Book Review: We Are Electric: Inside the 300-Year Hunt for Our Body’s Bioelectric Code, and What the Future Holds by Sally Adee

[1] Science and technology writer Sally Adee has written a book that provides a summary of the research demonstrating that electric currents run throughout bodies, even in the mind, and every living thing (the field of bioelectricity).  This is a valuable volume for Christian ethicists and for any Christian thinker interested in what theology can learn from science.  With the challenges of Artificial Intelligence, stem-cell research, and genetics getting most of the attention of the media, ethicists and religion scholars need to keep our eyes on bioelectricity (and perhaps the latest developments in Psychedelics) too.  Indeed a lot of fresh insights for what to make of some of the Biblical miracles emerge from these pages detailing the latest findings of bioelectricity.

[2] The book begins with Adee’s thoughtful and well-explained historical account of the emergence of bioelectricity research and how trends in the guild of medical research have largely silenced in the academy and in pop culture the exciting data discerned in the field (esp. pp.366ff.).  For our purposes, what is interesting is to learn how identifying electrical signals of cells or disrupting these signals might lead to remarkable health outcomes like: (1) Stopping cancer from metastasizing (pp.10,14,222ff.); (2) Reviving the dead (p.54); (3) Repairing paralyzed limbs (pp.138-139); and (4) Regenerating damaged body parts (esp. pp.184,206).  This should not be too surprising since we are finding that the body naturally uses internal electricity to heal wounds and bone fractures (pp.179-180).  It even seems possible that electricity can produce an embryo from an egg without need of the sperm, since a calcium current injected into an egg is sufficient to start the process of embryo development.  Adee refers here to a virgin birth (p.196).

[3]These remarkable outcomes resulting from bioelectric experiments are at several points most suggestive of some Biblical miracles, particularly if we understand electricity as a function of the Presence of Jesus, the Light of the World (John 9:5; 1 John 5:12), or God’s Presence as Light (1 John 1:5; Genesis 1:3-5).  In that case the intensity of the light emanating from Jesus could account for healing and resurrecting the dead.  And of course God’s Presence in the Spirit (Acts 1:3-4; Matthew 1:35) can make sense of a Virgin Birth in Mary.

[4] One reason we may not be hearing much about this new science, Adee notes, has to do with the fact that it has been difficult to optimize the findings of bioelecticity since we do not yet know how the electricity heals (p.180).  Of course it could be noted that these mysteries preserve the miraculous character of the Biblical miracles even when relating the insights of the discipline to Biblical accounts that I have above.  This seems to be yet another reason why we should want to grapple with and publicize bioelectricity’s findings in the broader society and among our Lutheran flock.

[5] To her credit, Adee gives warnings about some wrong turns in bioelectricity, such as an interest in developing implants (silicon or electronic in nature) which might stimulate electrical oscillations in the brain in order to facilitate therapy (pp.266ff., 292).  Non-invasive tools are now seen as the way to go, she notes, but critics and ethicists need to monitor these developments.  Related to this matter, she adds, is the concern about the treatment of participants in any and all trials (whether the risks have been fully disclosed) (p.280).

[6] Another issue the book raises for Lutheran ethicists, but unfortunately is not addressed directly by the author, is how these promising medical practices are going to be distributed fairly and for whom.  However, to her credit Adee does lament the tendency of society’s media and its economic dynamics to confuse medical necessities with mere enhancements, too often confusing the two so that the masses are pressured to adopt cybernetic enhancements as necessary to good health or deem them superior to what we can get naturally from our bodies (p.299).  One wonders, she notes, if this dynamic is related to all the present craze about Artificial Intelligence (p.292).  This set of issues is yet another pressing reason to make this book a must read, for it is a publication that can help us get on the alert for the exciting potential medical breakthroughs and treatments that the discipline of bioelectricity promises or can already deliver.













Mark Ellingsen 

Mark Ellingsen is Professor of Church History at the Interdenominational Theological Center.  He is the author of over 400 published articles (several on the abortion controversy) and 26 books, most recently a book he co-authored with Civil Rights leader James Woodall, titled Wired for Racism? How Evolution and Faith Move Us to Challenge Racial Idolatry (New CIty Press).