Cloning and the Trinity

By Brian Edgar

Like many of the issues related to reproductive technology and genetic engineering cloning has been seen as more than just another scientific discovery and has widely been recognised as having profound ethical implications. Unlike many of these issues, however, the spiritual dimension of cloning has also been recognised. “Any discovery that touches upon human creation is not simply a matter of scientific inquiry, it is a matter of morality and spirituality as well… Each human life is unique, born of a miracle that reaches beyond laboratory science…”

To date at least, public opinion seems to be against proceeding with human cloning. It could be that spiritual concerns are at the heart of these objections or it could simply be the result of  inherent conservatism, an ignorance of the positive contribution cloning can bring or perhaps the result of the fear of some of the more far-fetched scenarios which the thought of cloning can conjure up. If it is the latter then advocates of human cloning might suggest that education, good sense and a confidence in the future will inevitably prevail over government moratoria motivated by fear, superstition and self-righteousness.  However, there is no guarantee of this as it has been shown that even those who have something to gain from cloning and who are initially sympathetic to the idea of using cloning for therapeutic purposes can become opposed to the procedure after having it explained to them in detail.

This first appeared as Brian Edgar, ‘Cloning and the Trinity’ in God, Genes and the Environment: Integrating Biology and Theology (Melbourne: ISCAST, 1999) 67-74.

This general conservatism does not mean that human reproductive cloning will not happen as the state of public and political opinion on the matter can fluctuate rapidly, not least because there is a significant tension between three fairly widespread public convictions: that human cloning is inappropriate; that it can’t be effectively regulated; and that it is probably inevitable.

Whatever the main dynamic of public opposition to human cloning is, it has been supported by specifically theological arguments. The successful cloning in 1997 of a sheep by a team in Scotland led by Ian Wilmut[1] was immediately followed by the Church of Scotland statement[2] which declared human cloning to be “ethically unacceptable as a matter of principle” and this was, in turn followed by other church statements which had the overall effect of placing cloning in a negative light. The aim of the present paper is to focus on the distinctly theological aspects of cloning, rather then on scientific or even ethical issues, and especially on those theological arguments which have been used to reject the idea of human cloning. The aim is consider whether there are any theological arguments which would intrinsically proscribe human cloning.

Theological Foundations: the nature and the activity of god

The first observation is in the absence of specific biblical instructions, that theological deductions relating to human cloning can be based on either or both of the nature and the activity of God and their implications for human life and action. This is so whether one turns for guidance to scripture, the traditions of the church (ancient or modern) or the teachers of theology. All of these sources will provide reflections on these two aspects of the divine – the nature and the action of God.[3] These two sources of theological reflection relate directly to the two main arguments which have been proposed against cloning. The first is based on a particular understanding of divine action and human freedom and argues that human involvement in the deliberate creation of human clones is a usurpation of divine responsibility. The second is based on a particular understanding of divine and human nature and concludes that human cloning is a denial of that individual human uniqueness which comes from each person being made in the image of God.

Many discussions spend more time and effort on the first of these and so I will begin there, but the most fundamental principles emerge from the second area involving the relationship of divine and human natures. Only there can the most fundamental and useful theological material be found which can provide a rationale for right action.

The full text can be obtained here: Cloning and the Trinity

[1] Ian Wilmut et al, “Viable Offspring Derived from Fetal and Adult Mammalian Cells” Nature (1997) 385: 810-13.

[2] General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, “Motions on Cloning” May 27, 1997.

[3] The distinction between these two, it must be admitted, is somewhat artificial and perhaps ultimately unhelpful. However, it is not a distinction I can claim to have created. It is simply an observation of the state of the current theological debate. Therefore, with reservations, it is a distinction which I shall observe for the present.

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