“Cloning of an entire human will not be a serious issue because of the risks involved and the limited benefits,” concluded Dr. Jeff Botkin when he spoke to the Humanists of Utah December 10th. The Associate Professor of Medical Ethics at the University of Utah graciously took the time to provide an appreciative nonprofessional audience the basic fundamentals of the reproductive process. He explained how a new life is produced by the combining of cells of two mature members of a species. Cloning is a new science that has developed the ability to mimic the process in a nonsexual design. Cloning creates a new life from a single member of a species by simply growing a genetic copy of that individual.
Cloning of plants has been a successful practice for years but the breakthrough in the cloning of animal life is a new phenomenon and to date is a very inefficient way to produce a new life. But with improving efficiency, science is on the edge of being successful in cloning human life. And that is raising ethical questions in many minds.
Dr.Botkin explored the question, “Why would someone want to clone a human?” He discussed four scenarios:
- Create a child for a couple that is infertile.
- Create a child for a couple having a high risk of producing a child with a serious genetic illness.
- Create a child for childless widow.
- Generate organs for transplantation.
The National Bioethics Advisory Committee finds the fourth case to be the most compelling, but Dr. Botkin says even though the fourth case might justify human cloning, there are many questions that need exploration before we embark on developing the technology. One challenge is the need to increase the efficiency of the cloning process, and second is creating clones free of abnormalities. He also called attention to philosophic questions and societal attitudes.
In response to the fear that human cloning could create an army of identical human robots that could be used for evil purposes, he said this concern can be dismissed quickly because human personalities are the result of nurture as well as nature.
“Dedication to research on these issues and informed public dialogue are essential,” said Dr. Botkin. The audience of nearly 100 engaged Dr. Botkin in a lively and interesting discussion following his formal presentation.
The Humanists of Utah extend sympathy to Mary Schultz as she grieves the death of her husband Bill.
Bill Schultz, one of the original signers of the application to the American Humanist Association to form a Utah chapter, died New Years day. Bill served on our board of directors during our formative years. He helped to shape the policies and decisions that resulted in the Humanists of Utah being recognized nationally as one of the AHA’s outstanding chapters in its second year of operations. Bill was a student of ancient Greek and Roman history, and at age 70 he returned to the University of Utah to study Latin because he wanted to read Cicero in the original text. He was a stimulating, thoughtful humanist and his senior citizen charm will be missed.
The Humanists of Utah extend sympathy to Sue Bradford as she grieves the death of her husband Buzz Bradford. He died of a heart attack November 30th while returning from a trip to California.
Buzz and Sue have been chapter members for two years. He returned to Utah to live in his 132-year-old family home in Murray following his retirement as a geophysicist with Shell Oil Company. As a scientist and humanist, Buzz believed that the pursuit of truth is the highest and noblest human endeavor. He was a beacon of integrity. He made this world a better place.
Buzz was a strong supporter of humanism and Sue suggests contributions in his memory to our chapter’s Trust Fund.
Was Jesus Man or Myth?
Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report
“Was Jesus Christ man or myth?” asks Charles Bradlaugh in his essay, “Who was Jesus Christ?” “Born of a virgin and of divine parentage? So too were many mythic Sun-gods and so was Krishna, a Hindu god, whose story, similar in many respects with that of Jesus, was current long before the Christian era.”
A booklet, Our Pagan Christmas, by R. J. Condon, very readable for the general reader, elucidates these questions. “It is doubtful if those Christians who annually bemoan the festive season as pagan realize the extent to which they are right,” says Condon. In celebrating Christmas, we continue a practice of our remote ancestors that began many centuries before the coming of Christianity.
Romans of various creeds celebrated Saturnalia from the 17th to the 24th of December. At that time slaves changed places with their masters, and all kinds of license was permitted. Then on December 25th there was a great feast, the Brumalia, when parties were given and presents exchanged. This day was called The Birthday of the Unconquered Sun, when the sun, three days after reaching its lowest point on its annual course, began to rise higher in the sky indicating the coming end of winter, when animal and plant life, necessary for life, would flourish anew. The sun-god Mithra had many followers in Rome. At midnight at the beginning of December 25th, the Mithraic temples were lit up with priests in white robes at the altars, and boys burning incense, much as we see in Roman Catholic churches at midnight on Christmas Eve at the present time. Mithra’s worshippers believed that he had come from heaven to be born as a man in order to redeem men from their sins and that he had been born of a virgin on December 25th. Shepherds were the first to learn of his birth, just as shepherds are said, according to “Luke,” to have been the first told of Jesus’ birth. Then would come a meal representing the Last Supper when Mithra ate with his disciples before ascending to heaven. The German Yule and the Jewish Hanukah were also winter solstice festivals. The Egyptians believed that their god, Horus, was born of a virgin as the savior of mankind and was cradled in a manger. Egyptian statues from centuries before Jesus was born showing the infant god Horus with his virgin mother Isis standing alongside were remarkably similar to later statues of baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
Until the fourth century, the Christians stood aloof, protesting that the birth of Christ could not have been fixed on so notorious a day as that of so many pagan sun-gods, but once they garnered enough power to silence their rivals, they brazenly announced that henceforth the birth of the Sun of Righteousness would be celebrated on the day of the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.
The Nativity story itself was borrowed from paganism. The story of The Annunciation, the Conception, the Birth, and the Adoration of Jesus as told by Luke’s gospel were all depicted about 1700 BCE on the wall of the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Amen at Luxor, built by Pharaoh Amenhotep III. And, oh yes, The Three Kings or Wise Men from the east were known to the Egyptians ages before they are supposed to have followed a star to Bethlehem. On a clear evening in midwinter, looking eastward we see the most striking of all the constellations in the sky, the three stars in Orion’s belt pointing to the east from where they came, as if announcing a marvel. Then the marvel comes. Sirius, the most brilliant in all the heavens, rises in the east in line with those three stars. To the Egyptians, it was the most important of all the stars; they regulated their calendars by its rising. At one period in Egypt, it reached its highest point at midnight on December 24. Astronomically speaking, the Three Kings had “seen his star in the East.”
The legends of the stable at Bethlehem, the crib, and the manger, and the star of Bethlehem all have their origins in Greek, Egyptian, Buddhist, Hindu, Persian, and Roman mythology. The prototype of King Herod’s massacre of innocent children can be found in Exodus 1:15-22; the writings of the Jewish historian, Josephus; the legends of Krishna and Jason; and the story of Abraham and King Nimrod. The “dangerous child” is the infant sun-god, who is destined to destroy the evil tyrant, Winter. The name Christ may be traced to the Chaldean Chris, a name of the sun. Races as far apart as the Mexicans, the Chinese, the Etruscans, the Teutons, and the Scandinavians all knew the virgin-mother goddess. There can be little doubt that the Virgin Mary has been modeled directly upon the Egyptian goddess Isis, for the two are virtually indistinguishable. Both were gentle mothers who could intercede with the all-powerful creator and stern judge more effectively than their sons, and they have been styled Intercessor. Titles shared by both are Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, Star of the Sea, Savior of Souls, and Immaculate Virgin.
Also pagan are such time-honored customs as the pantomime of the Christmas mumming play, the Christmas tree, mistletoe and holly, the boar’s head Christmas dish, the Christmas goose, mince pies, and Christmas pudding–the fun Christmas customs. The pagans, in their appreciation of and respect for nature and her cycles and the joyous, “human” aspect of life, seem to have discovered something worthwhile that has lasted through the ages.
Like many humanists, Richard Teerlink, on coming of age, gave up his childhood religion for humanism. Born and raised in Salt Lake City, he discovered dinosaurs, steam engines, atoms, and planets early in elementary school, which instilled in him a keen interest in all branches of science. He graduated from South High School and the University of Utah, and then taught for 31 years, primarily at Kearns High School, until his recent retirement. He taught science, of course: Advanced Placement Biology, Introductory Biology, Genetics, Introductory Chemistry, Environmental Science, and Human Biology. He was on the committee that wrote the Utah State Curriculum for Biology and Human Biology. Organic evolution, he is proud to say, was the uniting thread that tied the curriculum together.
Early on he found scientific explanations of the world more cogent and real than the religious explanations he had learned in his devoutly LDS family. By the time he went on a mission, he had studied biology and was acquainted with the evidence for evolution. He was thus conflicted and confused by the temple ceremony, which is rooted in the biblical Genesis story. While on his mission, he got into an intense argument with a humanist in Liverpool, England, and came away with the “mind-releasing feeling that she had won.”
On his return to college, his faith eroded and eventually collapsed. Casting about for a structure to replace his faith, he came across Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian and Julian Huxley’s Religion Without Revelation, which introduced him to humanist ideas. He also discovered the Unitarian Church where Hugh Gillilan, our own vice-president, was minister. Unitarianism and humanism have been central to his life ever since.
He is a self-professed “tree hugger,” and a lover of back packing, river running, wilderness experiences, and travel generally. He recently taught a class, The Meaning of Evolution, for humanists and Unitarians, which was so successful that he plans to follow up with other courses that will hone the science literacy of all who attend. Watch for future announcements in these very pages.