They mastermind our lives, shaping our features, our health, and our behavior, even in the sacrosanct realms of love and sex, religion, aging, and death. Yet we are the ones who house, perpetuate, and give the promise of immortality to these biological agents, our genetic gods. The link between genes and gods is hardly arbitrary, as the distinguished evolutionary geneticist John Avise reveals in this compelling book. In clear, straightforward terms, Avise reviews recent discoveries in molecular biology, evolutionary genetics, and human genetic engineering, and discusses the relevance of these findings to issues of ultimate concern traditionally reserved for mythology, theology, and religious faith.
The book explains how the genetic gods figure in our development--not just our metabolism and physiology, but even our emotional disposition, personality, ethical leanings, and, indeed, religiosity. Yet genes are physical rather than metaphysical entities. Having arisen via an amoral evolutionary process--natural selection--genes have no consciousness, no sentient code of conduct, no reflective concern about the consequences of their actions. It is Avise's contention that current genetic knowledge can inform our attempts to answer typically religious questions--about origins, fate, and meaning. The Genetic Gods challenges us to make the necessary connection between what we know, what we believe, and what we embody.
Our genes, [Avise] says, are responsible not only for how we got here and exist day to day, but also for the core of our being--our personalities and morals. It is our genetic make-up that allows for and formulates our religious belief systems, he argues. Avise does not eschew spirituality but seeks a more informed, less confrontational approach between science and the pulpit.
For the general scientific reader, the book is an excellent distillation of a broad and increasingly important field, a course of causation that cannot be ignored. From advising expectant parents to getting innocent people off death row, genetics increasingly dominates our lives. The sections on genetics are expertly written, particularly for those readers without in-depth knowledge. The author explains slowly and carefully just how genetics operates, using multiple metaphors. His genetic discourse proceeds in a neighborly fashion, as one might tell stories while sitting in a rocking chair at a country store. He seems to be invigorated by genes and just can't wait to tell about them.
As a whole, this book is quite informative and stimulating, and sections of it are beautifully written. Indeed, Professor Avise has a real gift for prose and scientific expositions, and I would suspect that he must be a formidable lecturer...At its core, [The Genetic Gods] is a survey, and a very nice one at that, of evolutionary genetics, the field of the author's major research interests. There is a strong sociobiological cast to the arguments, and the work and ideas of E. O. Wilson figure prominently. The presentation of evolutionary genetics is imbedded in a more general discussion of modern human and molecular genetics...However, this book is, most of all, a philosophical treatise that attempts, admittedly with the bias of a biologist, to examine the intersection of the fundamental premises of evolution and religion. Professor Avise has given us plenty to think about in this book [and]...it was a real pleasure to wrestle with the ideas he was presenting. I would suggest that other readers give it a try.
[Avise's] account of the role genes play in shaping the human condition is wholly involving, paying particular attention to issues of reproduction, aging and death. In addition to presenting ample biological information in a form accessible to the nonspecialist, Avise does a superb job of discussing many of the ethical implications that have arisen from our growing knowledge of human genetics. Just a few of the topics covered are genetic engineering, the patenting of life, genetic screening, abortion, human cloning, gene therapy and insurance-related controversies.
Avise explains thoroughly how evolution operates on a genetic level. His goal is to show that humans can look to this information as a way to answer fundamental questions of life instead of looking to traditional religious beliefs...Avise includes some very interesting discussions of ethical concerns related to genetic issues.
This is a splendid account of a subject that affects us all: the breathtaking increase in understanding of human genetics and the insight it provides into human evolution. John Avise speaks with authority of molecular evolutionary genetics and with affecting compassion of what it might mean.
The Genetic Gods is many things. It is a wonderful introduction to modern molecular biology, by a man who knows his subject backwards. It is a stimulating account of the ways in which genetics impinges on human nature--our thinking and our behavior. It is a remarkably level-headed and sympathetic account of the implications of our new findings for traditional and not-so-traditional issues in philosophy and religion. In an age of genetic counseling, cloning, construction of new life forms, the book is worth its weight in gold for this alone. But most of all, it is a huge amount of fun to read--you want to applaud or argue with the author on nigh every page. Highly recommended!
The Genetic Gods makes a valuable contribution to the on-going task of sorting out the implications of evolutionary biology and genetics for human self-understanding. Avise addresses, with authority and grace, the most consequential intellectual issues of our time. A challenging and insightful book.
A wonderfully informative and engaging book. Avise offers a lucid, accessible primer on our genes, angelic and demonic, and examines religious and ethical issues, all too human, now confronted by genetic science. He makes a compelling case that anyone seeking to 'Know Thyself' should study the DNA molecular scriptures, our most ancient and universal legacy.
Knowledge of the human genome enables us to inquire: To what extent do genes and environmental interactions shape us in terms of our emotions, personalities, behaviors, moral values, and religiosity? How did these genes and their relationships to external factors come to occur? In The Genetic Gods Dr. John C. Avise provides a most intriguing and thought-provoking address of these questions a good read for persons interested in understanding some of the possible far-reaching consequences of the human genome project in the context of an evolutionary world-view and some of its possible implications for science, religion, and human affairs.
- 288 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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