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

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

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The New York Academy of Sciences

Presented By

Presented by the Readers & Writers Program


Speaker: Lee M. Silver, Princeton University

Lee Silver will discuss his latest book, Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life, published by Ecco/ HarperCollins at a launch party hosted by the New York Academy of Sciences.

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 its implementation was opaque. Today, the science of molecular biology brings both precision and transparency to the actual genetic and cellular modifications that modern biotechnologists can accomplish. But, ironically, practitioners find biotechnology more contentious than ever. Opponents on both the right and the left—from American Christian fundamentalists fighting against stem cell research to New Age secularists railing against genetically engineered foods—are standing in the way of this scientific miracle.

In Challenging Nature, Silver argues that fear and loathing arise from deeply rooted cultural-religious convictions in the existence of real and proscribed limits to human knowledge and power over the natural world. As a field of knowledge, molecular biology challenges traditional belief in animating spirits. More significantly, biotechnology—the practical child of molecular biology—gives man nearly unlimited power as a God-like animator who can alter and create new forms of life. In different cultural milieus, however, spiritual beliefs confer acceptance or rejection of different realms of biotechnological application.

Silver believes that in the long term, biotechnology and rational control over the biosphere will be required to protect humanity and to develop a system of life on which our descendants can depend for sustenance and spiritual comfort. And slowly, inevitably, over centuries or millennia, Human Nature will remake all of Mother Nature—domesticated and wild—in the image of the idealized world that exists within our own minds, which is what most people have always wanted.

Silver is professor of molecular biology and public affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He is author of the critically acclaimed Remaking Eden and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, and Newsweek International. Silver has been elected a lifetime fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and he received a prestigious MERIT Award for outstanding research in genetics from the National Institutes of Health. He holds a PhD in biophysics from Harvard University and lives with his family in New Jersey and New York.

"A spectacular and riveting book that puts those who reason by assertion of prior traditions on the run. Professor Silver takes no prisoners and yet offers an upbeat and positive view of the human condition. Many people may not agree with his argument. But no one can deny he shakes things up and makes you think and rethink the most basic questions about the nature of human existence. I say Bravo!" —Michael Gazzaniga