Remember that recent burst of coverage about the Vatican being interested in aliens and, thus, the question of whether little green men would, or would not, have eternal souls? That's what I thought of when a GetReligion reader sent in this link from Fox News about a similar kind of question about science and theology. Here's the top of the report:
As scientists come closer to completing a draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome, creating a living person from an ancient DNA sequence is becoming a real possibility, according to Archaeology Magazine.
Scientists announced ... that they have pieced together most of the DNA of a man who lived in Greenland about 4,000 years ago, a pioneering feat that revealed hints about his appearance and even an increased risk of baldness.
It's the first genome from an ancient human, showing the potential for what one expert called a time machine for learning about the biology of ancient people. But it's hardly going to be the last. In 2005, 454 Life Sciences began a project with the Max Planck Institute to sequence the genetic code of a 30,000 year old Neanderthal woman. Now nearly complete, the sequence will let scientists look at the genetic blueprint of humankind's nearest relative, understand its biology and maybe even create a living person.
Ah, but would this be a person or a semi-person? As you would expect, the article looks at that question through the lens of law and human rights.
That's totally valid, by the way, kind of like that famous Star Trek: The Next Generation episode ("The Measure of a Man") about Data and his legal standing as a sentient being. But, if I remember correctly, the script for that episode also raised theological questions.
The Fox News article does ask at least one essential moral question (kind of):
There are many technical obstacles, but it's reasonable to suppose that scientists could soon use that long-extinct genome to safely create a healthy, living Neanderthal clone. But should it be done?
That's the question that inspired author Zach Zorich to dig into the issue. He points out that legal precedents are on the side of Neanderthal human rights, noting that such a creature would deserve human rights.
"I've been following Neanderthal gene research for years, and it started to dawn on me that all of these decades-old academic questions about how Neanderthals were related to modern humans might suddenly have human rights implications," he told FoxNews.com. "My hope is that the article will get people to think about what it is that makes us human beings so that there is a larger and better informed debate about how our society should proceed with cloning genetics research."
Now, I have already said that it is valid to discuss this in terms of science and law and that, in a way, that approach raises valid ethical and moral issues.
But here is my question, and it is a question that comes up frequently here at GetReligion: Does this discussion, in media aimed at the general public, also need to have a spiritual dimension, rather like the media coverage about the Vatican and the souls of aliens?
In other words, in the context of modern America and the whole spectrum of news consumers, is this journalistic discussion truly complete without raising questions about, well, the souls of Neanderthals? Do these beings have rights in the eyes of their Creator as well as, in terms of a lab, their creators? Or are they simply disposable lab materials? Are they living human beings or merely (and I know this is dangerous territory) potential humans of some kind, specimens that are on their way to human rights but not quite there?
I am having trouble seeing this as a secular issue and I don't think that I would be alone, in the general reading public.
Just saying ...