Attached is an excerpt from a chapter of mine that is published in the recent book "THe Double-Edged Helix" (see info at end of this message).  It deals with the myth of the end of genetic determinism.  I would be interested in any criticism of my points.  Jon Beckwith

At 08:21 AM 1/28/03 -0600, you wrote:
Chronicle of Higher Education
From the issue dated January 31, 2003

The Mythical Threat of Genetic Determinism

      It is time to set minds at ease by raising the "specter" of "genetic
determinism" and banishing it once and for all. According to Stephen Jay Gould,
genetic determinists believe the following:

      "If we are programmed to be what we are, then these traits are
ineluctable. We may, at best, channel them, but we cannot change them either by
will, education, or culture."

      If this is genetic determinism, then we can all breathe a sigh of relief:
There are no genetic determinists. I have never encountered anybody who claims
that will, education, and culture cannot change many, if not all, of our
genetically inherited traits. My genetic tendency to myopia is canceled by the
eyeglasses I wear (but I do have to want to wear them); and many of those who
would otherwise suffer from one genetic disease or another can have the
symptoms postponed indefinitely by being educated about the importance of a
particular diet, or by the culture-borne gift of one prescription medicine or
another. If you have the gene for the disease phenylketonuria, all you have to
do to avoid its undesirable effects is stop eating food containing
phenylalanine. What is inevitable doesn't depend on whether determinism reigns,
but on whether on not there are steps we can take, based on information we can
get in time to take those steps, to avoid the foreseen harm.

Full text

Freedom Evolves
by Daniel Clement Dennett
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Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Viking Press; ISBN: 0670031860; (February 2003)


In this text, Daniel Dennett shows that human freedom is not an illusion; it is
an objective phenomenon, distinct from all other biological conditions and
found only in one species - us. There was a time on this planet when it didn't
exist, quite recently in fact. It had to evolve like every other feature of the
biosphere and it continues to evolve today. Dennett shows that far from there
being an incompatibility between contemporary science and the traditional
vision of freedom and morality, it is only recently that science has advanced
to the point where we can see how we came to have our unique kind of freedom.

Editorial Reviews

Book Description

Daniel C. Dennett is a brilliant polemicist, famous for challenging unexamined
orthodoxies. Over the last thirty years, he has played a major role in
expanding our understanding of consciousness, developmental psychology, and
evolutionary theory. And with such groundbreaking, critically acclaimed books
as Consciousness Explained and Darwin's Dangerous Idea (a National Book Award
and Pulitzer Prize finalist), he has reached a huge general and professional

In this new book, Dennett shows that evolution is the key to resolving the
ancient problems of moral and political freedom. Like the planet's atmosphere
on which life depends, the conditions on which our freedom depends had to
evolve, and like the atmosphere, they continue to evolve-and could be
extinguished. According to Dennett, biology provides the perspective from which
we can distinguish the varieties of freedom that matter. Throughout the history
of life on this planet, an interacting web and internal and external conditions
have provided the frameworks for the design of agents that are more free than
their parts-from the unwitting gropings of the simplest life forms to the more
informed activities of animals to the moral dilemmas that confront human beings
living in societies.

As in his previous books, Dennett weaves a richly detailed narrative enlivened
by analogies as entertaining as they are challenging. Here is the story of how
we came to be different from all other creatures, how our early ancestors
mindlessly created human culture, and then, how culture gave us our minds, our
visions, our moral problems-in a nutshell, our freedom.

About the Author
Daniel C. Dennett is a university professor and the director of the Center for
Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. In addition to Darwin's Dangerous Idea,
he is also the author of Kinds of Minds and Consciousness Explained.

Freedom Evolves by Daniel Dennett
by Daniel Dennett