I've always thought the story of Adam and Eve was a tad hyperbolic, even for a metaphor. Apple equals knowledge. Man bites apple and is evicted from garden. Eve, the rib robber, gets all the blame. Mankind fears snake (and Woman) forevermore.
On the other hand, as themes go, the tale had legs. Men are still biting the apple every chance they get, still blaming the temptress for their fall from grace. I'm not sure where the snake fits in, but I'm pretty sure he lives in D.C. and just had his fourth interview with police.
My ruminations on western civ's best-known story were prompted - you knew this was coming - by thoughts of cloning. Talk about a story with legs. It's a near certainty that the Bible's earliest contributors, were they writing today, would ditch the fig leaves and put Adam and Eve in lab coats. Our lust for knowledge knows no bounds, though the underlying motivation remains essentially the same - fear.
We're really just scaredy cats, terrified of the one thing we can't avoid and that no one bothers mentioning. Death. And guess why: because we've abandoned any notion of a superior being or an afterlife. With nothing "out there," we've got to figure out how to stay here, no matter what it takes. Even if it means taking the lives of the not-quite-living.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not butting into this line. I've never been one to rush things, and I'm curious enough to stick around until the bitter end. I'm especially charmed by the idea of seeing how my own life proceeds for at least several more decades.
I'm also not dead-set against scientific "progress," though generally I like my science in the same dose I like my government: less. On the other hand, I'm crazy about air conditioning and tetanus shots, so who's to say where the line gets drawn? I'm going to pose lots of questions here to which I don't know the answers, so be patient and try to bear in mind that it's August.
The really scary part, of course, is that no one else knows the answers either, but we're going to plunge ahead anyway. Those who support cloning, embryonic stem cell research and other science non-fictions that sent President Bush into the Texas prairie for a month talk about curing disease and ending suffering and making life better for mankind. In their defense, I also suffer from the enduring effects of early exposure to James Hilton's "Lost Horizon."
But if we all live forever and no one dies of disease and everybody gets cloned, where are we going to put everyone? Who's going to feed all these deliriously healthy people? (Anybody else see "Soylent Green"?) Without the usual predators of disease, famine and pestilence, how will we control the herd? Well, yes, we do have abortion and embryo harvesting to look forward to, but war is practically out, what with the missile shield and all.
Meanwhile, I confide: I'm more than a little concerned about the folks pushing for human cloning. Our own government offered a brief flicker of sanity with passage of a House bill banning the process, but private enterprise won't be stopped. For a bracing collision with existential angst, consider Brigette Bossellier, one of the leaders of the human-cloning movement.
Bossellier (you just know she wears black knee-high spikes and her hair swept into a tight bun) is a chemist and chief scientist for a Canadian group called Clonaid, which - get this - is run by a religious group called the Raelians, who believe humans were cloned thousands of years ago by extraterrestrials.
Yesssss! This is just the sort of person we need leading the way into the future. Already, Bossellier has tried to clone a dead baby whose parents couldn't accept their loss. Or, should we say, their fate? Now there's a quaint notion. Merriam-Webster defines fate as "destiny, an inevitable and often adverse outcome, condition or end; disaster, especially death." And ironically, "the expected result of normal development, i.e. prospective fate of embryonic cells."
Earlier etymologists couldn't have conceived of the fates of embryonic cells as we're redefining "normal development" today. But one thing remains certain no matter what we manage to invent in the laboratory, and notwithstanding embryonic fates. Human destiny is physical death, and no amount of cloning around will change that.
You can put that in your pipe and smoke it, but for DNA's sake, don't inhale. The apple's on me.