Re: Religious Groups Bash Clones

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Sun Aug 12 2001 - 02:56:29 MDT

Russell Blackford wrote:
> 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.

I was not trying to say that there were no religious people (or
at least people who claim to be "religious") at work in this.
But I do not believe for a second that this setback should be
attributed principally to such persons and groups. Ignorance is
a far larger force with honest fear of what technology may bring
not far behind.

Many religious people have no problem at all with most medical
usages of cloning technology. In fact many of us celebrate that
such powerful techniques are now available.

> 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.

The Catholic church, as opposed to many Catholics especially in
America. The Church holds positions many Catholics concern
abhorrent and outmoded.
> 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.

I don't deny the role some of these people play. It is just
extremely dangerous to cast these issues as a religion vs.
technology and futurism. This tends to polarize the discussion
in ways that may lose a lot of people who are on the side of
progress in this.

> 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
> legislation.

This is a HUGE error.
> In religious communities, the view you describe as "kooky" is actually
> mainstream. Those of us who are not opposed to therapeutic cloning are

No. It is not. I have never ever sat in any church and heard
anyone propose that this country be run as a theocracy.

> 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.

There is no point in such statements. They are empty assertions
that only increase the level of tension. They do nothing to
heal and overcome the fears and posturings that are against
these techniques.
> 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,

Not unless you wish to cast it as one. I don't think that would
be a very good idea. As I've said before, the
religious/spiritual aspirations can be wedded to transhumanist
goals. To the extent this can be done and is done this would be
a very powerful enabler for a transcendent future on this
planet. But we can't get there by casting religion in the anti-
box from the get-go.

> 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.

There is no sense of unanimity. And I am very much working on
understanding the problem and finding ways of working with those
religious/spiritual people that I can. There have to be many of
us who want the promises of these religions to be made real on
this earth and who are willing to work to make that so.
> 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.

Do not mistake the words of Rome or a few well-financed
arch-conservatives for a religious mainstream. They are not.
They are doubtless a lot closer to being mainstream than my
words however. But there are many, many adherents of various
religions who do their own thinking regardless of what the popes
and public voices of their religion say.
> 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).

Yes. So dangerous as it is (and which I know well firsthand),
imho some of us need to harness some of its power to
transformation of this world using science and technology but
hand-in-hand with the best of its own ethics and motivational
power. We must not let the entire force of religion be set
against the future. That would be a huge disaster.

> 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.

So instead everything is permitted even if it will change
everything and destroy what many belief is the very heart of
life? All must be permitted even if it will directly jeopardize
the continued existence of the entire species? That is a pretty
radical idea there. It is about as heavy as it gets. Are we
strong enough for that weight? I would at least hope that we
are very familiar with and steeped in moral considerations as we
go about determining the shape of what is to come. We are
planning to "manufacture" our evolutionary descendants. I don't
think we can claim some moral high ground toward others
"manufacturing" ideas and counter-movements based upon them that
will oppose such plans.

> 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.

This raises a point that troubles me. If what some of us think
is correct, then us getting the high-tech society we want
changes the world irrevocably for all people on earth regardless
of what they want. So what precisely is liberal about choosing
for everyone? If we are and must choose then shouldn't we be
really sure we understand the gravity of what we are about and
that we truly do it for the maximal good of all those lives that
will change as we possibly can?

- samantha

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