Biology and Social Responsibility
Word of exciting new advances in molecular biology can be found almost every week in the newspaper, and many people have become accustomed to hearing that each latest advance will have revolutionary consequences. The Human Genome Initiative was sold to the American public so effectively that many people expect that knowing the chemical sequence of DNA will make us privy to the function of every gene, and so will enable us to cure every problem in the near future. There is a pervasive feeling that DNA decrees destiny, that the future of humanity is indelibly written in our genes. A new cynicism has emerged about psychiatry and clinical psychology; modification of human behavior is felt to be hopeless, since our behavior is a part of the fiber of our being. Nature seems to have overwhelmed nurture, and people are frankly skeptical that nurture has much impact on nature. The Bell Curve even contends that, since genes determine intelligence, and intelligence determines income, then class structure is somehow inherent in the genome. In this view, welfare programs cannot possibly succeed, because welfare recipients are somehow too flawed to benefit from this largesse in any substantive way. Predilection and predestination are confounded, and the social fatalism of the Middle Ages is resurgent.
If DNA really decreed destiny, then every cell of the human body should be alike; every cell arises from a single precursor