This is a second and a final part of Dr Hodges’ article. The first part can be found here.
Professor John Hodges
Although transcendent values have been sidelined while materialism, financial profit and consumerism dominate the scene, occasionally religious leaders have spoken about the terminal nature of this world view. The more sensible spokesmen among them have called for inclusion of transcendent values in the daily routines of life, to build positive human communities and to restrain human brutalities based only upon self-interest. Under economic prosperity, most people have turned a deaf ear to such views. Now
an extraordinary and radical change has taken place among the prophets. Today secular leaders proclaim the end of civilisation as we know it unless we change. Many now take up the theme of the religious leaders in calling for ethical behaviour based upon transcendent values in the public place and in the market and for government regulations based upon these ancient human values. We frequently hear from secular leaders in all areas of life including a few top scientists, for example, astrophysicist Professor Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society and Master of Trinity College Cambridge, that Payback Time has already begun and it may be too late to change (Rees, 2003). We are on a course of self-destruction. The threats we create come from human actions motivated by greed and short-term benefits that erode sustainability in human institutions, in the environment and in the community of life. Most people agree intellectually but do little to change.
Thirty years ago, one of the earliest secular leaders to foresee this sorry state of affairs was Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who, speaking at the 1978 Harvard University Commencement Ceremony, predicted the end of Western civilisation. He had confronted the evil Soviet system and after suffering in the Gulag had been expelled from his own country and was living at the time in exile in the USA. His view was that our worldview of materialistic consumerism would fail. He noted that the West was already committed to humanism and had rejected the transcendent values of historic Christianity that had guided Europe and its cultural colonies for nearly two millennia. We now know he was right. Thoughtful leaders in the 21st century are asking for those transcendent values to be brought again into the fabric of life and commerce. Scientists have a special role in re-introducing ethics in the food chain which in recent decades has become simply another global business.
Molecular biology and genetic manipulation are currently the frontier topics of science especially in thefood chain. How do they and the scientists working in this field fit into the present world view that has been described? Two characteristics are central. First, molecular biology is highly complex and knowledge of it is minimal. We are dipping our toes into an ocean of integrated systems that will take decades to measure and to understand. Second, this universe of molecular biology lies at the heart of life. Everything we change, or even try to change, in the plant and animal agro-bioresources of the planet carries implications for unknown effects on life in its many forms. We are at the frontier of what it means to be human and civilised. That is why we need to stop and carry out “due process” in the scientific realm before seeking to modify the genomes of livestock. Our knowledge of the inner universe of the mammalian genomes is primitive. Accumulated human wisdom should warn us that tinkering with the genomes of other mammalian species so close to our own is fraught with danger. It is time to question the Enlightenment motto that “Man is the measure of all things”. As scientists in the food chain, we can look back to a success story of increasingly cheap and surplus food in the West since 1945. That transformation involved substantial inputs from governments and societies in addition to science and market forces. Now we must realistically address the needs of the billions of poor and hungry at a higher moral level than simply viewing them as a market from which we can make money. We need to return to the couplet of doing good science and also doing good.
GENETICS AND REVISIONIST GENETICISTS