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Biotech’s Trouble With Religion
Dr. Lee M. Silver is a professor at Princeton University in the Department of Molecular Biology and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He also has joint appointments in the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy, the Center for Health and Wellbeing, the Office of Population Research, and the Princeton Environmental Institute, all at Princeton University. In 1973, he received a Bachelor's degree and a Master's degree in physics from the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1978, he received a doctorate in biophysics from Harvard University. Before arriving at Princeton in 1984, he trained at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Cancer and the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which was directed by Nobel Laureate James D. Watson.
Dr. Silver's newest book is Challenging Nature: The clash of science and spirituality at the new frontiers of life. His previous book is Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning Will Transform the American Family, published in 16 languages. Silver is also the coauthor of an undergraduate textbook in genetics, the single author of Mouse Genetics, a textbook for professionals, and editor of Teratocarcinoma Stem Cells published in 1983.
In 1993, Professor Silver was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In 1995, he received an unsolicited 10 year National Institutes of Health MERIT award. He has published over 180 scientific articles in the fields of genetics, evolution, reproduction, embryology, computer modeling, and behavioral science, and other scholarly papers on topics at the interface between biotechnology, law, ethics, and religion. He has been elected to the governing boards of the Genetics Society of America and the International Mammalian Genome Society. He was a member of the New Jersey Bioethics Commission Task Force formed to recommend reproductive policy for the New Jersey State Legislature, and has testified on reproductive and genetic technologies before U.S. Congressional and New York State Senate committees. He has appeared on numerous television and radio programs including NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, the Jim Lehrer PBS News Hour, Nova, ABC Nightline, The ABC World Report with Peter Jennings, the Charlie Rose Show, 20/20, 60 Minutes, and many others in the U.S. and other countries.
Question: What is the influence of Western religion on bioethics?
Lee Silver: I think that the Western religious tradition produces both the reaction against biotechnology which they are associated with, and in addition, it produces a next generation of what I would call a post-Christian opposition to biotechnology among those who grew up with Western religion and have rejected it. If you think about Western religion, and Western religion is most codified in the Catholic area, the Western religion, Catholics, and other Christians of the same thought, have no problem with biotechnology when it is applied to animals and plants. They’ll say let’s regulate it properly and lets consider it in terms of whether it is economically good or bad. That’s fine. [Their] sole area of concern is biotechnology’s use on human beings and human beings includes single-cell embryos. So, all of that opposition comes down to single-cell embryos. There is also, they question, the use of drugs that can affect the way people think, drugs like Ritalin for example, drugs that can increase our memory or decrease – they’re worried about that. The most important worry is the embryo stage, where they think scientists are killing human beings. It’s very clear.
Especially in Europe where genetically modified foods are absolutely forbidden, if not in law by the culture, there is a huge war going on between Europe and the United States in terms of whether Europe will allow the importation of genetically modified foods. What you find in Europe is most people have given up traditional religion. You have this whole continent that was Catholic, and young people have come up since World War II have thrown off the church, especially in France, and they – my speculation now, this is not a fact, my speculation is, they’ve thrown off the church, and the church had this God in the sky over, the single God, not many gods – God in the sky, God knows the future, God is trying to get you to go along the right path, don’t mess with God. If you throw away that, there might be an emptiness in your stomach. You might need some other spiritual idea to replace the God of the Bible. And the idea that has stilled in so easily is the Mother Nature Goddess, Gia. People now say, okay, Mother Nature is one God that comes from Western tradition, and we shouldn’t mess with Mother Nature. We shouldn’t be tampering and all the crops are a part of Mother Nature and it all sits in this balance. If we tamper with it, the whole thing will collapse, and that’s bad. That’s an ideology. That’s a religion and it’s not a religion that has a name, but I think that’s where the opposition to biotechnology in the non-human sphere comes from.
Question: How is a belief in Mother Nature worse than a belief like transhumanism?
Lee Silver: I would say that trans-humanism, if it’s a religion it has no relationship to the real world right now. The religion is based on speculating that human beings can become post-human beings. I find it to be a very strange group of people because I don’t think – I talk about this a lot—this is going to happen that people are going to evolve during my lifetime. It doesn’t matter what I say, [one] hundred years from now, people are going to be talking and they’ll have their own decisions to make. I’m sure what trans-humanists want. To me it’s more of a science-fiction cult than anything else. Now how does that differ from the Mother Nature cult? The difference is that trans-humanists can be ignored, and it has no affect on the world, whereas the Mother Nature cult does have an affect on the world. They have a huge affect. They have prevented Europe from bringing in genetically modified foods that would help Europeans eat for less money. Now, the Europeans are rich, so they can spend more money for their food and still be satisfied, but then the Europeans will go to sub-Saharan Africa and tell the sub-Saharan Africans not to allow the United States to send grain, even though their people are starving in sub-Saharan Africa. You don’t want to take American grain because American grain is genetically modified. In my mind, anybody who says that is religious because essentially they are sacrificing individual human beings for the good of some greater ideology.
Question: Why do you think Eastern religions are more amenable to biotech?
Lee Silver: The difference between Eastern and Western religions is far, far greater than the difference between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Those three religions all come out of the same background, Bible, if you will, even though people in those areas are at each other’s throats. In the East, there are many different religions and what you can say about them is that, unlike the West, they don’t have a single God who is in charge. Either they have many gods, or they have no gods. It's never one, zero or many. There isn't a single God to please. The gods are actually fighting with each other in the Hindu religion. That's the first point. The second point is, they have a notion of life based on karma, or they believe there is no soul, and so it's one extreme or the other. Karma means that you're reincarnated based on what you do yourself. You're not listening to anybody else. You follow what is right for you and you don't have to obey these bigger rules. Also, there isn't this future Jerusalem in the sky, which is where Western religions come from. You better follow the rules and that's the naked sheep to the future Jerusalem. I think that also affects the post-Christians, or the nonreligious people. They think [if] you don't follow the rules the world is going to give up on us. It just doesn't happen in the East. In the East, there are different gods. In the East, they are not worried about this; there is no defined future. They don’t have the same hang-ups that people in the West have, and since they don’t have those hang-ups, they don’t’ have the same fears, if they’re educated. I spent a lot of time talking to people in Southeast Asia, and Asia. If anything, they are too lax in their regulations. They are willing to manipulate food for their sustenance, for the betterment of themselves and their society.
Recorded on: September 11, 2009
The Western spiritual tradition, according to molecular biologist Lee Silver, programs religious and non-religious alike to seek higher powers, and these powers—both God and Mother Nature—are getting in the way of biotech. Silver argues against disadvantaging individuals for a greater ideology, and points out the Eastern religious tradition as one that can accept responsible biological experimentation.
Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.
- If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
- Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
- In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
New study shows white dwarf stars create an essential component of life.
- White dwarf stars create carbon atoms in the Milky Way galaxy, shows new study.
- Carbon is an essential component of life.
- White dwarfs make carbon in their hot insides before the stars die.
What Are White Dwarf Stars?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7b046e546ce994682b2553a8c978eb32"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/77a1KSxfaR0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Master negotiator Chris Voss breaks down how to get what you want during negotiations.
- Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss explains how forced empathy is a powerful negotiating tactic.
- The key is starting a sentence with "What" or "How," causing the other person to look at the situation through your eyes.
- What appears to signal weakness is turned into a strength when using this tactic.
3 Tips on Negotiations, with FBI Negotiator Chris Voss | Best of '16 | Big Think<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b86d518e9f0c9f9d7a7c686e07798152"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-FLlBchonwM?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This question forces a response, but—and this is key—the other person has to consider your side of the argument. They have to look at the situation from your perspective if they hope to offer a solution.</p><p>Offering a real-world example, Voss mentions coaching a high-end real estate agent. They were leasing an expensive home in the Hollywood Hills. The first time the negotiators asked the "how" question, the leasing agent relented on a number of terms. A little while later, they asked again. This time, the agent said, "If you want the house you're going to have to do it," signaling that the end of negotiations had been reached. </p><p>Voss says that "how" is not the only word that works. "What" is also a powerful entry into negotiations, such as "What am I supposed to do?" Again, you're forcing the other person to empathize. </p><p>This is a particularly tricky skill during a time when most conversations are online. Nuance is impossible without the immediacy of pantomimes and vocal fluctuations. Whataboutism is too easy an escape. </p>
Aikido Morihei Ueshiba (1883 - 1969, standing, centre left), founder of the Japanese martial art of aikido, demonstrating his art with a follower, at the opening ceremony of the newly-opened aikido headquarters, Hombu Dojo, in Shinjuku, Tokyo, 1967.
(Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)<p>Online debates often amount to little more than frustrated individuals pulling out their hair. In his book, "Against Empathy," Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom writes that effective altruists are able to focus on what really matters in everyday life.</p><p>For example, he compares politics to sports. Rooting for your favorite team isn't based in rationality. If you're a Red Sox fan, Yankees stats don't matter. You just want to destroy them. This, he believes, is how most people treat politics. "They don't care about truth because, for them, it's not really about truth."</p><p>Bloom writes that if his son believed our ancestors rode dinosaurs, it would horrify him, but "I can't think of a view that matters less for everyday life." We have to strive for rationality when the stakes are high. When involved in real decision-making processes that will affect their life, people are better able to express ideas and make arguments, and are more receptive to opposing ideas. </p><p>Because we "become inured to problems that seem unrelenting," it's imperative to make the problem seem immediate. As Voss says, giving the other side "the illusion of control" is one way of accomplishing this, as it forces them to take action. When people feel out of control, negotiations are impossible. People dig their heels in and refuse to budge. </p><p>What seems to be weakness is actually a strength. To borrow another martial arts metaphor, negotiations are like aikido: using your opponent's force against them while also protecting them from injury. Forcing empathy is one way to accomplish this task. You may get more than you ask for without the other side ever realizing they surrendered anything.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to go ice fishing on Europa<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="GLGsRX7e" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4790eb8f0515e036b24c4195299df28"> <div id="botr_GLGsRX7e_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/GLGsRX7e-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Water Vapor Above Europa’s Surface Deteced for First Time<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c4abc8473e1b89170cc8941beeb1f2d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WQ-E1lnSOzc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Unless you plan to try again in 6,800 years, this week is your shot.
- Comet NEOWISE will be most visible in the U.S. during the evenings from July 14-19, 2020.
- After July 23rd, NEOWISE will be visible only through good binoculars and telescopes.
- Look in the northwestern sky below the Big Dipper after dusk while there's a chance.
UPDATE: NASA is broadcasting a NASA Science Live episode highlighting Comet NEOWISE. NASA experts will discuss and answer public questions beginning at 3PM EST on Wednesday, July 15. Tune in via the agency's website, Facebook Live, YouTube, Periscope, LinkedIn, Twitch, or USTREAM.
Before last evening, July 14, 2020, the easiest way to see Comet NEOWISE — the brightest comet to zoom past Earth since 1977's Comet Hale-Bopp — from the United States was to catch it about an hour before sunrise. Now, however, you can see it in the evening, where it will remain for until the 19th. This is a definite don't-miss event — NEOWISE won't be coming back our way for another 6,800 years. It's the first major comet of the millennium, and by all accounts, it's unforgettable.
NEOWISE just got back from the Sun
Comet NEOWISE is named after the NASA infrared space telescope that first spotted it on March 27th. Its official moniker is C/2020 F3. It's estimated that the icy comet is about three miles across, not counting its tail.
NEOWISE is now heading away from our Sun, having made it closet approach, 27.4 million miles, to our star on July 3. The heat from that encounter is what's given NEOWISE its tail: It caused gas and dust to be released from the icy object, creating the tail of debris that looks so magical from here.
As NEOWISE moves closer to Earth, paradoxically, it will be less and less visible. By about July 23rd, you'll need binoculars or a telescope to see it at all. All of which makes this week prime time.
An evening delight
Image source: Allexxandar/Shutterstock/Big Think
First, find an unobstructed view of the northwest sky, free of streetlights, car headlights, apartment lights, and so on. And then, according to Sky & Telescope:
"Start looking about one hour after sunset, when you'll find it just over the northwestern horizon as the last of twilight fades into darkness."
It should be easy to spot since it's near to one of the most recognizable constellations up there, the Big Dipper. "Look about three fists below the bottom of the Big Dipper, which is hanging down by its handle high above, and from there perhaps a little to the right." Et voilà: Comet NEOWISE.
Says Sky & Telescope's Diana Hannikainen, "Look for a faint, fuzzy little 'star' with a fainter, fuzzier little tail extending upward from it."
The comet should be visible with the naked eye, though binoculars and a simple telescope may reveal more detail.
You may also be able to snap a photo of this special visitor, though you'll need the right gear to do so. A dedicated camera is more likely to capture a good shot than a telephone, but in either case, you'll need a tripod or some other means of holding the camera dead still as it takes a timed exposure of several seconds (not all phones can do this).