Scientific Souls | Letters | Chicago Reader

Scientific Souls 

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To the editors:

I was appalled at the highly dubious "absolute truths" described in your cover story for the February 9 issue ("Uncle J.R. Explains It All for You"). For example, Prof. Regalbuto "is absolutely certain . . . that animals have no moral rights, that abortion is always wrong . . ." Then these questionable "truths" lead Prof. Regalbuto to maintain that torturing bulls to death in bullfights is perfectly O.K. because of "the (human) crowd's need to be entertained." In addition, Prof. Regalbuto decides that it is ethical to blind rabbits so as to feed human vanity and greed with the umpteenth absurd new version of some already questionable cosmetic. Apparently all this cruelty is acceptable because humans have something superior called "souls" which animals do not have. Prof. Regalbuto is absolutely sure of this too.

History is littered with the tortured and maimed human and animal victims of similarly certain purveyors of their idea of the "ethical" and the "truth." Religious wars; inquisitions; slavery; genocides of Jews, Native Americans, etc., were similarly justified by one group's certainty of its superiority over others via the possession of a "soul" or whatever. Once the highly debatable assumptions of superiority are made, any atrocity becomes acceptable in order to feed the imagined needs, or "entertainment" of the holy soul-bearers.

Our great planet is currently in danger of losing more than half its species and of disastrous environmental changes. Most of the danger derives from Western civilization with its human-centered view of our planet. Rape this forest and that ocean--it is all O.K. since it will lead to some supposed economic human improvement. If scores of animal or plant species become extinct, if the "primitive" cultures of the world become destroyed, so what--none of them have holy human "souls." While Prof. Regalbuto would oppose extinction based on the Lord's creativity, what is to prevent others from deciding that "soulless" beings are expendable?

On top of this ethical dogma, Prof. Regalbuto flaunts the fact that he is a scientist. Many may jump to the conclusion that he may have some sort of scientific basis or even proof for his "absolute truths." But science by itself does not deal in faith or souls or even ethics (although I certainly do not feel that science should be immune to ethical considerations). The existence or non existence of "souls" can probably never be proven by science. And perhaps that is what bothered me as much as anything else about this highly upsetting article--this interweaving of Prof. Regalbuto's scientific credentials with his religion and with his ethical conclusions. I too am a scientist. My own ethical standards dictate that any form of torture or cruelty is wrong and unethical. And when the torture and cruelty are performed, solely for entertainment and/or vanity, the wrongs are compounded. In fact, I feel that such acts are sick and/or "evil." But, I cannot scientifically prove that torture for human entertainment is unethical or "evil" any more than I can scientifically prove that animals do or do not have "souls." (Whether it should or should not even matter whether one has a "soul" is another important consideration.) Regardless, however, what gives anyone the nerve to decide absolutely on when and how it is O.K. to perform acts which most of us cringe from in horror?

Ron Baumgarten

University of Illinois at Chicago

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