A major three-part series entitled "Our Genes/Our Choices" will be aired on Public Television in January. The Committee on Science, Technology and Faith recommends these programs to parish and campus groups as focus-points for small-group discussions in areas where ethics/ theology meet science/technology.
The programs consider some of the choices that thousands of Americans are now facing, as modern medical technology offers treatments and information that require careful deliberation by people of faith. Part of the acclaimed Fred Friendly Seminars originating at Columbia University, the series features panel discussions of real stories from contemporary life that require choices impacting not just the health and security of individuals, but also, in some cases, the biological future of the human species.
Each program features a diverse panel of healthcare professionals, lawyers, ethicists, scientists, religious leaders, and genetic counselors. The first program is called "Who Gets to Know? Genetics and Privacy," moderated by Harvard law professor Arthur Miller. The second discussion, "Making Better Babies: Genetics & Reproduction," is moderated by NBC's John Hockenberry. The discussion panel for the third, "Genes on Trial: Genetics, Behavior & the Law," is moderated by Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree and includes Network member Colin Gracey, the Episcopal Chaplain at Northeastern University.
Airing is scheduled for January. Check local listings. For further information on the series, consult the website at Our Genes/Our Choices.
The classic theology text, Introduction to Theology, by Network member Owen Thomas, is now out in a third edition, co-authored by Ellen Wondra (Morehouse, 2002; ISBN: 0819218979). Thomas, who earned a doctorate in physics before turning to theology, was professor of theology at Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) for many years. He is currently an adjunct faculty member at the Graduate Theological Union, in Berkeley (GTU). Wondra is associate professor of theological studies at Bexley Hall.
In the introduction, the authors state that theology "must deal with fundamental question of the nature and meaning of existence, and it must interpret all areas of human experience, including the physical and human sciences, in light of the biblical revelation." They consider science and technology in an integrated fashion throughout the book, for example, in the chapters on Revelation, Providence, Humanity, and Eschatology.
Congratulations to the authors on the publication of this revision. As with both earlier editions, this one is certain to be important in training clergy and lay leaders in theological methodology.
On behalf of the entire Episcopal Church Network for Science, Technology and Faith, the Network Board and Executive Council Committee (pictured above) send greetings and congratulations to the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (pictured below). The Network expresses its desire and willingness to work with committees of similar interest throughout the Anglican Communion.
Archbishop Williams is a theologian with an interest in science-and-religion matters. In 1991, when he was Professor of Theology at Oxford, he directed the annual retreat of the Society of Ordained Scientists.
In his first Christmas message to the Anglican Communion, he writes, "Behind the low door of the stable is infinity--and more, an infinity of mercy and lover. So straining our eyes to see a distant God; but a God whose fullness dwells in that space we are not small and simple enough to enter.... There is no way into his little space without shedding our great load of arrogant self-reliance, bluster, noisy fear and fantasy." For the complete message see Worldwide Faith News.
Deacon Josephine Borgeson, a Network Board member, will be facilitating an on-line course from the Center for Anglican Life and Learning (CALL) at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. The course begins on 24 February and extends to 13 April 2003. It is designed for those who would like to develop science and theology dialogue at the congregational level. Specific examples will be drawn from the life sciences. Several National Center for Science Education staff members‹scientists active in their congregations‹will be involved as resource people.
For more information about content and design, contact the instructor, Phina Borgeson.
In the beginning, God. There was no space and time had not begun. Then God said, "Let there be a cosmos"; and there was a cosmos, smaller than a grain of sand. And God saw that the cosmos was good; and in it God separated space from time, and caused both to grow. Space was very hot, and God filled it with quarks, gluons, electrons, photons, and other creations. And there was a beginning and a growing, the first stage.
And God said "Let there be light"; and as the space grew, it cooled, and the quarks and gluons condensed like the dew into protons and neutrons, and as the space expanded further, the protons and neutrons and electrons condensed into atoms of hydrogen and helium, and then there were no more free electrons to trap the photons, and the photons became light. And there was continuing beginning and growing, the second stage.
As the space continued to grow, it became very cold. And God said, "Let the atoms be gathered together, and let stars and galaxies appear"; and wrinkles in space caused the atoms to be gathered together into stars, the stars become hotter than the hottest furnace, and the hydrogen was cooked to make helium, and the helium to make other elements, and in this way was all matter created. And God saw that it was good. And there was continuing beginning and growing, the third stage.
Then God said, "Let there be planets, not fiery hot like the stars, yet not cold like space, but each one warmed by a star"; and the wrinkles in space caused some stars to collect clouds of dust, and the dust to gather together into planets, and the planets to move in orbits around their stars. Since the planets were not hot, their atoms combined into molecules, creating stuff of many different kinds. And one star in one galaxy was called "Sun," and one planet belonging to Sun was called "Earth." And God saw that it was good. And there was continuing beginning and growing, the fourth stage.
When it was first formed, Earth was a place of chaos. As the Spirit of God moved over the chaos, God said, "Let dry land appear." And the waters on Earth gathered into seas and oceans, and the dry land formed continents. Then God said, "Let Earth bring forth life." And there developed some molecules capable of self-replication, and these eventually evolved into single-celled creatures. From these evolved all the plants of the oceans and the dry land, all the fish of the sea, all the birds of the air, and all the animals on dry land. And God saw that it was good. And there was continuing beginning and growing, the fifth stage.
Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness." And God selected creatures which were very close to God¹s design for humankind, and from these evolved new creatures called Man and Woman. God blessed Man and Woman, and God gave them care over and responsibility for the part of God's cosmos called Earth. God saw everything that God had made, and indeed it was very good. And there was continuing beginning and growing, the sixth stage.
The Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center invited me to a conference co-sponsored the University of San Francisco Jesuit Foundation, 27-28 September 2002 at USF. I was not surprised when an invitation to an "intelligent design conference popped up in my e-mail in box. I was surprised and disappointed, though, that it included an enthusiastic endorsement by an Episcopal youth worker.
The IDEA Center grew out of the IDEA Club at the University of San Diego, and now is seeking to reach out to students on other campuses, to promote "a better understanding of the evidence for intelligent design theory, and how it supports a Christian world view." Publicity for the conference made it appear an opportunity for open dialogue, for students and others to explore their questions of the relationship between creation and evolution. Knowing something about the intelligent design movement, and reading the releases skeptically, I expected it would not be. I and went prepared to find out just what "good-spirited discussion and a better understanding of the creation-evolution issue" would look like.
In the meantime, I began a conversation with the zealous youth worker, so that I could go prepared to listen to what the students attending the conference were thinking and asking. When I arrived on the Friday, I deliberately sat at a table of young adults. In the course of that evening and all day Saturday, we watched a lengthy video, Unlocking the Mystery of Life, and heard speakers on philosophy (Paul Nelson), apologetics (Jay Wesley Richards), the origins of life (Edward Peltzer), and the Cambrian explosion (Paul Chien). Break out sessions offered more critiques of the alleged implicit "religion" of neo-Darwinism, more "intelligent design theory", more chances to watch videos, and help with starting your own IDEA club.
One student, an agnostic with a double major in psychology and philosophy, commented that she came with an open mind, but found the presentations on the whole to be largely negative: no positive case was made for a designer. She also identified that many of the presenters, while espousing religious neutrality, seemed to assume a conservative Christian audience. A Roman Catholic student of philosophy was concerned that the "intelligent design" theorists seemed to be redefining science. "I'm not ready to throw out falsifiability," he commented. He questioned at length the various speakers' methodology in apologetics and natural theology, and concluded his dissent, addressing me, by saying, "I'm like you, I'm a committed Christian, and just hate it when people like this make Christians look stupid." A student of marine biology was unconvinced by Michael Behe's final presentation on "irreducible complexity", and embarrassed that her boyfriend, a psychology major, was taken in by it.
All the insights and questions of these students are good news. Apparently the IDEA Center's efforts to recruit advocates for "intelligent design" among youth and young adults, and to bring an IDEA club soon to a campus near you, will not be easy.
I left the conference clearer about the theological shortcomings and scientific vacuity of the "intelligent design" movement. I also left wondering what we Episcopalians are doing to offer our younger members a solid grounding in how a theology of creation and a scientific understanding of evolution work together, each enriching the other. Most of the students I talked with at the IDEA Conference had no idea that there were scholars of evolution and religion involved in a positive dialogue.
Two recent books provide interesting contrasts in thinking about our human biological future, Redesigning Humansby Gregory Stock and Our Posthuman Futureby Francis Fukuyama, depict the years ahead for the development of human evolution.
In both of these books, the questions for the authors involve post human existence--that is the science driven modifications of homosapiens, the current evolutionary model, shaped for millennia by environmental and behavioral influences. Stock and Fukuyama believe intentional genetic alteration of humans soon will dominate the extension of human species.
Throughout his book, Stock postulates a singular theme--genetic manipulation through germ line biological change is inevitable, is already well under way and, despite setbacks in gene therapy, will engage all facts of human life in the next century. He believes that the arrival of "safe germline technology will signal the beginning of human self design." While Stock understands that mistakes and bad outcomes in genetic manipulation will be made, as in any new development, he is convinced that we, the inhabitants of this planet, will desire many of the results of this work and that government will not erect significant barriers to its use.
While Stock is fully committed to the biological realm, he remains unconvinced by artificial intelligence, as promulgated by Ray Kurzweil and others, in which computer technology would make possible neural implants that would drastically change the communications of the human brain. By focusing his thought on our biological future, Stock feels we can make use of regular advances in technology without seeking to replace biological functions with created devices, a process called "cyborgization." Indeed, "genetic manipulation is biology's bid to keep pace with the rapid evolution of computer technology."
Stock contrasts somatic gene therapy with germline interventions, believing that the technically easier path to success is through the latter. He acknowledges that somatic gene therapy, in which alteration of body cells will not affect future generations is well within the accepted medical framework but finds the process replete with difficulties not found in germline experimentation. Stock expects germline procedures to be advanced in the areas of the human genome, clinical medicine, animal transgenics and human infertility.
One area of human medicine Stock believes will be directly affected is pharmacogenetics--"tailoring pharmaceutical interventions to people's individual genetic constitutions." He believes animal genetic research will advance the day when the manipulation of the genetics of children is possible. Stock also sees infertility as a significant receptacle of germline research, forecasting the time when, with advanced in vitro fertilization, "people may view sex as essentially recreational and conception as something best done in the laboratory."
Stock goes on to suggest ways in which single generation germline manipulations might be possible with the use of auxiliary chromosomes together with specifically designed drugs. He also deals with extending the human lifespan and radical approaches to AIDS treatment.
Stock is basically opposed to direct governmental control of human biological research, believing that people will desire many of its outcomes and that the market and people's acceptance will effectively control its future direction. Stock says, "the biggest challenge we face from germline technology is not from its failure, since that would leave us where we are now. Success is what will tax our wisdom, because that would force us to come to grips with the medical, political and philosophical implications of self-directed human evolution."
Fukuyama begins his book by referencing Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, a far-reaching set of predictions published in 1932. Fukuyama finds the basic core of Huxley's work to be correct, that human nature defines our values, what is just and unjust, and that contemporary biotechnology is a significant threat because it will alter human nature and thus, create "posthuman" existence.
Fukuyama finds three directions that are now in process that will affect this posthuman future: neuropharmacology, the science of human personality drugs; the major extension of life expectancy through genetically conceived replacement body parts and direct genetic insertion; and genetic control of characteristics in human reproduction.
Before moving to discuss these directions, Fukuyama briefly recalls the work of the last century on brain science and the inheritability of intelligence, particularly noting attempts to relate genes with mental capacity. He also reviews the debate over possible links of genes with crime and the questions of homosexual/genetic linkage.
Fukuyama points to neuropharmacology with its wide commercial success with such drugs as Prozac, Zoloft and Ritalin and the promise of many more psychotropic drugs to increase the medicalization of human behavior. Neuropharmacology, with further research, exhibits the possibility of both social control by administers of the drugs and its use to achieve political correctness and societal commonness. He feels these mood and personality modifying medications demonstrate a significant direction in human specie alteration, albeit one in its early stages. He notes, "we don't have to await the arrival of human genetic engineering to foresee a time when we will be able to enhance intelligence, memory, emotional sensitivity and sexuality, as well as reduce aggressiveness and manipulate behavior in a host of other ways."
If biotechnology enables the significant extension of the human life span, Fukuyama predicts a whole series of political and economic manifestations. Steadily rising in the more developed countries, increased life expectancy would dramatically raise the number of persons dependent on the active, productive sector of the population. It would produce a tendency to the "feminization" of the world (because, of course, women live longer) with its effect on government in which women dominate the process and their reluctance to use of force to resolve conflicts. And it would create in the next 50 years a "postsexual" society where sexual desire is not an element for the majority of the population.
The third direction of Fukuyama's trilogy is genetic engineering where, again, he lays a historical groundwork for speculating on possible genetic changes ahead. He is convinced that somatic and germline experimentation must and will go ahead, but he is distinctly concerned with the possibility of unintended consequences, common to a great many developments in science.
Fukuyama then goes on to describe the various sources of opposition to human biological manipulation including the reoccurring fear of uncontrolled eugenics, our ability as a people to exert reasonable control over experimental work, the worry of irreversible change in generational characteristics, and, what might be called, the basic religious position of humanity as born in the image of God and the accompanying individual dignity of each person. He is particularly strong in his condemnation of scientists who view religious objections as uninformed and likely to disappear with more education.
The remainder of the book details Fukuyama's philosophical positions of human rights, human nature and human dignity, constructing, in his thought, a solid basis for evaluating the consequences of worldwide developments in human biotechnology. Fukuyama is fundamentally concerned with maintaining control of these ever moving advances of scientific knowledge, returning again and again to the political and social impacts which almost certainly lie ahead. He calls for the "building of institutions that can discriminate between good and bad uses of biotechnology and effectively enforce these rules both nationally and internationally."
While both authors agree that human biotechnology offers the potential for greatly improved opportunities for control of disease, damaging hereditary characteristics and improved quality of mental and physical life, they differ sharply both on the rationale for control and the methods society should exert to construct for a post human future.
For the religious community, only Fukuyama's book notes the position of organizations of belief, and then primarily of negative import--stop, don't go there. Here, perhaps, is one of our greatest challenges: to build a carefully reasoned ethical argument with which to impact the march of inevitable scientific development.