BRAVE NEW WORLD?
Genetic Engineering and Human Dignity
The Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, IIR-ICSA, and the Evangelical Philosophical Society co-sponsored ICSA VII. World Congress on: “Brave New World? Genetic Engineering & Human Dignity,”
Hilton Pasadena, California, 3 August 2012. The fascinating topic attracted colleagues from U.S. and abroad for an all-day conference featuring lively presentations and discussions in interdisciplinary and cross-cultural perspective via 4 thematic Panels: 1.”Making Man in Man’s Image?”: Khaldoun A. Sweis (Oxford Univ./Olive-Harvey College); Maruice Mangum (Texas Southern Univ.); Robert M. Anderson (Argosy Univ.-Hawaii). 2. Utopia: Science & Technology Unbound?: Jeffry C. Davis (Wheaton College); O. Gruenwald (IIR); Emmanuel Inyama (Imo State Univ.-Nigeria). 3. Genetic Engineering & Human Dignity: Robert C. Christie (DeVry Univ.-NJ); Rev. Kyoung-Jin Kim (BaekSeok Univ.-S. Korea); Jesse J. Thomas (San Diego State Univ.). 4. Meet the Author: Dennis F. Polis, God, Science and Mind: The Irrationality of Naturalism. Keynote I: Sweis, “Existing Without My Body: Technological & Spiritual Possibilities”; II: Dr. Ted Baehr (CFTC-Movieguide): “Brave New World: Media Manipulation and Human Dignity.” Session chairs/moderators: Bruce N. Lundberg (Colorado State Univ.-Pueblo); Willem P. Vandemerwe (Indiana Wesleyan Univ.); Davis; Thomas; Jacqueline Gibbs (Academy of Our Lady of Good Counsel-NY); Gruenwald.
ICSA VII was an exciting educational event highlighting the need for interdisciplinary approaches to the promises and pitfalls of scientific-technological innovations which can be used to benefit or hurt humanity. Three famous anti-utopias: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s 1984, and H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, were the inspiration for the conference. It is commonly assumed that science rules the world, but anti-utopias caution regarding the abuse of science and technology by men driven by ambition and unlimited power. The motivations for the abuse of power are as old as the human race. Hence, it is important to distinguish between the human quest for new knowledge and scientific-technological innovations, which reflect human creativity, from the uses and abuses of science and technology to limit or abolish human rights and freedoms.
Conference participants endeavored to address the questions raised in the Call for Papers: that genetic engineering poses a challenge equal to AI’s “transhumanism” in its implications for human dignity and the very notion of what it means to be human. Gentech promises enormous potential benefits via new discoveries in the bio-sciences, from altered plants to growing new tissues, regenerating organs and possibly entire body parts, and greatly extending the human life span. But gentech’s social, psychological, and spiritual implications pose even greater challenges
to human self-understanding. As in Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984, the central
question concerns not only science or technique, but their impact on human self-identity and free
Gentech and AI may appear to replace God and elevate man in His place, since the new powers promise to fulfill humanity’s quest for self-sufficiency and immortality. As stewards of God’s creation, we face the challenge, then: how can science and technology benefit, rather than enslave, all humanity?
Dr. Anderson’s “Cybernetics, Genetic Engineering and the Future of Psychotherapy” highlighted some of these challenges re “predictions describing how psychotherapists may respond to the exponential increase in technology and the rise of globalization. Specifically, in the next 100 years, human beings will increasingly use computers and artificial intelligence and become totally dependent on this relationship. Their very concept of self will evolve so that human beings will incorporate their devices into their self-concept (Clark 2008). Human beings will evolve toward cybernetic organisms with “chip” implants supplementing brain function. Genetic engineering will allow stem cells to be used to regrow damaged brain tissue and to grow new regions in people’s brains. These implants will provide greater memory capacity, computational capacity, and skill sets (Bainbridge 2008). But they will also challenge the very notion of what it means to be a human being. Psychotherapists will need to address these core issues with their clients. Even further into the future it is likely human cloning will be possible. It is also scientifically likely that just as the human genome has been mapped, it will be possible to map the entire brain structure of individual humans. People will be able to make “backups” of their neural structure, grow a replacement clone, genetically engineer it to be as they wish, and implant their neural structure, memories and all, into the clone. “Eternal” life will be possible. Therapists and their clients will have to confront this radical challenge to the meaning of human life. Future humans will truly need to search for their souls (Jung 1955).”
The outstanding question remains, as forewarned in anti-utopias: would the prospect of human-engineered perfection and substitute for “eternal” life come only by bartering away the human soul? Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s classic, Faust, contains an ominous warning regarding the consequences of a wrong choice: “At your first step, free; at the second, a slave.”
In sum, ICSA VII was a successful endeavor thanks to colleagues with broad interdisciplinary interests across the social and behavioral sciences, humanities, biology, physics, and religious studies. All enjoyed the first-class conference venue and the collegiate seminar-style format, which allowed more time for presentation and discussion. Participants were encouraged to bring their laptop or flash drive. All were especially satisfied with the engaging discussions and fellowship shared by guests, family, and friends. Many expressed appreciation for such an academic gathering despite the economic times which alas prevented several colleagues from attending and sharing their insights. Let’s hope and pray that we may continue offering such personal exchanges of latest research. We welcome your support and institutional co-sponsors. Last, but not least, we invite mss. for peer-review and possible publication in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies XXV 2013 on the same theme as the conference (mss. guidelines at: www.JIS3.org/mssguidelines.htm).
Hilton, Pasadena, California, 3 August 2012
Oskar Gruenwald, Ph.D., JIS Editor
ICSA VII Coordinator
Institute for Interdisciplinary Research
International Christian Studies Association
1065 Pine Bluff Dr., Pasadena, CA 91107, USA
Web: www.JIS3.org E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
We invite also paper proposals for a Symposium on: “Interdisciplinary Studies: The Next 25 Years,” Hilton Pasadena, CA, 1-4 August 2013, celebrating the Journal’s 25th anniversary. Call for Papers/Registration on the Journal’s web at: www.JIS3.org/symposium2013.htm. Send 250-word Abstracts to Dr. Gruenwald: email@example.com.