Genetics and Evolution

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Related Topics
Beyond EvolutionReview - Beyond Evolution
The Genetically Altered Future of Plants, Animals, the Earth, and Humans
by Michael W. Fox
The Lyons Press, 1999
Review by Arantza Etxeberria, Ph.D.
May 31st 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 22)

Certain practices made possible by research in biotechnology bring about big changes in the way we perceive and interact with the natural world. In fact, the very concept of nature -as opposed to artifacts or creatures made by humans- may be no longer applicable to the new entities altered by some of present day interventions. This situation certainly demands a lot of thinking and discussing, and probably some of us will feel that many of the techniques and practices so produced are wrong and/or dangerous. Yet, what are the reasons one can present to properly deliberate -and possibly oppose- the course of this research and practices? Reflections intended for criticism or public debate have an obligation for clarity in the reasons offered.

Many types of arguments are possible: scientific arguments will debate whether research is being conducted on a sound grounding, social arguments will consider its consequences for social organisation, ethical arguments will focus on the rights of experimental, and other affected, subjects, political debate will think in terms of programs to better fulfill social or individual needs,... In any case, probably an effective denounce should not be based only on individual subjective reasons, it requires a clear project with which to oppose and contrast the practices we want to condemn.

Unfortunately the motivation of this book seems to be an anger with which some may connect well ("Is the death of nature, even the end of natural evolution, inevitable? Shall we accept the expropriation of God´s creation, the disenfranchisement of an omnipresent divinity that is inside all things?", p. 18). However, instead of a lucid agenda of alternative lives or conditions, the book is based on a defense of an understanding of spirituality that allegedly forces us to a certain behavior towards nature. The author talks about new genetically engineered crops that produce their own pesticides, foods made with genetically engineered ingredients, new transgenic farm animals (humanimals) to produce biopharmaceuticals in their milk, erasure of barriers among species because of genetic pollution by which GEOs (genetically engineered organisms) released into the environment, transgenic animals produced for research or for producing or testing new drugs, etc.

Yet, the mixture of scientific, aesthetic, ethic, and religious reasons offered against the whole enterprise does not help understand and participate with the author's positions: one has the impression that the ultimate reason to oppose novelties is a given idea of nature and life (often referred to as "creation") as "sacred", and this idea is not discussed in itself, but imposed on the reader as a given for humanity. In this situation, even if one could concur with some of the criticisms, it is very difficult not to find the reasons offered for it somewhat wanting. Whatever feelings move each of us to either agree or disagree with present day biotechnologies, public discussion must be based on clear reasons so as to comprehend the scientific foundations of these practices and their consequences for life in this planet and other possible lives.

That is why this book is not for those who want to think carefully about different reasons to support or reject the politics and economics of biotechnologies. Instead, deeply based spiritual feelings and religious beliefs take the author to denounce current practices and the ideologies underlying them. Thus, the book might please readers able and willing to empathize with the views, loathings, and worships of the author, whereas those that prefer colder expositions of scientific, political and ethical reasons for debate will most likely dislike it, even if they do coincide in basic positions (respect for animal life and nature in general, awareness of the dangers of the application of research in biotechnologies, worry about the ethical vacuum with which many practices are being done, concern for the ecological consequences of genetic alterations).

© Arantza Etxeberria, 2001

Arantza Etxeberria, Ph.D., Dept. of Logic and Philosophy of Science, University of the Basque Country, San Sebastian, Spain.


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