Biotechnology and naturalness in the genomics era: Plotting a timetable for the biotechnology debate [Book Review]

Abstract

Debates on the role of biotechnology in food production are beset with notorious ambiguities. This already applies to the term “biotechnology” itself. Does it refer to the use and modification of living organisms in general, or rather to a specific set of technologies developed quite recently in the form of bioengineering and genetic modification? No less ambiguous are discussions concerning the question to what extent biotechnology must be regarded as “unnatural.” In this article it will be argued that, in order to disentangle some of the ambiguities involved, we have to broaden the temporal horizon of the debate. Ideas about biotechniques and naturalness have evolved in various socio-historical contexts and their historical origins will determine to a considerable extent their actual meaning and use in contemporary deliberations. For this purpose, a comprehensive timetable is developed, beginning with the Neolithic revolution ~10,000 years ago (resulting in the emergence of agriculture and the Common Human Pattern) up to the biotech revolution as it has evolved from the 1970s onwards—sometimes referred to as a second “Genesis.” The concept of nature that emerged in the context of the “Common Human Pattern” differs considerably from traditional philosophical concepts of nature (such as coined by Aristotle), as well as from the scientific view of nature conveyed by the contemporary life sciences. A clarification of these different historical backdrops will allow us to understand and elucidate the conceptual ambiguities that are at work in contemporary debates on biotechnology and the place of human beings in nature.

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Author's Profile

Hub Zwart
Erasmus University Rotterdam

References found in this work

The Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle - 1951 - Clarendon Press.
The Unnatural Nature of Science.Lewis Wolpert - 1992 - Harvard University Press.
Republic. Plato - 1970 - Princeton: Hackett Publishing.

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