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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Saturday, November 25, 2006

East, West, Christian, post-Christian - what's the buzz?

A simplistic way of looking at Lee M. Silver's Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life is to see it as an exploration of contrasting Eastern and Western attitudes toward biotechnology, and contrasting (yet strangely similar) attitudes toward it within the West, where a further distinction can be made between the largely Christian US and the largely post-Christian nations of Europe.

There is more to the book than this, but the critical point seems to be that Western culture is haunted by monotheism, even in nations where few people believe in the orthodoxly conceived God of the Abrahamic tradition. For many who have been influenced by New Age or environmentalist beliefs, Nature is now seen as a kind of god with a will that we must not defy - a sort of matriarchal successor to the traditional deity. As Silver perceives the situation, even individuals who claim to be entirely secular in their approach are frequently influenced by pervasive forms of Western spirituality.

By contrast, Silver argues, Eastern belief systems and forms of spirituality do not emphasise the will of any single god, and they have no concept that nature in its current form must not be violated.

This thesis is intended to explain why European nations have been especially hostile to the genetic engineering of food, which is seen as contrary to a certain conception of the natural order, while the US has been relatively relaxed about allowing GM crops, despite widespread and fiercely expressed opposition to anything that could be seen as tinkering with human souls. On the other hand, industrialised nations in Asia, such as Japan, Singapore, and Korea, show little inclination to reject biotechnology.

I am, of course, simplifying the argument and the book's broader scope. However, even this simplified version of Silver's thinking is worth discussion. There is some evidence that gives it support, since biotechnology has encountered a much lower level of emotional resistance in Eastern countries, raising the possibility that those countries may (continue to) be less willing to prohibit or regulate research of kinds that are considered morally problematic in the West. If that is the case, they are likely to take the lead in the development of many aspects of twenty-first-century biotech.


PacRim Jim said...

If nature evolved us humans to engineer genetically, nanotechnologically or in any other manner, what could possibly be the objection thereto? Is not nature all-wise? If not, then it is our duty to correct it.

george said...

Nature may not be all-wise, but it's all-wiser than we've proven to be in our applications of technology. Nanotech and biotech give us the power to completely transform nature. Let's use it judiciously.

sy said...

The primary and final authority for Christian ethics is found in the life, teachings, ministry and death of Jesus Christ as the revelation of God. He clarified the ethical demands of a God-centered life by applying obedient love or agape to all human situations, both personal and social, and insisted this included the earthly as well as the eternal, and required our best actions amid the relativities of the present world.