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ss nucleus - winter 2002,  Brave New Worlds - Genetics and the Human Experience

Brave New Worlds - Genetics and the Human Experience

Bryan Appleyard, Harper Collins 2000, £8.99 Pb 224pp, ISBN 0-00-6551440

Bryan Appleyard is well established as one of today's most respected science commentators. In view of this Brave New Worlds ought to terrify us.
Appleyard argues that the 'mighty gene', as it is currently being promoted, is likely to devastate the way our culture views spirituality, removing the last vestiges of religious belief, and with it the last hope of meaning, significance and morality in our society. Religion has already long been running from advancing science, but he argues that the hardest blow is still to come as genetics undermines the 'last refuge' of spirituality - the self. The cause of the gospel has been greatly hindered in the West, partly as a result of an inward-looking spirituality that has no confidence in the public arena. Now genetics wants to advance science through this final frontier to explain our private inner world.

What might this mean? We will potentially lose any foundation for morality, as our behaviour is increasingly thought to be determined by our genes. We face the spectre of eugenics, as people will inevitably want to improve their genetic make up. 'The free market takes over where Nazism left off.' Under the guise of screening for 'disease', we will increasingly aspire to some idea of genetic normality that will be dictated by fashion. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is uncomfortably close.

Appleyard is not scaremongering but argues from what has already been said and done. Though his prognosis is pessimistic (and he argues that given human history there is no reason for us to be otherwise), he suggests that we should take every opportunity to challenge this silently-approaching monster. As future Christian doctors we should consider whether we have a special responsibility to confront this issue.

Though not a Christian, Appleyard is sympathetic, and sees clearly the potential spiritual consequences of the genetics revolution. In Jesus, we look forward to the new heaven and new earth and the day when every knee will bow to him; but for the sake of lost humanity we are charged to take up the struggle for God's values in his world, and at the moment many of us are running scared. This book deserves to be read because our society needs to know that we have souls that need saving, not genes that need fixing.

Reviewed by James May, a GP in Guildford and a former CMF staffworker

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