A Second Genesis
Journal for a New World (Fundamentalist Christian
Remaking Eden. Lee M. Silver. 1999. Phoenix Press, London. 391 pages.
The Biotech Century. Jeremy Rifkin. 1998. Victor Gollancz, London. 282 pages.
Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters. Matt Ridley. 1999. Fourth Estate, London. 352 pages.
Sometimes you just have to pinch yourself to make sure you're not living in a world of science fiction. That's because science fiction, as we have known it, seems to have become science fact--at least in the field of genetics. This burgeoning area of science is in the process of delivering what amounts to the greatest revolution in the history of the world.
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To help make sense of it all, we will look at three distinctive books that survey the genetic scene from various perspectives. Each is remarkable for its breadth, scope and erudition, effectively communicating details of what is, for many, a daunting subject. Each is a classic in its area and can be viewed as an essential primer to the subject. In the rapidly developing world of genetics, the message of these books remains profound and not a little disturbing. As such, they are worthy of our close examination.
THE FUTURE IS NOW
In Remaking Eden, Princeton University biology professor Lee Silver introduces us to the mind-boggling new world of molecular genetics. His goal is to present both the scientific and the political realities of what he calls reprogenetics--the fusion of genetics with reproductive biology--along with the ethical dilemmas its use will raise. In his view, reprogenetics will turn science fiction into reality, from cloning to embryo selection to genetic engineering and beyond. His book is a stimulating and thought-provoking analysis of the many possibilities presented by the emerging technologies.
Time and time again the disturbing message comes down to this: the future is already with us. "Although all science-based future stories are, by definition, science fiction," Silver writes, "none of my imagined futures has been pulled out of thin air. In each case I have simply assumed that we will continue to make incremental scientific and technological advances beyond what can already be accomplished today" (Remaking Eden, p. 295).
To Silver's way of thinking, it will not be governments that control this reprogenetic technology. It will be the power of the marketplace--where individuals and couples, acting on behalf of themselves and their children, will set the agenda. How significant are these developments? Silver has no doubt that the growing use of reprogenetics is inevitable and constitutes the dawn of a new age.
Despite his professed scientific detachment, and while decrying the na?vet? of those who would predict some imagined utopian future, Silver insists we should not rule this out. "No matter how unlikely it seems today, it is possible that a true worldwide utopian society could emerge someday to provide reprogenetic benefits to all children. It would be difficult to accomplish.... But as the miraculous political and scientific events of the last twenty years tell us, one should never say never in either domain" (p. 295).
Silver is a strong advocate of the emerging genetic technologies, and he himself is, at least to some extent, utopian in outlook. He is largely uncritical of, and in fact appears enthusiastically in favor of, all these developments, seemingly able to resolve (at least to his own satisfaction) the ethical concerns involved.
Where does Silver see it all ending up? "No matter what technique, or techniques, are ultimately used," he says, "genetic engineering of human embryos is sure to become feasible, safe, and efficient by the middle of the twenty-first century. When that happens, we will come face to face with the ultimate frontier in medicine and philosophy--the power to change the nature of humankind" (p. 273, emphasis added).
CAN WE TALK?
If Silver strives for a detached scientific view of the reprogenetic revolution, Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Biotech Century, adopts a more skeptical, even disapproving tone.
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One might ask, however, Where is God in all this discussion? Silver asserts that contemporary reprogenetics is in the process of "remaking Eden," yet he provides no real analysis of the new Eden's impact on God's intended purpose for humanity as revealed in the original Eden--the one God looked over before commenting, "It is very good." But Silver is a scientist, so perhaps he should not be expected to do so.
On the other hand, at the beginning of each section of his book he quotes a passage of Scripture, though without explanation. Interestingly, one of the scriptures he quotes undermines the entire evolutionary basis of modern science and genetics: "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:26 - 27).
A reading of these three books leaves the reader in awe of the incredibly organized design that characterizes life. Either the complexities of life demonstrate the existence of a supreme Creator, or all life forms are descended from a single cell. Silver and Ridley choose to believe the latter, although Silver admits that the probability of this happening again by chance is nil. Yet no one can explain what produced that first cell at some point in the dim past, or how it came to develop into the myriad life forms we see today. Neither can anyone adequately explain how the awesome preeminence of man can possibly have developed from some single cell purely by accident. In fact, many will find such a vacuous proposition to be an insult to their intelligence.
THE ULTIMATE CLONE
The reality is that God claims for Himself the authorship of all life. He created the different species that humankind is even now experimenting with. In particular, God claims to have made man in His own image. There is something unique and different about humans that sets them apart--genetic similarities to other life forms notwithstanding. There is a spiritual component to a human being that transforms the way the mind works (see 1 Corinthians 2:11).
As Silver points out, "the specialness of humanity is found only between our ears." He remarks, "The essence of human life lies within the human mind, not within inert molecules of DNA. Whether the human mind should be viewed as part of God's domain is, for the time being, a question of faith, not science" (Remaking Eden, pp. 204, 276). Science cannot explain the uniqueness of the human mind through evolutionary theory, yet faith based on the Bible can--in a clear and unambiguous way.
If you want to find out more concerning this burgeoning field of human endeavor, what some of the moral issues and concerns are, and how it will affect humanity in the years to come, these three books are a good place to begin and well worth perusing.