If you want to see a good example of an SFF novel that slips in philosophical issues without whacking you upside the head with them, check out 7th Son, by J.C. Hutchins.1 The first of the novel’s three portions, subtitled Descent, is currently being podcast by the author. (Upfront warning: iTunes marks it — there is some strong language and a wee bit of the ultraviolence. Neither element saturates the book, although your tolerance for each will affect your enjoyment of the novel.)
The story’s central device involves both human cloning and memory-gestalt read/write technology. A young man who has been painstakingly brought up with the best available resources for intellectual and physical development has his memories recorded in toto at age fourteen. These memories are then written to seven clones who have been force-grown to the appropriate physical age and then placed with handpicked guardians and different environments, each in a different part of the country. Each clone thus believes himself to be the one and only John Michael Smith, with a unique set of memories. In this way, the project administrators explain, Project 7th Son aims to answer the ages-old question of how much influence nature and nurture each have in the forming of a human personality.
Don’t be mistaken, however; Mr. Hutchins hasn’t merely given us a seven-pack of Bildungsromans. (For all its virtues, I doubt people would want to read, say, seven versions of David Copperfield back-to-back.) All that is merely backstory to a crisis that affects not only the seven clones, but the immediate fate of the world. For someone has decided to throw not a monkeywrench but a hand grenade into the works. The result promises to be a kick-keister thriller, and so far it’s delivering on that promise.
That’s the novel, and I recommend it. The podcast is one of several that make my lawnmowing a pleasant task. The author is an excellent reader, involved with and committed to his audience, and all in all a worthy contributor to the Inkernet.
Here, however, I want to look at a tiny piece of the story — at least it’s tiny at this point in the podcasting. (There aren’t any spoilers here, since this hasn’t affected the action in the episodes that have been ’cast so far, although Mr. Hutchins assures me that it will be wrapped up by the end of the novel.)2 Each of the clones was placed on a path suggested by some aspect of the original JMS’s personality, resulting in a kaleidoscope of interesting characters. One of them took the path of vocational Catholicism,3 not only becoming a priest but turning his intellect to theological questions. One of those questions has arisen to bite him on the hindquarters.
Father Thomas is convinced that, as a clone, he has no soul. And because he is without a soul, God has rejected and will reject him.
Now: is he correct? Would a human clone possess a soul? And how would the answer to that question affect the standing of a human clone in the sight of God?
Jason Rennie addresses the concept of the soul in the episode of his superb podcast The Sci Phi Show that deals with the Babylon 5 episode “Soul Hunter.”4 I want to continue that discussion in this context, and suggest a few points that I’d like Father Thomas to consider.
[To be continued in Part Beth, in which we consider what we mean by soul.]
- Technically, I should be referring to it as Seventh Son, in accordance with the Chicago Manual of Style. But the numeral is used everywhere else I’ve seen the title, so lest you be misdirected … [↩]
- A later installment, addressing a collateral issue, will have some story spoilers for those who aren’t up to date on the podcast. [↩]
- What surprises me is not that one of the clones became a priest, but that none of the other six shows any interest in Catholicism, Christianity, or religion in general (with the exception of Kilroy2.0, but when you’re dealing with Kilroy2.0 all bets are off). How was this influence sufficiently strong in the original JMS to produce Father Thomas and at the same time insignificant to the others? [↩]
- It’s always possible that “jms,” the well-known signature of Babylon 5‘s creator, J. Michael Straczynski, influenced Hutchins’s choice of name for his cloned original. But only Hutchins can say for sure, and I don’t think anyone has asked him yet. [↩]
Well, the same question was raised in the 70s about in vitro fertilization. Since the fertilzation took place in a “test tube” the assumption was the Child would have no soul.
The big myth about cloning is that it takes place in a tank. In fact, only the injection of celluar matter takes place outside the body, In simple terms an egg is taken, the genetic material removed. This is replaced by a microscopic piece of genetic material from another individual. Then the egg is implanted into a woman for gestation and later birth.
The resulting individual is mostly a “genetic” copy of the person, whose DNA was used. However, some of miachondrial (and I’m sure that’s misspelled) DNA from the egg donor is included. A small amount, but enough that the person is not an exact genetic copy.
Since all the DNA would be from human beings, and you could trace the lineage of each individual the resulting person is a human being.
The forming of the person within the womb continues as normal. In fact, it is very much like normal procreation in that genetic material from one person invades the egg of another person. The only difference is that the genetic material of the donor egg is mostly removed and the genetic material does not necessarily come from sperm, although it could.
The big problem with cloning is that of implementation. Experiments with mammals (Dolly the Sheep being the most famous) show that a very high number of them do not survive full term and those that do for the most part are deformed and die soon after birth. Those that survive after birth are usually still sickly and short lived.
This creates a question, not dissimilar to the real ethical question of in vitro, you are creating many embryos that will likely never come to term. Of course, that happens as a part of nature too. Most fertilized eggs do not attach and become babies, but knowingly creating embryos that are almost certain to die before birth raises more realistic moral questions about cloning than whether or not the clone is human.