Scientific Advance: Friend or Foe?
Scientists and non-scientists see the advances of technology in different ways. Scientists, like J. Michael Bishop, look at the possibilities technology offers while non-scientists, like Jeremy Rifkin and Mary Shelley, look at the potential chaos that could be caused by it.
J. Michael Bishop is a professor of microbiology at the University of California, San Francisco. He is also winner of the Nobel Prize. He wrote, "Enemies of Promise" because he wanted to dispel the misconceptions that many people have about science, since he feels that these could have serious consequences for all Americans.
is a well-known social activist who organized the 1968 March on the Pentagon and brought public attention to alleged U.S. war
crimes in Vietnam. He is president of the nonprofit Foundation on Economic Trends. He is both criticized and admired for his condemnation on Biotechnology.
Mary Shelley was the daughter of 2 influential people and became an influential writer herself in the early 1800s. Mary Shelley created a monstrous, powerful myth, which she used to warn ambitious scientists of the potential dangers contained in their creations. Her creation, Frankenstein, will forever be known as the monster that was created by Victor Frankenstein. The monster, a creature without a name of its own, that took the identity of its maker.
Bishop argues that "Resistance to science is born out of fear." He blames ignorance of breeding this fear, and he blames ignorance of being, "our deepest malady" (241). Rifkin and Shelley on the other hand, accuse science of having the potential to evolve into something grotesque, monstrous and frightening. Bishop would say that this fear is born of ignorance while Rifkin and Shelley would argue it to stem from the potentiality of catastrophe, from the inability of man to predict the adaptability of nature, from the inability of man to anticipate the benefits that are likely to result from such experiments, and from the danger of acquiring knowledge and becoming greater than "his" (man's) nature will allow (321).
J Michael Bishop in "Enemies of Promise" argues that we live in an age of scientific
triumph in which science is mistrusted and under attack. He claims that some of the opposition to science comes from familiar sources. Some of these stem from religious fanatics who constantly push for creationism education in the public arena. These groups have a theological foundation to their opposition to the advances of science. The hard-core antagonists of science are the so-called "post-modernists", who accuse science of being a "socially constructed fiction" (238).
According to Bishop, "Fear is one of the great enemies of science" because "resistance to science is born out of fear." The greatest enemy of science is mass ignorance. According to Bishop, it is up to scientists to eliminate the ignorance so that fear can be eliminated in people. He also argues that this will have to be done because "The price of science seems large" but "to reject science is to deny the future" (242).
Jeremy Rifkin in "Biotech Century: Playing Ecological Roulette with Mother Nature's Designs" argues that Biotech trends are dangerous and might lead to the destruction of the "natural" way of life.
Rifkin criticizes most forms of genetic manipulation calling it irresponsible and a danger to the survival of the human species. Rifkin argues that most forms of genetically altered plant and animal organisms are a potential danger to the environment and could, as a result, alter the biosphere along with the ecosystems. This could happen as genetic pollution, in the form of health allergies and as depletion of gene pools.
Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" is a tale of a man who tried to be God-like and create a being only to discover that his creation was grotesque and un-Godly. Victor Frankenstein, according to Mary Shelly, was consumed by the idea of creating a "being like himself" (231). He longed for the adoration that he imagined these beings would feel toward him. He worked at accomplishing his goal with great passion until he was successful, only to discover that the "wretch" that he had created was not human. Frankenstein calls it, "the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life" (235). His bitter disappointment might have stemmed from the knowledge of the sacrifices he had made to get to the point of creation, only to discover that the being had not merited such sacrifice.
Mary Shelley describes Victor's passion with such eloquence that we want him to succeed. We also feel disappointment at the time of creation since such creation was grotesque and monstrous. At a time in modern science when scientists are considering the possibility of cloning human beings, Shelley's story of failure is more powerful and meaningful that it was in 1816, when she invented the possibility of a mere man giving life to a human-like creature. Scientists today should consider Victor's disappointment and horror before attempting to play God.
Bishop argues that we live in an age of scientific triumph (237) while Rifkin and Shelley would contradict by arguing that "to ignore the warnings is to place the biosphere and civilization in harm's way" (253), because the change can be "so rapid," and "the overthrow so complete!" (235)
Bishop blames the opposition to science on misapprehension about what science can and cannot do, while Rifkin blames the Technology Revolution for the proliferation and spread of genetic pollution and the wholesale loss of genetic diversity (253). Shelley blames scientists whose ambitions exceed their, understanding, for the monstrous results of science.
Bishop accuses the religious zealots and the "postmodernists" (237) of labeling science truths as, 'socially constructed fictions,' and 'useful myths' (238). Rifkin accuses "human beings of remaking the Earth for as long as we had a history" (245). He blames scientists, corporations, and governments for manipulating the natural world at the genetic level. He warns that such alteration will bring about the end of the natural world, as we know it. He fears the power of nature to find a way to adapt. Shelley would argue that this adaptation could be dangerously demoniacal. Shelley accuses scientists of wanting to play God without regard to the un-Godly outcome.
Scientists and non-scientists will continue to see the advances of technology in different ways. We need to educate ourselves to logically evaluate technological advances without being biased by our fears. We also have to look at the potential chaos that could be caused by the misuse of technology and genetic manipulations.
The Presence of Others. ED. Andrea A. Lunsford. Boston: Bedford / St. Martin's, 2000. 235-321. Last revised: December 15, 2001