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Spiritual Geographies

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Results of 20 interviews about the impact of spiritual/religious beliefs on perceptions of biotechnology in New Zealand.

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Spiritual Geographies

  1. 1. Spiritual Geographies: Biotechnology, Nature and Judeo-Christian Ethics in New Zealand <ul><li>Fiona J. Coyle </li></ul><ul><li>John R. Fairweather </li></ul><ul><li>AERU, Lincoln University </li></ul><ul><li>Monday 2 nd February 2004 </li></ul>
  2. 2. Introduction <ul><li>New Zealand impacted by the biotechnological revolution. </li></ul><ul><li>Imagination stirred by issues such as “toad-potatoes”, xenotransplantation, cloned sheep, “Corngate”. </li></ul>
  3. 4. Introduction <ul><li>A reaction to insertion of human genes into cows – the creation of human-animal hybrids. </li></ul><ul><li>Boundary breach stirs up mixed emotions. </li></ul><ul><li>Focus groups suggest spiritual crisis provoked by hybrids. </li></ul><ul><li>Biotechnology can remake the world – unsettles what it is to be human and understandings of God-given place in the world. </li></ul>
  4. 5. Focus <ul><li>Examine responses of some participants – reluctance to discuss spirituality. </li></ul><ul><li>Embarrassed silence, or Christian, Maori and atheists spoke. </li></ul><ul><li>Comments hidden behind Nature. </li></ul><ul><li>Issues around creation, nature and human being = foundation to negotiate chaos of scientific progress. </li></ul>
  5. 6. CONTEXT Life according to Christianity
  6. 7. God creates the natural environment
  7. 8. A male God, benevolent and good
  8. 9. … who was able to create life from no-thing.
  9. 10. A God with full, prescient knowledge
  10. 11. In contrast, humans were created by God…
  11. 12. A special place in nature…
  12. 13. Enter biotechnology…
  13. 14. Humans are made in the image of God <ul><li>Provides the basis for human dignity; not be be perverted. </li></ul><ul><li>I weighed up the pros and cons for most of those except for the stem cells because I believe we are all made in the image of God and we shouldn’t destroy it. </li></ul><ul><li>Female, Wellington </li></ul><ul><li>The Bible actually says that God has made man in his own image and we have to consider that avenue to… We are starting to really play with fire. </li></ul><ul><li>Male, Waimate </li></ul>
  14. 15. Playing with fire? <ul><li>GE sees humans as a series of manipulable material processes = denies human dignity (Fukuyama, 2002:89). </li></ul><ul><li>“ Abolition of man” an extreme violation of God’s will. </li></ul><ul><li>Virilio ( Crepuscular Dawn :158) sees humans a “the end of the world”. </li></ul>
  15. 16. Thus… <ul><li>There is no going beyond humanity…they conclude it…they are at once the perfection, the ones who bring an end, who take responsibility: whence the incarnation of Christ. At the same time, however, humanity is what ends it ( CD :158). </li></ul><ul><li>Humans are perfect/the end of the world </li></ul>
  16. 17. Humans pervert the image of the human form
  17. 18. <ul><li>Male 1: That guy trying to find God? I gather that’s what he’s trying to do anyway. He’s doing it out of a test tube. </li></ul><ul><li>Female: He’s trying to copy God… </li></ul><ul><li>Male 2: I don’t think it’s trying to copy God that is the problem. It’s trying to BE God. God does something knowing what’s happening, we do it and its like for example, a little boy watches his Dad shaving; that looks fun, I can do that, grabs the razor, having a wee shave not knowing exactly what he’s doing. Dad knows he has to put shaving foam on and knows you have to pull in a certain direction. </li></ul><ul><li>Focus Group, Auckland (comments on cloning cartoon) </li></ul>
  18. 19. Creators vs. engineers <ul><li>Are we trying to become God? </li></ul><ul><li>The deification of the scientist, the “demi-urgic impulse” (Virilio, CD :117). </li></ul><ul><li>Maybe these people who are scientists try to create or recreate something. They are trying to be God. And why should you be playing around with it. </li></ul><ul><li>Male, Dunedin </li></ul>
  19. 20. Divine creation vs. human creation… <ul><li>Male 1: Well we’re not playing God. We’re not creating things. All we’re doing is modifying, as we’ve done from the moment we got our hands on our first animal we started modifying it. We started… </li></ul><ul><li>Male 2: Crossbreeding </li></ul><ul><li>Male 1: Training. Well sorry, domesticating it. Then we started crossing it with another one that was a bit better, or a different type that was a bit better. </li></ul><ul><li>Male 3: Well we’re creating something new. </li></ul><ul><li>Male 1: No, we’re not creating a damn thing. All we’re doing is cross breeding. </li></ul><ul><li>Focus Group, Waimate </li></ul>
  20. 21. An interpretation <ul><li>Speaker 1 (atheist): Humans merely modifying what’s there. We cannot create genes or life itself (something out of no-thing). </li></ul><ul><li>“ Man is more definitely an engineer” (Virilio, Art of the Motor :71). </li></ul><ul><li>Speaker 3 (Christian): We create something new with gene manipulation. </li></ul>
  21. 22. A semantic difference <ul><li>Rests on the definition of the creative act and our right to partake in it. </li></ul><ul><li>Does biotechnology create something new, or does it merely changing the materials that already exist? </li></ul><ul><li>Is it morally right to steal this creative power from God? </li></ul>
  22. 23. Copy God, make mistakes <ul><li>We are not all-seeing. </li></ul><ul><li>We intrude into “ forbidden territory ”; boundaries deny access. </li></ul><ul><li>Humankind will become product of creators who are not the initial cause of our existence (Virilio, CD :117). </li></ul><ul><li>Creators are Monsanto, creations are monsters. </li></ul>
  23. 24. Can we create in ignorance? <ul><li>Just because we don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s wrong or bad…I think that we’re going into something as individuals that we don’t necessarily understand and therefore feel uncomfortable about it. But that doesn’t make it wrong in my mind. </li></ul><ul><li>Male, Waimate </li></ul><ul><li>Ignorance  EVIL </li></ul>
  24. 25. Natural to play with the “stuff of life”? <ul><li>I could believe in God and say well God put us on this earth, God created us and God gave us minds, and those minds are starting to play with genetic material. As his people claim him to be then playing with GE stuff is something he’s brought for us to do. </li></ul><ul><li>Male, Dunedin </li></ul><ul><li>Humans designed with curiosity and intelligence. </li></ul><ul><li>Experimentation is thus the Will of God. </li></ul>
  25. 26. Humans as stewards? <ul><li>Humans given dominion over the Earth. </li></ul><ul><li>God created everything on the earth but God created humans with a special ability but with that special ability came responsibilities that we had to look after things, recognise that position of power so that we can help that. Respecting what nature is - guardians of nature, stewardship of nature - we’ve also got the responsibility not to and that goes over that. </li></ul><ul><li>Male, Auckland </li></ul>
  26. 27. <ul><li>But then if we believe God created us, we’re part of the natural order. We are responsible. God made us responsible. He didn’t make dogs or the trees, he made us responsible to dominate but also to keep the planet and everything on it. </li></ul><ul><li>Female, Wellington </li></ul><ul><li>Humans as guardians of planet, God’s creation. </li></ul><ul><li>Pertinent to New Zealand, “God’s Own Country” (Thomas Bracken). </li></ul>
  27. 28. Experimentation beyond our role <ul><li>Unnatural acts against human nature. </li></ul><ul><li>I think the whole thing here - this biotechnology - this is not just taking the same plant/family and modifying it slightly or something simple like that. This is going; this is blending animals with plants or humans with plants or humans with animals. This is really changing the face of the earth as we know it. </li></ul><ul><li>Male, Waimate </li></ul><ul><li>Forewarns of the despoiling of Eden, “Gods Own Country”. </li></ul>
  28. 29. Consequences? <ul><li>Fear of monstrosities: meddling produces reproductive mutants. </li></ul><ul><li>Side-effects will impact on future generations. </li></ul><ul><li>I think it’s the idea that Frankenstein was a man-made man and saying you can’t play God because look at what you create. It’s a synthetic [muffled] all scientists and monsters. </li></ul><ul><li>Male, Dunedin </li></ul>
  29. 30. Original Sin <ul><li>In response to “toad-potatoes”. </li></ul><ul><li>The bible also says, the sins of the forefathers will visit the third and fourth generations, and it could be the same thing that happens with what we’re doing with these genes. </li></ul><ul><li>Male, Waimate </li></ul>
  30. 31. Original Sin: the sin that Adam committed by eating an apple from the Tree of Knowledge .
  31. 32. As Adam’s descendants, we will all pay… <ul><li>As humans we are eternally doomed. </li></ul><ul><li>Biotechnology is wrong because “ Sin is in the world ” (female, Wellington). </li></ul><ul><li>No solution to this, our descendants will pay. </li></ul>
  32. 33. Virilio suggests <ul><li>One cannot improve humans by genetic means…hence all this research, in my opinion, can only lead to a catastrophe of science itself ( CD :159). </li></ul>
  33. 34. We abolish “perfect” humanity by creating monsters. But without humanity there can be no technoscience.
  34. 35. Conclusions <ul><li>A minority opinion – others thought biblical rules were outdated and thwarted human evolution. </li></ul><ul><li>For some, spiritual beliefs stronger than scientific training. </li></ul>
  35. 36. <ul><li>The Indian mythology says that even if the baby is not born, when it is developing in your body, it can understand and it can hear you. So – it’s like exploiting a life, which has not even seen the world. </li></ul><ul><li>Asian female scientist, Auckland (embryonic stem cells) </li></ul><ul><li>If you don’t have limits to how far you can go, you run the risk of scientists becoming demigods in terms of controlling future generations…Well no, it’s not natural. Pigs’ hearts are not supposed to be transplanted into humans. But I know your body will naturally reject them. I mean they are so drugged but I mean you can’t just pop one in and it will function fine. It’s not natural. </li></ul><ul><li>Female scientist, Dunedin </li></ul>
  36. 37. Conclusions <ul><li>Spiritual values embedded in everyday life and practices. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Christian heritage entrenched in Western concepts of Nature (Wenz, 1996). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sometimes emerged as overt values, sometimes masked as feelings toward Nature. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Is Nature becoming a substitute for formal religion? </li></ul></ul>
  37. 38. Individual spiritual views provide people with moral anchors from which to determine appropriate ethical practices towards human and non-human nature.

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