25 June 2009

A gift

What [the] drive to mastery misses is an appreciation of the gifted character of human powers and achievements.
-- Michael Sandel in his third Reith Lecture, expressing caution about genetic manipulation and other biotechnology. Matt Ridley seemed unconvinced:
My main issue is how we take the decision as to whether something is an enhancement or a cure.
Can there be common ground?

Perhaps the idea of 'gift' can be accommodated both by those who believe a (supernatural) giver is at work and those (including me) who do not. [1] The latter can apply it figuratively (a little like the term 'natural selection', in which 'selection' does not imply the literal existence of a selector). A naturalistic outlook need not be incompatible with a sense of "openness to the unbidden" [2] which requires (among other things) a strong sense that existence is astonishing, that knowledge, while powerful, has limits, and that wisdom is elusive.

"Nature is more various than observation though observers be innumerable."

[1] Examine how people construct the idea of 'gift'. See, for example, Lewis Hyde.

[2] Sandel quotes this phrase from William F. May, a theologian. But surely, like "negative capability", it can be grounded in non-theological, lived experience.

Image: Hyalinobatrachium pellucidum, an endangered 'glass' frog (Luis Coloma). The quote underneath it is from Christopher Smart

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