reasonable analysis is made of the whole periods in the history of science, the
fact that science brought much innovation to mankind cannot be denied.
Throughout the history of science, one could see attempts by scientists to
exhaust all that are practicable as far as our world of reality is concerned.
But these achievements of science have not been without problems.
Denis sees the problem as a turning point in those advancements of science. He
traced back the foundation of scientific evolution and its social impact to the
late 19th and early 20th centuries. For instance, in the
year 1905, Einstein came up with his theory that mass could be converted into
energy. Within the camp of the scientists, some doubts were raised as to the
possibility of this theory. But 40 years later, his theory was confirmed when
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by atomic bomb.
In the 1950s,
scientists were bent on constructing nuclear weapons. Weapons of war became
more sophisticated with an increasing hope that no one would be foolish enough
to use them adversely. But unfortunately, as hopes were rising towards what
science could offer as good, there was a corresponding increase in
disillusionment. At this point, one stands to ask where mankind was going in
the 1970s. This boils down to the fact that one-fifth of the world’s political
manpower was (and is still) employed for military purposes. As this was
foreseen as something more deadly than life giving, some moves were made to the
imminent excesses. Many countries engaged in the formation of groups to arouse
social and moral conscience among scientists, one of which was the British
society for social responsibility in science. All these groups were put up
because of the fact that a single misuse of science anywhere is likely to
attract its own heavy repercussions. The extent to which these groups in
different countries could go was immediately seen. They could not achieve much,
and the reason was quite obvious: a country tries to out do the other in the
production of weapons, at least for defence purposes. This situation leads to a
kind of dominos effect. Alexander demonstrates this with the production of
If one country is going to
attack the other with biological weapons, one needs to know how to defend
oneself. And to defend oneself, one needs to know how the weapons work. And to
know how they work, one equally needs to make them. Since the individual has
known how to make them, even if he does not stock pile them, he can always make
move if he wanted to1
This kind of
situation leads to a deep struggle for superiority and a vicious circle is
What was happening in the
production of biological weapons was present in other areas such as in the
science of molecular biology. By the 1970s,according to his analysis the
chances of begetting life artificially were no longer deemed impossible.
Sex and Society
strings of chemicals that help create the proteins that make up the body”2. Genes are composed of chromosomes,
which are responsible for our different characteristics. But these
characteristics are summed up in the DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, which is the
sum total of the genetic make up of every living thing.
DNA is very stable such that “mutations”3 occurring in the germ cells will be
passed on to the children. It has been found that some genetic defects are
linked with chromosomes that determine sex. For instance colour blindness,
webbed toes and muscular dystrophy are caused by chromosomes related to sex
first fertilization of the human ovum which was carried out under laboratory
conditions was made. Earlier before this date (1969), human ovary was not
accessible and so studies concerning human conception could not yield any
positive result. But, this breakthrough has taught man that artificial
fertilization of the human ovary is hundred percent possible. As years go by,
more discoveries were made. Alexander Denis made allusion to the new discovery
about human blastocyst in 1974.He noted the report that “human blastocysts had
been grown artificially in the laboratory and re-implanted into women, with
subsequent birth of apparently normal several children”4.
there was some social impact accruing from these discoveries. It became obvious
that infertility and other related problems can be stopped. A wife with blocked
oviduct or a husband with ineffective sperm can get an aid.
There was equally a way of determining sex
chromosome. In this case, the sperm containing the Y chromosome is identified
as male chromosome while the sperm containing X chromosome is identified as
female chromosome. Hence Alexander averred that “sex could be determined by
separating sperm containing the Y (male) chromosome from those containing the X
(female) chromosome”5. He also
noted the discovery made by a group of German scientists, that sperm could be
made concentrated 85%. This concentration he said, makes the Y sperm to swim
In the past centuries, man submitted to the
dictum that children are gifts from God and that their (or children’s) absence
is an expression of God’s wrath. It was taken that the sex of one’s children is
determined by the mind of God such that one was made to be grateful for what he
gets even if it is a girl again (may be for the fourth time). The case of
infertility was then seen as the actualisation of God’s will on man. But in
this era, not only that infertility has a total cure; man can now choose to
have more males than females in as much as he adroitly follows the rubrics of
science concerning the modernised form of reproduction.
the developments in science have also led to the discovery of genetic
abnormalities. It is true that under normal circumstances, chromosomal
donations during the period of human conception do not go beyond or below the
usual 23 chromosome pairs from either parent. But sometimes the unusual may
happen such that the chromosomal donations may not keep to the usual 23 pairs.
According to R.F. Biehler “The unusual number of chromosome may either be 23+24
making an overall number of 47 instead of the usual 46.At other times it may be
23+22 making a combinatory total of only 45 instead of the usual 466.”
explained that there is bound to be a genetic abnormality when either of these
situations occur. The type of abnormality that occurs in this situation is Down’s
syndrome. He explained that Down’s syndrome occurs when the cell is produced by
47 (i.e.23+24) chromosomes.
The missing of a sex chromosome or the addition of an extra sex
chromosome may lead to a type of genetic abnormality called Turner’s syndrome.
This abnormality occurs when a sperm with a missing sex chromosome fertilizes a
normal egg or an egg with a missing an X-carrying sperm fertilizes X
chromosome. Biehler explained that this lack of a second X chromosome may cause
stunted growth in the female child and will eventually lead to a blockage of
breast development and menstrual flow in the female child at puberty.
the midst of these genetic discoveries, mankind should not submit to
geneticists as those who have the final answer about gene and sex. Sometimes,
their projections can really cause more harm than good. In his book, “The
Technological Society”, Jacques Ellul argued, “If the choice as to what type of human is
desirable be left to those who are making the choice possible –the geneticists,
then the doom of humanity must crop up”7.
Under what I may call the magic wand of biology, man is now gradually becoming
quite different from what he was. He is changing into a new and paradoxical
animal. The very ‘Homo sapiens’ has now become a ‘Homo biologicus’ who attains
the level of fertilizing his female at a long distance like the molusks or like
the Kangaroo that develops outside his mother’s body.
molecular biologists had much questions to respond to in regard to the
manipulation of living things and human beings. The effects of science and
technology were also beginning to draw attentions and questions; for instance,
population density was much with a corresponding increase in pollution, deaths
from war and other social ills were in the steady progression: these situations
made the enthusiastic applications of biological discoveries to everyday life
to fall down drastically. However, the advancements in science does not only
revolve around gene and sex, it equally encompasses the human brain.
of the Brain
brain can be described as two handfuls of tissue, which weighs a little more
than 1.2kg with colour and pulp-like substance responsible for man’s feeling,
speaking, seeing, smelling, remembering, engaging in sexual union and other
activities that characterises the daily human life.
brain indeed contains about ten thousand million nerve cells. Thus, in
comparing the computers to human brain, Denis Alexander avowed that “the
biggest computers ever built manage less than a hundred units unlike the human
brain that contains ten thousand million cells”8.
brain research was the major preoccupation of Neuro-physiologists, those who
are primarily concerned with the electrical activities of the brain. In 1974,
Sir John Eccles of Buffalo University used a microelectrode less than a
thousandth of millimetres in diameter to explore the electrical behaviour of
individual neurons in living cat brains. However, in not more than ten years of
this discovery, it was also discovered that “if the electrical activity of
individual neurons varies so much, it is also likely that their chemistry
varies as well”9. Thus, among the complex
task of biochemistry in the early seventies, was to find out the disparities in
chemistry between the ten thousand million nerves contained in the brain.
been a tremendous increase in our knowledge of the structure and chemistry of
the brain. Our detailed knowledge of the brain chemistry makes it inevitable
that new and more sophisticated drugs are produced to exert certain effects on
man’s behaviour. The implantation of electrodes in the brain, which was
initiated by Dr. Hess in 1928, now serves as a routine procedure. This is a
situation where a hole is made in the skull of the animal or man, and a fine
metal planted in specific areas of the brain. Through these electrodes,
simultaneous electrical recording can be done while the animal or person moves
freely to wherever (it) he chooses. Even the cerebral areas related to pain,
pleasure, eating, sexual gratification and learning have all been detected
through this medium. It was equally ascertained that electrodes could be used
not just for picking up electrical activities alone but also to stimulate
specific regions of the brain.
delving into the interpretive cortex of the brain, it is nice to highlight some
diffuse pathways in the human brain. There is what is known as the cholinergic
pathways, which regulate attention, learning and memory function. In other words,
a projection from the nucleus basalis of Meynert
provides the cholinergic input to the cerebral
cortex. The medial septum in turn provides cholinergic innervations of the
pathways also regulate movement, cognition, learning and memory function.
Hence, a projection from the substantia nigra provides dopamine input to the
neostriatum. Then the ventral segmental area supplies dopamine for the cerebral
cortex and the limbic system. These activities of the brain are not unconnected
with its plasticity. According to Malcolm Jeeves “the most characteristic
features of the brain is its plasticity”10.
The absence of this plastic nature of the brain will result to inability of the
human brain (man) to learn or memorize something. Man’s response or adaptation
to his world and its changing circumstances will be impossible.
pathways play important roles in mental health. So it is discovered that
projections from the brainstem raphe nuclei innervate a wide variety of brain regions.
Therefore, Serotonin is implicated in the etiology of depression and
hallucinogenic agents such as LSD, and mescaline equally plays their role.
professor Giles Brindley of the Institute of psychiatry in London, “Electrodes
are being planted in human brains for very different purposes”11. He explained that a wide range of
wires could be planted in the back of the brain, which receives signal from the
eyes. He also noted that photo-electric cell devices can be used to convert
light waves into electrical impulses which has the feasibility of giving blind
people the ability to recognize objects and possibly to read. Enumerating
various researchers on the brain will not be complete without some theories on
memory. This has been a fascinating thing about the human brain. How do we
store information and then recall it in years later? Infact, how do we
remember? According to Prof. Penfield, “memory is an area of the brain called
interpretive cortex”12. From
experiments made, he opined that man has the potential to recall any past
experiences. He went on to say that any theory of memory must provide for the
storage of a directional, sequential series of events complete with sound,
vision and colour. However, this assertion has led to many theories about the
memory though we shall not be delving into them now. From the researches made
so far, it has also been discovered that the vital region of the brain called
hippocampus, is responsible for short-term and long-term memory
It is quite
evident that some big steps have been made in brain research but we are not
going into details so as to focus on the scope of our study.
In many ways
the ethical issues raised by such researches and experiments are similar to
those that come from our acclaimed potential to control our own heredity. Just
as the genetic content of our cells may be manipulated in the laboratory, in
the same way, some specific information will (if not already experimented) be
fed into human brains at birth.
can exert enormous power over the mind by the use of drugs and even more by the
use of electrodes. And one can attest to it that “never before has man held
such power in his hands. And never before has there been such a temptation to
1.3 How brave the new world
Denis, by 1970, matters were coming to its zenith. The richer countries were
becoming over-extended. Most of them were becoming over-populated, over
industrialized and over-reliant upon cheap imported raw materials. Resources
were either becoming less plentiful or were being deliberately withheld by the
producing countries, all in the interest of long-term conservation.
century has seen the most rapid technological development in human history. As
such, people who were born before powered flight saw men walk on the moon.
Within five decades, medicine has moved from leeches and cupping to organ
transplant. Thus, if the main feature of a god were his power, it might seem
that man was more like a god than ever before. “It is man who with his
inclination to science and technology has travelled to the space. It is this
same man who fits people with new hearts, keeps them alive in machines and even
changes their minds or their sex. Mankind has even gone to the realm of trying
to produce himself artificially (cloning). There is no doubt that man has
benefited much from his own effort of research to gain the potential for
healing the minds and bodies of the sick ones”14.
all this, Alexander believes that one of the outstanding characteristics of
this present generation is a U-turn from science. It is no more a hidden fact
that the prospect of technical innovation has now become almost a threat to
humanity. In his book “chance and Necessity”, Jacques Monod spoke of the
apparent frustration, which has brought about the rejection of science and a
resultant shift to religion as the only moral approach.
The hope of
our filling and ruling the earth is turning sour as it is realized, and the
prospective future seems nightmarish. Another effect of the new human situation
is that our environment, and the forces which shape our lives, become more and
more man-made. Even our basic thoughts about our situation and ourselves are
continuously geared towards anthropocentricism. Looking at those countries of
the world where science and technology already developed, one notices a total
feeling of disillusionment. What can we say is the cause?
reason is that the glorified science and technology with the peripheral
standard of living has not curbed the evil that is rampant in our society.
Alexander, in giving credence to the views of M. L. Smith, avows that
“collectively we are much more like two-year-olds in a petrol store with a box
of matches than we are like gods or even responsible adults”15. We really call it a new world. But
how brave is the new world? One can admit the fact that the acutest social and
technical problems facing mankind today come not from the so-called
under-development’ but from ‘over-development’16.
This is why the various applications of modern science will continue to
constitute mayhem to peace and human life.
In the face
of all these, some proponents of science would still hold it as being neutral.
For them, man’s discoveries are neutral, what varies is their application,
which involves moral choice. Such views maintained that “when a man discovered
fire, he could either warm himself with it or go out to burn the surrounding
villages with it. Iron when discovered, could either be used to make
cooking-pots or be beaten into spears for killing people. At the same time,
drugs may be used to heal the sick minds or to break it. Nuclear power as well
may be used to warm a house or set a nation ablaze”17
we should take it in another sense, one can prove it that science is never
neutral. Scientific research is only empirical and cannot be said to be wholly
rational or objective. Every human activity involves value judgment. Since
science is a human activity, it should not be left out. In other words, decisions
have to be made concerning projects that are worth undertaking and hypotheses
must be evaluated as well.
of modern science is such that while it gives man a god-like power, it also
appears to reduce man to a rather confusing animal in a confusing world. Is man
just a mere Heideggerian Dasein who is thrown into existence? Can man be only a
bundle of conditioned reflexes predetermined by his genes, chemistry and
environment? But science as a god seemed to have reduced its (man) worshippers
Obviously, the value of man surpasses whatever science and technology
can offer. Therefore, mechanisms, which underlie the application of science,
should not be completely upheld at the expense of meaning through which human
1 D. Alexander, Beyond Science, (Britain: Lion Pub., 1972) ,
2 J. Ekennia, Bio-Medical Ethics, (Owerri: Barloz Publishers
Inc., 2003), p.112.
3 Denis Alexander defined mutation as the mistakes which arise in the
genes of the body.
4 D.Alexander, Op. Cit. p.18.
6 R.F. Biehler, Child Development: An Introduction, (New York:
Houghton Mifflin Co., 1976), p.79.
7 J.Ellul, The Technological Society, (Britain: Random House
Inc., 1971), p.208.
8 D.Alexander,Op. Cit., p.25.
10 M. Jeeves, From Cells to Souls- and Beyond,(U.K. :Ww.B.
Eerdmans Pub. Co. 2004), p.26.
11 D.Alexander, Op. Cit. p.35.
16 S.H.Nasr, Man and nature, (London: George Allen & Unwin
Ltd. 1968), p.13.
17 D.Alexander, Op. Cit. p.43.