This is It
I’m in the midst of E. O. Wilson’s Consilience: the Unity of Knowledge, preparing for my long-procrastinated research paper, when I stumble across the following passage Wilson quotes from Nicolas de Condorcet (a French 18th century Enlightenment philosopher):
“‘How consoling for the philosopher who laments the errors, the crimes, the injustices which still pollute the earth and of which he is often the victim in this view of the human race, emancipated from its shackles, released from the empire of fate and from that of the enemies of its progress, advancing with a firm and sure step along the path of truth, virtue, and happiness! It is the contemplation of this prospect that rewards him for all his efforts to assist the progress of reason and the defense of liberty’ (22).”
Pages later I encounter the following ruminations from the author himself:
“And there is another concern: that a science-driven society risks upsetting the natural order of the world set in place by God or, if you prefer, by billions of years of evolution…Even Winston Churchill, whose country was saved by radar, worried after the atom bombing of Japan that the stone age might return ‘on the gleaming wings of Science’ (37).”
Then it hits me: This is what we’ve been discussing all semester long. Should we clone? Should we eradicate genetic disease? Should we augment and enhance our genomes? When is genetic engineering appropriate? We’ve witnessed the aspirations and good-intent of many hopeful Condorcets throughout this course, yet we’ve also seen the perversion, destruction and despair that so often lie in the wake of their mishandling. Are these fictions wrought purely from fear and paranoia, or is there any truth within their pages? Who is right?
I’m not convinced there is an answer, but here’s my personal stance: the potential benefits genetic engineering and scientific advancement lend the human race far outweigh the costs, but it needs to be controlled, to borrow from Condorcet, with “firm and sure steps.” I don’t fear the eradication of all genetic disease. I don’t fear cloning, because I trust that we have been forewarned enough in literature to ethically handle the issue when it, inevitably, returns to the forefront. Reasonable expectations need to be set with a general idea as to the intended consequences. Following a period where scientific achievements and innovations came one after the other, year after year, baby steps should be taken to ensure such experimentation is treated as carefully as possible; after all, not only can these discoveries drastically change the world we inhabit, for better or for worse, but also ourselves and the generations to come. Push it too far too quickly and it can spiral out of our control.
As the saying goes, better safe than sorry. Now, back to reading.