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The Georgicks of Virgil, with an English Translation and Notes Virgil, John Martyn Ipsi in defossis specubus secura sub alta Otia agunt terra, congestaque robora, Pierius says it is confecto in the Roman manuscript. And Tacitus also says the Germans used to make caves to defend them from the severity of winter, .

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Playing God

By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. This religion -related article is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it. This article about ethics is a stub. Two kinds of reasons can be formulated for an expectable or even unavoidable rejection: the technologies in question could be, following the terminology of ethics, consequentially irresponsible, i. In such a case, the risks are high and likely to arise. In another scenario, a technology could be deontologically reprehensible, i. Especially in defining reprehensibility, religious and non-religious argumentations diverge.

Nevertheless, as a rule, reference to deeply rooted cultural assets suffices to reach consensus on a general duty to refrain from such actions. The use of this phrase is not limited to sanctimoniously disquieted debates anymore, but it can be encountered in many recent ethical publications on synthetic biology e. Group ; Balmer and Martin ; Schmidt et al. On the one hand, it insinuates unease about cultural implications. On the other hand, the authors do not deny the seriousness of the problem, since, in fact, synthetic biology might question the boundaries between the animate and the inanimate.

Religious cultural traditions, however, define this as a divine privilege and even if one does not believe in God anymore, the guiding function of the religious motive for guarding this fundamental boundary is still widely appreciated.


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With regard to the history of science and technology, synthetic biology has certainly been a new and, particularly for religious people, a disquieting development. This can be traced back to the systematic linking of basic scientific research with engineering, which has lead to a paradigm shift. Of course, it is well known: Technologies suggested by basic research can actually be put into practice and several technical innovations work even before they are analysed and understood—both procedures are realized in present-day projects.

What is particularly innovative about synthetic biology is that models originally developed for engineering are now used in order to understand and then reproduce the fundamentals of life. The results of current research are still fragmentary, concentrating on details.

Nonetheless, this young field of research is driven by a revolutionary vision of science: Life is to be reconstructed from inanimate material. Believing the far-reaching promises with their certainly not incidental commercial appeal , active substances for medical and pharmaceutical applications, but also for environmental care will be developed by means of these new organisms.

The most tempting vision is designing new sorts of biofuel to replace fossil fuel. The innovation of synthetic biology is not about creating new life. From time immemorial, this has been tried by diverse methods of breeding, which have been refined continuously and finally reached their peak in cloning. In the cultural memory of mankind, this form of biotechnology is commonly approved as normal and morally justifiable.

Yet, using inanimate material for the production of entities fulfilling widely accepted criteria of life namely metabolism, reactions to the environment, variability, i. Taking into account that the boundary between life and the inanimate plays a fundamental role in the governing and stabilizing power of the common sense and of many religions, it is apparent that any damage to this principle would be irreconcilable with these world views.

The heart of many religions, including biblical tradition, is touched when science questions the privilege of the deity or God to decide on the transitions between life and the inanimate. Hence, it seems for many religious people plausible to identify synthetic biology with a new and formerly unknown overstepping of this boundary.

Instead of manipulating selected features of the genome as it is done in conventional gene technology, man sets about to create a creatio a novo. Correspondingly, Giovanni Maio and his team have lately published a report for the Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology, in which they confirm that synthetic biology has lead to an alarming paradigm shift from homo faber to homo creator.

The authors point out that the respect for life might be weakened if humans lay claim to the position of the sovereign creator Boldt et al. Under these circumstances, fierce ontological, philosophical, but also political and religious debates seem inevitable: Is artificial life real life? Do we have to prevent research in this field? Which consequences may arise from the possibility to produce life from inanimate material? In the young, but very dynamic ethical debate about synthetic biology Schmidt et al. Does it jeopardize and irreversibly overstep carefully defined boundaries?

Are religious conceptions or practices affected? Regarding the often unreflective use of the traditionally religious formula, there is a need for establishing a constructive and critical distance to this phrase and its mis- use. For this purpose, the compatibility of the phrase within Christian tradition, ecclesiastical procedures and sources must be examined.

The results will help to decide on the usefulness of the formula in public debates. In the following, the inner perspective of theological reflections is discussed first. Then, the stances of the academic and non-academic public and answers will be introduced and the question will be answered whether the development of new organisms from inanimate material is consistent with the vocation of man or whether it means interfering in the domain of God.

This question does not cover the entire ethical explosiveness of synthetic biology. The often debated issues of biosecurity, biosafety and access, however, are treated in other contributions to this volume. Thus, I will concentrate on the specific challenge for theology: Which impacts does the sudden possibility of manipulating the boundary between life and the inanimate nature have on our human self-conception and our image of God?

There are several possibilities for a theological-historical interpretation of the creation of life from inanimate material in religious contexts.


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Theoretically, we might re-identify an adoption of the famous dominium terrae the divine commission to humankind to rule over the earth according to Gen Assuming a favourable view on modern biotechnology, one might refer to human intellect. This gift might place the obligation on man to participate in the new creation, the Kingdom of Heaven. In the late nineteenth century, scientific progress was identified with the striving for the Kingdom of God. But is this in tune with the theological concept of creation? At the other end of the scale, the sceptics of this technology rather rely on pretended biblical evidence when judging on synthetic biology and its relation to the divine privilege of creation.

If life in general belongs to God, it is argued, man is not authorized to question the distribution of properties. Hermeneutic reflection is a reliable way to describe the emphatically claimed continuity of divine and human acting on the one hand, and, on the other, the allegedly convincing irreconcilability of the biblical testimony of God as the creator and biotechnology. The concept of creation and particularly its possibilities and limits compared to these two other approaches must be considered.

Julian Savulescu: The Philosopher Who Says We Should Play God

Correspondingly, the notion of creation must be clarified. The fruitful interaction of systematic theology, exegesis and biblical theology has led to an insight which is highly relevant in our context: Creation is not simply a given fact, but it is determined by a specific interpretation of the world.

The insights gained by this approach go beyond creation as a given fact and trace out ways for an adequate coping with the world in which we live. Being allowed to interpret something from the angle of belief may result in questioning common social and scientific conceptions.

The perception of something as being created cannot be fathomed by human consciousness itself, but it paves the way for the believer to a new interpretation of something that exists. Something is perceived as something namely as creation, i. This is how the world, or its status as being given, addresses us or presents itself to us as a parable—an idea contributed by Oswald Bayer and Christian Link Link ; Bayer Applied to our topic, the given world i. The handling of the world is oriented at cultural patterns of interpretation, including, besides the concept of creation, the depiction of the world as a stage for human activity or as a transitional stage into the sphere of ideas.

Where could limits be defined, which might possibly restrict human actions? Whoever perceives the world as a product of creation does plead for a strict separation of world and God.

Playing God

Creation and pantheism are incompatible. Creation demands from the believer a strict differentiation between creator and creature. Believing in the concept of creation excludes the thesis that God has turned away from the world he created. This also explains the irreconcilability of deism and the idea of a creatio continua within the Christian doctrine of creation. The same holds for the speculation that instead of a benevolent creator, a demiurg , i.

For this reason, Manichaean Gnosticism contradicts the biblical interpretation of the world as a creation. Against the background of these definitions, creation as a model of interpretation, which is only available for the believer, paves the way for further perceptions of the world as a parable Link Since the middle of the twentieth century, there have been great debates on the relation of creation and history in various schools of Old Testament research. On the contrary, Genesis 1—3 and Rev 21—22 are used as a frame in the Christian bible to illustrate the connection between past and future, of origin and redeeming eschatological fulfillment.