Nanotech, Biotech, Genetic Mutation, and Transhumanism
Not long ago, a writer for Wired Magazine named Elizabeth Svoboda contacted me to let me (Tom Horn) know she was writing an article about “research advances using transgenic animals to produce pharmaceutical compounds.” She had come across an editorial by me raising caution about this kind of experimentation and wondered if I might be willing to provide points for her article, elaborating on areas where I saw producing transgenic animals as potentially harmful. She stated that most of the scientists she planned to quote were “pretty gung-ho about the practice,” and thought it would be important to provide some balance. I thanked her for the invitation, and sent a short summary of some, though not all, of the areas where concerns about this science could be raised.
When the article was finally published by the magazine, I was surprised that none of my notes had made it into the story. I contacted Elizabeth and asked why, and she replied, “Unfortunately, my editors cut your quotes during the editing process, which were originally included in my article, ‘Pharm Animals Crank Out Drugs.’” She apologized and said she hoped the experience had not soured me on dealing with Wired Magazine.
“It doesn’t sour me,” I assured her. “I just think the reporting by most agencies is lopsided and missing the opportunity to thoroughly engage such an important issue.”
The article was mostly positive on transgenic research and concluded with a scientist by the name of Marie Cecile Van de Lavoir saying that potential human health benefits from transgenic research “justify tinkering” with nature’s plan. “If a transgenic animal produces a great cancer therapy,” she said, “I won’t hear anyone saying, ‘You shouldn’t do that.’”
Van de Lavoir’s comments were undoubtedly in response to some of my observations before they were cut because in offering caution I had specifically used the phrase “tinkering with nature’s plan.” Van de Lavoir’s short-sighted approach, like that of many bioethicists engaged in the current debate, is as scary as science, in my opinion. I wanted to contact her to suggest that she watch the film I Am Legend, which opens appropriately enough with a scientist announcing the cure to cancer using a genetically engineered virus that blends animal and human genetics. If you’ve seen the film, you know the “cure” results in a human form of rabies that wipes out most life on earth, a real possibility given the scenario.
While I believe some positive things will come from biotechnology, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, and related fields, below is the shortlist—by no means a complete list—of areas where I suggested to Wired Magazine that caution could be raised about transgenic and related science, and that need to be addressed for any balanced treatment of the field:
NUMBER ONE: What will be the long-term impact on the environment and health-related issues? As we have seen with genetically modified (GM) crops, unpredictable things can occur when living organisms are modified in unnatural ways. Transgenics is one of the fields in biotechnology where the DNA of one species is blended with the DNA of a different species, thus crossing the species barrier—something that neither creation nor evolution allowed for. In the past, I have cited laboratory results reported by Dr. Arpad Pustai and repeatedly verified by Irina Ermakova that showed GM food had surprisingly ill effects on the health of test rats, including organ deterioration, shortened life span, and cancer development. The independent experiments led to the biotech industry suppressing the findings and an eight-year court battle with biotech corporations, which did not want the results made public. Recently the suppressed report was in the news again as Greenpeace activists published evidence from the Russian trials verifying the ramifications of the negative health issues related to transgenic foods. Additional research on the significant health dangers represented by GM foods is available in the book section of www.SurvivorMall.com.
NUMBER TWO: Transgenic research that includes inserting animal DNA into humans and human DNA into animals at the embryonic level could escape its control environment, thereby passing the altered DNA into nature. Once this happens, it would be impossible to put the genie back in the bottle and could lead to hybrid viruses, prion contamination, or new diseases that we can neither foresee nor prepare for.
NUMBER THREE: Animal rights activists have raised questions in this area that have to do with the ethics of altering animals in ways that could be demeaning to them. For instance, creating zombie-like creatures that grow in feeder labs and gaze off into space from birth until death. Militarized animals that behave in unnatural, unpredictable ways. Humanized animals that become “self-aware,” or animals that produce human sperm and eggs, which then are used in in vitro fertilization to produce a human child. Who would the parents be? A pair of mice?
NUMBER FOUR: Questions are evolving now over the “patenting” of transgenic seeds, animals, plants, and synthetic life forms by large corporations, which threatens to impact the economy of rural workers and farmers.
NUMBER FIVE: Biotech “patenting” of human genes. Consider Michael Crichton’s piece for the New York Times last year, “Gene patents aren’t benign and never will be,” in which he claimed that people could die in the future because they might not be able to afford medical treatment as a result of medicines owned by patent holders of specific genes related to those persons. Some of these gene modifications and patents are growing out of transgenic research.
NUMBER SIX: Redefining basic human rights. Some advocates of transhumanism actually want transgenic chimps and great apes uplifted genetically so that they will have the basic human cognitive ability as a way of proving that certain cognition and not “human-ness” should be the key to constitutional protections and privileges. Such changes to the intrinsic sanctity of human life could pave the way for harvesting organs from people like Terry Schiavo, due to a loss of cognitive ability. Adopting “personhood” theory based on specific cognitive abilities would be to deny what some bioethicists champion as “human exceptionalism,” the idea that human beings carry special moral status in nature and special rights, such as the right to life, plus unique responsibilities, such as stewardship of the environment. Some, but not all, believers in human exceptionalism base this concept on a biblical worldview: Genesis 1:26 states, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Others who do not necessarily have a biblical worldview are nonetheless concerned about the unnatural alteration of living organisms and the unknown repercussions.
NUMBER SEVEN: Transhumanist views of biotechnology including transgenics are opening the door for new eugenics and social Darwinism, which we already see developing in “Right to Die” laws and related issues. The whole idea of transhumanism is to use the fields of biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics, mind-interfacing, and related sciences to create a superior man. The result could lead to classifications of persons—the enhanced and the not enhanced—ultimately giving rise to new eugenics.
WATCH THOMAS HORN ON THE COMING DANGERS OF THE HYBRID AGE!
Besides the short list above that I provided to Wired Magazine, more immediately there are key reasons to be cautious about biotechnology, synthetic biology, genetic engineering, transgenic animals and plants, and associated fields of new technology. Part of the reason for this is that, frankly, it represents an area where neither science nor nature can account for unintended consequences. In recombinant DNA technology, for instance, a “transgenic” organism is created when the genetic structure of one specie is altered by the transfer of a gene or genes from another. Given that molecular biologists classify the functions of genes within native species but are unsure in many cases how a gene’s coding might react from one species to another, not only could the genetic structure of a modified animal and its offspring be changed in physical appearance as a result of transgenics, but its evolutionary development, sensory modalities, disease propensity, personality, behavior traits, and more could be changed as well.
Many readers will be astonished to learn that in spite of these unknowns, widespread transgenic tinkering is already taking place in most parts of the world, including the United States, Britain, and Australia, where animal eggs are being used to create hybrid human embryos from which stem cell lines can be produced for medical research. On March 9, 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order providing federal funding to expand this type of embryonic research in the United States. Not counting synthetic biology, where entirely new forms of life are being brewed, there is no limit to the number of human-animal concoctions currently under development in laboratories around the world. A team at Newcastle and Durham universities in the United Kingdom recently announced plans to create “hybrid rabbit and human embryos, as well as other ‘chimera’ embryos mixing human and cow genes.” The same researchers more alarmingly have already managed to reanimate tissue “from dead human cells in another breakthrough which was heralded as a way of overcoming ethical dilemmas over using living embryos for medical research.”[i] In the United States, similar studies led Irv Weissman, director of Stanford University’s Institute of Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine in California, to create mice with partly human brains, causing some ethicists to raise the issue of “humanized animals” in the future that could become “self-aware” as a result of genetic modification. Even former President of the United States George W. Bush, in his January 31, 2006, “State of the Union Address,” called for legislation to “prohibit…creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling, or patenting human embryos.” His words fell on deaf ears, and now “the chimera, or combination of species, is a subject of serious discussion in certain scientific circles,” writes senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, Joseph Infranco. “We are well beyond the science fiction of H.G. Wells’ tormented hybrids in The Island of Doctor Moreau; we are in a time where scientists are seriously contemplating the creation of human-animal hybrids.”[ii]
Not everybody shares Infranco’s concerns. A radical, international, intellectual, and quickly growing cultural movement known as “transhumanism” supports the use of new sciences including genetic modification to enhance human mental and physical abilities and aptitudes so that “human beings will eventually be transformed into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label ‘posthuman.’”[iii]
I have personally debated leading transhumanist Dr. James Hughes on his weekly syndicated talk show, “Changesurfer Radio.” Hughes is the executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and teaches at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He is also the author of Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future, a sort of bible for transhumanist values. Dr. Hughes joins a growing body of academicians, bioethicists, and sociologists who support “large-scale genetic and neurological engineering of ourselves… [a] new chapter in evolution [as] the result of accelerating developments in the fields of genomics, stem-cell research, genetic enhancement, germ-line engineering, neuro-pharmacology, artificial intelligence, robotics, pattern recognition technologies, and nanotechnology…at the intersection of science and religion [which has begun to question] what it means to be human. …”[iv] While the transformation of man to posthuman is in its fledgling state, complete integration of the technological singularity necessary to replace existing Homo sapiens as the dominant life form on earth is approaching at exponential speed. National Geographic Magazine speculated in 2007 that within ten years, the first transhumans would walk the earth, and legendary writer Vernor Verge recently stated that we are entering a period in history when questions like “what is the meaning of life?” will be nothing more than an engineering question. “Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence,” he told H+ Magazine. “Shortly thereafter, the human era will be ended.” [v]
In preparation for the posthuman revolution, Case Law School in Cleveland was awarded a $773,000 grant in April 2006 from the National Institutes of Health to begin developing guidelines “for the use of human subjects in…the next frontier in medical technology–genetic enhancement.” Maxwell Mehlman, Arthur E. Petersilge Professor of Law, director of the Law-Medicine Center at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, and professor of bioethics in the Case School of Medicine led the team of law professors, physicians, and bioethicists over the two-year project “to develop standards for tests on human subjects in research that involves the use of genetic technologies to enhance ‘normal’ individuals.”[vi]Following this study, Mehlman began in 2009 offering university lectures such as “Directed Evolution: Public Policy and Human Enhancement” as well as “Transhumanism and the Future of Democracy” addressing the need for society to comprehend how emerging fields of science will, in approaching years, alter what it means to be human, and what this means to democracy, individual rights, free will, eugenics, and equality. Other law schools, including Stanford and Oxford, have hosted similar “Human Enhancement and Technology” conferences where transhumanists, futurists, bioethicists, and legal scholars have been busying themselves with the ethical, legal, and inevitable ramifications of post-humanity.
As the director of the Future of Humanity Institute and a professor of philosophy at Oxford University, Nick Bostrom (nickbostrom.com) is another leading advocate of transhumanism who envisions re-manufacturing humans with animals, plants, and other synthetic life forms through the use of modern sciences. When describing the benefits of man-with-beast combinations in his online thesis Transhumanist Values, Bostrom cites how animals have “sonar, magnetic orientation, or sensors for electricity and vibration” among other extra-human abilities. He goes on to include how the range of sensory modalities for transhumans would not be limited to those among animals, and that there is “no fundamental block to adding say a capacity to see infrared radiation or to perceive radio signals and perhaps to add some kind of telepathic sense by augmenting our brains.”[vii]
Bostrom is correct in that the animal kingdom has levels of perception beyond humans. Some animals can “sense” earthquakes and “smell” tumors. Others, like dogs, can hear sounds as high as 40,000 Hz, and dolphins can hear even higher. It is also known that at least some animals see wavelengths beyond normal human capacity. Incidentally, what Bostrom may also understand and anticipate is that, according to the biblical story of Balaam’s donkey, certain animals also see into the “spirit world.” At Arizona State University where the Templeton Foundation is currently funding a series of lectures titled Facing the Challenges of Transhumanism: Religion, Science, Technology,[viii] transhumanism is specifically viewed as possibly affecting supernatural transformation, not just physical. Called “the next epoch in human evolution,” some of the lecturers at ASU believe radical alteration of Homo sapiens could open a door to unseen intelligence. Consequently, ASU launched another study in 2009 to explore communication with “entities.” Called the SOPHIA project (after the Greek goddess), the express purpose of this study is to verify communication “with Deceased People, Spirit Guides, Angels, Other-Worldly Entities / Extraterrestrials, and/or a Universal Intelligence / God.”[ix]
Imagine what this could mean if government laboratories with unlimited budgets working beyond congressional review were to decode the gene functions that lead animals to have preternatural capabilities of sense, smell, and sight, and then blended them with Homo sapiens. Among other things, the ultimate psychotronic weapon could be created for use against entire populations—genetically engineered ‘Nephilim agents’ that appear to be human but who hypothetically see and even interact with invisible forces.
While the former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, Leon Kass, does not elaborate on the same type of issues, he provided a status report on how real and how frightening the dangers of such biotechnology could imminently be in the hands of transhumanists. In the introduction to his book Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenges of Bioethics, Kass warned:
Human nature itself lies on the operating table, ready for alteration, for eugenic and psychic “enhancement,” for wholesale redesign. In leading laboratories, academic and industrial, new creators are confidently amassing their powers and quietly honing their skills, while on the street their evangelists are zealously prophesying a posthuman future. For anyone who cares about preserving our humanity, the time has come for paying attention.[x]
The warning by Kass of the potential hazards of emerging technologies coupled with transhumanist aspirations is not an overreaction. One law school in the UK where CSI students are taught crime scene investigation is already discussing the need to add classes in the future devoted to analyzing crime scenes committed by posthumans. The requirement for such specially trained law enforcement personnel will arise due to part-human part-animal beings possessing behavior patterns not consistent with present-day profiling or forensics understanding. Add to this other unknowns such as “memory transference” (an entirely new field of a study showing that complex behavior patterns and even memories can be transferred from donors of large human organs to their recipients), and the potential for tomorrow’s human-animal chimera issues multiply. How would the memories, behavior patterns, or instincts of, let’s say, a wolf, affect the mind of a human? That such unprecedented questions will have to be dealt with sooner than later has already been illustrated in animal-to-animal experiments, including those conducted by Evan Balaban at McGill University in Montreal, where sections of brain from embryonic quails were transplanted into the brains of chickens, and the resultant chickens exhibited head bobs and vocal trills unique to quail.[xi] The implication from this field of study alone suggests transhumans will likely bear unintended behavior and appetite disorders that could literally produce lycanthropes (werewolves) and other nightmarish Nephilim traits.
As troubling as those thoughts are, even this contemplation could be just the tip of the iceberg. One-on-one interpersonal malevolence by human-animals might quickly be overshadowed by global acts of swarm violence. The possibility of groups of “transhuman terrorists” in the conceivable future is real enough that a House Foreign Affairs (HFA) committee chaired by California Democrat Brad Sherman, best known for his expertise on the spread of nuclear weapons and terrorism, is among a number of government panels and think-tanks currently studying the implications of genetic modification and human-transforming technologies related to future terrorism. Congressional Quarterly columnist Mark Stencel listened to the recent HFA committee hearings and wrote in his March 15, 2009, article, “Futurist: Genes Without Borders,” that the conference “sounded more like a Hollywood pitch for a sci-fi thriller than a sober discussion of scientific reality… with talk of biotech’s potential for creating supersoldiers, superintelligence and super animals [that could become] agents of unprecedented lethal force.”[xii] George Annas, Lori Andrews, and Rosario Isasi were even more apocalyptic in their American Journal of Law and Medicine article, “Protecting the Endangered Human: Toward an International, Treaty Prohibiting Cloning and Inheritable Alterations,” when they wrote:
The new species, or “posthuman,” will likely view the old “normal” humans as inferior, even savages, and fit for slavery or slaughter. The normals, on the other hand, may see the posthumans as a threat and if they can, may engage in a preemptive strike by killing the posthumans before they themselves are killed or enslaved by them. It is ultimately this predictable potential for genocide that makes species-altering experiments potential weapons of mass destruction and makes the unaccountable genetic engineer a potential bioterrorist.[xiii]
Not to be outpaced in this regard by rogue fringe scientists or even bio-terrorists, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) and other agencies of the U.S. military have taken inspiration from the likes of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and in scenes reminiscent of Saruman the wizard creating monstrous Uruk-Hai to wage unending, merciless war, billions of American tax dollars have flowed into the Pentagon’s Frankensteinian dream of “super-soldiers” and “Extended Performance War Fighter” programs. Not only does the EPWFP envision “injecting young men and women with hormonal, neurological and genetic concoctions; implanting microchips and electrodes in their bodies to control their internal organs and brain functions; and plying them with drugs that deaden some of their normal human tendencies: the need for sleep, the fear of death, [and] the reluctance to kill their fellow human beings,” but as Chris Floyd in an article for CounterPunch a while back continued, “some of the research now underway involves actually altering the genetic code of soldiers, modifying bits of DNA to fashion a new type of human specimen, one that functions like a machine, killing tirelessly for days and nights on end … mutations [that] will ‘revolutionize the contemporary order of battle’ and guarantee ‘operational dominance across the whole range of potential U.S. military employments.’”[xiv]
For these reasons and more, careful consideration should be given to the control environments where fields of study are being made. That has not always been the case, and given what we are seeing in open studies today involving genetically modified plants, animals, and even humans at the embryonic level, the public and the environment we depend on are the guinea pigs for the time being.
So what can you do about it?
First, you can pray. We believe that prayer changes things and is integral to our personal lifestyle and worldview.
Second, do not underestimate yourself. If you are unfamiliar with such terms as “biotechnology,” “nanotechnology,” “genetic modification,” and so on, do not discount your ability to clearly understand the basics of these issues in order to speak up on the subject where ethical or other areas concern you. In the age of the Internet, Google, Wikipedia, and other information-highway resources, it will not take you very long to gather a basic understanding of terms like “biotechnology” or “transhumanism.”
Third, get engaged in the public forum. No matter how young or old you are, your opinion matters, and you have access to groups of people through social networking, blogs, websites, school, college, church, or even the bingo hall!
Fourth, contact your representatives in government. A single call or letter to your congressman is considered by most legislators to reflect the opinion of many thousands of other persons. Remember, the only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.
Fifth, participate in the political process. You can talk to local educators, call the local talk radio show, attend campaign rallies, and, when appropriate, town hall meetings. Form a citizen’s group of four or five people, educate them on the issue, and meet privately with your representatives and senators if your state is considering laws that would allow genetic experiments on embryos, or perhaps where a corporation is looking to move into your state to conduct experiments with genetically modified crops or animals. Many congressmen report that small citizen groups like this are the most effective way to get legislation on your side.