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Neither Gods Nor Beasts
How Science Is Changing Who We Think We Are

Subject Area(s):  Biology in SocietyGeneral Interest TitlesHistory of Science

By Elof A. Carlson, Emeritus, State University of New York at Stony Brook

© 2008 • 180 pp., index
Hardcover • $29 14.50
ISBN  978-087969786-0
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Traditional views of human nature focus on the supernatural, defining us as creatures with souls, minds, and spirits that transcend our physical attributes. In this provocative book, distinguished scientist and historian Elof Axel Carlson argues for a different understanding of ourselves based on our biology—cellular organization, genetics, life cycle, evolution, and our origins as a species. This interpretation does not negate our capacity for imagination, spiritual and emotional yearnings, or aesthetic appreciation for art, music, and literature. Carlson challenges educators, the media, and public policy makers to integrate the evidence from science more fully into our understanding of ourselves.


1. Introduction

2. Living on Automatic Pilot
3. Between Gods and Beasts
4. Our Negative Image of Our Animal Self
5. Mind, Souls, Ideals, and the Ephemeral

6. Biology Becomes Mechanistic and Emerges as a Science
7. The Human Body Is Composed of Cells
8. The Body Evolves
9. Most Human Traits Are Determined by Genes, Which Are Composed of DNA
10. We Have a Life Cycle and Sexuality That Is Genetically Programmed
11. Neurobiology Reveals How the Brain Works

12. The Blank Slate, the Human Nature, and the Biological Determinism Fallacies
13. Human Nature as Potentials for Forming Communities
14. Science Enriches Our Appreciation of the Arts and Humanities
15. Moral Values Bind a Community
16. The Human Condition and Our World View Change Every Generation
17. Rethinking Science Teaching
18. A Human Outlook for the Third Millennium



review:  “This work by scientist and historian Carlson (State Univ. of NY at Stony Brook) has a number of virtues. The first is his wish to address the notion that humans share so much with all other life, but differ in possessing reason. Second is his excellent account of the history and development of modern biology. Finally, Carlson looks at his vision of the future in terms of the interaction of society and science. In essence, he considers where humans should go and how absolutely critical the knowledge of science is for the developing millennium. Science plays a dominant role in the political arena, in the way religion and governments interact, and in the very personal way in which individual health is achieved. The basic tenets of most religions are at least similar, and perhaps science will help bring them together. Particularly well done is the author’s examination of the current political stance, the way society uses resources and humankind's apparent difficulty in adapting to the changes in the world, with and without the public’s conscious input. Carlson approaches the topic with understanding and wit, not criticizing anyone for their beliefs, at least openly. Well done.”


“This is an excellent and timely reach across the divides among the sciences, arts, and humanities, and an extremely valuable contribution to our self-understanding.”

To read the entire review, click here.

      —The Quarterly Review of Biology