Re: Religious Groups Bash Clones

From: Russell Blackford (
Date: Sat Aug 04 2001 - 01:56:27 MDT

Samantha said

>Why give the impression that the few religious people kooky
>enough to actual want and even fewer that actual work toward a
>theocratic state are behind this? That would be to give a few
>nuts far, far too much credit and political credibility.
>Simple ignorance and general fear of the un-understood is a much
>more believable explanation.

Well, I'm not religion-bashing when I say that it is just a fact that
traditional religious people have been at the forefront of the anti-cloning
push. Leon R. Kass, for example, is quite upfront about his religious faith.
We know that Kass has influence with Dubya, who's commissioned his advice.
Hey, we've seen the Pope himself getting in Dubya's ear about stem cell
research in the past few days.

In the Martha Nussbaum/Cass Sunstein collection, _Clones and Clones_,
Richard Dawkins describes his experience of being forced to debate bishops
etc about this issue again and again in Britain.

If you go to the site of the Australian parliamentary committee that is
currently looking at the legal response to cloning (though a crude
anti-cloning provision has already been passed here), you'll see that it
lists all the public submissions that were received. Many of these are
available to read, including all the longer ones. There are huge, thoroughly
researched philosophical analyses from well-serviced religious think tanks
such as the Australian Catholic bishops and others. These documents are
strongly anti-cloning (whether it be reproductive cloning or therapeutic
cloning). I suggest you download and read them to see what we're all up
against. The experience will be the same in other countries - on a much
greater scale, I'd suggest, in the US.

I've been following this very closely and the evidence is just overwhelming
that the main intellectual dynamo of anti-cloning ideas is the Catholic
Church, but also other churches and people associated with them. It's
approximately the same people who are anti-abortion and anti-gay.

Samantha, you've just got to read the literature, follow the debate, see the
key players, to observe the crucial role of religious leaders and thinkers.

That doesn't mean that *all* people with religious beliefs are anti-cloning
or that there are not others who are also culpable. Some science fiction
writers, sensationalist journalists, anti-science secular intellectuals of
various kinds etc also have a lot to answer for. But I think it makes good
sense to view the draconian laws being proposed at the moment in liberal
democracies such as the US and Australia as essentially theocratic

In religious communities, the view you describe as "kooky" is actually
mainstream. Those of us who are not opposed to therapeutic cloning are
considered the kooky ones. Those of us who are opposed to criminal
prohibitions on reproductive cloning and would consider it an ethically
acceptable practice if it could be developed to a point of being safe are
even kookier, in their eyes.

I don't want to go through life considering every religious person to be an
enemy. In fact, as you know, that isn't how I think. But we have to face the
fact that we're seeing the beginning of a holy war on transhumanist values,
ideas and aspirations. Kass called for this pretty damn explicitly in his
latest article in _The New Republic_ (I posted the URL for this a few weeks
back so you can check for yourself how far I may be exaggerating).

If you, Samantha, or anyone else here could find ways to communicate with
people who have religious beliefs/spiritual yearnings and maybe break down
the sense of unanimity among them, that would be wonderful. Please, by all
means, do whatever you can.

But I think it's wishful thinking if you don't accept that ideas which are
inimical to our aspirations are the mainstream approach in religious
communities and organisations. Moreover, these ideas have enormous
influence, including with politicians.

If we have to fight these people head-on in the short or medium term, we'll
lose. Unlike J.R., I don't think it's a priority to debunk religiosity
(though I'm happy to do a bit of this around the edges, I admit). If we have
to do *that* to make our case, we're already dead (to use an appropriate way
of speaking). Religion is just too popular (we could go into the reasons for
this, but that's not immediately relevant).

I think we have to put forward strong arguments for the liberal ideal of
society in which freedom is paramount and nothing gets banned because of a
manufactured consensus on moral or theological ideas. If we can win, or even
hold our own, in *that* debate, it's sufficient. We have to speak up in
every forum that will give us a voice.

We don't need to convert the masses to transhumanism. I'll take my chances
of getting the high-tech society I want if the liberal framework is there
for people to make their own decisions.


Live *free*!


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