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COSAM Professor Emeritus Asks Tough Questions about Humankind in New Book

Published: 11/19/2019

By: Carla Nelson

Dr. James Bradley, professor emeritus in the Auburn University Department of Biological Sciences, is asking what some may consider uncomfortable questions about humankind in his recent book titled “Re-Creating Nature: Science, Technology, and Human Values in the Twenty-First Century.”

The book, recently published by University of Alabama Press, considers ethical implications of the future development and uses of certain 21st century technologies.

Sixteen years ago, Dr. Bradley read a book by Harvard biologist Ernst Mayr from which he felt inspired.

“Early on in the book Mayr challenged scientists, specifically biologists, to at some point step away from their laboratories long enough to talk about the significance of their discipline and their research for the general public and society at large,” Dr. Bradley said. “I kind of took that to heart.”

The thought inspired Dr. Bradley’s first book, “Brutes or Angels: Human Possibility in the Age of Biotechnology,” which was published in 2013. The most recent publication contains updates on biotechnology topics in the first book plus discussions of technologies not addressed in that book.

“It’s written for non-scientists and biologists to be able to understand the science of certain technologies that I consider transformative technologies, in that they could transform society – things like human cloning, gene-editing, age retardation, robotics, brain-computer interfacing, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology,” Dr. Bradley explained. “Half of each chapter explains the science part for non-scientists and the second half brings up the ethical issues that could arise from the use of the technology.”

Dr. Bradley explained that most of these technologies have certain paths, such as human reproductive cloning, human germ line gene-editing, or age retardation, which are irrevocable.

“In the final two chapters I give some of my ideas about what we should be doing in order to make wise decisions, in order to have a future worth wanting,” he said.

Timothy P. Terrell, Emory University School of Law professor, described the book as one that observes and dissects modern science and modern life in ways that challenge any kind of reader from a student to a political decision maker.

“His interdisciplinary approach to studying the implications of biotechnology is the most accessible and useful, yet profound, of any academic work in this vast field,” Terrell wrote in a review of the book. “With characteristic good humor and patience, he confronts the fundamental issues within not only life sciences but moral and political philosophy as well. This is a necessary, although uncomfortable, wake-up call for humankind generally.”

Dr. Bradley said the technologies addressed in the book are here and moving rapidly and he believes most people are not considering future implications.

“I point out what the possible ramifications could be of some of these technologies if we go down certain paths,” he said. “If we don’t as a world community reach some consensus of what we would like life to be like 100 or 200 years from now, that might not be good.”

“Re-Creating Nature: Science, Technology, and Human Values in the Twenty-First Century” is currently available on Amazon and at the Auburn University bookstore.

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