Sunday, September 09, 2007

Challenging Nature

I finished reading Challenging Nature: The Clash Between Biotechnology and Spirituality By Lee M. Silver.

In this challenging and eye opening book Lee Silver describes the knee jerk reaction to biotechnology from two factions of society-

1. Christians- commanded by God to subdue and usurp the earth and everything on it and fill it with their offspring.

2. Post-Christian people who are subconsciously obsessed with the idea of a "mother nature" that somehow knows what she is doing and has some hazy plan for where it's all going that they better not interfere with.

For most of my adult life I have been in camp 2, and stridently so. I have been outspokenly convinced of the "innate intelligence" of life and nature, and that there is some hidden plan that cannot be bested and is not even worth second guessing with any manipulations or modifications. I was convinced there was an over-riding "life force" that humans could do nothing but corrupt. I like the use of the word "post-Christian" to describe the "New Age", because it is merely a substitute religion after Christianity was proven false by modernity.

I had thought I went 180 degrees from this camp 2 position until I read this book. I realized I still had some left over sympathy for camp 2, primarily based on my ignorance. This book was an eye opener for me. It covers everything from food engineering, medicine, stem cell research, the barbarity of natures own genetic goof ups, conjoined twins, fetus in fetu, teratomas, etc...

Remarkably, most of the battle is against those who are still in camp 1, who think that meddling with nature is disrupting god's perfect plan. Silver points out the intentional and mendacious warping of terms that have led to a pandemic of public ignorance and misconception of the issues. Much of this misconception is willingly absorbed by a religious public who desires to be misinformed.

What Silver points out is that all humans have been doing for thousands of years, and all evolution has been doing for thousands of years is rambunctiously and haphazardly meddling around with genes. There is no "natural order of things". Countless examples of the absurdity of nature's experiment are given. It is illustrated with countless examples how bioengineering and technology have been used to increase the efficiency and humanity of the way we cultivate food (which is disgusting when described, no matter how you look at it). For instance, before around 1990, the only way to get cheese to curdle was to take an enzyme out of the lining of the 4th stomach of a calf. Only in the 90's did they start modifying bacteria to create the enzyme, thus eliminating the need for the calves.

Looking ahead 100 years I can see the grandson of Hugh Hewitt (Conservative talkshow host) proclaiming on his talk show that stem cell research, genetic engineering of human traits and the eradication of genetic disorders through bioengineering all came about because of the wonderous benefits Christianity provided our wonderful Christian nation. None of it would be possible with Christianity of course, because Christianity invented science. Pah!

You can check out Silver's media appearance videos on his website

1 comment:

Mike O'Risal said...

I spent a lot of time in Camp 2 myself before I started learning about biology, genetics, evolution, etc. Once all this stuff starts to make sense, a picture emerges that isn't nearly as scary as the boogieman-under-the-bed POV that precedes actual knowledge.

That isn't to say that there aren't risks involved, but the benefits and potential benefits are tremendous. In fact, a lot of the people who are so freaked out by biotech gain any number of its benefits in their daily lives without knowing that they do so and the things they fret about aren't the actual risks, ironically enough.

I've never read this book, and probably won't get around to doing so. It doesn't sound like I'm the target audience at this point, though.