Messing about with Nature
In his contribution to the year 2000 Reith Lectures on sustainable development, Prince Charles attacked science as arrogant and argued that we need to find a new sense of the sacredness of nature and recognise the importance of not upsetting the "balance" of nature.
[A]n understanding of the sacred helps us to acknowledge that there are bounds of balance, order and harmony in the natural world which set limits to our ambitions, and define the parameters of sustainable development.
...I believe that if we are to achieve genuinely sustainable development we will first have to rediscover, or re-acknowledge a sense of the sacred in our dealings with the natural world, and with each other. If literally nothing is held sacred anymore – because it is considered synonymous with superstition or in some other way “irrational” – what is there to prevent us treating our entire world as some "great laboratory of life" with potentially disastrous long term consequences?
...[W]e should show greater respect for the genius of nature's designs, rigorously tested and refined over millions of years. This means being careful to use science to understand how nature works, not to change what nature is, as we do when genetic manipulation seeks to transform a process of biological evolution into something altogether different. The idea that the different parts of the natural world are connected through an intricate system of checks and balances which we disturb at our peril is all too easily dismissed as no longer relevant.
And in a previous speech in 1996 he also said:
Science has tried to assume a monopoly – or, rather, a tyranny – over our understanding of the world around us.... We are only now beginning to under the disastrous results of this outlook.
Is it true that there is something intrinsically wrong in interfering with the way organisms and our environment work? Has evolution produced designs so perfect that they admit of no improvement? And what are the dangers of interfering with delicately balanced organis systems? (Anyway, is nature really that delicately balanced?).
Prince Charles drew down much criticism upon his head from various leading scientists for his "inexpert and regressive" remarks. On the other hand perhaps there is something to be said for adopting the precautionary principle when messing about with nature. After all there are many examples throughout human history of disasterous consequences resulting from introduction of non-native specises to new habitats.
Our topic is ‘messing about with nature’ and we will be looking at genetic engineering, cloning and organ transplants and asking what the benefits and dangers might be.