Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life review Ì 103

Lee M. Silver Æ 3 characters

Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life review Ì 103 ´ Biotechnology is the oldest and most widespread of inventions providing sustenance for humankind since the beginning of civilization Until recently however its tools were crude and Ied crops On the right religious Americans want embryo stem cell research to be a felony While they share seemingly little beyond mutual contempt Silver argues that both political camps are driven consciously or subconsciously by a fundamental fear of violating a higher spiritual authority imagined either as the creator God of the Bible who rules from above or a vague Mother Nature goddess here on earthIn Challenging Nature Silver offers a provocative look at the collision of science religion pseudoscience and politics A hands on scientist who has actua. Dr Silver will surprise you and maybe even bring a few mad chuckles out with his wild and sad but true stories of genetic mutations but it isn't enough to save this book The first hundred pages are fascinating and then the book slips into his true agenda Whenever someone attacks something that benefits health and environment as he does with organic farming I get skeptical because there's often profit involved He takes a route I have seen in conservative anti science lobbying firms compare natural carcinogens that occur in lima beans and coffee to dangerous synthetic ones like DDT This is an atrocious distortion of the truth You can't compare a lifelong consumption of a natural chemical to a synthetic chemical that would kill you if you ingested a mg of it He is also either ignorant of the scholarly research or is lying through his teeth when he argues vitamins are a sham Why I don't know Maybe he wants his branch of science to be the only solution The book is littered with logical fallacies like weak analogies Silver tries to euate environmentalists with Christians but not all environmentalists worship the planet the way Christians worship the Bible It's really like comparing apples to oranges He does the same to animal rights activists but again not all animal lovers are members of Peta Much of Silver's ideas consist of assumptions and he fails to acknowledge the basis of just ethics One can be an ethical and responsible citizen or scientist without the need to destroy nature or life That doesn't make them a lunatic Many scientists are turning to humane and reliable means like computer modeling to replace the unnecessary testing on animals To compare the obstruction of stem cell research based on religious beliefs to the petition to stop biotech corporations from creating Frankenfoods that we all eat is also a weak analogy I get the sense he has much invested in the industries he defends here in this book Worth the read to spark some thinking and debate and there are some great highlights and points but the book goes south after page 100

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Lly manipulated genes he leaves the laboratory traveling the globe in what he calls “one scientist's journey from a cloistered community in which life is assumed to be combinations of complex molecules and information flow between them to a world of humanity dominated by soul and spirits and to the intense chaos of Mother Nature at large” The result is a fascinating book that could provide a wake up call for the West where the economic ramifications of pseudoscience may be enormous a future in which Asia becomes dominant in biotechnological advances. This book is interesting yet overall not that good Silver has alot of opinions on alot of things but the thesis of this book could have probably been wrapped up in a few pages There is no god because embryonic stem cells can be created from nothing thus life just happens Thats fine don't see why Silver needs to take his wife and children on a worldwide tour including trips to see giant otters in the simply to make the point that since God doesn't exist we can get rid of the otters At least I think that was his point although I suspect he was probably just reading the book 1491

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Challenging Nature The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of LifeBiotechnology is the oldest and most widespread of inventions providing sustenance for humankind since the beginning of civilization Until recently however its tools were crude and its implementation was opaue Today new understanding in the life sciences brings both precision and transparency to the process Modern inventions could alleviate human suffering feed the world and at the same time stem the tide of earth's ecological degradation Yet ironically biotechnology becomes ever contentious On the left New Age secularists rail against genetically modif. There are many moderates on either side of the debate who would like to believe that science and religion operate in mutually exclusive spheres non overlapping magisteria if you will and are not inherently in conflict as fundamentalists on both sides of the issue would have you think Sadly for science the fundamentalists are right and given the fact that those with a religious perspective continually strive to interfere with science in both the classroom evolution vs non intelligent design and in the lab stem cell research strong voices are needed to uash the ridiculous nonsense propagated by those operating with a bronze age system of beliefs That’s where Lee M Silver comes in “Challenging Nature The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life” examines the conflict which arises from the biological sciences including stem cell research the beginning of life cloning mood enhancing drugs like antidepressants and other forms of biotechnology Silver examines the arguments used by religious fanatics to distort and obfuscate science and the political machinations they employ to codify their irrational worldview into law to the detriment of us all A rarity Silver possesses both the scientific and literary skills to present a cogent defense of science The book is also superbly written and fascinating to read It should be noted that the book came out in 2003 when Bush occupied the White House and had appointed anti science religious crusaders to key positions within his administration Though circumstances have temporarily changed with the election of Obama these zealots have not gone away and will bide their time until they can once again continue their process of dismantling the constitution in the name of jeessus In the second half of the book Silver takes on irrationality on the left and those who attribute a spiritualized version of Mother Nature to the natural world This takes the form of those who believe natural is better than artificial everything is natural including arsenic and malaria that dietary supplements are better for you than pharmaceuticals the latter go through a rigorous testing program while the former do not that organic foods are healthier than non organic or genetically modified foods there is no supporting evidence for this claim and others There’s good evidence supporting these positions and he makes a compelling caseHe loses me though when he applies this hyper rationalistic approach to species extinction in which he asserts that species have always gone extinct from natural causes climate change asteroids etc and that the planet has always recovered Humans are just the latest natural disaster to cause a widespread reduction in biodiversity and that the planet measured by its biomass can thrive where ecosystems are controlled by scientists I have two criticisms to make one based on rationality the other on humanity1 Silver falls into the trap of scientific hubris He assumes that with a solid scientific understanding of natural ecosystems that we will be able to manipulate the environment to the maximum benefit of humans While the loss of the giant panda may not materially affect the uality of life of most people a thriving ecosystem is built upon a series of complex interactions between species You can chip away at biodiversity but at some point you may reach a point where a balance is upset and the system collapses remember that stacking game Jenga It’s not clear that the human mind is capable enough to fully grasp the complex interactions posed by natural systems or that even if it were the resources exist to monitor nature to the level of detail needed to ensure that it functions correctly Certainly the history of human meddling in the environment doesn’t lend support his position A few easy examples include global introductions of non native species and hive collapse in bees Each has serious and negative conseuences for humans and so far scientists have yet to offer any solutions of value To conclude based on current evidence that scientists can fine tune the environment seems to me the height of arrogance2 Biodiversity adds a richness to our existence Though I’ve never seen a cheetah in person I’ve seen them on television and read about them These incredible animals are powerful examples of natural selection at work and their beauty and speed make my life is richer for their existing Looking at it another way imagine a bland foodpaste that contains all the ingredients necessary to optimize human health but only if you ate it for every single meal for the rest of your life Would Silver or anyone give up the richness of the experience of food in favor of this paste I doubt it Yet Silver seems ready to doom future generations to a poverty of biodiversity simply because he sees no utilitarian value to cheetahs giant otters or pandas