email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
A Companion to GenethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Cooperative SpeciesA Mind So RareA Natural History of RapeAcquiring GenomesAdapting MindsAgeing, Health and CareAlas, Poor DarwinAn Introduction to Evolutionary EthicsAncient Bodies, Modern LivesAnimal ArchitectsAping MankindAre We Hardwired?Bang!BehavingBeyond EvolutionBeyond GeneticsBlood MattersBody BazaarBoneBrain Evolution and CognitionBrain StormBrave New BrainBrave New WorldsChoosing ChildrenCloneCloningConceptual Issues in Evolutionary BiologyConsciousness EvolvingContemporary Debates in Philosophy of BiologyControlling Our DestiniesCooperation and Its EvolutionCreatures of AccidentDarwin Loves YouDarwin's Brave New WorldDarwin's Gift to Science and ReligionDarwin's UniverseDarwin's WormsDarwinian ConservatismDarwinian PsychiatryDarwinism and its DiscontentsDarwinism as ReligionDebating DesignDecoding DarknessDefenders of the TruthDo We Still Need Doctors?Doubting Darwin?Early WarningEngineering the Human GermlineEnhancing EvolutionEnoughEntwined LivesEthical Issues in Human CloningEthical Issues in the New GeneticsEvil GenesEvolutionEvolutionEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorEvolution and LearningEvolution and ReligionEvolution and the Human MindEvolution in MindEvolution, Gender, and RapeEvolution: The Modern SynthesisEvolutionary Ethics and Contemporary BiologyEvolutionary Origins of MoralityEvolutionary PsychiatryEvolutionary PsychologyEvolutionary Psychology and ViolenceEvolutionary Psychology as Maladapted PsychologyExploding the Gene MythFaces of Huntington'sFlesh of My FleshFrom Chance to ChoiceFrom Darwin to HitlerGenesGenes in ConflictGenes on the CouchGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenes, Women, EqualityGenetic Nature/CultureGenetic PoliticsGenetic ProspectsGenetic ProspectsGenetic SecretsGenetics of Criminal and Antisocial BehaviourGenetics of Mental DisordersGenetics of Original SinGenetics of Original SinGenomeGenomeGenome: Updated EditionGenomes and What to Make of ThemGlowing GenesHow Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So StoriesHuman CloningHuman Evolution, Reproduction, and MoralityImproving Nature?In Our Own ImageIn Pursuit of the GeneIn the Name of GodIngenious GenesInheritanceInside the Human GenomeInside the O'BriensIntegrating Evolution and DevelopmentIntelligence, Race, and GeneticsIs Human Nature Obsolete?Language OriginsLess Than HumanLiberal EugenicsLiving with Our GenesMaking Genes, Making WavesMaking Sense of EvolutionMan As The PrayerMean GenesMenMood GenesMoral OriginsMothers and OthersNature Via NurtureNever Let Me GoNot By Genes AloneOf Flies, Mice, and MenOn the Origin of StoriesOrigin of MindOrigins of Human NatureOrigins of PsychopathologyOur Posthuman FuturePhilosophy of BiologyPlaying God?Playing God?Portraits of Huntington'sPrimates and PhilosophersPromiscuityPsychiatric Genetics and GenomicsPsychologyQuality of Life and Human DifferenceRe-creating MedicineRedesigning HumansResearch Advances in Genetics and GenomicsResponsible GeneticsResponsible GeneticsScience, Seeds and CyborgsSex and WarSociological Perspectives on the New GeneticsStrange BedfellowsStrange BehaviorSubjects of the WorldSubordination and DefeatThe Age of EmpathyThe Agile GeneThe Ape and the Sushi MasterThe Biotech CenturyThe Blank SlateThe Book of LifeThe Bridge to HumanityThe Case Against PerfectionThe Case for PerfectionThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Century of the GeneThe Common ThreadThe Concept of the Gene in Development and EvolutionThe Debated MindThe Double-Edged HelixThe Epidemiology of SchizophreniaThe Ethics of Human CloningThe Evolution of CooperationThe Evolution of MindThe Evolution of MindThe Evolved ApprenticeThe Evolving WorldThe Fact of EvolutionThe Folly of FoolsThe Future of Human NatureThe God GeneThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Impact of the GeneThe Innate MindThe Innate MindThe Innate Mind: Volume 3The Limits and Lies of Human Genetic ResearchThe Lives of the BrainThe Maladapted MindThe Meme MachineThe Misunderstood GeneThe Moral, Social, and Commercial Imperatives of Genetic Testing and ScreeningThe Most Dangerous AnimalThe New Genetic MedicineThe Nurture AssumptionThe Origin and Evolution of CulturesThe Origins of FairnessThe Paradoxical PrimateThe Perfect BabyThe Robot's RebellionThe Shape of ThoughtThe Shattered SelfThe Stem Cell ControversyThe Story WithinThe Stuff of LifeThe Talking ApeThe Temperamental ThreadThe Terrible GiftThe Theory of OptionsThe Top 10 Myths About EvolutionThe Triple HelixThe Triumph of SociobiologyThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaTwinsUnderstanding CloningUnderstanding the GenomeUnnatural SelectionUnto OthersUp From DragonsWar Against the WeakWhat Genes Can't DoWhat It Means to Be 98 Percent ChimpanzeeWho Owns YouWhose View of Life?Why Evolution Is TrueWhy Think? WondergenesWrestling with Behavioral GeneticsYour Genetic Destiny
The hero of this book is the nineteenth century Moravian friar, Gregor
Mendel, who founded the science of genetics. Not that this was properly
appreciated at the time. In the usual tradition of unsung heroes, after
Mendel's death in 1864 (aged 61), a 'meddlesome monk' destroyed most of his
Part of Tudge's aim in writing this overview of the history and social
implications of genetic theory is to give Mendel his true credit as a
significant scientist, rather than a monk who made a few interesting
observations while pottering around with peas in the monastery garden. Tudge
claims that 'all genetics is footnotes to Mendel' (p.10) and we can only begin
to understand modern discussion of genetics by looking back to Mendel's work.
When analysing ideas and theories, it is certainly important to
understand the historical and social context in which they arise, and Tudge
describes Mendel's background in great detail, alongside his contemporaries,
notably Charles Darwin. Like all the best scientists, Mendel got knocked back
where his own hypotheses and experimentation did not accord with the beliefs of
those with power and influence. Thus he repeatedly failed teaching exams and
continued his work at half pay on account of his radical beliefs. At that
time, it was still not even generally accepted that plants were sexual beings.
'Jesus would surely not have singled out the lilies of the field for such
praise if they had been practising such covert naughtiness.' (56).
The dominant view was that only the male contributed hereditary material
to the offspring, which accorded with the patriarchal culture. This view,
known as spermism (ovists held the opposite view), was reflected in 17th
century illustrations of spermatozoa with little foetuses curled up in the
head. Mendel's view, that both male and female contributed equally, fell foul
of his teaching examiner, Professor E. Fenzl, who was a spermatist. Mendel
nevertheless continued his own research and scientific career. He was well
respected, but even his peers seemed to fail to realise the importance of his
Following a thorough discussion of the historical and social context in
which Mendel began to develop his ideas, Tudge gives a comprehensive overview
of the ideas behind his plant breeding experiments. The book is meticulously
researched, and Tudge's own background in genetics and evolutionary theory
serves him well on presenting a complex subject to a lay reader. Carefully
written, and accessible to a non-scientist like myself, I confess there were
some swathes of theory which I would have skipped had I not conscientiously
waded through for the sake of this review. Tudge is a consistently good writer,
though sometimes a bit dry, and sometimes I felt his attention to detail was
almost over conscientious. His determination to give as complete a picture as
possible, within his area of demarcation, meant that as a reader, I sometimes
felt myself getting lost among the trees, undergrowth and bifurcating pathways,
and losing sight of the woods. However, it is possible to follow his main
arguments and ignore the threads if they are not your thing, though some (in
particular, biologists) may well rejoice in the details.
I suspect that most of us would pick up the book from philosophical or
sociological interest, rather than biological, and Tudge covers many issues
within these fields along the way. One of the many misuses to which so-called
genetic theory has been put is genetic determinism. Tudge describes heredity
as 'perhaps the central obsession of humankind '. Therefore it is not
surprising when it turns up in the Bible as early as Genesis (9:25). All Ham's
descendants were condemned to be slaves, and it is on this invidious principle
that the South African church justified apartheid. 'Genetic determinism is
thus the stuff of racism. It includes the notion that people of different skin
colour (denoting different genes) are of a different clay and, ipso facto,
inferior' (p 177).
Eugenics rears its ugly head fairly early on, having been misunderstood
and misapplied to justify cruel and unjust political practices. Most famously,
there were Hitler's attempts to breed a super race, but chillingly, eugenics
has also been practised (though rather less blatantly) by countries generally
regarded as liberal. There have been sterilisation programmes for the
'feeble-minded' in the USA, Canada, Finland, Norway, Estonia, Finland, Sweden
and Iceland during the 20th century (p. 284).
Tudge also explains why Hitler's programme was not just bad ethics, but
also bad science.
'Adolf Hitler's ambition to breed better people by crossing and selecting
can be seen immediately to be ludicrous. Hitler's particular eugenic balloon
can be pricked simply by reference to scarlet runner beans' (p.244).
Tudge discusses the 'selfish gene' (a term popularised by Richard
Dawkins' highly readable book 'The Selfish Gene'), and apparent contradictions
in the process of natural selection (which can work in opposition to sexual
selection). For example, peacocks' tails may slow the bird down, but this
disadvantage may be outweighed by the positive 'conspicuous consumption'
message given off as a sexual attractant (as indeed with humans).
At first, the book is a little pedestrian, but improves as we get away
from explanations of the science of genetics (worthy, but sometimes tedious)
and into the social uses and implications. My own preference would be for more
philosophical discussion: it is there, but the balance tips more to science
than philosophy. Philosophy is mostly left for the epilogue, and some of it
seems scanty. For example (p. 281), he discusses a possible positive face of
eugenics. Although eugenics in practice has tended to be used coercively, it
is not of course a feature of the technology itself. By virtue of the
principle that people usually choose their own mates (thus effectively making a
eugenic decision), it could extend to include genetic engineering. Parents-to-be
could pay to have the genomes of their future offspring manipulated, and Tudge
appears cautiously in favour of such operation of free choice (compare
arguments for private versus sate education). However, he does not take this
further – it obviously has other implications as 'choice' may well be only the
privilege of the rich, so others are effectively politically excluded just as
much as within more blatantly coercive regimes.
In the epilogue, Tudge's moral stance reduces to cautioning us against 'hubris'.
He discusses several principles fundamental to major religions and secular
ethics, and hubris – the sin of pride, blasphemy or arrogance is common to
all. I find this vacuous; after all, most moral systems exhort some sort of
respect for others and our environment. It is possible to deny that there is
any reason for a moral system to be followed. It is its own justification and
you cannot argue with someone who fails to recognise it. In practice, amoral
people are few, and would probably be recognised as sociopathic. So it does
not get us very far with the particular issues of genetic manipulation and
whatever the future may throw at us. Anyone who wishes to justify experiments
that may, in the view of the rest of us, demonstrate hubris, (eg creating a
human-ape hybrid, as in Maureen Duffy's 'Gor') could presumably cite some lofty
reason for doing so, After all, many who practise vivisection already do. So
we need something more specific.
And what of the 'designer baby'? Possible, certainly, but there will
always be the risk of failures: the stillbirths, the deformities, and Tudge
thinks the price is too high. He rightly points out that we know very well how
to build bridges, but they still fall down. Humans are immeasurably more
complex than bridges, thus there are many more variables which can fail.
Overall, this is a comprehensive and well written overview which needs
close reading, but is worth the effort.
© 2003 Anne Philbrow
Anne Philbrow writes of herself:
I am a self-employed video producer and teach music and
drama on a part-time basis. I have a BA Hons in Philosophy from UCW, Aberystwyth, UK and have done
postgraduate research in Moral and Social Philosophy, specializing in Animal Rights.
In my spare time, I do some freelance writing (book and theater reviews,
articles) and have contributed to Philosophy in Review. I am a user of mental