Stem cell research, genetically modified crops, animals developed with personalized human organs for transplantation, and other previously inconceivable biotech applications could increase the quality of all human lives and maximize the health of the biosphere. But ironically, as the science becomes more precise and transparent, it also becomes more contentious. In Challenging Nature, Silver argues that although they seem to have little in common, Christian fundamentalists opposed to embryo research and New Age organic food devotees are both driven by a deeply rooted fear that biotechnology—in some guise—challenges the sovereignty of a higher or deeper transcendent authority. In the short term, Silver writes, Eastern spiritual traditions will give Asian countries a research advantage. But over the millennia, human nature may have the potential to remake Mother Nature in the image of an idealized world.
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Lee M. Silver is professor of molecular biology and public affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton Uni-versity, and author of Challenging Nature. He holds a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard University, and he lives with his family in New Jersey and New York.From Booklist:
The archetype of mortal defiance, Prometheus has found a new champion. Outspoken molecular biologist Silver argues that only scientists willing to join Prometheus in challenging divine prohibitions will ever deliver on the promise of new genetic technologies. Although despairing of ever expunging spiritual beliefs from liberal democracies altogether, Silver hopes that a truly open and rational public dialogue will expose the folly of continuing to allow religious fundamentalists to impose needless restrictions on scientific research. It particularly galls Silver that such religionists often confuse an ill-informed public by cleverly wrapping their religious objectives in scientific rhetoric. Surprisingly, Silver sees the Christian obstructionists of the Religious Right finding allies among the left-leaning, post-Christian devotees of nature. Both groups recoil from the prospect of using new science to improve human genes or to reengineer the plants and animals humans rely on for food. Both groups, Silver asserts, fail to realize that humans have been productively intervening in natural reproductive processes for millennia--and should now use available tools to do so more aggressively, both to minimize human suffering and to maximize ecological health. The relentlessness with which Silver disputes the views of his opponents will impress many readers--and alienate others. But this book will surely fuel precisely the kind of debate Silver recognizes as essential in a democracy sorting out perplexing scientific possibilities. Bryce Christensen
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