Postmodernist Maneuvers in Life Sciences Controversies

Postmodernist Maneuvers in Life Sciences Controversies

SAGE 5711

November 28, 2007 12:30 PM - 2:00 PM

Nature, in the sense of a world neither made nor influenced by human activity, is fundamental to any conception of science. In particular, there was a world before there were humans, and while much of it has been transformed, much has not: the structure of atoms, the earth's topography, the anatomical plans and physiology of most organisms, the distinctness of biological species. However, since the 1980s, along with the emergence of genetic methodologies capable of transforming the material character of biological systems, radically skeptical assertions of the meaninglessness of the distinction between the natural and artifactual have been made by an increasingly vocal group of bioethicists and scientists. Though representing itself as the carrier and defender of a liberating and opportunity-laden technological culture, this movement, which I refer to as "biological postmodernism," is instead, I will argue, traducing the most incisive findings of contemporary biological science while enabling commercial forces to fashion a world where there is, in fact, little distinction between organisms and artifacts.

Biological postmodernism is exemplified in writings on genetically engineered foods by some agricultural scientists and policy analysts. It arises in discussions of human embryo research and prospects of human cloning and genetic modification. Perhaps most surprising is its role in the arguments by which scientists and science advocates have defended the reality of biological evolution against recent creationist assaults. More specifically, biological postmodernism, in adhering to an increasingly questioned exclusively neo-Darwinian paradigm for evolutionary change, represents acceptance of a notion of biological species without boundaries supported by a pseudo-materialistic genetic essentialism.

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