Humans have always tampered with nature to
produce genetically altered life forms. The rose has been genetically manipulated
for thousands of years and has come to symbolize a kind of perfection or
ideal. Virtually every crop we eat has been "modified" from its original
state over hundreds of years by farmers and scientists in search of desirable
traits. Not one dog species alive today would exist without human intervention
in breeding. But this has traditionally been a very slow process with plenty
of time for nature to correct our bumbling. With the discovery of DNA,
the direct manipulation of genetic
material is now possible. This has become a topic of considerable controversy,
and the implications are far-reaching.
Evolution and Science
Darwin was an English naturalist renowned for his documentation of
and for his theory of its operation, known as Darwinism. His evolutionary
theories, propounded chiefly in two works--On the Origin of Species by
Means of Natural Selection
(1859) and The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871)--have
had a profound influence on subsequent Science, and Religion. In
fact Darwin's work represents (or co-incides with) a major change in the
world of human affairs, a paradigm
"There have been three
great periods of Darwinian thought -- the decades immediately following
the 1859 publication of On the Origin of the Species, when Darwin's ideas
first received wide currency; the 1930s, when the work of R. A. Fisher,
Sewall Wright, and their colleagues ushered in the Modern Synthesis
and the beginning of mathematical work in evolution; and the sixties and
seventies, when William Hamilton, G. C. Williams, Lynn Margulis, and E.
O. Wilson, among others, began working out how the Modern
Synthesis could convincingly explain cooperation and even altruism
for everything from bacteria to humans (a field of inquiry whose avatar
is Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene). We are now entering a
fourth such phase, characterized by two things: an unprecedented deepening
and refining of evolutionary theory, as whole organisms -- especially humans
-- have their genetic code unlocked; and the spread of Darwin's ideas
outside of biology proper to influence psychology, sociology, economics,
philosophy, and law..." -Clay
It was in 1953, when James
Watson and Francis Crick discovered the double helix structure
of DNA. The discovery was a profound, Nobel Prize-winning moment in
the history of genetics, but it did not decipher the messages on the twisted,
ladderlike strands within our cells. No one knew what the human genome
sequence actually was. No one had cracked the code of life. Knowing the
sequence of the human genome is but a single step in the process. To give
an analogy, knowing the sequence of the human genome is like knowing all
the words in a book written in a foreign language and not knowing where
the sentences begin or end.
DNA is responsible for many of our characteristics
and predispositions. The genes in our DNA
can determine our eye color, hair color, make us more likely to suffer
from high blood pressure, alcoholism, and many other traits. The eventual
goal of sequencing the human genome is to determine what the genes in our
DNA do and to find ways to use them to improve health or for commercial
and industrial purposes.
Human Genome Project is an international scientific effort to map all
of the approximately 100,000 genes on the 23 human chromosomes and, eventually,
to sequence the 3 billion DNA base pairs that make up these genes. Begun
in 1990, the study's goal is to understand the basis of genetic diseases
and to gain insight into human evolution. The task of sequencing the human
genome is essentially complete.
The challenge now is to find out how cells
actually use the information in our DNA. With this knowledge in hand, drugs
can be designed to enhance the action of damaged proteins
or inhibit the actions of bad proteins. It is anticipated that in the short
term it will be possible to determine a person's susceptibility to a succumb
to a number of inherited diseases, but not possible to provide any effective
treatment. Perhaps within a decade or so medicine could make enormous strides
in finding ways to cure and prevent diseases such as cancer.
Ridley wrote a book called, Genome : The Autobiography of a Species
in 23 Chapters, (one chapter for each of our 23 genes). It re-evaluates
much of what we had been thinking about genes. The field of genetics
is expanding at such a rate that the text books are out of date and obsolete.
The completion of the Human Genome
project is bringing out the potentially tremendous impact of
genetic knowledge and how it is sure to change our world. It will serve
as a road map of the kind of territory and effects that occur within our
genes, and among our minds, bodies.
We still know very little on this whole
subject. The interrelationships are extremely complex and diverse. Beware
any simple judgments about what genetics mean. There is remarkable potential
to use genetic information to shed light on all kinds of issues. For example,
the genetic record can give insights into the development of species, past
expansion of nomadic peoples, language, personality, stress, memory, sex,
instinct and the effect of the environment. The last chapter contains a
discussion of what free will is, and this is very thought provoking in
its implications for our own lives.
Modern genetics has dramatically broadened
our understanding of stress and its impact on the body. Should we blame
our genes every time we get anxious? Dr.
Bruce Lipton has made exciting progress in the field of Cellular
Consciousness, and has discovered a gene with the function of designing
other genes in response to stress
and environmental conditions. He writes that this means we are not slaves
to our DNA as had been previously implied. The impact of this has yet to
be widely realized but is likely to have enormous philosophical ramifications.
Evolution and Philosophy
According to genetic reductionism,
your chances of avoiding death from malaria are preprogrammed in your genes
and in the genes of the malaria organism. You send out your team of genes
to play the match, and so does the malaria parasite. If their attackers
are better than your defenders, they win. This is not just bad luck, but
a very fatalistic point of view, which has caused great controversy.
It also may explain why the first edition
of On the Origin of the Species sold out in one day. Considered
the father of evolution,
Charles Darwin has been one of the most respected and most reviled figures
in history. Like all famous figures, he has been surrounded by some mythology
as well. What sounds pretty simple was in fact very controversial
for Darwin's time (and it still is today in many parts of the Western world).
What his theory basically stated is that life on earth is simply the result
of billions of years of adaptations to changing environments. What this
theory implied, and what Darwin stated more clearly in his book The
Descent of Man, is that humans, like every other organism on earth,
were the result of evolution.
"Conflict between science and
religion began well before Charles Darwin published Origin of the Species.
The most famous early controversy was the trial of Galileo
in 1633 for publishing Dialogue, a book that supported the Copernicun
theory that the earth revolved around the sun, rather than--as the
Bible suggests-- the other way around.
Most of the States did pass such laws and
for almost 150 years the body of scientific evidence grew, until in 1996,
John Paul II declared that the evolution of organisms is beyond reasonable
doubt and that the conclusions reached by scientific disciplines cannot
be in contradiction with divine Revelation. But for some, the problem remains.
If God did not create everything in six days, then where does God come
into the story of mankind?
The so-called "Scopes
Monkey Trial" of 1925, concerning enforcement of a Tennessee statute
that prohibited teaching the theory of evolution in public school classrooms,
was a fascinating courtroom drama featuring Clarence Darrow dueling with
three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. However
entertaining the trial in Dayton, Tennessee was, it did not resolve the
question of whether the First Amendment permitted states to ban teaching
of a theory that contradicted religious beliefs."
An interpretation of Darwin's theories
on the social level resulted in the eugenics
movement. While eugenics dates back to ancient Greece--Plato introduces
his prescripts for the conception of children with allusions to the advantageous
ways of breeding hunting dogs and game birds--orthodox Darwinists such
Galton and Karl
Pearson saw selective breeding as a way to solve civilization's problems.
Furthermore, Galton, who coined the term "eugenics," saw Darwinist beliefs
as an argument for racial differences. Eugenic ideas were quickly adopted
by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis who felt that many non-Aryan human beings
had weaker minds and that several humans were nothing more than "useless
is the most simplistic explanation of reality: the belief that all that
exists is the physical; there are no higher realities; no psychic or spiritual
truths independent of the physical world. Materialism itself is a meme,
a specific, culturally determined way of thinking about reality.
In contrast to Materialism, Dualism
states that over and beyond the physical reality there is a psychic or
spiritual reality, and that our beings are not limited to the body alone.
From the earliest times the mind has been assumed to be separate from the
In theological terms, Dualism is the belief
that there are two opposite forces (God and Satan) in continual conflict
and that the outcome of the conflict is in doubt until the very end - if
that end should ever come. We live in a dualistic world with dualism being
the basis of philosophy and religion. In western thought, the bible is
the original source about the creation of dualism, with the story of Adam
and Eve distinguishing between good and bad. Is there any life after death,
or did we simply exist before birth? The central theme one who succeeds
in the destruction of the dualism will achieve Immortality and transcend
duality. Jesus and Buddha are teaching the way of the destruction of dualism
in order to enter the paradise.
We are not just feeding our brain senseless
questions. Our thinking actually takes place in a dualistic system. As
far as logic is concerned, the human brain resembles a kind of
analog computer. A thermostat is an example of a simple analog computer
-- it is either off or on, depending on the amount of data
it receives. When a sufficient number of neurons fire in our brain, we
become aware of something which before we were not aware of. In
order to make a value judgment, our brain needs to have two ends to the
yardstick, so to speak. It needs to assume there is black and white in
order to evaluate shades of gray, just as temporal events need a beginning
and an end. And the brain needs good and bad before it can be very morally
Whatever we do not understand we tend to
make into something very bad or very good, so that by comparison we can
have a sense of meaning and implication, so that we can evaluate. So, when
we question the existence of God, if the answer is yes, then no must
"Poor old René
Descartes usually gets the blame for the dualism
that has dominated Western thinking and made us all so resistant to the
idea that the mind can affect the body and the body can affect the mind,
too. He barely deserves the blame for an error we all commit. In any case,
the fault is not so much dualism -- the notion of a separate mind detached
from the material matter of the brain. There is a far greater fallacy that
we all commit, so easily that we never even notice it. We instinctively
assume that bodily biochemistry is cause whereas behavior is effect, an
assumption we have taken to a ridiculous extent in considering the impact
of genes upon our lives.
always begin with many more questions than answers. If there's a loving
God, why does this pain-wracked world groan under so much suffering and
evil? How can he sanction the slaughter of innocent children as the Old
Testament says he did? If God cares about the people he created, how could
he consign so many of them to an eternity of torture in hell just because
they didn't believe the right things about him? If God is the ultimate
overseer of the church, why has it been rife with hypocrisy and brutality
throughout the ages? If the miracles of God contradict science, then
how can any rational person believe that they're true?
If genes are involved in behavior then
it is they that are the cause and they that are deemed immutable. This
is a mistake made not just by genetic determinists, but by their vociferous
opponents, the people who say behavior is "not in the genes"; the people
who deplore the fatalism
and predestination implied, they say, by behavior genetics. They give too
much ground to their opponents by allowing this assumption to stand, for
they tacitly admit that if genes are involved at all, then they are at
the top of the hierarchy. They forget that genes need to be switched on,
and external events -- or free-willed behavior -- can switch on genes.
If you go bungee jumping or take a stressful
job, or repeatedly imagine a terrible fear, you will raise your cortisol
levels, and the cortisol will dash about the body busy switching on
genes. It is also an indisputable fact that you can trigger activity in
the "happiness centers" of the brain with a deliberate smile, as surely
as you trigger a smile with happy thoughts. It really does make you feel
better to smile. The physical can be at the beck and call of the behavioral.
Far from us lying at the mercy of our omnipotent genes, it is often our
genes that lie at the mercy of us". - from the Source
It does often seem that life on earth lives
at the mercy of powerful non-biological forces like volcanic eruptions,
storms, climate change, and even the movement of continents. With the discovery
of DNA it was beginning to seem that our genetic heredity determined who
and what we became. Behaviorism
would have had us believe that we are merely the product of genetic selection
of the fittest.) This theory, and a contingent who facilitated it (like
and Marx) led
to some very dreary prospects for mankind. Theodore Drieser and Steven
Crane, for example portrayed a raw, "slice of life," with characters
subjected to the whims of impersonal, brute forces beyond their comprehension
or control. The theme was aliens in an alien world, with no real
rhyme or reason.
There were some who knew better. Walt Whitman,
for one, was brave enough to proclaim that it is obvious that there is
more to a man than what is "between his boots and his hat." Henry Miller
declared that "all is miraculous" and that at the heart of the miraculous
is "utter simplicity." Nonetheless the measuring and quantifying became
intensely serious, and there began a lot of "throw out the baby with the
spread outside of biology proper to influence psychology, sociology, economics,
philosophy, and law. Literature and the other arts all experienced some
unfortunate expressions of nihilism
and the like. Apart from a bit of healthy muckraking
this was not our finest hour. And to make matters worse this (and the wars)
paved the way for the "action" genre in the media, and handed control of
that situation to the mass-marketing
boys with tight little financial formulas about how many killings and/or
breasts per hour an acceptable TV series must contain or get "dropped".
By the time our children come into puberty, they have witnessed tens of
thousands of such incidents of mindless
violence and gratuitous sensuality. Then we seem puzzled why kids are
having babies and shooting each other? Duh!
Now that we are beaming this crap into
the third world, will we be just as puzzled when other sleeping beasts
begin to stir? The cow is already out of the barn but harkening back to
a dark age morality won't make things right. Goodness is not dependent
upon theology or even upon a faith in God. In fact man's greatest inhumanity
to man has always come out of indignation. Whether is is a righteous attempt
at separation of the lot into a good and a worthless portion, or fear and
bigotry, or holy war, it is man at his worst.
Continuing to ignore the situation is no
better. Precious few solutions have been offered up for this thorniest
of problems. In that sense, deed is more important than creed. "Every
inherited 'morality' begins with an answer on whose behalf all questions
must constantly rearrange themselves."
In the end, science neither proves nor
disproves the existence of God. More often than not, the scientific evidence
can be read either way. Apart from moral considerations it is very likely
that the vertebrate genome is going
to be re-written. Hopefully everyday physical and mental health will
be the result, and sublime well-being will become the norm.
Meanwhile, your genes belong to you, a
biological grounding for your human nature. Your genes are activated by
events in the external world, by the activity of other genes, and apparently
by your own free will. Our genes shape us, but now we know that we shape
them in turn.
In an interview, a mother declared that
she would rather see her child dead than to except evolutionism
and give up the fundamentalist
principles by which she had raised the child.
The important point is the understanding
of the heart. The Bible is not threatened by responsible scientific investigations.
But those who seek to us it to prove that "if
we are right, then they must be wrong," still feel threatened.
Discovering deeper meaning and purpose of life through the scriptures need
not deny or distort the data of science. Once again wisdom begets inclusion,
and perhaps we are one step closer to unitive consciousness.