Monday, September 20, 2010

Genetically-Modified Salmon: Good Eats

If there is one thing that is as certain to happen as tomorrow’s sunrise it is the drone of opposition to anything new and different by the naysayers who are always suspicious of almost any improvement or innovation.

In the news recently is a story about genetically-modified salmon. The salmon is genetically enhanced to produce more of a different salmon’s growth hormone, which causes it to grow much larger, thus producing more salmon. This will help alleviate the problem of overfishing in some areas and result in more food for human consumption.

But the cynical crowd is having a conniption. A feature report on NBC News shows people at a fish market saying things like, “I’m not going to eat any of it,” or “They are playing God.”

These opponents to genetically-modified food have different reasons for opposing the process and the products that result. Some of them believe that humans have no right tinkering with God’s creation. I dismiss this argument out of hand. First and foremost, there is little chance that a supernatural creator being actually exists. And even if I grant that there is an outside chance that God is real, there is a 100-percent chance that the personal God of the bible does not exist. So why should we worry about whether anyone “plays God” if there is no such entity?

Then there are those who insist that we shouldn’t play God in the metaphorical sense. They believe that what took nature millions of years to produce probably shouldn’t be tampered with and then consumed as food. Although I can understand their skepticism, in my view it is unlikely that changing a single gene will produce a Frankenstein-like fish or other creature that would be harmful for human consumption. I would not hesitate to eat one of these “Frankenfish” salmon, as some people have dubbed it.

The last group of cynics may have a better reason to be cynical. Some people are allergic to fish anyway, so they are afraid that an extra boost of hormone might cause the fish to be more allergenic, causing some people who can consume normal fish to suddenly develop an allergy to it. Although not likely, this scenario might be possible. At least people who are highly allergic to other foods might be prudent to proceed with caution. But it does not mean that genetically-engineered salmon should be banned. Lots of people are allergic to peanuts, but it would be ill-advised to ban the sale of peanut butter because a few people might die from eating it. A warning label is all that is required.

Maybe they should genetically engineer salmon to display its own warning label to appease the naysayers.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rev. Jones is a Fool but He Proved a Point

Until just a few weeks ago no one outside his small circle of friends, family, and congregants had ever heard of Rev. Terry Jones. This morning, merely typing in three letters on a Google search, “T-E-R” produced several listings for the reverend.

Jones is the pastor of Dove World Outreach Center, a small evangelical Christian church in Gainesville, Florida. Founded in 1985, the church has only about 50 members.

In July of this year, Jones announced his plan to burn a number of Koran holy books at his church on Sept. 11, the ninth anniversary of the al Qaida terrorist attack on the U.S. The news media picked up on the reverend’s planned book burning event and catapulted Jones into the international limelight. Religious groups of all flavors from the U.S. and around the world condemned Jones’s plan and called on him to cancel the event. Jones had steadfastly refused to do so until very recently.

But this morning, on NBC’s Today, Jones declared that there would not be a Koran burning at his church, “Not today, not ever.” So why the change of heart? Did he succumb to pressure or fear? And is this man a genius or a fool?

Whether or not he is a fool depends on his original motive. If, as he claimed in the Today interview that he was on a mission from God, then he is a fool. Anyone who believes God has spoken to them and given them a mission has a few screws loose. On the other hand, if his mission was to gain notoriety in an effort to bring his church more popularity among Florida’s evangelicals, then he has certainly accomplished that mission with great alacrity. That would make Jones a public relations genius, at least with respect to his own base of faithful.

Jones claimed he has not caved in to threats of violence against him. He also claims that the negative publicity had nothing to do with his decision. He compares what has happened to him with the story of Abraham in the bible. God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his own son. Abraham was about to go through with it when, at the last minute, an angel appeared and stopped him. The point to the bible story is a mystery. It is apparently an allegory, but with what message, that God is capricious or mercurial? If God is omniscient he certainly didn’t need to test Abraham’s faith.

But Jones claims that God’s plan for him was to show the world how violent and dangerous Islam is. Whether that plan was God’s or Jones’s the point was definitely made. Jones pointed out that his view of Islam as a fanatical, dangerous religion was confirmed by the violent uproar that has pervaded the Islamic community abroad since his announced Koran-burning event. Demonstrations, threats of violence, and condemnation have been pervasive throughout the Islamic world. Gen. Petraeus, the commander in Afghanistan, begged Jones to call off the event because he feared for the lives of his soldiers. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Commander in Chief himself, Pres. Barack Obama, called on Jones to cancel his plans for fear of repercussion by Muslim fanatics. And those repercussions would have come. Some blowback may still occur despite the fact that the Koran-burning event has been cancelled.

For years, Muslims have burned the American flag in protest of the fact that America is the leader of the Free World and they are obviously jealous of our ways. Of course, their claim is that America is an evil nation who wants to wipe them out and take over their religion. But Americans just chalk up their demonstrations and chants to the fact that they are lunatics. If a Muslim Imam were to threaten to burn a few bibles, there might be a denunciation by devout Christians, but they would not resort to mass violence.

But draw an unflattering cartoon of Mohammad in a newspaper or threaten to burn a Koran, and death threats, violence, demonstrations, and chaos abound in the Islamic world. And that does tend to prove Jones’s point about Islam, even if he didn’t have to go through with his Koran burning exercise.

So was that his plan all along? If so, the reverend may be a genius. But I am highly skeptical. The fact that he vacillated so much over the past couple of days – the event was on, then it was off, then it was maybe on again, then it was definitely off – indicates that he really didn’t have a clue. He was looking for a way out that would save face, and he found it. He would play the role of Abraham, this time with a real message to the world that Islam is a freaky violent religion. And even if that was not his plan all along, serendipity stepped in and allowed him to come away from this debacle declaring victory.

The events of the past couple of weeks show that Muslims, at least those who reside in Islamic nations, are dangerous and misguided. It is not just the fringe element of Islam; it is Islam itself that promotes violence and hatred. There are, of course, Muslims who do not fit the well-deserved stereotype. But to the vast majority of Muslims whose views have not been tempered by civilization, Islam gives them the green light to invoke terror at will.