Being Human in the Age of Technology: A Discussion of Eric Cohen's New Book In the Shadow of Progress

An America’s Founding and Future Lecture

December 1, 2008
Cohen Poster

Arthur L. CaplanUniversity of Pennsylvania; Eric Cohen, Executive Director, Tikvah Fund; Robert P. GeorgePrinceton University; Eric S. GregoryPrinceton University; Robert W. Jenson, Author and Theologian

In the Shadow of Progress: Being Human in the Age of Technology, by Eric Cohen (Encounter Books)

We live in an age of unprecedented human power—over birth and death, body and mind, nature and human nature. In every realm of life, science and technology have brought us remarkable advances and improvements: we are healthier, wealthier, and more comfortable than ever before. But our gratitude for the benefits of progress increasingly mixes with concern about the meaning and consequences of our newfound powers. If we can dream about a new age of genetic medicine, we can also shudder at a new age of weapons of mass destruction. As we welcome longer lives, we wonder if we will still value life as we should. Science remakes our everyday experience of being human, but it also fails to answer our deepest longings—for love, for virtue, and for transcendence.

In the Shadow of Progress is a deep and lively reflection on the moral challenges of the technological age. Eric Cohen, a leading voice in America’s bioethics debates, offers a tour of the complex dilemmas at the intersection of science and morality.

Why are the wealthiest people in human history the least likely to want children? What kind of civilization will we become if we seek cures for the sick by destroying human embryos, or if we pick and choose our offspring by genetic profiling? What is lost when we relieve human sadness by altering the chemical balance of the brain, or enhance human performance by altering the biological workings of the body? In this age of scientific wonders, have we forgotten what makes human beings different from everything else in the natural world? Our great challenge, Cohen argues, is to live simultaneously with gratitude and fear, pride and shame, sobriety and hope, in this new age of technology.

Arthur L. Caplan is the Emmanuel and Robert Hart Professor of Bioethics, Chair of the Department of Medical Ethics, and the Director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.  Prior to arriving at Penn in 1994, Professor Caplan taught at the University of Minnesota, the University of Pittsburgh, and Columbia University.  He was the Associate Director of the Hastings Center from 1984-1987.  He chairs the advisory committee on bioethics at Glaxo. He is the Co-Director of the Joint Council of Europe/United Nations Study on Trafficking in Organs and Body Parts.  He is currently a fellow of the Hastings Center, the New York Academy of Medicine, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  Professor Caplan is the author or editor of twenty-nine books and over 500 papers in refereed journals of medicine, science, philosophy, bioethics, and health policy.  His most recent book is Smart Mice, Not So Smart People (Rowman Littlefield, 2006). He writes a regular column on bioethics for He is a frequent guest and commentator on various media outlets.  Professor Caplan did his undergraduate work at Brandeis University, and did his graduate work at Columbia University where he received a Ph.D in the history and philosophy of science in 1979.

Eric Cohen is executive director of the Tikvah Fund, a foundation devoted to Jewish ideas. He is founding editor and editor-at-large of The New Atlantis, and was director of the bioethics program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC. He was previously a fellow at the New America Foundation, managing editor of The Public Interest, and a senior advisor to the President’s Council on Bioethics. Mr. Cohen's essays and articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the Weekly Standard, the New Republic, The Public Interest, First Things, Commentary, the Hastings Center Report, and elsewhere, and he is the co-editor (with William Kristol) of The Future is Now: America Confronts the New Genetics (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002). His new book, In the Shadow of Progress: Being Human in the Age of Technology, was published by Encounter Books in July 2008.

Eric Gregory joined the Princeton Department of Religion in 2001.  His teaching and research interests include ethics, theology, political theory, and the role of religion in public life.  He is the author of Politics & the Order of Love: An Augustinian Ethic of Democratic Citizenship (Chicago, 2008), and various articles, including “Before the Original Position: The Neo-Orthodox Theology of the Young John Rawls” and a forthcoming article, "Religion and Bioethics," in the second edition of the Blackwell Companion to Bioethics.  He has received fellowships from the Erasmus Institute, University of Notre Dame, the Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, Harvard University, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  His current project examines secular and religious perspectives on global justice. In 2007 he was awarded Princeton's President's Award for Distinguished Teaching. A graduate of Harvard College, he did graduate studies at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and received his doctorate in religious studies from Yale University.  
Robert W. Jenson, recently retired as senior scholar at the Center for Theological Inquiry in Princeton, is a leading American Lutheran and ecumenical theologian.  He and longtime colleague Carl Braaten founded the journals Dialog and Pro Ecciesia, and the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. Dr. Jenson has taught at Luther College, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Oxford University and St. Olaf College. He has written over twenty books,  including America’s Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards (1988), the two-volume Systematic Theology (1997; 1999), On Thinking the Human (2003) and, most recently, a commentary on Song of Songs for the Interpretation Bible Commentary series.  He received his Doctorate from the University of Heidelberg.


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