Synthetic Biology: Theological Questions about Biological Engineering

Ronald Cole-Turner

in Without Nature?

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print December 2009 | ISBN: 9780823230693
Published online March 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823237227 | DOI:
Synthetic Biology: Theological Questions about Biological               Engineering

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The disappearance of nature as a normative framework for human thought and action is nowhere more tangibly felt than in the context of contemporary biological engineering. Biological engineering, or “synthetic biology,” as it is often called to distinguish it from genetic engineering, functions precisely on the boundary between natural and artificial, living and nonliving, organic and synthetic. On the one hand, like any technology, synthetic biology must work in and with nature. It operates entirely within the sphere of living nature: biological systems from metabolic pathways to ecosystems. But the whole point of synthetic biology is to synthesize nature, to replace it with an engineered surrogate. When we take up the field of synthetic biology, nature may still be the matrix and the premise but it is hardly the norm or the telos of our actions. The first section of this chapter attempts to define and locate the field of synthetic biology within the context of recent work in the biological sciences. The second section describes a broader cultural and social context in which synthetic biology is being developed, first by reviewing some of the ethics discussion that has already arisen about this new field and then by turning to theological considerations about its religious and philosophical implications.

Keywords: nature; biological engineering; synthetic biology

Chapter.  6435 words. 

Subjects: Christian Theology

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