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Planet Gattaca 473

It seems the 1997 movie "Gattaca" wasn't science fiction at all, but an early documentary of the 21st Century. Geneticists are hard at work on the Humane Genome Project and want to map the gene pool of Iceland. They also claim they've found the essence of life in Maryland and hope to create a completely new species -- after a full and public debate, of course. If we're creating life, doesn't that raise some loaded questions about history and religion? And where, exactly, is this debate (which Victor Frankenstein's monster started 200 years ago) supposed to occur? Slashdot's Threads? Congress? MSNBC?

No subject sends the techno-ostriches ("we-just-make-this-stuff, we're-not-responsible-for-it") rushing angrily for their holes in the ground faster than any suggestion that genetic research, increasingly computer driven, is proceeding more rapidly than any consideration of the staggeringly complex social, moral and ethical issues it raises.

This is all is too far away to worry about, they squawk. Or it won't really happen. Only scientists, programmers and biologists understand it enough to talk about it, anyhow.

But 1997's eerily prescient movie "Gattaca" proves once more that science fiction does better peering into the future than scientists themselves. In that movie, whose ads included a line that says: "There is no gene for the human spirit," Vincent (Ethan Hawke) a young man of the future, wants to travel in space, but he can't because he has a heart condition. So he can't pass the genetic screening tests that have turned humanity into a two-tiered class, the perfect and the others.

Vincent is one of the last "natural" babies born into a sterile, genetically-enhanced world, where life expectancy and health are determined instantly at birth. Myopic and slated to die at 30, he has no chance of a prestigious career in a society that no longer discriminates because of race or gender, but because of genes. He assumes the identity of Jerome, healthy at birth but crippled in an accident, who provides Vincent with hair, blood and urine samples to he can get through checkpoints and pass the astronaut's screening tests. Vincent plans to voyage into space in only a few days if he can avoid the gene police, who are trying to track him through an eyelash he left behind on an office floor after a superior who discovered his secret is found dead.

What's so bizarre about "Gattaca" is that it's not really even science fiction, but an early documentary of the 21st Century. Genome research is now going on all over the world, the idea that we can unravel the essence of life enthralling scientists, who believe they may at long last be able to eliminate mental and physical disease, prolong life, and greatly ease human suffering.

In all this enthusiasm, there is less consideration of the nature of a world in which there is no human suffering, or what, precisely, suffering even means. Or in which whole categories of humanity - the mentally and physically impaired, the short, the ugly, the rebellious, the depressed, the addictive - may soon begin vanishing from the earth. There isn't much talk either about the social implications of a reality in which this high-powered genetic screening capabilities are available only to technologically-advanced classes and cultures.

News of Gattaca Nation projects roll in almost daily. There is the Mother Gattaca Project, the Human Genome Project, stumbling but well on its way to cataloguing all the DNA strands of human existence sometime in the 21st century.

Last week, a genetic research company announced it planned to map the genes of the entire Icelandic population and to beginning drawing DNA samples there. The 275,000 mostly homogeneous residents of Iceland are considered ideally suited to genetic study; according to Wired News researchers believe that creating a massive genetic database could lead to the discovery of disease patterns and new drugs.

Last Tuesday, microbiologists at the University of North Carolina said they had examined two of the smallest known bacteria, a kind known as Mycoplasma. Their minimum set of genes -- the ones needed to survive and replicate in a nutrient-rich environment -- from 265 to 350, said the researchers, who told reporters that building a cell from scratch no longer appears impossible.

Elsewhere last week, the BBC reported, scientists working at the Institute for Genome Research in Maryland announced that they believe they have found the essence of life - at least on a genetic level - which comes down to about 300 genes. This is the minimum set of molecular instructions required to build a living organism. "It [the building of such an organism] would clearly be creating a new species of life that does not exist," conceded Dr. Craig Venter, founder of the Institute for Genetic Research (TIGR) and the head of the Celera Genomics Corporation.

Dr. Venter is unequivocal: he now has the ability to build a living organism - a new species. This statement ought to have rocked the world, sending journalists, ethicists, scientists, lawmakers and politicians scurrying to figure out what that means for humanity, good and bad.

But apart from links to a few websites (including this one), it barely made news at all.

The lessons of technology - that it is inherently unpredictable, and even the best intentions often unleash unintended consequence - ought to make us wary of this runaway genetic research. Dr. Venter made a point of telling reporters that there will be no effort made to proceed with this experiment until there has been a "full and public debate."

But it's worth noting that Dr. Venter and his team want to study the ethical issues after, not before, his team in Maryland has already pared down the tiniest-known living organism, a bacterium called Mycoplasma genitalium, to its essential genes. It's dubious this secret will be kept for long, no matter what the result of this "debate." If these findings weren't troubling, even to the scientists uncovering them, why the need for a debate at all?

M. genitalium, says Dr. Venter, lives in the human genital tract and lungs, causes no known disease, but has fewer genes than any other known living thing. Humans have beetween 80,000 and 140,000 genes, say geneticists, but M. genitalium has just 480.

"I think if we could get down to the point of truly understanding and having one of the formulas for life - and you have to understand that there are thousands if not millions of different formulas - it would be a profound breakthrough," Dr. Venter told the BBC.

That's an understatement. Finding the formula for life would dwarf almost any previous scientific achievement that comes to mind, not to mention knocking conventional religion and theology on their antiquated behinds. What is a theologian supposed to tell some kid who can read the recipe for human life? If we can make it, doesn't that raise certain ultimate questions?

Dr. Venter says that "we are not going to carry out this experiment until there has been a broader debate on this issue," a common refrain among biologists and geneticists.

But where is this debate supposed to occur? In Threads on Slashdot? In the United States Congress, whose idea of technological debate is requiring the Ten Commandments to be posted in schools? Or in the American media, still stuck on hacking and cracking, e-commerce, or whether or not Johnny will sneak onto the Playboy website?

Recently a group of bio-ethicists met with a panel drawn from the Roman Catholic, Jewish and Protestant faiths and concluded: "There is nothing in the research agenda for creating a minimal genome that is automatically prohibited by legitimate religous considerations."

So what? Is that the only major ethical issue? And why put this discussion in the hands of scientists and members of organized religion -- the latter probably responsible for more hatred, bloodshed and cruelty than any other single force in human history?

Dr. Venter has only to log onto the discussion that will follow this column to get a realistic dose of just how likely it is that a rational, coherent public discussion of "scientists-playing-God" will take place.

"Gattaca" wasn't the first crack that culture took at this issue. Mary Shelley published her brilliant take nearly two hundred years ago in the novel "Frankenstein", which found in the discovery and taming of nature's most powerful secrets a hidden agenda for trouble.

Victor Frankenstein didn't like being questioned about the morality of the things he made and the secrets he unlocked any more than his successors do. When his own monster challenged him, he called him a fiend and a freak and told him to get lost. He paid for it dearly.

H.G. Wells, who helped invent science fiction with publication of his first novel "The Time Machine," foresaw that the future could be a dangerous place, and was one of the first novelists to place his characters in the context of technological and biological evolution.

But despite his own training as a biologist, Wells never imagined the discoveries that would create the new science of molecular biology soon after his death and dominate the landscape of biology into the next millenium.

The issue with these Gattaca projects isn't whether or not they should proceed. Only the most fanatic Luddites could seriously argue that understanding the secrets of human existence and eradicating disease ought to be - or even could be - forbidden? Geneticists believe human cloning is only a few years away, legally authorized or not.

About all we can do is hold Dr. Venter and his colleagues to their word, and hope there is some rational discussion somewhere before the corporate lawsuits and patent issues are resolved, and the first genetic research lab starts peddling perfect, cheerful Icelandic babies around the world.

To stop the research would be to deny one of the noblest traits of the human character - to figure out the world and make it better.

But Victor Frankenstein's problem is our problem. "The world," he declares in the novel, "was to me a secret which I desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to me, are amongst the earliest sensations I can remember."

Victor would be having the time of his life in the modern world, where his kind of research is no longer even considered controversial, where corporations dominate regulators and lawmakers, and where experiments that play around with human life don't have to be conducted in remote, crumbling Gothic towers, but get the enthusiastic support of venture capitalists and punch-drunk, morally-oblivious technologists.

But the words of Victor's creation are even creepier in l999 than they were when Mary Shelley first wrote them:

"You propose to kill me," thundered the monster when Victor threatened him if he didn't go away. "How dare you sport thus with life? Do your duty towards me, and I will do mine towards you and the rest of mankind. If you will comply with my conditions I will leave them and you at peace; but if you refuse, I will glut the maw of death, until it be satiated with the blood of your remaining friends."

The monster's warnings - and Shelley's instincts -- were more than borne out in the horrific bloodbaths and environmental havoc of the two centuries that followed them.

Victor didn't listen then, and nobody's much listening now. But the warning still rings true.

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Gattaca Nation

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  • by limpdawg ( 77844 ) on Monday December 13, 1999 @06:40PM (#1468201) Homepage Journal
    Katz says that the discovery of the minimum number of genes neede to make a life form will mock religion because it is antiquated. However all the scientists are doing is taking pre-existing building blocks, that behave in a pre-existing way in nature and trying to make an organism that uses as few as possible. The likelyhood is that they will fail because the genes are more complex than the scientists really understand. Nature tends to eliminate unneeded genetic parts over time so it is likely that the organism is very close to having as small a genetic code as possible to allow it to survive and reproduce. Removing genetic material may allow it to only exist in special laboratory conditions, and reproduction may be less efficient. The scientists don't really know what is going to happen, which is why they carrry out the experiment, but just removing possibly unneeded genetic material from an organism is no where near creating life.
  • It's too early in the morning (EST) for the usual dosage of John Katzian dystopia. Perhaps I'll give it a try after my three martini lunch.

  • Quite so. A ``minimal'' organism could survive only under laboratory conditions, not in the real world, because it would lack adaptations needed to make it in any non-ideal environment.

    In fact, this wouldn't be much of a novelty. Most domesticated plants are basically incapbable of life without human intervention. Domestic cereals in general can't outcompete native grasses, and have difficulty reproducing without human intervention. Maize is the extreme example: it's completely incapable of reproducing on its own. The seeds won't come off the cob, and they're trapped inside the husk.

    The scalloped tatters of the King in Yellow must cover
    Yhtill forever. (R. W. Chambers, the King in Yellow)
  • Some random thoughts just came into my mind. (Blame it on sleep depravation).

    By putting the ability to create life in human hands, "God" has in essence open sourced life (oh wait, I can see Bruce Perens jumping on this misuse of the word!).

    Bleah.. end of the religious debate folks, lets start forking life forms and putting them in CVS trees.

    We taking ourselves a little bit too seriously when we get indignant about artificially created life? Life has been artificially assisted since ages. Heck, asprins might have created life ages ago by preventing the biblical "Honey I have a headache excuse"....

  • by DanaL ( 66515 ) on Tuesday December 14, 1999 @05:25AM (#1468205)
    This one is devoid of content, Jon! All you've said is that humans are studying genetics and that this is a bad, dangerous thing. You haven't told us why (except that it will raise some uncomfortable questions for religious people). You may vague references to Gattaca, but never once say *why* genetic engineering may be a problem.

    Your journalism is even a little lacking, because you don't even mention any of the possible benefits: cures for cancer, the correction of genetic illnesses, etc. If you want to state a debate, offer points of view from both sides.

    We can't debate with you if you haven't provided us any substance!!!

  • And where, exactly, is this debate (which Victor Frankenstein's monster started 200 years ago) supposed to occur? Slashdot's Threads?

    Yeah, why the hell have these geneticists not consulted with Slashdot yet!?

    What is their deal!? We are obviously the experts...
  • by Amphigory ( 2375 ) on Tuesday December 14, 1999 @05:29AM (#1468209) Homepage
    Finding the formula for life would dwarf almost any previous scientific achievement that comes to mind, not to mention knocking conventional religion and theology on their antiquated behinds. What is a theologian supposed to tell some kid who can read the recipe for human life? If we can make it, doesn't that raise certain ultimate questions?
    Normally, I try to respond to Katz's rants with reasoned, considered replies, but I think this one is so obviously silly that I will respond with a joke.

    Without further ado, here it is:

    One day a group of scientists got together and decided that humans had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one scientist to go and tell God so.

    The scientist walked up to God and said, "God, we've decided that we no longer need you; We're to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don't You just go on and get lost."

    God listened very patiently and kindly to the man.

    After the scientist was done talking, God said, "Very well, how about this? Let's say we have a man-making contest."

    To which the scientist replied, "Okay, great!"

    "But," God added, "we're going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam."

    The scientist said, "Sure, no problem" and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt.

    God looked at him and said, "No, no, no. You go get your own dirt.".

    I think my point is made: science can never explain the primal causes, can never account for the ultimate origin of anything. To try to claim otherwise is the worst kind of hubris. And I do wish that you would try to be at least a little more balanced in your coverage.
  • I'm not sure if Katz really gets Frankenstein, or if he's just repeating the pop picture of a man dabbling in ``things man was not meant to know.''

    In Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein's sin was to reject his creation when he saw what he had made. He was not wrong to create it in the first place. In a few passages, it seems like Katz is aware of this, but the fact that he has chosen Frankenstein as one of his catchwords for biological research tends to suggest that he isn't.

    The scalloped tatters of the King in Yellow must cover
    Yhtill forever. (R. W. Chambers, the King in Yellow)
  • One thing about the public debate on creating a new life form in the lab from the genes of Mycoplasma:

    I am all for it, and don't see this as treading into the realm of God.

    Science should be free to experiment, explore and discover.

    The evil comes when the non-scientists (Government, Politics, Business) take those inventions/discoveries and turn them into the monstrosities that has become Colonialism, A-Bomb, ...etc.

    We should not limit science, thougt, ...etc. for the sake of those beings...

  • by Trencher ( 71621 ) on Tuesday December 14, 1999 @05:33AM (#1468219)
    IIRC, he wandered up at the back of the crowd that had formed after the killing but he was not involved with the actual murder. Of course, after the 'gene police' swept the room for evidence and found the eyelash, they knew they had their man, because after all, what was an 'imperfect' doing there besides committing a crime?

    All in all a very poignant movie about an all-too forseeable future.

  • "They also claim they've found the essence of life in Maryland..." They've probably been searching for *that* particular secret for centuries. Probably something to do with cows, I suspect.
  • I'm no great fan of Dr. Venter, but it's not true to say that he wants to do the work first and consider the ethics later. There was originally an announcement in January about this, stating that it was time for the situation be considered fully before any action was taken. The more recent statement - a paper in Science - could be considered a second RFD. They've called for discussion in public forums, which seems to me to be very responsible.

    The timescale for the HGP, incidentally, is rather shorter than the article supposes. Both it and the private sector efforts expect to have substantially complete sequence coverage of the human genome during the first half of next year. Things are moving very quickly. The HGP proper is due to have fully finished sequence, accurate to better than 99.99%, by the end of 2003. The events shown in Gattaca - which I would agree is both a good and a perceptive film - will be plausible well within current lifetimes.

  • "If we're creating life, doesn't that raise some loaded questions about history and religion?"

    No. YOU raise loaded questions about history and religion and sensationalise something that should instead be approached rationally and cogently. Heated debate, or debate at all, is not what is needed, because there is no answer to the question "should". "Should" we have harnessed electricty? "Should" we practice modern medicine (the Mormans don't think so). "Should" we have invented the internet so we could have stupid heated debates on overinflated issues? - the Java Mozilla []
  • Several Science Fiction books besides have looked at the same issues explored in Gattaca. On e in particular that comes to mind is Leo Frankowski's Copernik's Rebellion , which describes what could happen if genetic developers introduce "useful" bio-artifacts into the world.

    With the increasing complexity of computers, it is becoming possible to make the complex calculations required to do genetic manipulations such as described. And when a thing can be done, you just know that it will be done, sooner or later.

    I am not so much worried about someone accidently creating some sort of all destroying life form. Such things aren't realistic, considering the delecate balance of a life form. But I could imagine someone doing it on purpose (someday).

    Ethical questions aside, I don't think creating life in a laboratory is going to be a bad thing. It will certainly be interesting.

    Mike Eckardt []
  • every time something happens in the world of science, i am *SICK* of people who can only understand (or feel they can only describe it to others) it in the simple terms of some hollywood claptrap thats designed to bring out the strongest emotions about the subject.
  • by marnerd ( 3934 ) on Tuesday December 14, 1999 @05:41AM (#1468231)
    I guess Katz had an axe to grind with the Human Genome project. This is his second rant in which he bashes a project that has the stated goal of decoding the Human Genome and essentially Open Sourcing it.

    He is glossing over an important fact: The human genome will be decoded. The question is whether it will be open and available to all, or be the patented intellectual property of a few.

    At least he did a little research; last time he posted on this topic he seemed unaware of Gattaca's existence.

    I normally don't engage in Katz-swatting, but the Genome Project needs our support. We, the Open Source community are some of the best equipped to understand the importance of what may be the most important Open Content project to date.

  • While I can understand the reluctance to embrace technologies such as genetic engineering and research based purely on the possible consequences (gattaca, uncontrollable genetically engineered disease, etc.), I find this incessant whining about the "moral" implications increasingly annoying. The *real* implications are frightening enough that we don't need to involve millenia-old superstition into it. They only contribute to paranoia, confusion, and slow the adoption of the *good* that can be harnessed from the technology.

    Technology has advanced to the point (or more specifically, is now advancing at a such a rate) that we've lost "control" of it. It now moves out of pace (much faster than) the remainder of our social mindset, which includes our "moral" aspects. What this means is that these ideas are (and will continue to be) increasingly out of touch with technological advancement, and will only grow less relevant with time.

    Human beings traditionally have an extremely hard time dropping old or ingrained ideas and adopting new models, even if the new model is more accurate or convenient. This makes perfect sense, neural networks tend to settle into local minima, if it's worked before we're conditioned to think it will work again, why change? The concepts of "space" and "time" still used in the mind of your average joe-blow were abandoned by physicists nearly a century ago, and we still haven't caught up.

    My point is, we need to stop this incessant babble about ideas no longer relevant to the matter at hand. Let's stop wondering what some omnipotent invisible gaseous vertebrate in the sky will think of what we do, and discuss the real matters at hand: what good can we get out of it, and what are the real dangers involved? We're not going to *stop* it, and we're foolish to think something like words printed on paper (i think they call this "legislation") will. So, shall we scare ourselves with the boogie man or deal with it rationally?

    Unfortunately I think the former...

  • I think it made the theaters for a week or so. Most recently its been out on HBO. Due to having Uma Thurman and the release of The Avengers, it got a passing notice in that timeframe. It's either mind candy, or a view into future methods of descrimination, your choice.

    From a personal point of view, I'm pleased with the advances made in the Genome project BUT, I'm not sure I agree with the application of the information. While I'm definately "pro-choice", I don't think prenatal testing should be used for the search of the "perfect" offspring. Do we really want to abort a child due to a heart disease gene that will go active in their 40s? What is the reason for disease research if we can just as easily remove it from the gene pool by judicious abortion? I don't think the religious issues are going to be any worse than the plain old moral ones of choices for who remains in the womb to term. We're already seeing this with various tests done, where does the line get drawn with the new tests? Aborted due to brown eyes?
  • He was not wrong to create it in the first place.

    You are missing it as well. The point is that science is not ready to handle it's creations. Dr. Frankenstein reacted as anyone might when their experiments go not as planned. He should not have been messing around with life in the first place... because when he did ultimately reject his creation, the repurcusions were more than he ever imagined. Katz uses an appropriate (if not easy) analogy here.

    These scientists are not creating an existing life form, they would be creating an entirely new form of life. New being the key word here! Just think of a couple worst case scenarios please. Does Steven King's The Stand mean anything to anyone?

    This is pretty scary stuff. Bacteria has not always had the best relationship with mankind.
  • by KTrainor ( 34264 ) on Tuesday December 14, 1999 @05:45AM (#1468240) Homepage
    Katz shows his complete inability to think clearly or even do basic research when he 1)bemoans the lack of ethical restrictions on the tinkering with genetics and 2)slams organized religion as being responsible for more bloodshed and genocide than any other force in history. (Like, Communism was a bad dream or something?) Hello? Am I the only one who sees the cognitive dissonance here? For all that Katz derides Christianity and Judaism, the fact remains that at least the religious leaders have done *some* thinking about this subject and its implications, thinking that has a lot more depth and seriousness than Mary Shelley or H.G. Wells could ever hope to attain.

    We're talking about two millenia worth of thought and reflection on life and morality here, Jon, not some Johnny-come-lately spawn of the so-called Enlightenment.

    Katz and other intellectuals love to bash on Fundamentalists and Catholics as if they were all educationally stunted retards, which is a symptom of their own inability to deal with the arguments resented by those people. (It's called an "ad hominem" attack.) The fact of the matter is that Catholicism, Judaism and other monotheistic religions include large numbers of people whose brainpower makes Katz look like the tenth-rate scribbler he is. Fifty years from now, does anyone seriously think that Katz will be thought of as being in the same league as William F. Buckley, to name but one well-known Catholic intellectual?

    In any case, this is just typical whining by somebody who doesn't like the answers he's getting from organized religion and therefore assumes that there are no good answers. Can we just have another link to next time? At least that was amusing.

  • While Jon's articles have been the inspiration for much debate amongst my friends and myself, this article was a trifle obvious and overstated. Yes, the possibility of being able to analyze a person's genome and tell them X amount of things about their life could lead to abuse, and yes, we now think we know how to create life, or at least where to start. This does not mean the world will end.

    To be quite honest, I don't think a "Gattaca" style future can ever be implemented, for two reasons: there are too many powerful people who would not be included in the "elite", and number two, we already have a discriminatory scale in place, that of money.

    The rich and elite already have a power lock (this includes corporations). Even if this were to happen (and not all the rich people in the world are beautiful, perfect genetic specimens. For references, see Gates, Bill and Forbes, Steve), how would anything change? The rich could afford this, while the poor and middle-class would hope and strive and struggle and still not crack into this world where how pure your genetic makeup is has an effect on your outcome in life. This technology will not be cheap enough to truly cause the devastating impact you speak of for many years (say, 20-40 years at present...don't forget, the HGP uses massive computer power to brute-force this stuff right now).

    What this comes down to is a simple matter of economics. Is it in anyone's best economic interest to do this at present? No! Within the next 10 years? Only if major breakthroughs are made, and analyzing your genome doesn't continue to take days/weeks/months. Perhaps my children will have to deal with this, but I also hope that by then, this debate will have taken place, and cooler, more moderate heads prevail.

    Finally, Jon, while I appreciate these articles, please give them substance. Otherwise, what could be a powerful tool to convince people of the necessity of this debate turns into an almost evening-news quality scare report.

  • Ok, I'll give some reasons why Genetic Engineering is, IMHO, supicious, in a way that is rather shorter and more believable than Jon Katz' latest scrawl.

    1. Genetically-engineered caterpillars have been released in Essex, England. These caterpillars produce scorpion venom. The idea is to see if they can scare off predators. There is no data as to whether they are safe for anyone else. They are kept in the enclosure, with wire fences and "keep out" notices. The caterpillars have not been GE'd to read.
    2. A GE experiment in Australia went disasterously wrong, when a whole load of plague-carrying rabbits escaped to the mainland, from the place they were kept. Aside from utterly wiping out the rabbit population in the area, Australia was very lucky and no other casualties occured.
    3. The genes have not yet been completely mapped in anything other than VERY primitive organisms, and even there, as much as 1/3 are not understood and an unknown amount is "junk" (read: they don't even know if they don't understand it). Ever tried editing an unknown program, in a little-understood language, whilst blindfold?

    IMHO, genetics and microbiology are barely understood enough to be able to understand the more primitive mechanisms. DNA was discovered in the 1950's, but it wasn't until the late 1970's when the unwinding problem was solved, and DNA was shown to have "handed-ness". There is as much, since then, that has come to light that is simply a complete mystery.

    CJD and BSE are classic examples of what isn't understood. The popular theory is that they are caused by prions, but this does not explain how the agent can remain active after proteins would be denatured. Nor is the mechanism understood by which a prion, when ingested, could actually -get- to the brain. The stomach lining stops large molecules, very effectively.

    In short, biology and microbiology are nowhere near as well understood as proponents of Genetic Engineering claim. There are too many unknowns, and too few knowns.

    I'm not saying GE is dangerous. I =AM= saying that I don't believe we know enough to even know if it's dangerous! And that's far too little knowledge for my comfort.

  • Okay, perhaps 'luddism' isn't quite the correct word, but what I'm seeing here is a lot of generalisations that -- as others have noted -- doesn't actually say anything.

    What's so bizarre about "Gattaca" is that it's not really even science fiction, but an early documentary of the 21st Century
    Bullshit. Sorry Jon, but you've no more of an idea than the rest of us as to how the next century will turn out. Certainly a few of the nasty things in Gattaca will make an appearance, but equally there'll be good things we can't forsee as well as bad things we can't.

    his statement ought to have rocked the world, sending journalists, ethicists, scientists, lawmakers and politicians scurrying to figure out what that means for humanity, good and bad.
    I saw the reports on the BBC, and I noticed that they couldn't actually find anyone to give a reason why this was a Bad Thing. After thinking about it for a few minutes, I realised that I couldn't find anything bad about it either.
    Consider: we're talking about stringing together a few hundred genes and hoping they replicate. Maybe they will; if they do it will be a tremendous breakthrough, but as far as everyday life is concerned, it (in and of itself) won't have any impact. Venter's call for debate is timely inasmuch as we'll be able to consider now what will happen in the decades to come, but I don't think it was necessary to hold up the research.

    So what? Is that the only major ethical issue?
    Well, I don't know, Jon; what do you think? This piece seems to be like everything else I've read or seen on the subject; 'this is wrong; but I can't put my finger on why'.

    And why put this discussion in the hands of scientists and members of organized religion
    This bit's going to sound like religion bashing; it isn't intended as such.
    Religions are conservative by nature, and are very reluctant to endorse any new technology that diminishes the suzerainty of god. But 'gene splicign is bad... mmmmkay?' isn't a good argument, so religion has to come up with a solid reason to justify its stance. And it's very good at doing this. I say bring on the religious philosophers; they'll point out the problems with the ideas.

    To sum up, then: new stuff is coming along. We don't know how it'll affect us, but we assume some bad stuff will be involved. Let's talk vaguely until something else comes along that we can dither about.
  • People tend to get bent out of shape not because this proposes to synthesize bacterial life, but because they fear that this will eventually lead to being able to synthesize human life from raw chemicals. People further vaguely worry that synthesizing human life would remove the distinction between animal and human, life and non-life, and rationalize all sorts of non-ethical things. However, they're wrong, and organized religion already has agreed with me. First, the worry, then the reassurance.

    The uninformed worry goes something like this: if you believe there is no clear demarcation between an adult and an infant, infant and a fetus, a fetus and an embryo, embryo and a zygote, and scientists are able to synthesize a zygote from pure chemicals, it's only a few more assumptions to get to the conclusion that humans are just complex probablistic automata, not worthy of special value or consideration above insects.

    However, the problem with this unfocused anxiety which Katz shows signs of, but fails to properly examine, is that it makes fundamental assumptions which are not proven, or even likely. The flaw is that if the components of life are deterministically constructed, it is still possible to believe in a human soul, in a self with free will, and all the special value and ethical considerations that human life is due. All you have to do is read GEB (Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid) by Douglas R Hofstadter.

    Religion long ago agreed with the GEB premise (or a parallel one) when it accepted evolution (even guided by God, which also doesn't imply a lack of free will). Evolution is exactly the same type of (probablistic) process that chemically constructing a human is, so it doesn't follow that synthetic people don't have souls in just the same way that evolution does not imply that all humans are mere selfless animals. The religious advisors know that, but the common lay people like Katz never got wise to the deeper meaning of the earlier debate on evolution.
  • by BranMan ( 29917 ) on Tuesday December 14, 1999 @05:51AM (#1468254)
    Wow, Katz certainly tugs the chains of FUD like the best of them - quoting Shelly like a madman.

    I, however, see wonderful applications of this knowlege - first create the simplest organism that can live. Then start adding to it - add the genes for producing Insulin. Grow the microbes in huge vats - poof! Insulin by the gallon, for pennies per gallon.

    How about figuring out a carbon sequencing gene set? The "programming" of it would be maybe the greatest intellectual challenge we've had recently, but in the end - poof! microbes that can produce petroleum products. Where we need them. No more supertankers, no more oil wells, no more pipelines. Make it where it's used. (Of course that will cripple the economies of dozens of countries around the world... side effects are unavoidable. On the good side, it will probably take years, so there will be plenty of warning for those smart enough to take the hint)

    Or how about a microbe that binds carbon out of the atmosphere? Convert CO2 to O2 with super efficient microbes - poof! space travel just got a whole lot easier. The greenhouse effect could be reversed. No wait - better than reversed - regulatable. No more Ice Ages while we're around.

    And the downside? People will try to kill off diseases, resist pests, etc. The problems we have now with breeding resistant bugs and germs will only accelerate. It's been a brush war so far - soon we'll be bringing in the heavy artillery. We're pretty tough - I think we'll win in the end. But there will be quite a bit of "colateral damage" to the environment.

    How about AIDS? Maybe the solution isn't killing the disease, maybe the best solution is to alter our genes - raise a new generation that AIDS can't affect at all.

    In all this though we'll do it because we can - there will always be a soft spot to open the door to this research ("But we can use it to cure Muscular Distrophy! Surely you can't be against THAT?"). And it will happen - moral discussions are irrelevant. Whatever is "decided" the research will go on. Pandoras box cannot be closed again.

    We just have to make the best of it.
  • I think my point is made: science can never explain the primal causes, can never account for the ultimate origin of anything. To try to claim otherwise is the worst kind of hubris.

    Of course, neither can religion. Religion can never explain the primal causes, can never account for the ultimate origin of anything. To try to claim otherwise is the worst kind of hubris. Religion can not even say where god came from, so why believe in it at all? It's obviously wrong. :-)

    Of course, that's a joke, but the point is made. Nothing can explain everything, short of everything itself. That last sentence can even be proven, I'll leave it to you to figure out how. :-)

  • "The future is a scary place! The world is on the cusp of something terrible!"

    Guess what? The world has always been on the cusp of something great and terrible. Especially in the 20th century, there has been something at almost every moment that, given a few years, has the potential to change human (i.e. modern and industrialised) society drastically. Some of them happened. Some of them were passe' by the time they arrived.
    The debate over bioethics has been going on for decades, in the industry and in the halls of governments around the world. The fact that it's only now making the news is pretty much irrelevant to how much (or to be fair, arguably how little) thought and discussion has already gone into it.

    Or, more to the point, JonKatz is half a day late to the docks again, and trying to make up for it by throwing around vague, emotionally charged fluff. Again.

    Totally off topic now, I followed a link from the suckdot parody of slashdot, and discovered that JonKatz is a professional (meaning "he gets paid") journalist. All I can say is scary.

  • I'm not sure how all of the ethical issues play out on this one, but in general, Christians have no need to fear technology.

    We've been attacked as being closed-minded, and unwilling to let science to it's job - that of exploring knowledge.

    It's not rational to object to technology simply because it brings us to the unknown, or because it challenges long-held beliefs. God gives us the capabilty to gather knowledge about the universe in which we live, and that's a GoodThing TM.

    There are areas of genetic reseach that are rationally opposed. For example, fetal tissue research that gets it's raw material through unconscionable activites like partial birth abortion. The only way to get to the start of that sort of research involves killing babies. That's a Bad ThingTM.

    Let's no longer be associated with those who would suppress Copernicus. Let's look to gather knowledge about the universe in which we live!

    BTW - I'm a "fundamentalist" in that I believe in the fundamental truths of Christianity. I belive that evolution as origin of species is irrational, and as much a religion as Christianity. I also believe that the earth was created in seven days by an all powerful Creator.

    Merry Christ mas
    Jesus is the Reason for this Season!

  • Project Gutenberg [] just published Chromosome 22 in ASCII, and they have all 24 (23 + Y)) planned to be published by June 2000. Of course these are available in probably more useful form from the Genome Database []. But hey, the source code is out there - the hacking can start!
  • If the "point" of Frankenstein could be packaged in a nice, neat, little /. post, then Mary Shelly wouldn't have had to write it.

    The novel is a novel because it needed to be. She couldn't have told the story, or made the "point" as well with less words, or in a lesser art form.

    And since you asked, The Stand means nothing to me.
  • The likelyhood is that they will fail because the genes are more complex than the scientists really understand. Nature tends to eliminate unneeded genetic parts over time so it is likely that the organism is very close to having as small a genetic code as possible to allow it to survive and reproduce

    Bunk, even a casual review of gentic research will show that all species genome's contain vast sequences of "noise" of permeniatly turned off segments of DNA. Nature is a pack rat of code - it's more bloated then the latest from Readmond.

    What these researchers want to do is place a synthisised DNA strand in a phospholipid sphere. All species cell's have to have the same basic tools to make protines, recive nutrients, and expell waste. This is the part of the genome that's identical in each one.

    All this DNA building is basicaly humans using a HEX editor to muck around with the machine code for life - DNA. A simple phosolipid shell in a nutrient providing environment is the computer device it runs on.

    The trick down the road is going to not be this primitive tinkering, akin to putting your name in the credits of a game by editing the text strings held in the executible; but the development of an abstracted language to "program" life. Want a radiation waste eating roach that can clean up reactors? Just use the latest object oriented visial LIFE ( Living Individual Functional Engineering ) compiler and link the pre-coded objects together to get one. Compile and debug your new bug!
    James Michael Keller

  • And why put this discussion in the hands of scientists and members of organized religion -- the latter probably responsible for more hatred, bloodshed and cruelty than any other single force in human history?

    It's interesting that JK is keen to lay the blame for the deaths of many people killed in the name of religion at its door, yet (as implied by his comment above) he is unwilling to lay at the door of atheism the far greater number of deaths for which it is responsible.

    How is atheism responsible for deaths? If you do not accept God, you can make no claim that one moral framework is any better than another. Therefore,you are perfectly within your rights to develop philosophies such as those of Stalin, Mao and Hitler, because any moral philosophy is as good as anyother. Their killing was a natural progression from their Godlessness - a far stronger link than that between Christianity and those who distort its message to one of murder.

    So let's have no more of this "religion is responsible for more bloodshed and cruelty..." nonsense, please.

  • Caterpilars ... pass. I live in the UK but I haven't heard about this particular experiment. Cites, please?

    A GE experiment in Australia went disasterously wrong, when a whole load of plague-carrying rabbits escaped to the mainland, from the place they were kept. Aside from utterly wiping out the rabbit population in the area, Australia was very lucky and no other casualties occured.

    Not true. The rabbit incident was simply a repeat of the use of myxamatosis (in the 1950's) to control Australia's rabbit epidemic, using a different but entirely natural disease organism. The rabbits "got loose" mostly because farmers suffering from an extreme rabbit infestation took matters into their own hands and removed some infected cadavers from the island where the bug was being tested.

    The genes have not yet been completely mapped in anything other than VERY primitive organisms, and even there, as much as 1/3 are not understood and an unknown amount is "junk" (read: they don't even know if they don't understand it).

    The first human chromosome to be completely mapped was announced a week or two ago; the rest are partially mapped, and should be nailed down within five years. Several single-celled organisms have been mapped, too, and there's also the Canine Genome Project in progress -- expect GP's for all major domesticated (and experimental) animals within the next year or two.

    As for junk DNA, why does this surprise you? Genetic algorithms produce messy code. If some junk sequence doesn't actively impair the reproductive fitness of the organism the genome expresses, there is no selection pressure to remove it from the genome. What's interesting isn't how much of the genome is junk, but how well-understood bits of it are already.

    And the real Hard Question in biochemistry, the tertiary/quarternary protein conformation question, is due to come under attack for real in another few years when IBM's Blue Gene comes on line. (Now there is a topic for Katz to rant about!)

  • Heated debate, or debate at all, is not what is needed...

    Eh? What are you on about? Setting the actual subject matter aside for a moment and looking at any scientific advance we have made in the past, or are making at the moment, public debate among groups such as /. is exactly what is needed.

    Encryption and those technologies that allow eavesdropping raise major issues in the field of privacy, and I consider myself extremely lucky to be part of a debate in which I benefit from the input of many who know so much more about it than I do. Even from my technically less competent standpoint, I have ethical and social input into the conversation. Privacy is just one example.

    Coming back now to the matter in hand, we've got in the first few minutes of this article's existence, a bunch of statements that provoke thought, a couple of scare stories and a bunch of neanderthals posting "first-post" and flamebait nonsense.

    This article is heavily biased towards the "it's such a terrible idea" side of the argument that it doesn't really provide a solid base for the discussion and it's provoked a bunch of criticisms of Jon Katz, this is not really a good thing, because it distracts from the debate.

    What is clear is that whilst it is very unlikely that comparisons such as "Gattaca" are spot-on, they serve to illustrate the kind of fears that some individuals may have.

    Personally, I don't think we're doing ourselves any favours by using Frankenstein's Monster and Gattaca as references in this discussion, because they shape the way we think, and we end up debating how close or far from reality they might be, what a logical extension of the storylines might lead to, and how terrible that really is. Much more interesting would be a less hysterical discussion of the pros, cons, benefits and costs of the use of such technology, steering clear where possible (at least at first) of comparisons with deities from various religions and panic attacks regarding races of clones genetically engineered to buy from Microsoft etc. I'd have hoped that a site whose tagline is "News for Nerds, Stuff that Matters" would be capable of

    1. Seeing with excitement the possibilities of such technology.
    2. Coherently arguing the case for and against without resorting to religion.
    3. Not leaping to the worst possible conclusion every time.
    4. Providing clear informed discussion on the real, tangible and likely risks.

    Sorry if that sounds combative, it isn't meant to be, but most of the articles I initially read either criticised the original author, or leaped so far to one side or the other of the argument as to add very little other than a little more panic to the debate. Apologies to the two or three very notable exceptions.

  • These are the kinds of things that make me wonder if Slashdot's moderation actually works. There's several comments much lower in the thread that actually provide information, or rational analysis of the situation, and this shit (if you'll pardon my language) gets marked "insightful." ??

  • This is a total misunderstanding of gene expression in living organisms. Nature generally does NOT eliminate unneeded genes. Most of your genes go unused and unexpressed. You have genetic structures in your DNA that are identical to those found in primitive bacteria. Nature does not "edit," it just keeps accumulating stuff. Deletion occurs only through extinction, so there is a lot of old stuff in our genes.

    As for the "it's not creating life because it is just using what is already there" argument, well that can be extended back to the universe itself. By you standard the only way to create life would be to create the universe. That's a perfectly valid semantic view, but not ethically very useful.

  • Ahh... But any world view needs a first cause. And in the case of religion, the first cause can be of infinite simplicity.

    I believe that God is of a single principle, unified in will and purpose. That he has no consituent parts. Further, I believe that he exists independent of time.

    This is not an easy concept, and I can't really explain it in the same way that I understand it. Basically, I believe that God is so simple and so unified of principle that, for anything to exist, God must exist to create it. Who can create time but a being that exists outside it?

    I realize that this is not a scientific explanation: but then again, it's not intended to be.

  • by jw3 ( 99683 ) on Tuesday December 14, 1999 @06:16AM (#1468298) Homepage
    Hello, I'm January and I work on Mycoplasma pneumoniae [] genomics and transcriptomics. I want to add a few words on C.J. Venters revelations.

    Mycoplasma genitalium, sequenced by Fraser and Venter, is in principle a deletion mutant of Mycoplasma pneumoniae, sequenced by people from the group I'm in. That means, it lacks a few genes M. pneumoniae still considers interesting for general survival, but all in all those two species are highly similar, with the same genetic apparatus etc.

    Both species can be subjected to random transposon mutagenesis - you shot at the genome with a tiny little thingie called "transposone", which randomly destroyes some gene. If the gene destroyed is important, such a cell will not grow and reproduce. Therefore in the mix you have only mycoplasmas, whos important genes are preserved, will grow. You can then use the Polymerase Chain Reaction to amplify and examine what genes specifically got destroyed - that means, which genes are not necessary to grow ...under laboratory conditions, of course. And ceteris paribus, that means - all other conditions being equall. Especially, other genes being intact.

    Venter tries to a) make the impression that he did the work b) he's got a strain with xxx genes "switched off", which is not true. We only know that all of this 150+ genes are not needed for mycoplasmas to grow if other genes are intact. The way to constructing the "minimal cell" is long, if you want, I can get into details.

    By the way, this information has three to four years, and Venter started talking about his "custom-made" M. genitalium about two years ago.

    The whole project will make huge publicity and a very little contribution to science. First, "essence of life", my foot. A piece of RNA with a couple of molecules surrounding it is perfectly capable of proliferating, evolving and making you deathly sick, providing it finds enough cells to proliferate within. Intact mycoplasmas need a lot of organic substances in their growth medium - you have to add bovine serum. Essentially, the border between something quite inanimated like virus and a living cell is smooth. Next, this "crucial genes" will be different for different systems and assemblies. Finally, you have assembly this living cell out of "living" molecules - it needs polymerases, ATP, lipids, synthetised DNAs and RNAs and so on just to start living. Ian Wilmut put dead DNA into a "dead" (unable to proliferate, without genetic material) cell, so did he created new, artificial life? Bulls..cience. Artificial life will be when you start with natural, inorganic and simple molecules. Assembling existing parts has not much in common of finding an existing formula of life, especially because it will not help you understand how those parts work! And this is a different research (proteomics/transcriptomics) and it is really a way to go before there will be an appriopriate article on /.. By the way, /. publishes lately a lot of cheap sensations. Sorry to say it.



    (from the JanKatz-Falls-For-Every-Commercial-Trick-Dpt.)

  • by TeknoDragon ( 17295 ) on Tuesday December 14, 1999 @06:22AM (#1468304) Journal
    I wonder if Katz is just expressing frustrations with more conservative religions? He's expressing a very exclusivistic atheist perspective here.

    Sure you can quip about how major religions have destroyed millions of people's lives... blah blah blah... or you can talk about the people it's helped (remember how Christianity came to power? by helping the impovereshed in Rome)... Katz's error is in recognizing only the negative and forgetting that most modern religions are rather moderate and might not have such a problem with this sort of thing.

    From a modern monotheist phillisophical perspective there is no problem. None of the arguments for the existence of a "God" are invalidated by the advent of man's creation of species. Sure we might be able to finally step evolution from theory to fact (to the chagrin of conservatives), but we won't change what people think.

    The world was still created in seven days (days relative to "God"), adam and eve were still tempted by the serpent (in the pre-material garden of eden), and JC still rose from the dead (or coma)... all the little exceptions that prostelytizing atheists try to "break" christianity/all religion with do not now and will never make a bit of difference to people with a genuine faith.

    Why ruin their party? We live in modern "enlightened" times and noone's going to burn you at the stake for not believing in "God" (but you might not be able to hold office in 7-9 states).

    (p.s. if you're wondering about me, i'm just a nutty idealistic relitavist, now go call the men in white jackets)
  • Bunk, even a casual review of gentic research will show that all species genome's contain vast sequences of "noise" of permeniatly turned off segments of DNA. Nature is a pack rat of code - it's more bloated then the latest from Readmond.

    Not necessarily true, we can not say for sure yet that those 'turned off' genes are useless. They may serve some crucial and as yet unkown purpose. Which makes it equally likely that removing them will lead to a crippled organism. Of course, that would be good to know too. I'm all for continuing this experiment.
    I don't think there are any religious or moral questions until we actually start from scratch and create an organism, and by scratch I mean energy.

  • Ahhh, so the scientists are not evil, but only the implementation of scientific ideas. You're laying the onus on the engineers to ensure their work is "moral/ethical". Nice idea in theory, but I think the line between scientist/engineer is quite a bit more blurred in reality.
  • by Kintanon ( 65528 ) on Tuesday December 14, 1999 @06:31AM (#1468312) Homepage Journal
    And neither does religion. If you have such a problem with the universe existing by itself without a supreme will (AKA 'God') creating it, then, personally, I have a probleme with a supreme will existing by itself, therefore it has to have been created by something else, probably a metagod, which would need in turn a metametagod etc ...

    This is one of the main fallacy of religion: the need for a first cause.

    Here we have a common misconception. There need not be anything before God, because there is no before God. Time is not something which governs a supreme entity. Time is of necessity a function of God. Hence Time only affects those things which God has decreed they affect. Our entire existence, the entire existence of the universe, everything is simply one state of God's existence. We are all in essence part of God, just as the rest of the Universe is. There may very well be multiple universes, multiple planets teeming with intelligent life, all manner of things. Man can not dictate God's will to God. Finding alien life will not engender any kind of crisis of faith in me, nor will humans sticking together a few legos to create a simple organism. When Man creates something from nothing, then I will be impressed. Until then I can find no conflicts between my faith and our science.

  • Some religious movements have been Very Bad, some scientific movements have been Very Bad. In both cases, it is because the beleif (whether scientific or religious) JUST HAPPENED to help justify someone else's Ulterior Motive (tm).

    If you want to keep slaves to ensure your economic prosperity, and you happen to find a passage or two in the Bible that can be used to support argument, suddenly its VERY CONVENIENT to call yourself a Christian.

    If you want to exterminate a certain race, or get rid of people who are "ugly", suddenly it's VERY CONVENIENT to support Eugenics and Genetics Research.

    Nevermind that in both cases, there are huge groups of people who belong in both groups who a) don't support slavery and b) don't support the mass extermination of races, or the killing of mentally handicapped people in the name of genetic purity.

    Nevermind, because there are always people like Nicolas Monnet who are willing to paint entire groups with the same brush, simply because there are some people in that group that he really doesn't like.
  • I did, in fact, read it and I didn't think he did contribute. "The Sky Is Falling!" is not contribution.

    Perhaps I was a little nasty (if so, I apologize Jon), but I wanted to point out that fear mongering and paranoia don't accomplish anything. Jon made that point in his 'Y2K Feature'.

    I wasn't bashing him personally, just critizing are article that needed critisism.

  • But that is a problem we have to face anyway. Lifespans have been rising, infact mortality rates dropping and genetic engineering can't be blamed for that. Better living conditions and better medicine are far greater contributors.

    In fact, some folks are geneticly engineering cows that produce more milk, more productive strains of crops, etc. (Although that has raised an big set of health issues that probably my biggest concern about the whole 'Gattaca' issue)

  • Clearly, Katz is a moron who fears the unknown, truth, or something, but why? and it is not just him.. all of holywood seems obsessed with the idea that ``we are not ready for it yeat'' or ``this technology is dangerous and should be abolished'' I watched an Earth Final Conflict Episode within the last year where the hero (Liam) blew up a super advanced alian race's Library because he didn't want anyone to get at what was inside.. needless to say I will not watch EFC again.

    Why are these people so fearful of the unknown or ideas that chalange their religious crap? I suspect that they think of science and technology as possesions whichthey know they will never have because they can never understand them. They must not understand the nature of knowledge. that is you share it and find out new things. If somethings are dangerous you call up the Gov. and have them regulate them.. or you create a code of ethics yuorself. Generally, scientsts develop a much stronger code of ethics then any of the morons like Katz who attack the research it's self.

    Finally, these people do not seem to understand that we really need our advances in any field of science.. including genetics. If somne else starts genetic engenering their kids and we do not then we will be the third world in 100 years.

    Anyway, this sort of mindless fear of the unknown and fear of understanding is one of humanities few truly evil traits. We are ready for genetic engenring.. not because we will do everything correctly.. but because we will fix our mistakes.

    I guess the good news is that social evolution is an active part of modern society. Like the people who do not believe in evolution.. the people who oppose genetic engeneric will eventually force themselves out of an importent aspect of modren life.

  • The physical world is much less forgiving than the theoretical world ... and talking about creating a new life form is unadulterated fantasy - nothing else.
    Perhaps so...but cloning a mammal was "unadulterated fantasy" only fifteen years ago (last time I took a bio class). And because it was dismissed as "unadulterated fantasy", there was precious little discussion of the ethics of cloning until the birth of the sheep heard (herd?) 'round the world.

    Maybe the time to talk about these things is while they're still "unadulterated fantasy"?

    I think the use of genetic tracking and classifying is perhaps more insidious than the spectre of "babies (or bacteria) to order". Certainly, genetic classifying is much closer, and raises serious privacy issues: analyze my DNA and you're also getting information about my parents, siblings, and relatives. Do I have the right to compromise my father's (and brother's, and uncle's) genetic privacy by putting the sequence of my Y chromosome up on my website?

    The sheeple accepted drug testing with hardly a bleat; how much of a fight will they put up against genetic testing? "We need to protect the children by testing them for propensity for disease. You don't hate children, do you?"

  • Bah, If you're truly worried about over-population then it's not genetic engineering you should be trying to curtail. You should be trying to screw up the sewer system to sharply increase the death-rate. The lowly sewer inspector/engineers have prevented more disease than any other category of worker.

    Yes, I think OP is a problem. Will genetic engineering aggravate it. Possibly. Will it make it possible so a lot of people who would normally have a lot of health problems would be perfectly healthy. Yes. Think about this, instead of people with diabetes, gauche disease, multiple schlerosis and other genetic disorders racking up huge amounts of medical bills, these illnesses will be able to be cured. They will be able to go on and lead more productive lives, not burdened down by medical debt and sickness.
  • I have to admit, I haven't seen a fundemental disconnect between reality and genetics this broad since I last listened to Jeremy Rifkin talking.

    Katz, you missed the point. Completely. Totally. Nothing you are saying has any relationship or relevance to what's happening.

    Gattaca was, indeed, science fiction. It was *fiction*. This is not how we actually behave. It is not a way we would behave even if we did have the genome mapped.

    If genes determined everything, maybe we'd have a little reason to worry. They don't. I'm not talking about "how you're raised", I'm talking unexpected variances in hormones, I'm talking plain old random outcomes.

    Genetics is a tool. If you angst about it, well, fine, whatever.

    But please, don't talk as if you know what you're talking about. This is probably the least sanely written slashdot piece it has ever been my misfortune to come across.

    You had no point, you had no evidence for your point, you had no conclusions that followed from anything you said. This piece read like a dumbed-down version of _Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity_.
  • The problem with the Iceland episode, wasn't the fact that the entire population was being used for genetic research, it was the fact the RESULTS of the research were going to be licensed to a single company.

    While I am sure that to someone this seemed to be good idea (probably a stockholder), apparently a large enough fraction of Icelanders disagreed.

    These are the kinds of things that need to be debated. Why is this being done? Who benefits? How will future generations be affected by the information uncovered? Who gets to decide if good points outweigh the bad? How do you prevent the information from being missused?

    We are starting to see more and more of these types of issues coming up. The FBI wants to have genetic material from every person arrested in america!! My HMO knows more about me that my parents, but they won't let me check it!! At somepoint in the not do distant future everything you do will be in someone's database!!

    Where is the forum for dealing with these issues? How do you compete with multinational companies with their massive media machines? Sure I can call my representatives at all levels (local,state and federal), but a vast majority have no interest (or understanding) in the issues we are talking about. How do I explain to my Mom that the stuff she sees on TV and reads in the magazines and newspapers isn't the whole story.

    As always, he who has the power (money) makes the rules. That's where Katz needs to focus, find out who is paying who for our future!!

  • This is the "a watch implies a watchmaker" argument. Or, as Spinoza stated it, every action has a cause, the universe exists, therefore it has a cause, therefore God exists. God as Prime Mover.

    It's elegant, it's intuitive, but it is not proof. This is what logic choppers like to call "post hoc ergo propter hoc," or mistaking sequence for logical connection. It is possible that universe has no time boundary, even though it appears to have a first event. It is also possible that the Biblical account of creation is literally true, word for word. I wasn't there and neither were you.

    The watchmaker argument holds that the evolution of complex living beings by purely "mechanical" natural processes is contradicted by everyday experience. Watches do not evolve from, say, church-tower clocks. It is the assumption that complexity implies design, design implies intent, and intent implies a mind, and a first mind implies a god.

    Even so, I can think of things that show complexity spontaneously emerging from simplicity. Water molecules have a fixed angle between the two hydrogen atoms. When water freezes, the molecules line up with one another with this fixed angle preserved. In other words, everything in there is the exact same size and shape. Do you live in a cold climate? Pour water on your windshield and watch it freeze. It forms little sections that freeze outward, creating complex crystalline "trees" that grow until they meet the edge of another frozen zone. You end up with juxtaposed frosty forests of great complexity. Pour water on it again and it will happen again, but it will look nothing like it did the last time.

    Living systems are a bit more complex than freezing water, but it is made out of molcules that are amost infintely flexible in shape and that can reproduce. It is the constant tug of war between reproduction and resources that drives the changes in the shape of the molecules of life. It tends towards complexity on its own.

    We can argue all we'd like about whether or not God assembled the first genetic molecules, but they can and do spontaneously self-assemble after that. The watch does not imply a watchmaker any more than an icy widshield implies a little crystalline forester. The icy windshield could imply a guy pouring water on a windwshield, but it could also imply the mere presence of water and a smooth surface.

    Argument, but not proof...
  • by w3woody ( 44457 ) on Tuesday December 14, 1999 @07:26AM (#1468360) Homepage
    Except keep in mind that to the eyes of some folks, genetic engineering is extremely dangerous, destructive, and could cause the end of the world as we know it. Or have you forgotten Monstanto's terminator seeds?

    Why people worry about genetic engineering in general is that it introduces a new organism (by tinkering an existing one, granted) which had not existed before. The worry is that someday we'll create an organism for which there is no viable preditor, and it'll get released into the biosphere and like Kudzo in the west, will wipe out whole species and clog large chunks of the biosphere. Or worse: given that many organisms share genetic material (that is, many organisms will cross-swap DNA strands), we'll create an organism which cross-swaps it's DNA with other species and create something truely horrible.

    It's the latter that's got everyone up in arms over terminator seeds, by the way: they're afraid the gene switch that makes the resulting plants sterile will swap into otherwise viable crops, rendering whole third-world farms sterile. And that's a bitch because in the third world, they use the seeds gathered from last year's crop to grow next year's food.

  • When I start to get into a 'The Sky Is Falling' mood, my biggest fear would be a Brave New World situtation.

    I mean, not *everyone* can be a 200 IQ movie star/super-model/neurosurgeon/nuclear physics researcher. There still has to be people who work crappy menial jobs (and there will for a long time, in fact some people suggest many jobs will get more menial and more crappy in the near future). So, only a select few get to be the Alpha Class (from Huxley) and most of the rest will be genetically engineered to *like* being burger flippers and what not.

    I like to think that society wouldn't allow that to happen, though!

  • Religion has always been irked by this. In the beginning, it was called sex. And organized religions put restrictions on it. Now it's called genetic manipulation and still organized religions are putting restrictions on it.

    Not all religions have been irked by sex. Only the Judeo-Christian ones. Most religions have something to say about sex, but for the most part, it falls in the category of "if you don't want to piss him/her off, don't mess with his heart."

    Most of the world's religions generally take a pragmatic view towards stuff like sex or genetics or computers or rocket science. Only here in the west are we inflicted by the twin boogy-men of a religious system full of conservative folks who fear the future, and a society who is too stupid or myopic to realize that there are other people in the world who see things differently.

    Wake up and smell the Hinduism! (Or Buddhism, or Zen, or Taoism, etc.)
  • There seems to be a bit of a misconception as to what the Human Genome Project is doing, from what I can gather from the posts I've read.

    The Human Genome Project was set up to sequence a specific set of DNA. Sequencing has absolutely nothing to do with decoding. In other words, what they're going to have when the finish is not a map that says this strand of DNA produces this result, but rather they'll end up with a list of Gs,Ts,Cs, and As.

    Even if the Genome Project was able to completly decode an entire genetic sequence, that does not mean that they would be able to take a peice of DNA and explain what the result would be. The problem is that the DNA does not directly create a life form. RNA "reads" off the DNA, and protiens fold, and during this process, which we don't funny understand, life eventually gets made.

    What makes this even more difficult is that fact that there is no "normal" gene for several traits. For example, there are about 500 different types of hemoglobin. Of these, about 450 of them actually work, IIRC. (The rest are in someway deficient) Not only that, but due to genetic polymorphism, several different strands of DNA could produce the same type of Hemoglobin.

    This makes it very, very, very difficult to take an arbitrary strand of DNA and predict the outcome.

    As such, it would also be very hard to create a strand of DNA that would produce a certain effect. Even if scientists find a certain DNA sequence (say, to produce blue eyes) there might be a problem with a population that shares too much DNA. Sort of like how the farmers who use all the same type of seed can loose everything to one obscure plant desise.

    This makes a "Gattaca" type "build-ya-own-baby" very unlikely. The more interesting option is "Brave New World", where instead of genetically creating new humans, a certain fertalized egg is divided multiple time. These "Bokanovsky Groups" are all genetically identical, and are pre-ordained to become a certain class. During their growth that would normally be pregnency, the lower classes are treated with alcohol to prevent mental development.

    Everyone is trained to enjoy their job, and thus everyone is happy to do the job the were created to do. IIRC, the entire reason the society became this way was that people were willing to give up certain rights in order to be safe. (Was this from a massive war, I can't remember)

    In any event, I don't see too many people who actually want to have kids, and who are able to have kids, going to a clinic and having one designed. I think we need to worry more about Big Brother than we do about a bunch of guys who will have an undecodable list of Gs, Ts, As, and Cs.
  • I *still* don't see how starting from scratch poses any bigger or different ethical or moral questions than starting from bits of bacteria ADN. The problem is what you're building, not what you're building it with. For me, there are serious issues as soon as you start building something complex (by life's own standards). As long as it's unicellular I think we're quite safe; I've yet to see anyone worry about the rights of bacteria, or whether they have souls. The other worry is what you do with them; as long as it's kept isolated in serious lab conditions, it's ok with me.

    So my take is, yes, go ahead with this experiment. But debate before messing with anything further up than bacteria, or before even thinking of releasing such a thing in the wild.

  • Buddhists do not believe in "something above themselves", at least not in the Judeo-Christian sense. If memory serves (and I'm sure I'll be called on this if I'm wrong), there is no "absolute moral framework". Just a respect for all things living. That seems to allow alot of wriggle room.

    Besides, who says that an absolute moral framework (Ten Commandments) are necessary to behaving in a socially acceptable manner? There are many atheist moral/ethical philosophies out there, such as Secular Humanism, which do have a "moral framework". Not to mention Relatavism, which does NOT have a moral framework - everything is judged independently.

    Check this page [] on The Secular Web [] for more information on atheism and morality.

    (!God) != immorality.


  • The thing I don't understand about this article is why had the scientific community decided to take ORGANIZED RELIGION's opinions into concern with respect to the genome project. We are simply exploring the body, no more, no less. We havent found the basis of life, and _I_ at least dont beleive that the basis of life can be found by science. If the religious leaders truely beleive in their own religions, I dont think they would be too concerned with scientists stepping on their robe-clad toes by mapping out proteins. This research is a tool, it is a guide book, it could lead us to great things. So why are we involving the same people who have banned evolution in Kansas?

    Perhaps because the vast majority of the earths population is religiously inclined?
    I think it's a sensible move at this point, because if the religious leaders of the world endorse this step then they are more likely to endorse later steps because they will have been given time to integrate this advance of humanity into their theologic philosophy and hence will not feel threatened by it. The reason this is a good thing is that no one can whip a crowd into a frenzy faster than a good priest, so unless you want your lab burned and your guinea pigs pitch forked I suggest you let the religious figure out where they stand on these newly emerging issues. Especially one that will eventually lead to human engineered life.

    Personally I feel that we are doing exactly what God first decreed we were to do, be Stewards over the earth, maybe we're finally becoming ready to accept the role he intended for us?

  • There are areas of genetic reseach that are rationally opposed. For example, fetal tissue research that gets it's raw material through unconscionable activites like partial birth abortion.

    Actually, by the time that a fetus gets to the stage where a 'partial birth' abortion is necessary, the genetic material is not usable for research. Fetal tissue research involves stem cells, which exist early on after conception.

    The problem that leads to people pointing at Christians and saying they want to snuff out research is because there are a few loudmouths out there who do exactly that. Then the rest of the Christians, the rational ones, don't stand up and denounce the loudmouths. If you don't want to be painted with the broad brush, you need to exclude yourself. That doesn't happen.

    Also, it doesn't help when you mis-state facts like your 'partial-birth' abortion comment above. If you said it in error, you should have checked your facts first. If you said it intentionally, is there not something about 'bearing false witness' that Christians are supposed to watch out for?


  • This is in response to Jon Katz' article on genetic tampering and on many of the responses already. (if I am sending this to the wrong place, just let me know)

    I believe that Katz's article was very enlightening and thought provoking, though I have some other places we can look for examples of genetic engineering. One example of genetic engineering is Jurassic Park, either the book or the movie. Scientist there played around with genes just as much as the prople in Gattaca did, only in Jurassic Park they brought back creatures that were 65 million years dead, as opposed to affecting living creatures. Jurassic Park shows just how dangerous genetic engineering tampering can be. No matter how careful we think we are, somethin can go wrong and get out of hand. So what if Dr. Ventor is able to make a new life form from the genes of and old and helpful bacteria. One little change in the genetic sequence can change this helpful guy into a horrible bowel eatting diesease that will kill every one. Maybe some smart person will manage to work out how to kill the disease before the human race is wiped out; but how long will this take? With the creator of the new disease being the first to die, someone else must learn all that he already has.

    While society today is working on wiping out prejudices, the Gattacan society creatted the biggest prejudice of them all. Not only are prople looking at the color of Vincent/s skin, but they test blood, urine, hair samples as well as every little flake of dead skin that falls off. So what if he has a heart condition. Agreeably he should not be placed in a situation that could provoke his heart condition, but is sitting in a room with a computer entering data going to provoke a heart attack? Instead of this safe job, "his kind" is put to work as janitors, a job that is much more physical. This type of discrimination already worries people today, as employers will not hire prospective employees because they may have to pay more money for a genetic diesease that was not their fault in the first place. People should not be judged by a medical illness that could not be prevented. Really, how does a heart condition effect typing on a computer?

    We should not 'play' around with genes of species "because we can". These are the famous last words of many who have payed for their mistakes. Once we are that shallow that we do something on this magnitude "because we can", many other factors are introduced into research and developement. Politics get involved, "hey vote for me because I can make every woman look 25, thin and blonde," and money becomes an issue. When this happens, the scientist are no longer researching for a better society, but for the higher paycheck. Another problem that gets involved is the possibility for the information to be used as weapons. Once an evil hand gets on the information, no telling what will happen. I'm not suggesting that we do not use genetic engineering, in fact is has been used for many years in agriculture to help produce food, I am just saying that we need to put a limit on how far we should go and that creating another species is over that limit. Helping cure AIDS, MD and other genetic diseases is research that is within the bounds and should be encouraged.

    As to the religious involvement in this matter, I think that the religious officials should have some say in this matter, they should be able to give their opinions on the matter, but they should not have the final decision. The final decision should be made from a committee of scientist that have a good knowledge of the subject at hand but have no personal commitment in the case. Then they should hear debates from all sides and then decide whether or not genetic engineering on a certain topic should be attempted. This decision should be based on the possible outcomes of the experiment and the possible consequences on society.

    Finally, science fiction has a lot to tell us and we can learn a lot about the possible future if we only listen. As stated in the article, it has already predicted genetic engineering, missions to Mars, and manned space flight. Science fiction shows us the possible ups and downs that are associated with a possible experiment. If this is scientifically sound, then all that is left is the question, "Can society today handle such an idea?"
  • By you standard the only way to create life would be to create the universe. That's a perfectly valid semantic view, but not ethically very useful.

    "In order to make a cake from scratch, one must first create the universe." I forgot who said it, but I think it's apropriate.

  • Interesting argument, but you really didn't really provide a counterpoint.

    I admit that complex patterns can form from nothing.. That's the nature of molecules. Ice crystals can form and make some very beautiful patterns, but that's it.

    Life is different. Freezing water has all that it needs to form those crystals in itself. It's just the reactions of molecules to freezing and each other. But life requires that certain things be there before it actually forms.

    If we accept the word of this scientist that around 300 genes are needed to form life, then we should consider what happening at the base level. Atoms and molecules don't exist in nature as genes. They exist as atoms and molecules. It's been a while since I studied cellular biology, but in order to create the building blocks of DNA, around 27 specific amino acids have to be present. With those present, the next step is to somehow form them into the genes that would eventually create the DNA needed to form a cell. If I'm wrong on the number of AA's, or the sequence of events, please let me know.

    Now, it's been proven before in laboratory tests that the most amino acids scientists could "spontaneously" produce was around 7 or 8. Again, correct me if I'm wrong.

    Now let's look at the odds... What are the chances for the right number and type of amino acids getting together to form even ONE gene? From that point, what are the chances that this would happen 300 or so times in order to put together a strand of DNA that would support life? Keep in mind, that it would need to be quick enough so that the rest of the genes wouldn't decay before the last ones were formed.

  • by SteveM ( 11242 ) on Tuesday December 14, 1999 @08:26AM (#1468412)
    By changing a few words we get ...

    Here we have a common misconception. There need not be anything before the universe, because there is no before the universe. Time is not something which governs a universe. Time is of necessity a function of the universe. Hence Time only affects those things which exist in the universe. Our entire existence, the entire existence of the universe, everything is simply one state of existence. We are all in essence part of the universe, just as the rest of the universe is. There may very well be multiple universes, multiple planets teeming with intelligent life, all manner of things. Man can only work within the physical laws of the universe. Finding alien life will not engender any kind of crisis of faith in me, nor will humans sticking together a few legos to create a simple organism. When Man creates something from nothing, then I will be impressed. Until then I can find no conflicts between my faith and our science.

    Thus we see that the word "God" as used in the original post is simply a place holder and is logically equivalent to the word "universe" in this version.

    The simple fact is that we don't know what existed before the universe. And any discussion about that topic is pure speculation.

    I find this topic quite interesting. But I have no trouble sleeping not knowing the answer. Some people have a difficult time with this, and the concept of God serves an emotional need for them. I am not one of these people, and the concept of God as prime mover to me seems content free.

    Steve M
  • Getting lots of interesting e-mail, thanks. As usual, many of these posts suggest I'm too ignorant to engage in a discussion like this. But this is the problem. This discussion shouldn't be in closed circle..geneticists, biologists, clergyman and rabbis..It should include nitwits like me. When you start talking about creating life, or altering life -- sometimes obviously worthwhile things to do, as in eradicating disease -- everybody should be invited to the table for a huge discussion. I reject the patronizing suggestion that only trained ph'd's are smart enuf to to get into this discussion. That's the problem with science, if you even glance at its history. Scientists make great things that often have horrific consequences..just look at much of the 20th Century (the Net and the booming economy isn't the only story). I refuse to back off of conversations like this because ill-tempered elitists say nobody but them is really qualified to participate.
  • This article seemed quite uninformed to me. It had a lot of misconceptions that the general public has about genetics and science. I think if Jon Katz wants to look at these issues, he should spend a serious amount of time researching them, instead of writing a fluff piece that tries to stir up fear, just like mainstream media.

    This is all is too far away to worry about, they squawk. Or it won't really happen. Only scientists, programmers and biologists understand it enough to talk about it, anyhow.

    Instant science does not exist. Although mapping the human genome sounds fantastic... it doesn't necessarily mean that you understand it completely. I think people have seen too many movies that contain Instant Science(tm) and they think that happens IRL. The thing I am thinking of in particular is movies like Outbreak, where some new disease is found, and during the course of a few weeks, days or even hours... they manage to create a vaccine to save the main character who is dying. This does not happen in the real world. From knowing which genes are necessary for life, it's quite a step to be creating it yourself, I'll bet.

    And since when do programmers know all that much about genetic science? People spend years studying it in university and will often only work in a specialized area. I admit I don't know all that much about it myself. I do, however, know someone who works in the field (admittedly, they work in plant genetics). And I think that I have a bit more balanced view of genetics than the average Joe Schmoe.

    What's so bizarre about "Gattaca" is that it's not really even science fiction, but an early documentary of the 21st Century.

    Um... right... I think we're still a ways from a society that buys genes for their kids. Comparing current research to that is like comparing a horse drawn wagon to a car.

    But where is this debate supposed to occur? In Threads on Slashdot? In the United States Congress, whose idea of technological debate is requiring the Ten Commandments to be posted in schools? Or in the American media, still stuck on hacking and cracking, e-commerce, or whether or not Johnny will sneak onto the Playboy website?

    Why is Jon Katz *always* so USA-centric. When this debate becomes necessary (I think it's still a bit early on to really know what we can do), it should be held at the UN or on some other similarly global level.

    And as for the religious issues, I'm sure the various religions will work it in and change their interpretation of things, just as they have done through out history. People who go on faith are most likely to argue about it a bit and then find a way to incorporate it into their beliefs.

  • But this is the problem. This discussion shouldn't be in closed circle..geneticists, biologists, clergyman and rabbis..It should include nitwits like me. When you start talking about creating life, or altering life -- sometimes obviously worthwhile things to do, as in eradicating disease -- everybody should be invited to the table for a huge discussion. I reject the patronizing suggestion that only trained ph'd's are smart enuf to to get into this discussion.

    Justify that statement. Why should you be included in the discussion? What can you contribute? "I don't understand what you're doing, but I have an opinion anyway." Everyone has an opinion on something. Those comments and emails you're getting are telling you something --- they're saying that you have your basic facts and assumptions wrong, which means you're indulging in lousy journalism.

    We wouldn't want a judge who didn't understand law, and many people here are annoyed by software companies run by people who couldn't write "Hello, World". Why, then, should decisions about science be made by people who don't understand the science? An opinion which is formed without being drawn from facts/evidence is fairly worthless, IMHO.

    This certainly makes an argument that we need more people who understand science in conjunction with other fields such as ethics, law, and journalism. However, I don't think people are entitled to make uninformed decisions just because they feel scared of the unknown.

    Alik Widge
    MD/PhD Program
    University of Pittsburgh/Carnegie Mellon University
  • Technology has advanced to the point (or more specifically, is now advancing at a such a rate) that we've lost "control" of it

    I've seen a lot of smart people express this same vague feeling that technology is out of control. None of them can back up that assertion to my satisfaction. I think this goes back to C.P. Snow's 'two cultures' concept - that our society is split between the scientifically literate and those who concentrate on non-scientific matters, and the two sides are not talking to each other much. The non-scientific side really HAS lost control of technology, because the other half of the culture - us - have it in our grasp.
  • BZZT! WRONG! Not believing in God does not automatically disqualify a person from a moral debate. God is absolutely NOT necessary for morality, especially the Judaeo-Christian god. There's a lot of Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, Pagans, Satanists, and people who worship Alan Greenspan (not necessarily in any particular order) who would disagree. They all have a moral framework, and they don't believe in God.

    BZZT! WRONG! They DO believe in God, just not the Judeo Christian God. If someone believes that Alan Greenspan is God then they obviously believe that he has some power to watch their actions and punish them if they misbehave, hence they are much more likely to follow the Code of Greenspan, or Alanocracy or whatever.>:) If one believes there is no God, no ultimate Accountability, no one who can judge them, then it becomes that much easier to believe that might makes right and as long as they win the war they have nothing to worry about. Belief in God is a GOOD thing, it provides something that humans DESPERATELY need, something to frame their morals on. People, humanity as a whole, know that certain things are wrong, Murder is wrong no one is going to try to tell you otherwise. But WHY is murder wrong? Well, because it damages society. How does it damage society? Well, we need to reproduce, we need more people, and it hurts peoples feelings. But we have plenty of people, and more being born every second, and why should I care about peoples feelings? If they are dead they can't do anything to me, and what if I want that car he has? These are questions which science can not answer. You can not ask a scientist why Murder is wrong. Because that is not the kind of question that Science is supposed to answer. Religion is what explains why Murder is wrong. Murder is wrong because God gave man life and no human has the right to undo what God hath done.
    Oh, and just for your future reference half of the religions you named believe in multiple Gods, and one of them believes that Man is God.

  • Umm.... I challenge you to find ANY examples of communist bloodshed/genocide that measure up to the Crusades, jihad, Inquisition, etc. I mean, communism has only been around for the last 3/4 of a century!!! Compare that to your 2000 years of dogmatic bigotry. Any "evils" of communism were not a result of the philosophy, but of nationalism and ruthless individual leaders. You have fallen victim to Western anti-communism (McCarthy) propaganda.

    Any "evils" of Christianity were not a result of the philosophy, but of nationalism and ruthless individual leaders. You have fallen victim to the Antheist anti-Christian propaganda.

    The actions of a group are almost never the result of a concious decision by that group but of powermad leaders that have managed to sieze power some how. I imagine that BEFORE they were whipped into a frenzy by some dictator the citizens of a certain country had no problems with a certain ethnic group and had no desire to dump said group into gas chambers. Christianity as a whole has never embarked on a Crusade, several political leaders who had been granted power over the church proclaimed a crusade, and many blood thirsty Christians used that as an excuse to loot and pillage a neighboring land in the hopes of salvation in a Jihad, not to mention bringing home a big pack full of gold.
    The actions of these few however were not indicative of the entire community any more than Gritsboy and that guy with the stone fetish are indicative of this community.

    to address your next point, I don't believe we have any Shinto, Buddhist or Muslim followers in the discussion right now. If there were I should hope they would share their views.

    As for religious leaders being wide of the mark, at least they make scientists stop and consider the social ramifications of their discoveries instead of only the technical ramifications.

  • ) Hitler was Catholic.
    2) Communism is not evil.

    Check your facts, Hitler was raised catholic but he was not a practicing catholic nor did he believe in any of the Catholic principles. He was NOT a religious man.

  • by Zach Frey ( 17216 ) <zach@ z f r e y . c om> on Tuesday December 14, 1999 @09:33AM (#1468444) Homepage

    He is glossing over an important fact: The human genome will be decoded.

    Usually, it's Jon Katz who is the one guilty of techno-determinism; this time it's his critics.

    It is not inevitable that the human genome will be decoded.

    Likely? Yes, if things continue. But there's nothing inevitable about it. Y2K or a stray asteroid could wipe out technological society before the HGP completes. The governments of the world could stop funding HGP and outlaw further experimentation. All of the scientists involved could have a change of heart and abandon the project. The future is not know to us, and the progress of the HGP is due to deliberate human effort, not some force of nature.

    The question is whether it will be open and available to all, or be the patented intellectual property of a few.

    No, the first question is whether this is worth doing at all. That is what Katz (in his unfortunately flame-baited style) is pointing out.

    Only after the first question is answered does the second become relevant.

    I suppose you will point out that the HGP will almost certainly complete no matter what public debate happens at this point. This is probably true, but it hardly reassures me that my voice is going to be heard on whether the results will be patentable.

    We, the Open Source community are some of the best equipped to understand the importance of what may be the most important Open Content project to date.

    O, what hubris!

    A familiarity with software, and an agreement with the principles of open source, does not confer any special understanding of ethics and especially bioethics. This is arrogant (to think that because we know software, we are better equipped than the biochemists to know what they are doing) and elitist (because I Am A Technologist, my opinion matters more than my mom's).

    The victory of industrialism over Luddism was thus overwhelming and unconditional; it was undoubtedly the most complete, significant, and lasting victory of modern times. And so one must wonder at the intensity with which any suggestion of Luddism still is feared and hated. To this day, if you say you would be willing to forbid, restrict, or reduce the use of technological devices in order to protect the community -- or to protect the good health of nature on which the community depends -- you will be called a Luddite, and it will not be a compliment. To say that the community is more important than machines is certainly Christian and certainly democratic, but it is also Luddism and therefore not to be tolerated.
    -- Wendell Berry, "Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community"
  • We can argue all we'd like about whether or not God assembled the first genetic molecules, but they can and do spontaneously self-assemble after that. The watch does not imply a watchmaker any more than an icy widshield implies a little crystalline forester. The icy windshield could imply a guy pouring water on a windwshield, but it could also imply the mere presence of water and a smooth surface.

    You simply state that because you do not implicitly see the literal hand of God piecing each atom and molecule together that there must be no hand of God. Yes you do not doubt that the water freezes because it is cold. You can not see cold, you do not see the force which binds those molecules. We know it exists, but we don't really know what it is beyond a force of some kind. They have named it, demonstrated its characteristics, and called it science. But there is no fundamental understanding.

    Just because you can not see it, does not mean it is not there.
  • Ok, but where did god come from? You don't seem to want to answer this question. This is his point. And you can't just say that he is and always has been. No to that.

    you seem to be implying that God is somehow subject to a before and an after. Which would imply that God is governed by time. Which is not possible. Time is a function of God. There is no time in relation to God. You can not have a before God, or an After God. Because Before and After are concepts which exist within God. We exist in a single, crystal moment. That moment changes, and the previous state ceases to exist. There is no future state, there is only the now state. God sees all Nows. to God there is no Time. Hence there is no place or time for God to come from, because everything exists as a function of God. There is no Is and Always has Been, because those terms are completely meaningless when applied to God.

  • You're putting words in my mouth. I claim that 'religions' don't have a good enough track record to be able to point the 'good' when THEY, as religions, have done so much bad.

    No one has a good enough track record as an organization. Individually there are plenty of good people. But those aren't the kind of people that desire power, so they aren't the ones who end up leading organizations. Scientists as a group are no better or worse than Wiccans, or Christians, or Nazis as a group. There are good individuals in each group though, and those are the people we need to hear from.

  • My point is'nt actually that you'd need another prime cause for 'their' 'God'. My point is that, if they can so easily get rid of their first cause for 'their' 'God', well I don't need a first cause for 'my' 'Universe'. The first cause requirement is a logical fallacy.

    Your universe is required to follow the laws of physics and thermodynamics. God is not. Hence anything describing your universe as violating its own laws must be false. However God is unaffected by the laws of the universe because he is not bound by the universe.

  • err... Although I agree with you on most, "The unexamined life is not worth living" goes back to Socrates.

    Of course, he was a religionist -- in fact, his understanding of religion was so distinctively Christian that many have posited some kind of special revelation to account for it. Read the Plato's Apology sometime. So the Irony still stands :)

  • And why put this discussion in the hands of scientists and members of organized religion -- the latter probably responsible for more hatred, bloodshed and cruelty than any other single force in human history?

    Bzzzt. Thank you for playing. Organized atheism, with leaders including Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. have easily outdone any evils perpetrated by organized religion by a hundredfold.

  • For starters, I said it was a joke.

    For seconders, God is, semantically speaking, a symbol with a real referrent, the meaning of which most people in most times have agreed on.

    Your attempt to disprove my little parable by inserting an absurdity in the place of its main character is what's silly.

  • This has been one of the worst JonKatz pieces since he first used the word "geek" in vain. Watch Gattaca. There are 2 issues:

    • Genetically selecting people to be more ideal.
    • Identifying people by their genes to determine everything about them, that someone such as an employer might need to know.

    Katz may be somewhat confused about this, but these two are entirely different issues which have almost nothing to do with each other. How close are we to these goals?

    How close are we to genetic selection of ideal children? Sure, eventually we'll be able to remove physical defects, tendencies to some diseases, etc. from our children. This may happen in the coming decades, even. Is this bad? Maybe questionable, but overall it's a great achievement for humanity, just like penicillin. How close are we to making super-intelligent children? That will never happen, let alone in the "early 21st Century" as Katz describes. No amount of genetic research will ever find the key to people being born intelligent.

    But lets say genetic engineering did have some undesirable consequence in the next century. This would be the fault of the evil Human Genome Project. WHAT? Idiot. The Human Genome Project is about learning, information, and adding to the amount of data available to humanity. If Jon Katz believes learning information can be dangerous he is the Big Brother of his own personal 1984, not the scientists of the Human Genome Project. He would just as quickly be the person to blame gun manufacturers for genocide.

    What about using a person's DNA to identify everything anyone needs to know about them? DNA tests are nothing new. I seem to remember something about a highly publicized trial and a retired football player. They'll get faster, and more common, and maybe somed day we'll be taking DNA tests to use an ATM. DNA tests will never be sufficient for job interviews, as is the case in Gattaca, because DNA will never be an indicator of how intelligent, knowledgeable, or talented a person is.

  • Ugh, OK, I found the article, it's in the Friday issue of Science, Hutchison III et al. Transposon mutagenesis of mycoplasmas using tn4001 is an old story, they just did it on a larger scale. OK, this is something new, although all my other comments apply (I still have doubts about the method as I mentioned). The "minimal gene complement" was proposed to be +- 250 in 1996 - Hutchison et al think it is something like 250-350, so this isn't a new statement either. Maybe what is most interesting are the 100 unknown genes, which have possibly an important function.



  • by Anonymous Coward
    The first time I read this, I thought you had written ".. humans sticking together a few legos to create a simple orgasm." And I was like, damn! Those Mindstorms must be a lot better than Legos used to be when I was a kid!
  • 'life' is a religious concept in the first place. When does something in a laboratory come alife? Is it when you have somehow managed to create a string of DNA? Is it when you put his string of DNA in some host cell? Is it when you get make the cell capable of replicating itself? Sure that's a complex thing to do but not impossible or improbable.

    It's all chemistry to me. The only scientific definition of 'life' I can think of is large scale chemistry.

    All the other is religious fluff. I'm not really worried about the religious impact of this since my only religion is science.
    If it can be done, it will be done and it should be done properly. In my opinion its only a matter of time before they clone/create a human like creature, and why shouldn't we allow it? I have no objections against a creature that is perfectly happy being my slave (which somehow seems the greatest fear of 'ethical' people). The word slave only has a sour taste because of the way human slaves were treated in the past. You have to pull it out of its context of the past and think of life as large scale chemistry. An android is just another tool. Sure there's no need to treat them in a cruel way but then we can built in a friendly attitude can't we?

    The story of Frankenstein is not one about how horrible human creations can be but about how humans deal with something new: scared, afraid and hostile. Frankensteins monster only became a monster after he denied access to human civilization (mainly because of his appearance).

    Religion for me represent the scared part of our society. Religion always question scientific achievements out of fear what it could do to society - this started when somebody claimed the earth was not flat. Don't get me wrong, I'm not making a plea for carelessly doing anything that's scientifically feasible but I don't think ethics and religion provide any real clues here.

    The real, scientific questions should not be how this will potentially harm our society but how we can use this to our advantage. 'Life' (no pun intended) would be so much simpler if we could do without ethical and religious complications. Of course real life doesn't work that way and I don't think the process of putting scientific findings through a process of evaluating their impact (on society and technology) is bad. The only thing I plead for is that it is an open minded process. I don't oppose the ability to create a humanoid and use it to do labour. I may oppose specific realizations of this concept that look to much like what happened to africans in the later part of this millenium but then they are not androids in the first place.

    Arguments such as "it's unnatural" or "it says here in that we shouldn't do this" are not very compelling arguments to me because I'm unaware of the difference between natural and unnatural (please don't insert your cheesy definition in a potential reply) and I only have one religion: science. I'm aware that that's a religion since it makes the minimal assumption that what we see exists as we see it. I.e. I cannot prove I don't live in a world like the Matrix but have no reason to assume that we do so I make the assumption that we don't and that what we see is what we see.

    But even if you falsify this assumption (i.e. there is something out there!, BTW how could you do this without using scientific notions?) it doesn't make science less true for the world we 'live' in. Maybe it doesn't apply outside the world if there is such a thing but who cares? If we ever manage to get there the first thing we'll do is adapt our science to cover the new situation. Falsification is not a disaster for science.

  • Religion established for humanity that there was nothing that it could not explain. It's all just a matter of 'listening to God'. It's just a matter of serving God the right way.

    Then science came along and proved that there is more to this universe than religion can explain.

    Then science said that there is nothing in the universe that science cannot ultimately explain. It's all just a matter of getting the numbers and theories down right.

    Then God got sick and tired of this bickering and invented String Theory [].

    Jon Katz might be wise to realize that the best wisdom is to talk to God while mastering the microscope. If we master science without talking to God, we'll obliterate ourselves. If we ignore science, we're ignoring God and we will be obliterated by a disease, or by a comet. If we listen to God, however, we will master the gravitons, skip across galaxies on tachyons, and we will ultimately discover that science is God's law, not the proof of a godless universe.

    Of course we can also use science and misinterpret God and blow ourselves to extinction in a nuclear holy war, too.
  • Look: I only talk about religion on Slashdot in response to direct, usually ill-informed, attacks on it. See, for example, the article I was responding to. Or look at fullly 50% of the stuff Katz spews.

    Now: what /precisely/ makes me come off as self-righteous? Please be specific. Frankly, given that I rarely talk about anything that /I/ do, I don't see how you could call me self righteous. Maybe you are just projecting your preconceptions on me?

  • Please be precise: when exactly did I (or any Christian -- what's this Xtian thing? Are you scared to say the name?) tell you what to think?

    Answer: I never did. I simply speak truth as I see it. You and your cohorts are the ones who want to force people to think in a given way.

    C'mon people! I am still waiting for the post that disagrees with me with any attempt to reference facts instead of vague inuendo! Give me specifics if you want to slander me and my religion!

  • "that to me, PROVE the existence of God"

    Ok, as long as you don't claim that these are scientific proofs it's ok with me. Just don't mix up science and religion.

    The best science can do is proof that there is no proof for GOD.

    To me religion is a tool that the elite in a society uses to steer the less fortunate. In any society religion is practiced by intellectuals. The sole exception is the western civilization (bad name I know) which is becoming more global. In this particular society, religion is being replaced by science. In earlier days churches housed the intellectual elite, nowadays they host a bunch of confused priests. In my home country (Holland), Catholic churches are populated by a rapidly aging staff -> they are becoming obsolete.

    What you believe is irrelevant. What I write and believe is irrelevant (just opinions). I can't prove that there is no GOD but then why would I want to prove that there is one? I don't believe there is one or more specific I think the idea of a GOD like creature ruling everything is a bit strange. I can prove that pigs can't fly in a scientific way but proving that there is (no) God is different since:
    A - we have no defintion of God. Pardox here because the moment we define it it becomes science.
    B - There is no observable entity that we can relate to God. All information we have about it is secondary information.

    From a scientific point of view religion is a moving target. Science merely convinces people that certain things are possible or true and religion usually accepts those facts and adapts to it. Religion says you cannot produce life. Science clones sheep. Religion counters: well, cloning is not the same as creating life.

    Next century we'll engineer a bacteria, possibly even more complex organisms. Will it have a soul? Who cares, religion will probably end up making a distinction between life an what was created by man.

    You can't really beat religion because it is irrational. Logics don't apply here. A religious person will counter any logic you present to him. There's no point in doing so. Intelligent people shouldn't waste their intellect on the God issue. It's unprovable and any useful argument has probably already been made.

    If you live in a conservative society: pretend you're a believer, it makes life easy if you don't have to fight irrational things. If you are a believer, dream on if that's what keeps you happy. If you are a non believer, don't waste time on convincing others of your belief.

    Oops, time for some self reflection. I'm wasting precious time here (time = limited resource, I only have 80 years or so). But then, I do enjoy this type of thing :)
  • Why is this post flame bait and the one it was responding to is not? I am so bloody sick of the anti-Christian bias at Slashdot that it's ridiculous. I was responding to a post that attempted, without support, to claim that Christians taught "hate" and tried to dominate people through "fear". Yet that post is left unscathed because of its anti-Christian bias.

    I don't care about the karma: I have karma to spare. But I resent the prejudice. Which just goes to prove that Christianity doesn't make people want to censor those they disagree with: humanity does.

  • By your definition of God, God=The Universal Wave Function.

    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction
  • The Luddites maintained that the automation of their work would

    1. transform their economy from one of many small independant workers to that of a few owners running sweatshops
    2. result in a lower-quality product than what was produced previous
    3. and that ultimately this destruction of an relatively independant and self-sufficient community was a Bad Thing
    Well, 1. and 2. certainly happened, so the only thing left to "debate" is 3., which, except for a few cranks, everybody agrees that it was a Good Thing that the Inevitable March of Progress (with the help of a few well-placed troops) destroyed the economic livelihood and self-sufficiency of a community.

    As for "semi-terroristic", please remember that the Luddites, when simple protests didn't work, destroyed the offending property. For this, they were hanged, even on suspicion of Luddism. Thus, history records that the Luddites were a violent sort, as opposed to the calm, dispassionate peaceableness of those who had them executed.

    At least you've provided a fine example of the attitude that Wendell Berry described in my previous post. It is apparantly not enough that the Luddites lost their struggle to preserve their way of life; no, their name must be forgotten except for its use as an epithet.

    Democracy has one real enemy, and that is civilization. Those utilitarian miracles which science has made are anti-democratic, not so much in their perversion, or even in their practical result, as in their primary shape and purpose. The Frame-Breaking Rioters were right; not perhaps in thinking that machines would make fewer men workmen; but certainly in thinking that machines would make fewer men masters. More wheels do mean fewer handles; fewer handles do mean fewer hands. The machinery of science must be individualistic and isolated. A mob can shout round a palace; but a mob cannot shout down a telephone. The specialist appears and democracy is half spoiled at a stroke.
    -- G. K. Chesterton, What's Wrong with the World []
  • Here we have a common misconception. There need not be anything before the Big Bang, because there is no 'before the Big Bang.' Time is not something which governs the reasons behind the Big Bang. Time is of necessity a dimension within the space/time continuum. Hence Time only affects those things which are within that continuum. Our entire existence, the entire existence of the universe, everything is simply one slice of that continuum.

    Except that the Big Bang has to follow the Laws of Thermodynamics or it nulls all of the laws that govern our universe. And the spontaneous combustion of the universe means that everything that is here had to have been somewhere before it was here, because energy can not be created or destroyed. Hence everything that is here must have existed elsewhere before it was here, by my reasoning the entity we are naming as God would fit the bill. The universe was created by him, from his essence, whatever it may be. When the universe became, time began, because it goes hand in hand with the other 3 dimensions that only exist within our universe.

  • No, what you said is perfectly correct in all important respects. Thought, decision, will, action, all require causality which in implies progress though time.

    A being is something which experiences a sequence of internal states, with later states causally related to earlier ones; the passage of time is implicit in our evolving point of view. An information structure without an evolving point of view can hardly be called a 'being' - it's more like an 'is'! That's been at least anticipated in some cultures for thousands of years. The Hebrews called their God YHVH (Jehovah) which, if I'm not mistaken, translates as "I am that I am".

    Understanding this doesn't deny the existence of God, but it does mean that God cannot be a 'being' in any meaningful sense. It certainly makes nonsense of the claim that Man was made in God's image, and removes any possibility of a compassionate God likely or able to intervene in individual human affairs. Any stipulations to the contrary found in the Bible must, on that account, be no more than fairy tales laced with understandable anthropomorphism.

    Kintanon's glib, mystical cliches ("crystal moment" my ass!) are empty propositions because they cannot be used to draw further conclusions - in other words, there is no way to test his hypothesis. Morover, since he does not claim that his hypothesis is founded upon any repeatable observations, one may infer that his sole justification is that it satisifies Kintanon's spiritual needs.

    That's not to say that his position cannot be supported at all. Tipler reached broadly similar conclusions and (despite some excursions into pure speculation) is much more convincing.

    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction
  • Yeah...i bet people get really tired of hearing all of the defenses for Christianity. These defenses usually fall into one of the following chatagories:
    • "I am a modern, enlightened Christian. I don't think gays should be persecuted, I think men and women should be treated equally, etc."
    • Pointing out historical inaccuracies in a previous post
    • Pointing out logical fallacies in a previous post
    • Complaining about the anti-Christian bias on /.

    And it's one of those (or a combination) every time. Over and over again. In every thread in which someone accuses Christains of being closed-minded, cruel, hateful, arrogant, ignorant, unenlightened, or anti-scientific. Tiring? Of course! I mean, who are these religious zealots who feel the need to respond to every false accusation with a bit of truth? Who are these narcissists who feel the need to respond to every false generalization about themselves?'re sick of seeing posts defending religion? I'm sick of seeing posts bashing it. But most of all, I'm sick of seeing the lies that consistently get thrown around /. regarding Christianity, and I'm glad there are people willing to lose a few karma points to point out the truth.
  • I don't know quite why I'm responding...seeing as how the quality post indicates that your mind is not yet capable of grasping the ideas of the post your are replying to. But eventually, you'll learn that it doesn't all boil down to statements as simple as the one you made, and if I can help you down that road, all the better.

    So in other words, a Christian who is considering going on a bloody gunfire rampage eventually decides against it .. not because he knows the pain and suffering that he will cause the victims and their families, not because he knows that he will be punished (right here! on Earth!) by the authorities, not because he knows that he will destroy people's lives .. no, it's because he is scared that an all-powerful god will "get him" in the afterlife.

    No. Who said anything about an afterlife? This isn't about why people do right and wrong. This is about the question of whether or not right and wrong even exist. The argument put forth was that, without a higher being, an objective morality cannot exist. If you want to attack the above poster, attack that arguemnt. Good luck.

    Sidenote: The fact that many atheists believe in an objective morality says more about the reasoning powers (or lack thereof) of those atheists than about whether or not a higher being must exist for absolute morality to exist.
  • Okay, while I disagree with you from a strictly religious point of view, I think you raise an interesting point here.

    First: It is true that science cannot necessarily account for the ultimate cause. On the other hand, it could. It all depends on what the answer turns out to be. If the universe turns out to be a steady-state phenomenon or something to that effect (anything lacking a beginning, including a recycling universe), science can essentially tell us that it's always been here and will always be here. If one demands that a primary cause exist, logically the burden of proof falls on their shoulders and they may come back with a positive proof of the existence of a God, plus a proof that there was a primary cause. If the "big bang" or a similar, finite system appears to be the case, then science is pretty much done, in that the existence of a beginning raises a strong likelihood of a cause (though not necessarily). In this case, all the theologian has to do is run with the existence of a primary cause and merely prove the existence of a God (burden of proof always falls on those who insist that a condition DOES exist, remember?).

    Second: Either way, this has nothing to do with genetics. Genetics will not disprove the existence of a God, because it cannot be disproven. There is no way to logically do it. Period. However, as Katz points out, it may make religion a bit harder to sell, as many advancements in biology have done. But... if someone is brought up from birth believing something, biology classes aren't likely to have a profound effect on that belief. So it becomes a moot point. It will de-mystify life, but it won't damage the credibility of the church anywhere near as much as Katz predicts. Children simply aren't that skilled at reasoning.

    Third: I like the joke.

    Fourth: Following the first and second points, there is one effect that all this seems to be having. Interestingly enough, it seems that religion and science have been playing parallel roles. With the advent of "modern" religion, God was essentially relegated to the role of "Creator" and nothing more. Observe. "Primitive" religions (if you choose to call them that; include #disclaim.h) are mainly alike in that God or the gods played a strong role in everyday life. If something happened, those were the gods doing it. When Christianity and its bretheren came along, it was pretty much the same thing for a while. However, over time God was pushed further out of modern affairs. In other religions around the world a similar thing happened. Eventually religious doctrine became a mix of the disciplines of a "hands-on" God and a more deistic belief. Of course, at the same time, science was slowly developing. It is no coincidence that at the time of the scientific revolution, deism enjoyed the greatest surge in popularity in its history. Where is the parallel? Religion was removing God from everyday life, science was trying to kill him entirely. Why would they do this? Because modern culture found him to be inconvenient. It was this that Frederich Nietzche was commenting on when he wrote that "God is dead." Our modern culture believes two things: Man has the knowledge of right and wrong, and Man owns the Earth. The first can be found in most creation myths, the second as well. However, the second comes up against quite a bit of opposition from the "primitive" relgions (remember those? I brought those up for a reason). The "primitive" religions hold that we belong to the Earth, are transistory, etc. "Modern" religion tells us that we are the end product of creation, and that the Earth is rightfully ours. This is the worst kind of hubris. Man is the ultimate of all Creation and shall do as he pleases. Religion can't finish the job, however. It takes science, working alongside religion, to kick God in the nuts and tell him he's done. To tell him that Man now has the power to create, and that he can go home now. That's why I like the joke.

    Fifth: More importantly, though, is the premise that man has ultimate knowledge of right and wrong. It is the premise that creates hot-headed debate over Jon Katz articles, it is the premise that allows us to justify our domination of the world. Culture has it all wrong. Culture says that man has the knowledge of right and wrong, but is weak. No, man has almost ultimate power over the universe. Man can manipulate the atom, will be able to create life. On the other hand, man has no idea what is going on, that is the dangerous thing. There is nothing more dangerous than a man who thinks he knows ultimate truth... other than a society of men who think they know it. This is where God comes in (remember God? We kicked him in the nuts a while back, and now he's pissed). I'm suggesting that man will never have the moral answers. Man can have all the power in the world, but that will never tell him how to use it. How about we just don't?

    Quick Summary for those who need it:

    -We can't disprove the existence of a God
    -We also don't need to
    -It's a moot point either way, actually
    -Funny joke, I approve
    -Man has the powers of Gods (at least most)
    -Man will never know how to use them properly
    -Can we please not try to genetically engineer our species' future?
  • I see no ethical, moral, or religious implications from reconstituting a cell in the way Venter proposes. Rather, his suggestion that this is somehow controversial is simply a standard PR tactic. Even P. T. Barnum used to do the same thing, writing pseudonymous letters to newspapers attacking himself.

    Genetic testing in general, of course, has some privacy and insurance implications. The best solution to those is to have a strong participatory democracy, create strong legal protections for consumer privacy, and consider nationalizing health care, since health insurance would likely be the biggest abuser of this kind of data.

    BTW, genetic discrimination is already widely practiced: all sorts of inherited conditions keep you from doing all sorts of things or getting all sorts of jobs, in some cases without much reason (e.g., inherited myopia will keep you from becoming an airforce pilot).

  • And the spontaneous combustion of the universe means that everything that is here had to have been somewhere before it was here, because energy can not be created or destroyed.

    Not quite, if equal and opposite amounts of matter and antimatter were created, the total energy still adds up to zero, and no law is violated.

    Steve M
  • I believe that my posting does indicate that I don't stand with the so-called loudmouths.

    It does. That is good. Thank you.

    You ask where you should stand, to differentiate yourself from the loudmouths? Ultimately, you'd probably have to stand UP TO them, in the same forum where they are.


  • by phil reed ( 626 ) on Tuesday December 14, 1999 @04:20PM (#1468600) Homepage
    Who wrote the rules?

    Nobody. It's referred to as the Strong Anthropic Principle:

    The universe is structured to support our kind of life because if it wasn't, our kind of life wouldn't be here.
    There might have been billions of universes before ours, and might be billions after. There might be billions of parallel universes with different conditions. In this universe, we are here to observe because it supports life. That's all. No other reason.

  • I believe there is a moral order to the universe, that good and evil exist outside the will of the human race.

    Of course, you are welcome to believe whatever you wish. Doesn't give you the right to proclaim whatever morality you ascribe to upon the rest of us, though.

    I even think Jon Katz must believe this on some level, else why shouldn't it be "Do what thou wilt be the whole of the law?"

    Does it bother you that you're misquoting the law here? It's really:

    As it harm none, do what thou wilt be the whole of the law."

    Kind of puts a different spin on it, huh? There's an implicit morality there, that somehow you managed to leave out of your version. I wonder why?


  • I'll leave the silly Karma pimping alone, as for the rest...

    If you show me the Big Bang, then I will believe it. Until then the two theories are equally viable and I have chosen the one that seems to make the most sense to me. I really don't care one way or another whether you agree with me or not.


If it's not in the computer, it doesn't exist.