Book Review of ‘More than Human’ by Ramez Naam

by The Center for Bioethics and Culture on November 11, 2006

(from the dcexaminer.com) Amid the hubbub over human cloning and embryonic stem cell research, futurists are already advocating that we harness biotechnology not just to “heal,” but to “seize control” of human evolution. Their goal? Literally, the creation of a post-human race, a process often called “transhumanism.”

The authors of previous transhumanist books urge that we pursue post-humanity with the enthusiasm of medievalists searching for the Holy Grail. Now, computer software designer and fellow futurist Ramez Naam, has joined the quest with his first book, “More Than Human.”

Naam writes as a true believer in the emerging quasi- religion of science, sometimes called scientism. To these faithful materialists, science isn’t just a method of obtaining knowledge and applying it for human benefit. Rather, it is the fountain of salvation, destined to lead us to a corporeal New Jerusalem, where, as Naam puts it, we will choose our bodies and minds, determine our life spans and design our children. He envisions a “life without limits.”

Typical of this utopian genre, Naam takes it as a given that science will overcome all obstacles. Because scientists have altered a mouse gene to create longer-living rodents, he believes human genetic engineering soon will be able to do the same to people. He predicts that those dissatisfied with their given bodies will just go to the corner biotechnologist and “receive new genes that would allow you to change your skin tone, or other traits, via a pill.” And what if we want children who are athletic, intellectual or musical?

Naam blithely dismisses concerns that these actions threaten a “new eugenics.” He compares “enhancing” children as the moral equivalent of giving them music lessons or getting them into the best schools. Of course, a kid forced to take piano lessons can quit. But Naam’s genetically fabricated and allegedly improved children would have their propensities set in genetic stone.

Not to worry, the author breezily sniffs: “Whatever choices we make for our children will be subject to change at their choice, when they reach adulthood” and obtain the right to get their own genetic makeovers the way today’s kids get their bodies pierced or tattooed.

Most of this is too facile by far. But, in one of his most relativistic passages, Naam asserts that there is truly no way to distinguish between therapeutic uses of biotechnology – that is, using our emerging ability to change our biological nature to correct a genetic defect – and enhancing ourselves and our children to be smarter, better looking, etc. To him, it is all merely a matter of “degree.”

Degree matters. It is often the crucial difference that distinguishes right from wrong.

But, before we begin experimenting with our genetic inheritance, shouldn’t we first reflect deeply on whether we have the wisdom to seize control of our own evolution? After all, we’re the species that built the Titanic, the unsinkable ship.

Previous post:

Next post: