Cloning (from the Greek klon, meaning twig or offshoot) has been used for many years in horticulture. The twentieth century saw cloning applied to animals for the first time, most famously producing Dolly the Sheep. In 1961 tadpoles were cloned from adult frogs. In 1978 David Rorciks In His Image: The Cloning of Man was published. His claim that an adult human being had been cloned turned out to be false, but it stimulated discussion of the issue. History seems to be repeating itself. Dr. Brigitte Boisselier, a French chemist who heads Clonaid  , an organisation linked to the Raelian religious sect (of which Boisselier is a bishop), recently claimed that they had overseen the birth of the worlds first cloned human, a girl called Eve, on Boxing Day 2002.  Dr. Boisselier has additionally claimed that the worlds second cloned baby, another girl, was born to a Dutch lesbian couple. She told BBC1s Breakfast With Frost: Two babies are born now and we are expecting three other ones by the end of January/beginning of February. But, as Boisselier said, Eve is the one we will all talk about.  While many remain sceptical of Boiseliers claims, there is at least one successful clone in this story, a clone that has something to teach us about our twenty-first century culture. That clone is Raelianism itself.
The 64,000 strong Raelian religion, founded by Frenchman Claude Vorlihon (a.k.a. Rael), believe humans were created 25,000 years ago by aliens using genetic engineering, and that genetic engineering holds the key to eternal life (the latter belief, of course, does not follow from the former). Vorlihon claims that aliens visited him in 1973, revealed that they created humans through genetic engineering, and commissioned him to prepare humans for the second coming of their extraterrestrial creators by teaching a message of sexual freedom and eternal life through science.
Media coverage of the story has focused on three questions: 1) Is this claimed success in human cloning true? 2) Is human cloning ethical? 3) What are the Raelians up to? Beyond these questions, I think that the whole affair gives us a surprising insight into the spiritual heart of contemporary western culture. But lets deal with the medias questions first.
As to the truth of Boisseliers claims, it has to be said that the scientific community is rightly sceptical. The group who cloned Dolly the Sheep made hundreds of failed attempts before their success: current work on primate cloning has been so unproductive, which is to say none made to date, that there is a growing sentiment in scientific circles that human cloning for reproduction is impossible. The chance of anyone cloning a full-fledged human is almost nill.  Clonaid is claiming a clutch of clone pregnancies: They are from everywhere. Of the 20 of them I think there are six or seven who are infertile couples, 11 who are parents of a lost child. And there are two single women, one lesbian couple and one homosexual male.  To overwhelm the unlikelihood established by our background knowledge of cloning, Clonaid needs to produce independent proof. Such proof has been promised: The baby is going home and once at home it is possible for an independent expert to go there and once a sample is taken we will see.  Whether or not proof materializes, only time will tell. 
Plausibility aside, what are the Raelians trying to do? What is their goal and motivation? An advert for Vorlihons latest book, Yes to Human Cloning, eternal life thanks to science, carried by the official Clonaid web site, describes the technological salvation envisioned by the Raelians:
Once we can clone exact replicas of ourselves, the next step will be to transfer our memory and personality into our newly cloned brains, which will allow us to truly live forever. Since we will be able to remember all our past, we will be able to accumulate knowledge ad infinitum. Thus today, mans ultimate dream of eternal life, which past religions only promised after death in mythical paradise, becomes a scientific reality. . . Rael explains how our nascent technology will revolutionise our world and transform our lives. For example, he describes how nanotechnology will make agriculture and heavy industry redundant, how super artificial-intelligence will quickly perform human intelligence, how eternal life in a computer will be possible without the need for any biological body, and much, much more. 
A Clonaid press release about the launch of Vorlihons book informs us that:
Rael founder of Clonaid and spiritual leader of the International Raelian Movement announced at an international press conference in London, that Clonaid has started work to clone a terminally ill man at a secret location. The announcement was made at the launch of Yes to Human Cloning, Raels extraordinary new book which has been published by the Norwich based Tagman Press.
Rael described that the terminally ill man has no family and wishes to be cloned. He will give his wealth to the surrogate mother and will stop taking medication after the baby is born. He declares: I want to be reborn like a blank tape with the possibility to live only what I enjoyed. 
The central problem with this is that a clone is not the same person as the person who is cloned (one cannot even claim that a clone is an identical person to the person who is cloned). As J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae point out:
Actually, cloning a person is somewhat misleading, since the person cannot be cloned. It is only the genetic material of the person that is duplicated. . . a clone would be a different person than the person from whom the genetic material came. This is analogous to the way in which identical twins are nevertheless two different persons. . . Researchers are simply duplicating the genetic material, producing delayed identical twins. 
This is why Dr. Boisselier is happy with the thought of cloning Hitler, an opinion happily quoted out of its un-sensational context by The Daily Mail: the scientist who says: I would clone Hitler.  If we read beyond the attention-grabbing headline, we find Boisselier noting: A lot of people ask me, Would you clone Hitler? Im pretty sure Hitler was a nice little sweet baby.  In other words, cloning Hitler wouldnt clone the historical Hitlers behaviour. History wouldnt repeat itself, if for no other reason than that the cloned Hitlers environment would be a different one: he suffered because he was short and dark-haired in an environment of blond blue-eyed people and he probably wanted revenge, says Boisselier. As an explanation for the historical Hitlers behaviour, this seems to embrace a humanistic naivety, but the general point that to clone a body isnt to photocopy a man remains. Unfortunately, this fact is one that contradicts the hopes of the terminally ill man in the above press release.
The Raelian claim that Eternal Life can be reached through Cloning Technology! is in fact linked not to mere cloning, but to the idea that the cloned could somehow download themselves into their clone. As the Clonaid advert for Yes to Cloning says: Once we can clone exact replicas of ourselves, the next step will be to transfer our memory and personality into our newly cloned brains, which will allow us to truly live forever. However, the unfortunate terminally ill man discussed in the above press release seems to be under the illusion that cloning in and of itself is enough. It isnt. Even if he realised that cloning per se does not offer him a second chance at life, he would be wrong to presume that the technology exists to transfer the contents of one brain to another, or indeed to assume that if such technology existed its use would result in his transfer from one body to another.
The Raelian gospel of eternal life by constant transference from clone to clone (indeed, the clone aspect of the plan is, strictly speaking, irrelevant) rests upon a questionable naturalistic nothing buttery which sees the self as nothing more than a function of the brain.  If this assumption is false, then not only are the Raelians making over-ambitious claims about the present day practicalities of cloning and mind transfer technology, they are issuing claims in the name of science that are metaphysically implausible. What they would need is a metaphysical method of moving immaterial souls from association with one body to another, something which no one claims to have (outside of last years Scooby-Do Movie).
Is what the Raelians and Clonaid trying to do ethical? That largely depends on what we make of the moral status of human life in its earliest stages a fundamental issue that cuts across many bioethical questions, including abortion.  In that sense, cloning in itself doesnt raise any really new ethical questions. Those who think that human personhood is present from conception will see the wastefulness of the cloning process as a drawback that far outweighs any proposed benefits:
For those who believe life and personhood begin at conception, cloning seems wrong. . . embryos produced by nuclear transfer solely for experimentation amount to murdered people. Likewise, even when the intent is to produce a baby, success rates are so low. . . that the embryo is most likely to die. For those who believe that the embryo is a person made in Gods image, this loss of life is unacceptable. 
As Christian ethicist Norman L. Geisler argues:
According to present methods, the majority of embryos are sacrificed in order to get one that will survive. This means that we are knowingly causing the death of many tiny human beings in order to get one to develop. Since the end does not justify the means, in vitro fertilization [and cloning] is morally wrong. The fact that many naturally fertilized ova spontaneously abort is not relevant, for there is a significant moral difference between a natural death and a homicide. 
It certainly doesnt seem ethical to knowingly give people false hope. But this appears to be just what the Raelians are doing in the case of the terminally ill man described above, who thinks that cloning will allow him to be re-born. Dr. Boisselier for one knows that this is simply not true. She knows that The belated twin will have his own identity. . . 
Moreover, given this fact, what about the ethical status of the Raelian plan to deliver eternal life (an eternal life that cannot outlast the finite lifespan of the cosmos) through combining cloning with a hypothetical downloading procedure? Remember, according to the Clonaid web site: Once we can clone exact replicas of ourselves, the next step will be to transfer our memory and personality into our newly cloned brains, which will allow us to truly live forever.  If my clone (or the clone of my brain, given that my brain is me) will have his own identity, then what happens to that individual when my memories and personality is transferred to that brain? Doesnt the envisaged procedure entail murdering someone so that I can continue to live? Or will two people somehow now live in the same body (and three at the next round of cloning/transfer, etc?!). Would you consent to have me downloaded into your brain? Either way, the Raelian proposal, such as I understand it, doesnt seem to be without ethical problems.
There is no God but there is the Elohim, our Creators,. . . in whom we have faith. . . Also there is no autonomous soul flying from the body after death, but there is the genetic code which allows access to eternal life. Rael, Let's Welcome our Fathers from Space, (AOM Corporation, 1986, p. 44).
In The Ghost in the Universe: God in Light of Modern Science (Prometheus Books, 2002), Taner Edis calls for humans to construct new myths as evocative as the ancient allegories but based firmly in the scientific worldview.  Claude Vorlihon has already established just such a myth in Raelianism. Whether or not Edis would welcome the Raelian myth as representing scientific naturalism at its best, as a Free Inquiry reviewer called Edis book (I suspect not), the ironic fact remains that Vorlihons myth is based firmly in the scientific [i.e. materialistic] worldview.
The Raelians originally wanted to go about their cloning in America. In November 2001, President Bush created the presidents Council on Bioethics to study the issue of cloning and to report back with policy recommendations, which it did in July 2002. All seventeen council members voted to ban reproductive cloning. Vorlihon and Boisselier made representations in the halls of Congress, before a house panel on the subject. Like any good naturalist, Vorlihon rolled out the great (and greatly oversimplified) myth that Science destroys superstition and supernatural beliefs, and that religion was always an enemy of science.  Vorlihon tried to save the Raelian religion from death by rhetoric, stating that: We, Raelians, believe that science should be our religion, as science saves lives, while religion and superstitions kill.  Vorlihon even tried to score rhetorical points by dedicating his testimony to Giordano Bruno, who was burned alive 4 centuries ago, sentenced to the death penalty by the Christian power of the Catholic Church.  (And, of course, he managed to slip in the standard reference to Galileo, who was sentenced for saying that the earth was revolving on its axis.  ) Casting the issue of cloning as one of the freedom of science  to do what science would do whether or not it had the freedom to do it (nothing can stop science  ), Rael appealed to Congress Dont burn Giordano Bruno alive again!  Norman L. Geisler responds to this type of critique:
It is objected that opposing genetic engineering, cloning, and gene splicing retards scientific progress. However, this objection has serious problems of its own. It assumes that these inventions are really progress, rather than merely changes. Not everything new is morally better. Scientific progress is an ambiguous term used to justify almost everything we desire to do. This argument absolutizes scientific progress as the norm by which all else is justified. But science is not morally normative. Science deals with what is, not with what ought to be. 
Not only is the rhetoric of Raels representation identical to that found in such naturalistic publications as Free Inquiry, but for his presentation he circulated copies of the 1997 Declaration in defence of Cloning and the Integrity of Scientific Research, signed by thirty-one leading humanistic biologists, philosophers and ethicists. The Declaration was published by the Council for Secular Humanism, the same group that publishes Free Inquiry: in March of 2001, we were startled to hear that the Declaration in Defence of Cloning had been distributed in the halls of Congress. . . by the UFO cult leader Rael. . ., said a recent Free Inquiry editorial. I am somewhat startled to hear that they were startled. After all, Raelianism is based firmly in the scientific worldview.  The humanists Declaration in defence of Cloning argued that: Every effort should be made not to block the freedom and integrity of scientific research. 
The materialism of Raelianism goes even deeper than the acceptance of the mainstream mind-brain identity theory, to embrace DNA as the essential human essence. 22 year old Raelian Marina Cocolios, a fine arts student in Canada, who has offered to be the surrogate mother for the clone of a couples dead child: These people want this baby so much. They want the DNA of that first baby to have the chance to express itself and I want to help give that chance. (Here, at least, the clone is not mistaken for the cloned; although the person has apparently been seen through to reveal the real subject of import, DNA.) Marina is Dr. Boisseliers daughter. Ironically, it is the extreme materialism of scientists like atheist Richard Dawkins (a regular Free Inquiry contributor), with his selfish-gene theory, that has established an intellectual culture in which the Raelian religion can seem plausible to a research scientist with two doctorates in analytical chemistry like Brigitte Boisselier, and to thousands of other people in the developed world.
The Raelian sect is a quintessential postmodern religious movement, an eclectic jigsaw of demythologised Christianity (Genesis is supposed to record our creation by aliens and Jesus rose again through cloning), Scientism (Science as religion, physicalism about the mind, and biological reductionism) and UFOs. 
In fact, many Raelian beliefs and aims can draw on the support of secular scientists. For example, Dr. Fred Hoyle believed that life on earth was designed by aliens  (a theory given cinematic expression in the film Mission to Mars  ). Unable either to believe the Darwinian theory of evolution espoused by the likes of Dawkins, or the theistic beliefs of many scientists, Hoyle infers a naturalistic creation of life on earth. Many scientists share Hoyles belief in the existence of extra-terrestrial life, signs of which the S.E.T.I (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life) project seeks amongst the electromagnetic spectrum reaching earth from space.  Artificial Intelligence guru Ray Kurzweil believes that artificial intelligence will soon match and surpass human intelligence, and that it will be possible to download our minds into a computer: 
Ultimately software-based humans, albeit vastly extended beyond the severe limitations of humans as we know them today, will live out on the web, projecting bodies whenever they need or want them, including virtual bodies in diverse realms of virtual reality, holographically projected bodies, and physical bodies comprised of nanobot swarms, and other forms of nanotechnology. 
Not only is Raelianism broadly in-tune with the scientistic spirit of the age, but it endorses fashionable, politically correct moral opinions. According to Susan Palmer, a Montreal sociologist and college professor who has researched the Raelians for 15 years and has written two books about Raelism: They are avant-garde PC, against racism and sexism. They believe in sexual freedom.  It is ironic that while Raelianism is lampooned in the media as a bizarre. . . free love cult. . .  , western society largely has the self-same free love attitude towards sex.
Montreal, headquarters of the Raelian movement, was once steadfastly Catholic. However, a high dropout rate among traditional churchgoers paved the way for Raelianism in the mid-1980s among the young, upwardly mobile residents thirsty for experimental viewpoints. In the midst of a cultural mindset dominated by mind-body physicalism, serious belief in extra-terrestrials, advancing biosciences, sexual licence and a decline in genuine supernaturalism, it is hardly surprising that Raelianism can attract educated westerners.
One can see how Raelianism speaks to the malnourished religious heart of 21st century man. Realianism offers confirmation of the widespread intuition of design and purpose, while accommodating the widespread dismissal of belief in a personal God. It holds out the hope of succour from outside of humanity; something all but the most optimistic humanist would welcome. It even holds out hope in the face of death, a hope more immediately plausible to people immersed in the scientistic spirit of the age than the hope offered by Christianity (or, indeed, to many of those with a deeper scientific understanding of the issues).  Raelianism is an example of what philosopher William A. Dembski calls tender-minded materialism:
Within the tough-minded materialism of the past, human aspirations, whatever else they might be, were strictly finite and terminated with the death of the individual. The tough-minded materialism of the past was strong, stark, and courageous. It embraced the void, and disdained any impulse to pie in the sky. Not so the tender-minded materialism of our age. Though firmly committed to materialism, it is just as firmly committed to not missing out on any benefits ascribed to religious experience. 
In the end, however hard tender-minded materialism tries to ape Christian spirituality, the result is impoverished by comparison with the genuine article. Raelianism offers an eternal life that amounts to an extended but nevertheless finite sojourn in this universe with the promise of ever increasing knowledge and technological augmentation. Nothing here holds out hope for a genuinely eternal life; nor are we offered a solution to the problem of the human heart. For the Christian, eternal life is first and foremost about a relationship with God that brings a qualitative change to the human condition (a change which is also, but not merely, a quantitative one), a change that begins here and now and flourishes in Heaven.  The Raelian concept of eternal life, no less than the Raelian concept of Jesus resurrection, is a pale copy indeed. 
Christianity speaks to many of the same felt needs - the same intuitions, hopes and fears - as does Raelianism. The real question is, does either religion speak truly to these felt needs? That question is one that can only be answered by considering the truth of the respective worldviews of Christianity and Raelianism. Christians share with Raelians the belief that humans are the result of personal creative activity - that human life is designed and purposed; but thats where the worldview similarities appear to end. Even here, Christians have a radically different take on who did the creating!  The Raelians naturalistic answer to the question of human origins (we were created by aliens) may fit the available evidence better than the mainstream naturalistic answer (we are the by-product of an unintended and undirected evolutionary process), but it begs the question who made the makers? in a way that belief in a necessary being (God) does not (not to mention that this beliefs ignores much of the evidence for existence of a personal God). 
Although it may be counter-intuitive on the Enlightenment assumption that science is the mortal foe of religion, the fact is that a Raelian like Dr. Brigitte Boisselier has much more in common with secular humanists like Dr. Richard Dawkins than with Christians (it has often been argued that secular humanism is itself a religion). Christians are actually in a stronger position when it comes to critically evaluating the aims and methods of the Raelians than are the humanists, because the really fundamental issues raised by the Raelian project are not scientific, but philosophical and spiritual.
What do the similarities between a UFO cult and secular humanism tell us about modern culture? Perhaps it goes to show, as Phillip E. Johnson argues, that sometimes the scientific imagination merely substitutes new materialist superstitions for the old supernatural ones. In place of witchcraft and devil worship, we get psychoanalysis, Marxism, social Darwinism, and space aliens.  And, we can add, eternal life through a combination of cloning and mind transfer. Such tenderhearted naturalistic delusions attempt to fill the spiritual void created by more orsteer forms of naturalism, a philosophy that can expel one kind of superstition, but cannot satisfy our spiritual needs.  Its fundamental worldview genetics may be expressing themselves in a different environmental niche, but deep down, Raelianism is a clone of naturalism suffering from the same inability to answer truly to the spiritual needs of the human condition.
On what the Raelians believe cf. Religious Movements @ http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/rael.html
Clonaid @ www.clonaid.com/
UFOLand @ www.ufoland.com/
Monica Rhor, Raelians Flourish in Quebec @ www.accessatlanta.com/ajc/news/0103/05raelians.html
J.P. Moreland & Scott B. Rae, Body & Soul, (IVP, 2000).
W. Jay Richards, ed., Are We Spiritual Machines? Ray Kurzweil vs. the Critics of Strong A.I., (Discovery Institute, 2002).
 In fact, the first human cloning was successfully performed in 1993, when researchers at George Washington University Medical School cloned human embryos.
 Cloned Baby on the way to U.S.., Daily Mail, Monday, December 30th, 2002, p. 16.
 Arthur Caplan, Attack of the Anti-Cloners, Free Inquiry, Winter 2002/3, Vol. 23, No. 1., p. 31.
 Cloned Baby on the way to U.S.., Daily Mail, Monday, December 30th, 2002, p. 16.
 Cloned Baby on the way to U.S.., Daily Mail, Monday, December 30th, 2002, p. 16.
 cf. Rick Weiss, Are Raelians Cloning an Earlier Hoax? @ www.rickross.com/reference/raelians/raelians59.html
 J.P. Moreland & Scott B. Rae, Body & Soul, (IVP, 2000), p. 300.
 Cloned Baby on the way to U.S.., Daily Mail, Monday, December 30th, 2002, p. 17.
 cf. J.P. Moreland & Scott B. Rae, Body & Soul, (IVP, 2000); Peter Kreeft, The Unaborted Socrates, (IVP).
 John S. Feinberg & Paul D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World, (Crossway, 1993), p. 251.
 Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics, Options and Issues, (Apollos, 1995), p. 188.
 Dr. Boisseliers speech in front of the Congress in favor of cloning, p. 1.
 Tom Flynn, Ghostbuster for the Cosmos, Free Inquiry, Winter 2002/3, Vol. 23, No. 1., p. 66.
 Raels speech in front of Congress in favor of human cloning, p. 1.
 ibid, p. 2.
 Norman L. Geisler, op cit, p. 191.
 Tom Flynn, Ghostbuster for the Cosmos, Free Inquiry, Winter 2002/3, Vol. 23, No. 1., p. 66.
 Declaration in Defence of Cloning and the Integrity of Scientific Research, Council for Secular Humanism, 1997.
 For more about Raelian beliefs, cf. http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/rael.html
 cf. Lee Elliot Major, Big Enough to Bury Darwin @ http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/physicalscience/story/0,9836,541468,00.html; Michael J. Behe, The God of Science @ http://www.arn.org/docs/behe/mb_godofscience.htm
 Brian De Palma, Dir., Mission to Mars, (Touchstone, 2000).
 cf. Peter S. Williams, Christianity, Space & Aliens @ http://www.damaris.org/olr/features/2002/christianity_space_aliens.pdf
 cf. W. Jay Richards, ed., Are We Spiritual Machines? Ray Kurzweil vs. the Critics of Strong A.I., (Discovery Institute, 2002).
 Ray Kurzweil , in W. Jay Richards, ed., Are We Spiritual Machines? Ray Kurzweil vs. the Critics of Strong A.I., ibid, p. 51-52.
 Monica Rhor, Raelians Flourish in Quebec @ www.accessatlanta.com/ajc/news/0103/05raelians.html
 Daily Mail, op cit, p. 16.
 On life after death cf. Peter Kreeft, Life After Death @ www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0022.html
 William A. Dembski, Kurzweils Impoverished Spirituality, in W. Jay Richards, ed., Are We Spiritual Machines? Ray Kurzweil vs. the Critics of Strong A.I., (Discovery Institute, 2002), p. 99-100.
 On Heaven cf. Peter Kreeft, Heaven, the hearts deepest longing, (Ignatius).
 On Jesus resurrection, cf. William Lane Craig @ www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/menus/historical.html
 Raelians recently supported the inclusion of Intelligent Design theory in American schools, a fact that highlights the distinction between I.D as a scientific theory and Christian belief in divine creation. I.D and theism are compatible but not identical.
 On the evidence for the identification of our creator with a personal God, cf. Peter S. Williams, The Case for God, (Monarch, 1999).
 Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin and the Supernatural in Fickett (ed.), Things in Heaven and Earth, p. 97.
Copyright © 2003 Peter S. Williams. All rights reserved.
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File Date: 11.21.03