The aim of this book, Playing God? Genetic Determinism and Human
Freedom, is to examine a number of issues raised by genetic science within
the context of a culturally and scientifically informed theological framework,
what Peters identifies as a "response theology." In particular, Peters is concerned to expose
assumptions of the "gene-myth" that often leads religious thinkers to
proclaim that we should stop genetic research or technology because it risks
"playing God," revealing a certain human hubris that will ultimately
be our moral downfall. Peters' position
throughout is that the "gene-myth" is just that, a myth. It is founded on a mistaken understanding of
genetics and human freedom, and at its worst threatens to deny certain
potentially life-saving and life-enriching technologies. Peters argues that the prohibition against
genetic science because it is "playing God" is itself a misleading
form of reasoning. Responsible science
does not play God. In fact, Peters
argues, genetic science is an exemplar of "playing human," an attempt
to improve the human condition, decreasing present and future suffering. This, he argues, is consistent with
theological conceptions of humans as created co-creators and with the more
secular ideas of beneficence. The
prohibition against "playing God" does little to further these worthy
theological and secular goals.
The book covers a variety of topics in each of its
nine chapters. Peters begins with an
introductory chapter on the relation between God and DNA, and the types of
determinism ("Puppet" and "Promethean") that dominate the
discussion of human genetics and freedom.
Then there are two chapters on the genetic determinants for behavior,
such as the "Crime Gene" and the "Gay Gene." This is followed by a chapter on the
commercial use and patenting of genes.
And then a series of chapters on germ-line therapy, the cloning
controversy, and stem cell research.
Peters closes the book with a chapter outlining his "Theology of
Freedom," arguing that genetic determinism is not supported by science,
and that theological concerns offer a way to guide future use of genetic
technologies. The book is an update of
the 1997 edition. The updates consist
of supplementary passages in the introductory chapter and the addition of new
chapters on cloning and the stem-cell controversy. As in the first edition, Peters also includes two appendices, one
on the CTNS statement on the Gay Gene Discovery, and another on "Playing
God with David Heyd." The book
includes notes for each chapter and an index.
The book is most appropriate for the informed layperson or undergraduate
Peters' book is a welcome attempt
to discuss the theological arguments about the use or misuse of genetic
technology, and some of the misconceptions about human freedom and DNA. He goes some way in showing that many of the
religiously motivated arguments are based on false assumptions (viz. the gene
myth), however, his gloss of several points leaves the reader somewhat
dissatisfied. A couple of chapters
stand out as particularly successful, yet the book as a whole represents an
awkward and often times confusing mix of philosophical argumentation and
Christian apologetics. This is not a
book this reviewer would recommend as a comprehensive introductory survey to
the topic of genetic determinism, but it does present itself as a curiosity for
the interested reader.
2003 Bryan Benham
Bryan Benham is an Assistant Professor (Lecturer)
in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Utah. His research areas are philosophy of mind
and applied ethics.