Jottings on science, religion, technology, pop culture and faith from the Antipodes.


Babel as theme in bioethics

The biblical language of the early chapters of the book of Genesis continues to permeate the discussions of technology and no more so than in the area of genetic engineering. Both religious and secular writers draw upon images Babel, Eden, naming, gardening and the Fall to frame their arguments and to inspire the imagination of their readers. For example, Lee Silver’s “Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning will Transform the American Family”, and Leon R. Kass’ “Technology and the Humanist Dream: Babel Then and Now”.

Often negative responses to technology (or aspects of it) appeal to a symbol like the biblical Tower of Babel in Gen 11:1-9. This is interpreted as an example of humanity’s hubris leading to God’s judgement, and therefore used as a justification for limiting technologies that appear to ‘play God’. Pete Moore, in his recent book (“Babel’s Shadow: Genetic Technologies in a Fracturing Society”) on genetic engineering examined from within the Christian tradition, notes the potential for such technology as a force for good, but he also uses the Babel symbolism to highlight its potential for disaster.

In biblical Babel the solution was to confuse the language and scatter the people. The result was diversity. In the future, the genetic ‘Tower of Babel’ may have a more lasting impact, and the scattering could come from new forms of discrimination and exclusion, or from events as extreme as a split into more than one human race. On the other hand, if controlled and managed with care, it could lead to a world where individuals are treated with respect and enabled to live out their full potential.

Maybe in response to his request for “SansBlogue: Getting ideas for Biblical Studies Podcasts”, Tim could do one of his ‘5-minute Bible‘ spots on Gen 11:1-9. Gen 1-3 get lots of coverage around the place, but the end of the Gen 1-11 primeval history less so. Might be a useful refresher for those who keep coming across the Babel motif.

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