Is life as we know it a God-given thing or merely the product of chance? The argument over the nature of life raged through the twentieth century, with anti-religious scientists insisting that the very idea of the existence of the soul is no more than unnecessary religious mysticism, a smokescreen that clouds the real issues. To other people the idea that ‘life’ is something more than a chance combination of chemicals is both true and essential to the maintenance of a civilised society. Controversy rages over the nature of life. Biotechnology – the technology of life – is a flashpoint in this tense debate, linked as it is to issues over abortion, natural foods and to the idea of scientists playing God. The discovery of the structure of DNA, which has only raised the temperature of this debate, has led to new technologies of diagnosis and manipulation. Sometimes the debate is framed in terms of tight scientific argument, while at other times the so-called ‘yuk’ factor makes us wonder about the ‘naturalness’ of transferring genes between species, or using cells from fertilised eggs to grow replacement organs.
Differences over the nature of life were particularly vigorous at the time of the decoding of DNA in 1953. The arguments of that time have had their legacy in contemporary standoffs over genetic modification and cloning. > more
Biotechnology to make money out of life has caused heated argument since the 1970s. Cloning for money has given us the greatest ethical quandaries, as it is seen to challenge the specialness of the individual. > more
The writers C S Lewis (author of the Narnia books) and JRR Tolkien were staunch opponents of the reduction of life to chemicals. Lewis parodied his scientific colleagues mercilessly just at the time DNA was being sequenced. > more