Letters to the Editor: Biotechnology, Benefits and Perils—Dr. Jena Khodadad’s Web Talk Now Available on YouTube

Jena Khadem KhodadadDr. Jena Khodadad’s July Web Talk on “Biotechnology, Benefits and Perils: The Need for Spiritual Perspective in Achieving Harmony of Science and Religion” is now available on the Wilmette Institute’s YouTube Channel. When Jena spoke on July 15, she asked that the Institute not upload the video of her talk until after she made a similar talk at the Association for Bahá’í Studies annual conference in August. In case you missed Dr. Khodadad’s talk, or you want to listen to it again, here are some comments sent in by those in the rather large live audience. You may also want to read (or reread) her synopsis of her talk.
—THE EDITORS

The Biotechnology webinar by Dr. Khodadad was excellent, nicely delivered and well-paced. I had some audio issues, but I believe it was on my end. She is quite knowledgeable in the field and identified the guidance about human endeavor from the Bahá’í writings and the direction it should take, quoting from the Guardian [Shoghi Effendi]. Thank you for putting on this useful webinar.—NABIL ELIAS, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

I was excited to listen to the fantastic and superbly presented talk by Dr. Khadem [Khodadad] for two reasons. One was that my son Dr. Sepehr Kiani in Boston, is in the field of biotech, and I wanted to increase my information about his work. The other reason was that I had the honor of being in the same Bahá’í class (dars-i-akhláq) with Jena when we were children. After the question of how and when can Bahá’í principals of moral and ethical values be used, I was moved and tried to write that usually, when materialistic motives and intentions are used to produce advancement, the result would be harmful. I am embarrassed that I could not write my comment clearly.

Then also I wanted to ask, “Has not that spiritual development of America, according to the prediction of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, had the most impact in producing international binding regulations to the advancement and use of biotech and other scientific development?” To me, with that in mind, I see how big and crucial American Bahá’ís roles are to teach the Faith and, as Jena said, be the informed scientist and participate in the discourses about these topics and highlight the moral and ethical regulations. I will send this web talk to my sons and their families and share with as many friends as I can. God bless you and coworkers at the Wilmette Institute, (please forgive my poor English).—GUITY KIANI

I had to leave just before the questions and answers, but what a wonderful session. And how wonderful to have a speaker who is a successful scientist and a thoroughly grounded Bahá’í! Superb webinar. Thanks.—DEE MUNSON

The presenter’s framework for the discussion was very interesting, especially the history of science of molecular genetics. I had an impression that the presenter holds a conventional interpretation of “science” that does not pay due respect to sources of repeated refined, observation by deepened, truth-seeking observers. The case for genetic modification in the cost:benefit analysis in interventionist medicine is clear enough. The controversy is the prevalence of genetically modified organisms released into agricultural and now forest ecosystems and especially in the food supply for livestock and humans and their vertebrate pets.

There is a respectable review of the scientific peer reviewed literature and other related commentary curated by two molecular geneticists Drs John Fagan and Michael Antoniou who have shunned employment (at substantial material cost) where potential funders would have compromised their ability to pursue truth-seeking scientific inquiry. Their GMO Myths and Truths is an “evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops and foods.” The second edition is available at Earthopensource.org that featured new references to counter industry safety claims, which are outlined briefly on the same site. I personally believe their dedication to uncompromising livelihood in their field and their contributions to public discourse are heroic.—JAN DIETRICK

There has been no mention of the hugely growing developments that come under the heading of “transhumanism”—that is, the blending of human biology and computer, digital, or nano technology leading to what is known as the “singularity.” This effort will be as much or more disruptive and dangerous as anything discussed. It also exemplifies the Brave New World concerns very much. Any comment??—RICHARD LANDERGREN

Dr. Khodadad replies: Thank you very much Richard for attending my webinar and calling my attention to what is termed “transhumanism,” as well as “singularity,” etc.—undoubtedly, a significant area of discussion and exploration. I must admit that I am not knowledgeable about this area. Your brief comment has generated my interest in learning more about this subject. Can you kindly direct me to a book or other sources on transhumanism? My focus on the July 15, 2018, seminar was limited to only few aspects of genetic engineering. With much appreciation for your comment.—JENA KHODADAD

We chose to end with Dr. Khodadad’s exchange with Richard Landergren, as she has written that her presentation at the 2018 Association for Bahá’í Studies annual conference—called “Genetic Engineering: Ethical and Spiritual Standpoint in Bringing Together Material and Spiritual Civilization”—was “an expansion and refinement of” her Wilmette Institute Web Talk. She went on to say that her talk resulted in “several important connections” with her science colleagues and that the Highland Park, Illinois, Rotary Club has asked her to make a presentation on the theme. She also noted that questions posed after her Web Talk presentation, especially those about GMOs, were “valuable as it set me on the path of looking more closely at this issue.” What an excellent Web Talk Dr. Khodadad has given us for the Wilmette Institute’s library of Web Talks, and what an excellent example of discussions and questions leading to further learning about a topic that is certainly one of the pressing concerns of our time.

 

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