Genetics of Original Sin

The Impact of Natural Selection on the Future of Humanity

Christian de Duve; With Neil Patterson; Foreword by Edward O. Wilson

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February 28, 2012
256 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
20 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300182729
Paper

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Increasingly absorbed in recent years by advances in our understanding of the origin of life, evolutionary history, and the advent of humankind, eminent biologist Christian de Duve of late has also pondered deeply the future of life on this planet.  He speaks to readers with or without a scientific background, offering new perspectives on the threat posed by humanity’s immense biological success and on the resources human beings have for altering their current destructive path.

Focusing on the process of natural selection, de Duve explores the inordinate and now dangerous rise of humankind.  His explanation for this self-defeating success lies in the process of natural selection, which favors traits that are immediately useful, regardless of later consequences. Thus, the human genome determines such properties as tribal and group cohesion and collaboration and often fierce and irrational competition with and hostility toward other groups’ attributes that were once useful but now often ruinously dysfunctional.

Christian de Duve suggests that these traits, imprinted into human nature by natural selection, may have been recognized by the writers of Genesis, thus inspiring the myth of original sin.  Is there redemption for genetic original sin? In a brilliant and original conclusion, the author argues that, unique in the living world, humankind is endowed with the ability to deliberately oppose natural selection. Human beings have the capacity to devise measures that, while contrary to local or personal interests, can bring forth a safer world.  

Christian de Duve is professor emeritus at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, and at Rockefeller University, New York. He lives in Belgium.

"[This book offers] a broad and nontechnical perspective on fundamental questions about life as biology and life in the future of earth [and] has an original emphasis and perspective. . . . The authority of a Nobel Prize-winner, coupled with its easy style, set it apart from a lot of would-be competitors."—William C. Summers, Yale University
 

“Alone on planet Earth, humans have come to understand the mechanism of their biological legacy, and to devise ways to transcend it. No better account can be found of the stark choices that humanity now faces, and no more authoritative a guide and expositor than Christian de Duve.”—Paul Davies, author of The Eerie Silence

“Every thoughtful person will want to enjoy and reflect on the fluid and logical progression of ideas that are so clearly presented in this masterwork.  In it, Christian de Duve brings the full array of insights derived from modern biology to bear on the philosophical examination of our place in the Universe.”—Peter H. Raven, President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden

"De Duve provides an outstanding treatment of historical, present, and future biological/societal issues. This is a concise, superb book, clearly, succinctly, and analytically organized."—J. N. Muzio, Choice

“De Duve makes biology accessible to virtually any reader. In addition, Genetics of Original Sin often provides a historical context for scientific discovery, describing biological innovation as the work of individuals, thereby heightening the drama of science.”—Jamie Schwendinger-Schrek, Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2011 in the Biology category.