INTRODUCTION



First I would like to introduce myself. My name is Dr. Andrew Szebenyi. I am a Jesuit Priest and reside in the Jesuit Residence on Le Moyne College’s beautiful campus. I have been here teaching a number of different courses in biology since 1963. Which makes me an old hat. If you want to know more about my background just click on my name above and find out.

All through the years I have been teaching at Le Moyne, I found that the multitude of discoveries in the many fields of the life sciences are not without significance on the way we understand ourselves and see the world around us. Knowledge has a tremendous influence on our decisions, on the way we live and do things. New knowledge can change the world and the meaning of our lives. There are three fields in biology which strike me as particularly rich in discoveries and ideas with considerable influence on human affairs. These three fields are the science of evolution, genetic engineering, and population ecology. The discovery of biological evolution transformed the way we think about the world and gave us the dimensions of a new and more realistic cosmology than what we had before. In genetic engineering we come to realize our active participation in our own evolution, a tremendously exciting task. In population ecology we come face to face with our limits the earth provides, and with the conditions of choosing paths, which may lead to a better future.

Evolutionary World View

The study begins with a historical approach leading to the discovery of the process of biological evolution. After a brief Biography of Charles Darwin, and The voyage of the Beagle, the basic tenets of biological evolution are presented in reference to the book, The Origin. This is followed by a brief historical account of the controversy the Origin aroused beginning with The Oxford Meeting, followed by More recent views and A pool of ideas. The next part of the presentation is a collection of essays starting with the description of The Scientific Method. In an atmosphere of controversy elicited by Darwin’s work, it is important to have clear ideas about scientific discoveries to avoid unnecessary confusion. The characteristics and the value of scientific knowledge are provided by the method we use to obtain it. When we acknowledge the power of this method, we should be also aware of its limitations. Using the scientific method, we can learn a great deal about the evolutionary process. There are, however, certain issues which are beyond this method and are based on reasonable assumptions. Such issues remain hypothetical and are discussed in the essay on Macroevolution. The third essay in the set is devoted to the solution of the creation-evolution controversy under the title Solution of a Controversy. Once this problem of controversy is behind us, we may be able to formulate a new cosmology. This has been done in the next essay on The Evolutionary World View. The new understanding is put to practical use in the last essay A Strategy for Change.

All these ideas are thought provoking, and the purpose of this presentation is to initiate an open minded discussion.

Genetic Engineering

The second part of the study is on genetic engineering. In the last few decades we have been confronted with a multitude of new discoveries in molecular genetics, which in itself is a rather new science. Many of these discoveries already have significant impact on our lives and they promise a future which, sometimes, sounds more like science fiction than reality. No wonder, there is a great deal of confusion about reality and fiction in what we hear about genetic engineering. Of course, it is important to see the difference. Scientific research belongs to the real world and not to science fiction. The sections with the titles Fact or Fiction and The Real Scope deal with these issues.

Next the highlights of genetic engineering are presented in as realistic a framework as possible under the headings Eugenics, The recombinant DNA scenario, The human genome project and The stem cell hassle. In Ethical considerations a method is given to study complex issues in the light of moral values. This part of the presentation is concluded with Case studies to show the way we experience the many conflicts in decision making.

Finally, the discussed topics on genetic engineering are rounded off with two essay, one on The Survival of the Fittest, and the other on Negative Eugenics. It is not enough to deal with all the new ideas, we also have to lay to rest these two ghosts from the past.

Population Ecology

Some aspects of human ecology are considered in the third part of the study. Since ecology is a relatively new science, we start with some Concepts and Definitions and a brief Historical Overview. Next the actual experience of an encounter with the limits of the earth is presented in the Ecological Perspectives. It is not easy to handle issues, which touch upon questions about the way we live, and are at the same time questions about our survival. So first we examine some Attitudes and Responses toward the stated perspectives. Here we meet the prophets of doom, who say we are too late to do anything about saving the earth and ourselves. We meet with people, who are in a state of denial and refuse even to consider a single ecological issue. But we also meat with people, who respond in a positive and hopeful manner and at the same time remain within the framework of ecological realism. Following this line of positive thought, we are given a powerful agenda to pursue. This agenda is presented in six steps to a sustainabale society. The six steps will certainly work, provided we can neutralize the counterproductive mentality, which does not care about long range benefits and desires unlimited growth in a limited world. The means to neutralize such mentality and the six steps themselves are presented in the section Three more steps.

One of the fundamental issues toward ecological balance is the need to stabilize world population. This point is considered in more detail. It is unfortunate that the pursuit of this stability presents us with a difficult dilemma caused by the clash between two world views, one the classical static, the other the evolutionary dynamic world views. Attempts to resolve the dilemma and the many conflicts, which come with it, are presented in the four final essays, Dilemma, A Strategy for Change, Naked and Taboo. Traditional concepts and ideas cannot offer a way to ecological stability. We must bring our moral sense, which we have inherited from our past, into harmony with our understanding the demands of life today.

I hope sincerely that you will find the presentations illuminating and enjoyable. If you want to contact me please write, e-mail, phone or fax.

My address is Dr. Andrew Szebenyi
Le Moyne College
Jesuit Residence
Syracuse, NY 13214
e-mail szebenyi@mail.lemoyne.edu
Phone 315-445-4646
Fax 315-445-4129

Return to Home Page