The Cambridge Roundtable on Science and Religion

Event Details

Biotechnology, Embodiment and Human Dignity

February 18, 2010

William Hurlbut is a physician and Consulting Professor at the Neuroscience Institute, Stanford University. His primary areas of interest involve the ethical issues associated with advancing biomedical technology, the biological basis of moral awareness, and studies in the integration of theology and philosophy of biology. He is the author of numerous publications on science and ethics including the co-edited volume Altruism and Altruistic Love: Science, Philosophy and Religion in Dialogue (2002, Oxford University Press). Hurlbut has worked with the Center for International Security and Cooperation on formulating policy on Chemical and Biological Warfare and with NASA on projects in astrobiology.


"Whatever mental abstractions and extensions of thought we may have, they are grounded and built upon a capacity to comprehend in and through our bodily being and its dynamic of experience.  We know the world not as a separate reality, but with reference to ourselves. The accurate apprehension provided by perturbations felt against the stable ground of the body, and our experience encoded as memory, make possible the genuine acquisition of information. The sensory detection and interpretation of an outside stimulus culminates in the ‘in-forming’ of our physical body: the neurological circuits of memory, analysis and action are reconfigured by experience in conformation to a wider consciousness of the nature of the world and the self within the world.

"The awareness and learning of the responsive self are not, however, the objective knowing of a dispassionate observer. Just as we are shaped by perception, we also shape our perception, actively probing the world with our questions and exploratory hypotheses in a quest for its unifying principles and coherent order. This places the human person within a larger frame that beckons beyond biology to questions of a spiritual significance of life.  And it raises the fundamental question: what kind of knowing is made possible by this inseparable psychophysical unity of the human person?" (From Embodied Being, Hurlbut, emphasis added.)