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Without Nature?A New Condition for Theology$
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David Albertson and Cabell King

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780823230693

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: March 2011

DOI: 10.5422/fso/9780823230693.001.0001

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Synthetic Biology: Theological Questions about Biological Engineering

Synthetic Biology: Theological Questions about Biological Engineering

(p.136) Synthetic Biology: Theological Questions about Biological Engineering
Without Nature?

Ronald Cole-Turner

Fordham University Press

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

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