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Date Published: 1/4/2005
Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors

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Lecture Series: Winter 2005
Life in the Wires

University of Victoria
British Columbia, Canada


*** A Two Session Symposium ***

Politics in the Age of Empire

Thursday January 20, 2005

1:00 - 2:30 PM

Rob Walker
Internationalism, Imperialism, Exceptionalism

Warren Magnusson
The Politics of Scale

3:00 - 4:30 PM

James Tully
The Persistence of Empire

Arthur Kroker
Born Again Ideology

Reservations Required




*** A Special Two Part Seminar Series ***

Dr. William Leiss

Biotechnology, Religion and the Body

Tuesday January 25, 2005

4:00 PM

Genetic Enhancement:
The New Technology of Body and Mind

Thursday January 27, 2005

4:00 PM

Genetic Enhancement:
DNA, Science and Religion

Co-sponsored by
The Centre for Studies in Religion and Society

Seminars Will Be Limited to 15-20 Participants

Reservations Required



DR. WILLIAM LEISS F.R.S.C is Canada's leading thinker on risk and responsibility in the age of biotechnology. He is the author of numerous influential books, including: Under Technology's Thumb, The Domination of Nature, In the Chamber of Risks, Risk and Responsibility and Mad Cow and Mother's Milk. A "public intellectual" in the tradition of Thorsten Veblen, Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye, Dr. Leiss has projected his critique of technological determinism into public life, serving as President of the Royal Society of Canada and advising widely on the social and ethical implications of risk controversies and public policy.

William Leiss is a Fellow and Past-President of the Royal Society of Canada; NSERC/SSHRC Research Chair in Risk Communication and Public Policy in the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary; Professor, School of Policy Studies, Queen's University; and Executive-in-Residence, Mclaughlin Centre for Risk Assesment, University of Ottawa.




The sequencing of the human genome, and those of other mammals, is proceeding at a rapid pace. The ultimate aim of this knowledge is twofold:

  1. to map the functions of all genes and the bodily and mental traits with which they are associated (including genetic-environment interactions), both in the developing fetus and later in life;
  2. to understand fully the mechanisms by which genes are switched on and off, both in "natural" development and as therapeutic technological intervention, so as to make precise, desired changes to various bodily and mental traits, e.g., gene repair, gene enhancement, and more radical genetic alterations.

Various examples of successes already attained in experimental studies, especially on the mental functions of nonhuman primates - where most of the genes are thought to be identical to those of humans - will be discussed.

Thus we stand at the threshold of an era in which the traits commonly associated with the "normal" state of human and nonhuman mammals could be freely manipulated at will. There are many significant aspects of this attainment of human "power over nature," for example:

  1. for individuals, taking a path down a road towards an essentially different state of being as an exemplar of the subspecies homo sapiens sapiens;
  2. for human collectivities, the emergence of subpopulations which are genetic isolates, which will not interbreed with other humans;
  3. for both, the possibility that these outcomes will be either, or both, voluntary and involuntary.

In the discussion I would like to have us consider the following questions, as well as others posed by members of the seminar:

  1. Is the full development of these trends inevitable?

    Are they a logical extension of human power over nature? More specifically, are they (as outcome of a freely-organized scientific project) inevitable in the sense that any attempt to curtail them would be objectionable in principle? If so, does this mean that technology "autonomously" posits a future which humans have no choice but to adapt to the best they can?

  2. Is the full development of these trends desirable?

    Are they the fulfillment of human destiny? Are they the acts of authentic self-creation of the species that, in reflecting on its place in nature, sees the essence of freedom as re-creating its own essence?

Suggested Prior Reading:

William Leiss & Michael Tyshenko, "Life in the Fast Lane: An Introduction to Genomics Risks," forthcoming in W. Leiss & D. Powell, Mad Cows and Mother's Milk, second edition, McGill-Queen's University Press, Fall 2004.




Co-sponsored by the Centre for Studies in Religiion and Society

The opening presentation will first summarize the presentation and discussion in Seminar One for those who missed it. Then we will turn to the confrontation of science and religion that is represented in (a) the science of DNA (and mitochondrial DNA) and (b) the findings of evolutionary biology with respect to the rate of genetic divergence over time. (The latter allows us to estimate, for example, that humans and chimpanzees had a common ancestor about 5-6 million years ago.) The science of DNA ultimately will give a purely naturalistic account of human origins, and of all human traits (including self-consciousness), which is complete and self-contained, requiring no other form of explanation.

(Laplace to Napoleon, when questioned on the existence of God: "Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis." The presentation will offer an account of the experiment, now being carried out in Montreal, in which a neuroscientist is attempting to pinpoint the physical location of the experience of God in the human brain, using CAT and fMRI scans of a group of elderly nuns.)

The immense establishment of modern science today, with tens of billions of dollars expended annually for basic research, applied research, and commercialization, occurs in a world in which - suddenly, it seems - the traditional religions are increasingly "relevant" in social and political terms. This peculiar development appears most strikingly in the United States, which is the vital center of that scientific establishment - and at the same time, a nation whose political discourse is shaped more and more by appeals to religious belief. (Opinion polls report that 70% of Americans not only believe in a "personal God" but also in the literal truth of the Bible, including the vision of Apocalypse in the Book of Revelations, and reject the idea of natural evolution.)

Some questions for discussion that arise in this context are:

  1. Can an agnostic science and a militant religiosity co-exist peacefully over time?
  2. Or, is it inevitable that religion will (once again) see in modern secular science its mortal enemy and take the necessary steps?
  3. In particular, what is the potential range of consequences for the relation of science and religion, as the full potential of genetic enhancement, especially of mental functions, is recognized?



Dr. Arthur Kroker, CRC in Technology, Culture and Theory
University of Victoria.

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PACTAC Location:

Technology Enterprise Facility (TEF), Room 170. 2300 MacKenzie.

Limited Seating for all Events: Reservations Required
Contact:, Tel: (250) 472-5285

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