Genetics and Evolution

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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 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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 Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe 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 Choosing ChildrenThe Ethics of Human CloningThe Evolution of CooperationThe Evolution of MindThe Evolution of MindThe Evolved ApprenticeThe Evolving WorldThe Extended Selfish GeneThe 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 Selfish GeneThe 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 DragonsVoracious Science and Vulnerable AnimalsWar Against the WeakWhat Genes Can't DoWhat It Means to Be 98 Percent ChimpanzeeWho Owns YouWhose View of Life?Why Evolution Is TrueWhy Think? 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Playing God?Review - Playing God?
Genetic Determinism and Human Freedom
by Ted Peters
Routledge, 2002
Review by Bryan Benham
May 31st 2003 (Volume 7, Issue 22)

The aim of this book, Playing God? Genetic Determinism and Human Freedom, is to examine a number of issues raised by genetic science within the context of a culturally and scientifically informed theological framework, what Peters identifies as a "response theology." In particular, Peters is concerned to expose assumptions of the "gene-myth" that often leads religious thinkers to proclaim that we should stop genetic research or technology because it risks "playing God," revealing a certain human hubris that will ultimately be our moral downfall. Peters' position throughout is that the "gene-myth" is just that, a myth. It is founded on a mistaken understanding of genetics and human freedom, and at its worst threatens to deny certain potentially life-saving and life-enriching technologies. Peters argues that the prohibition against genetic science because it is "playing God" is itself a misleading form of reasoning. Responsible science does not play God. In fact, Peters argues, genetic science is an exemplar of "playing human," an attempt to improve the human condition, decreasing present and future suffering. This, he argues, is consistent with theological conceptions of humans as created co-creators and with the more secular ideas of beneficence. The prohibition against "playing God" does little to further these worthy theological and secular goals.

The book covers a variety of topics in each of its nine chapters. Peters begins with an introductory chapter on the relation between God and DNA, and the types of determinism ("Puppet" and "Promethean") that dominate the discussion of human genetics and freedom. Then there are two chapters on the genetic determinants for behavior, such as the "Crime Gene" and the "Gay Gene." This is followed by a chapter on the commercial use and patenting of genes. And then a series of chapters on germ-line therapy, the cloning controversy, and stem cell research. Peters closes the book with a chapter outlining his "Theology of Freedom," arguing that genetic determinism is not supported by science, and that theological concerns offer a way to guide future use of genetic technologies. The book is an update of the 1997 edition. The updates consist of supplementary passages in the introductory chapter and the addition of new chapters on cloning and the stem-cell controversy. As in the first edition, Peters also includes two appendices, one on the CTNS statement on the Gay Gene Discovery, and another on "Playing God with David Heyd." The book includes notes for each chapter and an index. The book is most appropriate for the informed layperson or undergraduate level courses.

Peters' book is a welcome attempt to discuss the theological arguments about the use or misuse of genetic technology, and some of the misconceptions about human freedom and DNA. He goes some way in showing that many of the religiously motivated arguments are based on false assumptions (viz. the gene myth), however, his gloss of several points leaves the reader somewhat dissatisfied. A couple of chapters stand out as particularly successful, yet the book as a whole represents an awkward and often times confusing mix of philosophical argumentation and Christian apologetics. This is not a book this reviewer would recommend as a comprehensive introductory survey to the topic of genetic determinism, but it does present itself as a curiosity for the interested reader.


2003 Bryan Benham


Bryan Benham is an Assistant Professor (Lecturer) in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Utah. His research areas are philosophy of mind and applied ethics.


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