Religion and Tampering with Nature

Religion and Tampering with Nature July 26, 2016

IO9 just posted a piece about transhumanism and fear of “tampering with nature” in the form of gene editing, brain chips, and other such technologies.

What I found most interesting, not surprisingly, was the information about how more devout religious people’s views tend to differ from those of others. Here are the statistics:

religion and tampering with nature

I suspect that many of the people who rank their religious commitment as high are conservative Evangelicals. And yet within conservative Evangelicalism, one often hears that God gave humans dominion over the Earth, as a way of justifying helping ourselves to oil and using it to the detriment of the environment.

Presumably they would make a distinction between “tampering with nature” (which is OK, indeed encouraged when profitable) and “tampering with human nature.”

Yet both the Bible and science show that our own existence is inseparable from that of the world we inhabit, in all its ecological and biological diversity.

These are the kinds of topics that get discussed in two classes I teach, one on religion and science, the other on religion and science fiction. Sci-fi is often crucial to any effective discussion of ethics, values, religion, science, the future, and public policy. Until we imagine the best and worst possible in the future, and what might bring those scenarios about, it is hard to take meaningful steps to avoid the one and achieve the other.

On a related note, our treatment of robots and other artificial intelligences is another subject that can come up in both classes. How we treat them may impact how they treat us in turn, when the time comes. And so perhaps we should take steps now to avoid the kind of discrimination depicted in the cartoon below?

prove you're not a robot

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  • I see global as a result of serious tampering with nature. Yet religious conservatives don’t have a problem with that kind of tampering.

    As far as I can tell, the rule seems to be this:

    Tampering with nature is okay, if I can get rich from it.

    Tampering with nature is bad if it is somebody else who benefits.

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    What human activity -isn’t- meddling with nature?

    Damaging nature is one thing, but meddling with nature? I mean, isn’t Adam caring for the Garden meddling with nature?

  • David Evans

    I am surprised that the disapproval ratings for brain chip implant are not much higher. There seems to be great potential for misuse and for injury to the recipient, both by overloading other parts of the brain and by simple failure of the chip. Gene editing to reduce disease risk seems positively benign by comparison.

  • John MacDonald

    Dystopias (such as George Orwell’s 1984) teach us the relativity of morality and how 500 years in the future societal values may be the inverse of what they are currently,

  • Mark

    I wonder if the stuff about ‘tampering with nature’ is a bit of a distraction which (somehow) is hooked up with religious elements in people’s minds. I don’t have a religion myself, and am not sure what I’d think about the three particular things they mention, But many ‘enhancement’ schemes I resist because they have powerful associations with eugenics, racism and genocide. In fact it frequently amazes me that people don’t see this.

  • ana roser

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