deep for me. I am making a sincere effort to engage but my time is limited and your comment was rather long, so I apologize if I misunderstood any of your points in what was a bit of a rushed response. Not that I think I did.

      I am sorry in turn for the long delay, and for my catty remark previously. This isn’t as easy a topic as I had thought. I’ll try and keep the word count low, so here’s a pre-emptive apology in case you think I missed anything important.

      EDIT: Ignore that last part. This is another opus. :-<

      I will continue to insist that this is true, even if it’s only from the point of view of the thing being returned. Giving an extinct species that’s been consigned to oblivion a second bite of the peach is an act of altruism. Putting all other considerations aside just for a moment, how could it be anything else?

      I think it’s incorrect to apply individual emotions to a species because there aren’t enough parallels to support the analogy. Yes, genetically speaking, it would be “reviving” a species, but the individual mammoths are new individuals, not the old ones being woken up or something. I think you’d agree with me here, but what I want to draw attention to is the way you’re framing the issue. In my mind, the species distinction is a scientific classification of several individual organisms – relevant to the study of evolutionary biology and species ecology – and it is not a moral category or a moral agent. Therefore, we’re not doing the species a favour at all because there is no moral entity or agent to bestow favours upon.

      There are two categories of thing in the universe: living things and non-living things. I don’t have any scientific training, as I think I’ve mentioned before, but I’m fairly confident in making this assertion. The universe is also quite big, I’m given to understand. And rather old as well. If by some grotesque miracle our planet is the only one in all this vastness ever to have produced life then that makes it unique, and every single living thing on it pretty darn special. If that doesn’t at least suggest to you that life might be innately ‘good’ then I don’t know what will.

      I don’t agree because the conclusion “life is special” does not follow from the fact that it is rare, which is what you’re establishing here. I’m not saying I disagree with the notion that ethics is deeply bound to life in a way that ordinary physics is not, but I don’t think this is sufficient to show that creating life is an act of goodness, at least in the sense of being a moral imperative.

      I should probably say that I’m not altogether convinced by my own position here. Everything up to the final sentence is fair, I think. But once you get into the territory of whether something can be good… well it’s like arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or the thing about there always being more turtles to stand on. You’ll never get a conclusive answer because none exists, and you end up going around in circles. You do seem rather preoccupied with how something can be said to be good, when goodness itself is an abstract concept which can never be quantified.

      I disagree. Good, better, best… if it can be ranked hierarchically according to ordinal numbers, then it can be quantified because, in a sense, it already has been. Of course, that opens up a can of worms over how exactly it’d be quantified – a Mohs scale of morality? – but it’s different from trying to identify moral “goods” in the first place. Even values – the realm of good and evil – are based on what’s real, both in the subject’s mind and outside it. At the very least, I think we both have reasons for thinking as we do, which is what I’m interested in.

      I don’t understand what’s altruistic about it. Creating life is morally neutral in itself…

      If you’re talking about creating life generally then, okay, an argument can be made that it’s morally neutral. But this falls apart when you get into specifics. How many pigs are bred each year to be slaughtered and end up on the dinner table? A couple hundred million or thereabouts, presumably; each and every one capable of experiencing fear and pain on a level comparable to our own. So is the propagation of porcine life morally neutral?

      Or how about a couple with a sick child who have another just so its bone marrow can be harvested to help its sibling, which does happen, I’m led to believe.

      Yes, but the specifics are about things other than the creation of life, which is precisely my point. It’s like the genetic engineering stuff I mentioned earlier: no one can tell, just from the fact that something is GM, whether it’s healthy or unhealthy, say. It depends on the specifics of any particular case. I gladly surrender to the claim that it’s about the specifics, but I still stand by my claim that the separate notion of life-creation being good – at least in an ethical sense – is neutral in and of itself.

      …and whether it’s good or bad depends on how it will effect already-existing life and on what’s going to happen to the living thing after it’s born.

      Whether it is good or bad. You’re talking about the life itself in responding to a comment about the altruistic motives of the scientists. If someone makes you a sandwich because you seem a bit glum and they want to cheer you up, but the mayonnaise happens to have spoiled without their realizing it and you get sick, this doesn’t negate the kindness of what they did. You can berate them for not checking the mayo, but nothing else.

      Well, yes, I don’t dispute that altruism can be recognized in the face of, say, bad luck or circumstances. Yet, neither do I mean to say that everything that happens post-creation is a moral judgement on the cloner. Let me see about the next bit.

      What happens to something after it’s born can be carefully determined by its creators, as in the example of the future pork chops, or its fate can rest in the hands of the gods. These mammoths are presumably not being engineered in order that they can be farmed for their meat. The scientists are motivated by altruism, with all the baggage that comes with (see comment #66 for clarification). But suppose a herd is created and given a habitat in which to thrive, and then one night the poachers drive up and brutally kill the lot of them for their enormous tusks. The… I’ll say cloners, it’s just quicker – the cloners then find themselves in the position of having created a number of animals which ended up suffering a horribly painful death. According to your own logic, the act of creating these beasts was good, right up until the point at which the poachers arrived, whereupon it can be described, and retroactively so, as bad.

      Stuff happens, as you said in an earlier comment. If you believe this then you must also accept that what happens after creation, within reason, doesn’t have any bearing on the moral status of the creative act.

      Wait, I don’t think this is my logic at all. The cloners in your scenario were altruistic because of their intentions for the mammoths once they existed, and so their policy for cloning the things merely suffered from bad luck after the fact. On the separate issue of moral luck (I don’t want to get too sidetracked, here, so I’ll be brief), it depends on the level of risk there was in the poachers wiping out the mammoths. A well-protected preserve with a high security rating and excellent staff… well, that’s very bad luck. A run-down patch of grass in an African nation conducting civil war and with poorly prepared staff… that’s simply irresponsible. And I’m not saying that, retroactively, it’s bad. I’m saying that even before the cloners arrive at the lab, there are probability-based judgements and reasons that they need to consult and incorporate. It’s an issue of risk assessment: cloner’s actuary, if you will. I’m trying to steer clear of any kind of hindsight bias here.

      But to get back to the main point, it’s the cloner’s treatment of the mammoths once they exist that can be described as altruistic. If that’s what you meant, then I apologize for my misunderstanding. However, this has to be separated from the notion that “creating life is an inherently altruistic thing”, which is the specific claim I’m going after.

      The notion of gratitude in any case is predicated on there being someone to bestow a favour towards who is then in a position to be grateful. It can’t apply if the person didn’t exist in the first place, so there are no grounds to be grateful to one’s creator unless they also take care of you once you exist. Lastly, if we created a murderer who went on to claim a victim, I think the murderer’s gratitude towards its creator would be a pretty moot point.

      So if it’s sophistry, you shouldn’t have any difficulty in pointing out what’s wrong with it.

      If you insist:

      The notion of gratitude in any case is predicated on there being someone to bestow a favour towards who is then in a position to be grateful. It can’t apply if the person didn’t exist in the first place…

      Yes, this is true, this is very true: something does have to exist in order for it to be in a position to be grateful. Never a truer word was said. Something definitely has to exist for it to be hungry, sleepy, happy, horny or occupy any other state of being or pantomime role. Actuality is vital to most aspects of life. Try eating an ice-cream cone when you don’t exist; I attempted to in 1980 and can tell you it’s very difficult if not well-nigh impossible. A few years later and it was a cinch.

      …so there are no grounds to be grateful to one’s creator unless they also take care of you once you exist.

      This is less true. Someone can be grateful for the gift of life…

      Pause, rewind, play. You see how you phrased it right there? That is the problem I see in your position, and what I was talking about earlier. That’s why I stressed the issue of a person’s non-existence prior to their life’s beginning. With no one to give it to, in what way is it reasonable to conceptualize it as a gift? The notion of gift-giving requires a recipient. The “gift of life” metaphor is misleading here, distracting from what’s relevant to the ethics of the situation – which are, as I’ve repeatedly stressed, what happens to other living things and what will or is expected to happen to the created one once it is created.

      Anyway, the sophism lies in the conclusion drawn in the second part from the premise put forth in the first: the metaphysical assertion that something has to exist in order to exhibit gratitude leads us to the claim that gratitude is only to be bestowed upon a nurturing parent. It’s a non sequitur.

      I hope by now the missing links in that non sequitur are now a bit more clearer, showing how one leads to the other.

      …Lastly, if we created a murderer who went on to claim a victim, I think the murderer’s gratitude towards its creator would be a pretty moot point.

      In Darwinian terms,

      I’m not speaking in Darwinian terms. That’s a whole different kettle of fish.

      On my part, kindly explain to me how “bringing something to life” is automatically doing it a favour (i.e. being altruistic and doing something deserving of gratitude) when it strictly only changes the premise “I don’t exist” to “I exist”. And by this, I don’t mean whether it gets looked after by its parents afterwards. I mean what about the act of creating a living thing with consciousness demands gratitude or a recognition of kindness? If I were to wave my hands and chant a magic spell and a chimpanzee/chameleon/cockroach pops into existence, what about the act is altruistic? By this, I am not talking about what around the act is altruistic or good (e.g. the effort put into it, the care given to the living thing afterwards), but asking what about the act is inherently good.

      Let me see if I’ve got this right: you want me to explain why life is good as opposed to bad?

      Oh, don’t phrase it like that, please don’t! You make me sound suicidally glum. :-(

      I’m not asking for you to sell me on why life is good as opposed to bad. Now that I am alive, I’m quite keen to continue the experience. :-P Life, once created, is the land upon which ethics grows. But mark the parenthesis: once created. I see the point of making life easier for people currently living under hardships, and if that means people have kids and raise families, all well and good. I don’t see the point of making life for the sake of it. That’s a genetic concern, and certainly I don’t think it’s an inherent good, for reasons I’ve already explained.

      If you’ll forgive me, you’re beginning to sound slightly like a whiny if ever-so-precocious little teenager engaged in an argument with its parents: “I didn’t ask to be born you know!!”

      Now, now, let’s not get into this sort of territory, or you’ll be grounded. :-P

      Seriously, though, I’m more concerned with overpopulation and prejudice against childless people than I am with trying to be the “smart kid”. That’s strictly irrelevant to my actual case, though.

      I never once made the point that the process of bringing things back to life was a bad thing, but you clearly thought I was. You made the suggestion that we should stop cloning and procreating, and this was on the grounds that, if it turned out the results of creating life were bad, therefore the process of creating life was categorically bad. I was merely repeating your all-or-nothing logic back at you, as it came across to me.

      The suggestion that we should stop cloning and procreating was contingent on the proposition that something cannot be evil after the fact. I was positing a moral universe in which any action that could conceivably result in something bad happening would necessitate our never doing anything at all, ever, which could only lead to the atrophying of our own species.

      I think I’ve covered this well enough above vis-a-vis statistics and probability risks, so I won’t repeat myself there. Again, I’m not supporting the hindsight bias.

      Either way, the point still stands that how good it is to bring an animal to life depends on the consequences of that action, and bringing something to life cannot be described as an act of altruism…

      No, it can. It really can. See above. Once more with feeling: if some boffins bring something into the world which goes mental and centimates

      … destroys every hundredth member?

      (hey, new word for genocide; today’s gift from me to the world; tune in tomorrow), another species, then no matter how bad it is for the one centimated, it’s good for the newly created thing. Unless of course the former had become the latter’s only food supply and both species end up extinct.

      But you’re just assuming your conclusion again. My point of contention is that creating life is not automatically a good thing. You can’t refute that by simply saying it is, because my point is that it can’t be conceptualized as an act of altruism in the first place, not having the relevant criteria!

      …at least in the sense of being good.

      Oh thank God, I’ve finally figured out why you have such a problem with the idea that creating life can be altruistic. Altruism isn’t synonymous with goodness; the two things can be… sorry, I don’t know what the antonym for synonymous is.

      Antonymous.

      Admittedly, altruism in the biological sense differs from altruism in the moral sense. Heck, altruism as a generic word for “niceness” differs from altruism in the sense of being kind, generous etc. to the point of self-sacrifice. Of these three, all of them fail to satisfy me, the first because it’s ethically irrelevant, and the other two because… ah, I’m not going to repeat myself.

      You do know that’s the point of reductio ad absurdum, right? To take someone’s logic and extend it validly to a conclusion that is contradictory, or at least absurd.

      I’ll be completely truthful and say I do now.

      Hey, I used to think it was just “his idea is ridiculous, therefore it’s false”, but it turns out that’s the Appeal to Ridicule fallacy. So we’re both learning here.

      The ultimate logical consequence of this argument is that morality factors into everything in existence simply because it can’t factor into a part of it, being an all or nothing package. But since ethics is meaningless outside of living things that can feel and think and so on, it can’t be the case that morality is “all-or-nothing”, so therefore your premise can’t be true. So I reject your conclusion because I doubt your premise’s truthfulness.

      I should have said it was a false syllogism. My claim that morality factors into everything, if that was what I said, begins and ends with living things. For you to reject my conclusion for the reasons you did doesn’t do you credit. It’s like gay marriage opponents (I may already have invoked them in an analogy on this thread, I can’t recall. Sorry for being unoriginal if I have) saying it will lead to people getting hitched to ducks or toaster ovens.

      Well, it is technically a slippery slope fallacy, if you want to get technical. I should have explained my reasoning. My point was that the whole of one system is a subcategory of a larger system, so you go from morality being relevant to life to it being relevant to organic chemistry, and then to atomic matter, subatomic particles, the underlying physics of life, etc. In hindsight, it wasn’t the best way to deal with your point. :-S

      So if [the metal man] isn’t alive until that point, I invite you to explain to me how he should be in any way grateful if anyone turns him on.

      Easy. He has been “programmed with all the knowledge, skill, and wisdom that would ordinarily require two decades of childhood learning in a human with supporting family”

      As opposed to being programmed in such a way as to give his life hell the moment the circuit runs. I admit your reply here is one of the reasons I delayed responding because it turned out not to be a straightforward as I had previously anticipated. I get the point about a nurturing parent evoking a child’s gratitude, at least when the child is old enough to understand, and I separate that from the parent “creating” the child’s life in the first place. I don’t even have any issue with plans made for a life before it’s even born – that can factor in. Retroactive versions of either gave me pause, though, but in the end, I think it can still be separated from the issue of “creating life being an inherently good thing as opposed to conditional on other, morally relevant, factors”. I can see how it would be grateful of its creator’s good intentions as opposed to a creator’s premeditated neglect or abuse, but not in the sense of being created as opposed to not being created. The dismantled and unactivated robot in the parallel universe isn’t missing out on anything, because he technically doesn’t exist.

      You’re talking about morality here; you didn’t say two decades in a cell with Charles Manson. Your automaton has been programmed with human, and indeed humanistic, values. Gratitude is a human… feeling, I guess; emotion doesn’t seem quite right. Therefore if he isn’t grateful to his creator or activator, his programming has been unsuccessful and Dr Soong needs to go back to the drawing board.

      Hmm. So if he’s grateful, then the programming worked, but if he isn’t, then his programming is faulty. You trying to tell me something?

      I don’t trust “feelings” if I don’t see the reasoning behind them. Even if the reasoning has nothing to do with the one feeling the emotion, at least there’s some way to account for it. This reliance on gut feeling to determine one’s stance is something I regard with caution, at best.

      Articulacy can be a bit like a sense of humor: everyone thinks they possess it, not everyone does. Kidding.

      Don’t I know it. I learned that lesson the hard way online. Sometimes, I can barely understand half the stuff I used to write in forums. :-S Ah well, live and learn, I guess.

      You don’t see experiments conducted out of scientific curiosity as a good thing, Zeuglodon? No wonder the rest of your species went all extinct.

      I’m all for scientific curiosity. I just don’t confuse it with ethical goodness. To take a mundane example, understanding the social behaviour of desert termites is a joyful exercise in scientific curiosity, but the entomologist who does it is fully aware it’s not in the same ball park as bringing relief aid to Africa.

      Don’t be like that. I personally would love to see mammoths brought back, but I cannot ignore the huge costs and effects such an enterprise would have, and my current verdict is “it should be indefinitely delayed until more pressing ethical and scientific issues have been addressed”.

      This is the same attitude that killed the Space Program stone dead and the reason I’m writing this on the boiling-hot Planet Earth rather than in a nice, cool condo with a view over the Sea of Tranquility. Boo. Hiss.

      So long as it isn’t the attitude that brought on Jurassic Park, then I’m OK with this. :-)

      • In reply to #143 by Zeuglodon:

        This isn’t as easy a topic as I had thought. I’ll try and keep the word count low

        Good thing you did, I would hate to see what an actual wordy comment might have been, not sure the rd.net servers could take the strain :)

        • In reply to #148 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #143 by Zeuglodon:

          This isn’t as easy a topic as I had thought. I’ll try and keep the word count low

          Good thing you did, I would hate to see what an actual wordy comment might have been, not sure the rd.net servers could take the strain :)

          Not sure I could take the strain, to be honest. :-P

  44. In reply to #137 by nancynancy:

    I like it and think it’s workable, as long as it is implemented globally and without discrimination. Have a one child policy and sterilise if a second child is born. There is no need for forced abortions or any of that other nonsense they did in China.

    Then, when we’ve got the human population under control, there will be more space for mammoths! :D

  45. Should the mammoth be cloned? Yes together with tho Giant Moa the Thylacine Dodo Quagga Passinger Pigeon etc etc, Why? because there’s money to be made from doing it. At least thats the way enough people are going to think.
    It’ going to happen.

  46. I think it can be managed if we take good measures for it. But it will take more than just the act of cloning it.
    Such as breeding genealogy, possibly making wildlife enclosures in appropriate countries for both general migration areas and ensuring crop planting for feeding and wildlife protection to ensure protection against poaching for their tusks/trophy skulls, teaching them to forage in the wild, etc.
    If they’re restored in two countries (SomersetJohn’s comment of Siberia & Northern Canada), it’ll probably help to sustain their numbers.
    It will mean they’ll be in captivity until they’ve gained decent numbers and we’d have to release them in small herds as well. But it’ll likely breathe more life into conservation and science.
    But then we might have to consider their temperament after they’ve gone wild and any possible damages to property/life (probably no less risk than getting eating by a wolf or a bear).
    But I think it’ll be worth the risk.

  47. Of course we must do it. When I was a child that’s what science meant, pushing boundaries further back. Religion meant being a prisoner of boundaries. Ethics, morals, right and wrong…WE decide those things. The simple fact there is a mammoth to bring back shows that the god hypothesis is ludicrously wrong, and that no intelligence created them… well they weren’t very intelligently designed, having failed abysmally to survive. With the help of scientists we can undo all the failings of the creators.

    If you are childishly minded and cannot think of progress without pictures of Jurassic Park springing to mind then tuff on you. But please don’t let your hangups prevent the rest of us, the best of us, from forging ahead with technology. You stay

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