Archives For biotechnology


A Brief Review of Death and Life in America:
Biblical Healing and Biomedicine
Raymond Downing.
Paperback: Herald Press, 2008.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Rev. Karen Altergott.

Is biolife an idol and biomedicine an overly powerful force in contemporary society?  What is a Christian to do when confronted by a beast of a system that seems able to name our problems, control and limit the potential solutions, and make any choice other than biomedical intervention seem foolish?  The option of considering bio-psycho-socio-spiritual healing requires somewhat more of both patient and practitioner.  Biomedicine, while not ultimately to be rejected, is quite reasonably questioned.  The independence from God that a pure mechanical and physical approach implies should be completely and clearly rejected.

Death and Life in America provides an excellent overview of healing as Jesus healed into the Kingdom of Heaven, and healing as modern physicians, including the author, have healed. Physicians heal through the advances of biomedicine in the Kingdom of this World.  While dancing on the edge of gnosticism with the division between physical and spiritual, Downing basically places biomedicine in the realm of the world.  He labels medicine as one of the principalities and powers, and since it is tied up with power over others, the market, the illusion of independence from God, it is somewhat dangerous to all.

On the other hand, the power of Jesus, Son of God, heals in another way.  The comparison of resuscitated life and resurrected life shows the difference between holding on to biolife and to entering God’s Kingdom and the new life therein. The central chapters provide a good description and analysis of healing in the New Testament record. The power of God through Jesus to name the problem humans face, to heal the body, mind, spirit, relationship, and to change the approach we have to life itself is incarnate healing, embodied healing.  If we accept that we are not autonomous from God, that medicine does not rule our decisions or our lives, then there is hope that healing – biomedical as well-  may be based on faith.  The concept of Christ carrying our pain, and of us carrying others’ suffering moves us into the realm of how are we now to live with one another in a very helpful way.  Acceptance of brokenness and suffering – and biodeath when it is time – is a major sub-theme of this book.

What then for medicine and healing?  Perhaps here is where Downing doesn’t go far enough.  With the burgeoning of alternative healing, by 2008 when this book was written, our good doctor could have taken some stance on the many ways of healing that Americans are seeking.  The next book might be notes from the resistance: what it means to combine healing as Jesus heals with a world that accesses – but does not bow down to – biomedicine.


Two excellent books that are being released in cheaper, paperback editions this week.  Now would be an excellent time to read them, if you haven’t already!

Acedia and Me - Kathleen Norris

Acedia and Me:

A Marriage, Monks
and A Writer’s Life.

Kathleen Norris.
March 2010.

Our 2008 Book of the Year!

[ Read our Review ]

[Buy the paperback! ]

Beyond Biotechnology:
The Barren Promise of Genetic Engineering.
Craig Holdrege and Steve Talbott.

University Press of Kentucky. 2010.

[ Read our Review ]

[ Buy the paperback! ]


A Brief Review of
Food Fray: Inside the Controversy Over Genetically Modified Food
by Lisa Weasel.

Hardback: AMACOM, 2009.
Buy now:   [  Amazon ]

 Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Lisa Weasel’s recent book Food Fray is a great introduction to the recent controversies over genetically modified (GM) foods.  Weasel, a molecular biologist, and a member of an Oregon task force “on developing public policy for bio-pharmaceutical crops,” approaches her task not only with a deep knowledge of the material but also with a scientist’s fierce commitment to objectivity.   Though generally critical of GM foods and the mega-corporations that engineer them (e.g., Monsanto), in the end she is optimistic that GM foods in a much narrower role (“more as a condiment than as a main course”, 201) can ultimately be beneficial to humanity.  Weasel offers over the course of the book a concise history of the development of (and the resistance to) GM foods.  The resistance movements that she highlights include those in Europe, where one finds the broadest and staunchest opposition to GM foods and those of Vandana Shiva and other Indian anti-biotech activists.  She also explores the use of GM processes in Africa, in the search for a more nutritionally-complex rice plant (Asia primarily) and in the dairy systems of North America.  One of Weasel’s main thrusts in Food Fray is deflating the myth that widespread GM food technology can solve world hunger problems.  There is much to appreciate in the international broadness of her approach to the controversy about GM foods.  However, despite her adamant critiques of corporate greed, Weasel is driven by a sort of scientific optimism and repeatedly insists that GM technology has the potential to benefit humanity.  Although my sentiments lie more with the anti-biotech activists (see my 2008 review of Craig Holdredge and Steve Talbott’s book BEYOND BIOTECHNOLOGY), Lisa Weasel has offered us here an excellent introduction to the history and ethics of GM foods, and I would recommend it for anyone seeking to understand what GM foods are and why the struggle over them is significant.