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Without Nature? A New Condition for Theology.

WITHOUT NATURE? A New Condition for Theology By David Albertson and Cabell King, eds. New York: Fordham University Press, 2009. 469 pages, index. Paperback; $39.00. ISBN: 9780823230709.

It is the nature of most birds to fly. It is ethical to intervene to restore that nature by repairing a broken wing. Would it be ethical to intervene to change that nature? This book is a discussion of how ecological changes and genetic manipulation might shift both the "understanding and valuation of nature" and "how alterations of nature impact theological categories" across disciplines. Such Christian-based interdisciplinary dialogue in bioethics has been seen in anthologies such as Viewing New Creations with Anabaptist Eyes: Ethics of Biotechnology, edited by Roman J. Miller, Beryl H. Brubaker, and James C. Peterson in 2005. Without Nature? is a welcome addition to that type of discussion in its drawing from a wide disciplinary base to then focus on a formative question.

The book explores five disciplines in relation to nature: ecology, genetics, geography, anthropology, and theology. In each section, three authors examine how ecological collapse or genetic engineering might affect the nature of "nature" and might accordingly invoke attention to related elements in each discipline. The first essays in each category speak from philosophical and essentialist perspectives of nature and maintain negative views regarding the advancement of technology and biogenetics. In contrast, the third essays address, from a Protestant and nonessentialist approach, nature as always in flux, and so are more open to the humanitarian use of such engineering. The second essays, often from Catholic approaches, hold perspectives that share some of both.

Multiple contributors, specializing in areas such as philosophy, ethics, science, anthropology and urban planning as well as theology, make this book highly informative. It extensively covers the context and issues that revolve around ecology and biotechnology, including technical details, politics, economics, social science, and philosophical development, in order to inform ethical and theological discussions.

The book reveals how the concept of nature plays a vital role in the discussion of technological and genetic interventions as a determinative element regarding development and direction of the interventions. By juxtaposing three contrastive views, the book illuminates how different views of nature might affect one's ethical views toward technological and bioengineering advancement.

The book's editors describe themselves as students of Kathryn Tanner, those who understand human nature to be dynamic, as in Eastern Orthodox thought. They persistently contrast this position with essentialist views of nature that argue from secular philosophical perspectives such as those of Aristotle and Nietzsche. However, this might lead to an impression that philosophical views and Protestant Christian views are always polarized in terms of the view of nature and attitudes toward technology, which is not necessarily the case. To assist readers in comparing purely philosophical discussions with Christian thought, it would have helped to explain how the former views might inform or conform to the latter.

The editors acknowledge that this book is "an ambitious interdisciplinary agenda." It is, in wrestling with such a polyvalent term as "nature." Admitting the ambiguousness of the term, the authors provide some unique definitions, and the editors organize them by arranging each section around common definitions such as "natural world," "human biological nature," or "human nature." The complexities of the term "nature" warrant further scrutiny; yet despite such challenges, the book clarifies the importance of the understanding of nature for the presented topic.

This edition is beneficial for readers who are interested in ecology, environmental ethics, bioethics, anthropology, and ethics in general. Some knowledge of technical terms may be needed for readers to attempt the section on "genetics and nature." Including a general introduction and conclusion would have been useful to clarify the intent of the book and to summarize its contributions. It is a large and unwieldy volume, yet worth significant effort to hear its varied perspectives.

Reviewed by Shigemi Tomita, McMaster University Divinity College, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1.
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Author:Tomita, Shigemi
Publication:Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2010
Words:652
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