A Milestone for Humanity

June 26, 2000

The caption under the photograph reads:  'Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, announces the completion of initial sequencing on the human genome June 26 at the White House.  Decoding the 3 billion chemical "letters" in human DNA is seen as a great scientific milestone.' Behind the Director is a neatly chalked sign:

Decoding the Book of Life

What is going on here?   What is the message beyond a mere announcement? I must admit my first reaction was a warm fuzzy feeling, which lasted for an even shorter time than did that warm fuzzy feeling I felt when, back in 1993, US President Clinton stood before a mock up of his (or his wife's) proposed national health security card.

Isn't this "Humanity" the same "masse totale" which the 18th Century Frenchman A. R. J. Turgot devised as the new carrier of social and historical meaning for mankind to take the place of the Mystical Body of Christ?   As Voegelin wrote:
[It] is the evocation of a carrier of meaning, of a new divinity, into which a man who has lost his openness toward the transcendental has projected his desire for salvation.  The is not a reality in the experiential sense; it is the tentative evocation of a new intramundane divinity. . . .    See: Voegein on Turgot.

The "Milestone," of course, is the marker on the trail of Progress in the material sense, the fallacious nature of such a gnostic proposition being dealt with by EV in several places.  As he always had to point out, "progress" doesn't work.  If there is no terminus ad quem, then progress is a passage along an infinitely receding line.   At any point you chose, you are no closer to the non-existent goal.   And since increasing one's stock of material goods does not mitigate the sorrow and suffering of existence, there is, for the individual, no progress at all:  only changed surroundings, more efficient machines, more diversions, and medically delayed death.   The progress of the pilgrim in his spiritual journey is an entirely different matter.

Need we mention that the biblical "Book Of Life," the roll of those who are saved, has now become the catalogue of Deoxyribonucleic Acids? This kind of borrowing is common, of course. Scientistic sloganeers cannot help but grow up in a Judeo-Christian environment ['into the remotest wrinkles' of our language, SEE ] and, being immanentists, borrow at will what are for them the discarded metaphors of religion and the no longer relevant past. In my experience they know not what they are doing but nevertheless, if they are challenged, they reposte with Voltairean excoriations of the benighted church and its attempt to crush science (Galileo) and free thought (the Inquisition).