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Challenging Nature Hardcover – May 30, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Silver, a molecular biologist at Princeton, examines new dimensions of the contentious debate between science and religion over cloning and other biotechnologies, and brings fresh insights to it. Many Western religious people believe biotechnology is an attempt to play God and that human clones would be created not in God's image but in the image of humankind. Such arguments rest on the nature of humanity, and Silver points out that the only characteristic that makes us human is not that we have a soul but that we have human parents. Silver also explores the debate over genetically modified foods and synthetic crops. He argues that the organic and natural foods movements make their case on spiritual grounds, imbuing Mother Nature with a spiritual force equal to the force of the Christian God. Silver points out, however, that Mother Nature is a violent, not a benevolent, deity, and can cause more disasters than the making of synthetic foods ever will. Finally, Silver points out that biotechnology presents little problem for Eastern religions that believe in reincarnation. In the words of one Buddhist scientist, therapeutic cloning "restarts the cycle of life." Silver's provocative ideas and his graceful prose open new avenues for discussion of the challenges that face science and spirituality. (June 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The archetype of mortal defiance, Prometheus has found a new champion. Outspoken molecular biologist Silver argues that only scientists willing to join Prometheus in challenging divine prohibitions will ever deliver on the promise of new genetic technologies. Although despairing of ever expunging spiritual beliefs from liberal democracies altogether, Silver hopes that a truly open and rational public dialogue will expose the folly of continuing to allow religious fundamentalists to impose needless restrictions on scientific research. It particularly galls Silver that such religionists often confuse an ill-informed public by cleverly wrapping their religious objectives in scientific rhetoric. Surprisingly, Silver sees the Christian obstructionists of the Religious Right finding allies among the left-leaning, post-Christian devotees of nature. Both groups recoil from the prospect of using new science to improve human genes or to reengineer the plants and animals humans rely on for food. Both groups, Silver asserts, fail to realize that humans have been productively intervening in natural reproductive processes for millennia--and should now use available tools to do so more aggressively, both to minimize human suffering and to maximize ecological health. The relentlessness with which Silver disputes the views of his opponents will impress many readers--and alienate others. But this book will surely fuel precisely the kind of debate Silver recognizes as essential in a democracy sorting out perplexing scientific possibilities. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 444 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (May 30, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060582677
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060582678
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,663,802 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Author of Remaking Eden, Challenging Nature, Mouse Genetics, and Genetics: from genes to genomes.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Lee D. Carlson HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on September 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The current battle between "natural" and genetically modified (GM) crops has in many instances taken on the intensity and silliness of the battle between the advocates of AC and DC power in the early years of the twentieth century. The advocates of natural foods it seems will go to any length to portray the "dangers" of GM crops, but have no evidence to support their campaign of vituperation. The biotechnology/scientific community for the most part has shied away from countering these tactics, hoping maybe that by ignoring them they will go away. In only a small number of cases have a few confident individuals stepped up to the plate to defend the virtues and science behind biotechnology.

The author of this book is one of these individuals, and he has given the reader a fascinating account of what is possible, and what is not, in genetic engineering and twenty-first century biology in general. He thankfully does not hold back in countering the exaggerations and misrepresentations that emanate both from religious circles and "New Age secularists." But the book contains more than just counterarguments, for the author discusses some of the modern developments in biology that may have not caught the attention of the average reader. These developments are awesome if viewed by what was possible in biotechnology only two decades ago. Breathtaking advances have occurred since then, and with even more coming in the years ahead, one could argue easily that this is the best time ever to be alive.

And life is what this book is about, that is, natural life, which the author argues correctly constitutes genetically modified organisms as well as organisms that have come about without the intervention of humans.
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58 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Carl Flygare on October 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In "Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life" molecular biologist Lee Silver defends science and biotechnology from a perversely orthogonal cabal of retrograde fundamentalist Christians ensnared in faith-based fallacies abetted by progressive Gaia devotees saddled with equally mystical mumbo-jumbo. Silver positions these constituencies as allergic reactions to the increasing explanatory power of science and correctly notes that both viewpoints are spiritually motivated. He forcefully argues that eco-environmentalism simply swaps Mother Nature as a quasi-Goddess for the male God of Abraham. The President's Council on Bioethics - as presently constituted by the Bush administration - is properly excoriated by word and deed as little more than a dysfunctional mélange of befuddled science deniers, who with fox in the henhouse inanity circumscribe the activities of the US biotech community.

Silver succinctly deconstructs the ideological bias underlying essential concepts "like organic, natural, species, human being and life itself" and extends this reasoning to encompass why "nearly every literate person perceives natural as a synonym for good, whereas the opposite idea - unnatural, artificial and synthetic - evokes a reflexive negative reaction." That nature operates by natural selection "red in tooth and claw" (or green in root and branch) is dramatically framed in a pitiless examination of the vicious and unceasing struggles between Amazon rainforest organisms versus the human preference for pastoral Pollyannaism.
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56 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Marina Simone on June 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I LOVED this book!!! This wide-ranging book looks at science through the lens of different cultures in the US, Europe, Asia, and even Africa. It is extremely well-researched and often conveys information through story-telling. Even though a lot of scientific information is presented, it is done so with clarity and even in an entertaining manner. The author presents both sides of a controversy, sets out the essential facts, lets you know where he stands, but then invites the reader to make up his or her own mind. The book is a very easy read. It tackles a number of controversial topics and is extremely provocative. It deserves to be widely read!!!
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Chamberlain on January 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Many reviewers have focused on Silver's advocacy positions, which is fine and they certainly are there. But he almost never rants, and his point of view seldom gets in the way of his superb reporting of some jaw-dropping "gee whiz science." Almost no scientific sophistication is required to understand the science he's described, although the science is not dumbed-down, and the book is well worth reading for the science reporting (and explaining) alone.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Roy E. Perry on November 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In Challenging Nature, Lee M. Silver, Professor of Molecular Biology and Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton Univ. and the author of the critically acclaimed Remaking Eden, has written a brilliant exposition of "the clash of science and spirituality at the new frontiers of life."

In explaining the frontiers of modern biotechnology and genetic engineering, or genetic modification (GM), Silver, a hands-on scientist who has actually manipulated genes, offers a provocative and controversial look at the collision of science, religion, pseudoscience, and politics.

The conflict between materialism and spiritualism (science vs. religion, reason vs. faith) is not new to our era, but has persisted for centuries. However, present-day proposals for projects such as embryonic stem-cell research, cloning, and genetically modified food (which may actually be safer than organically produced food) have come under vitriolic attack not only from the "right" (religious fundamentalists and ultraconservative politicians) but also, surprisingly, from the "left" (New Age, post-Christian "defenders" of Mother Nature and Mother Earth). "Nature," says Silver, "can be a bitch."

As a molecular biologist, Silver is a rationalist, secularist, evolutionist, and materialist, or more accurately, a physicalist, for as he points out, the term "physicalism" is preferable to "materialism," since the universe contains both material and immaterial (massless) particles, such as photons, that exert forces on one another.
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