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Transgenic Technology and Religion
Jul 1, 1997

Nuclear transfer is used in mammals as both a tool for embryonic studies and as a method for the multiplication of ‘elite’ embryos. It involves transferring the complete genetic material (the DNA contained in a nucleus) from one cell into an unfertilized egg whose own nucleus has been removed. PPL Therapeutics plc and the Roslin Institute pioneered the use of this technology for the production of therapeutic human proteins in the milk of livestock.

We have two different cells in nuclear transfer: an unfertilized egg and a donor cell. The donor cells are grown under special conditions in culture. The induction of a quiescent state in the donor cells seem to be an important factor in the success of the technology. In a normal cell the chromosomes are very active and there is an open structure to some of the DNA to provide access to the cell machinery. When a nucleus from such a cell is transferred into an oocyte it is assumed that development depends on changes to chromosomal structure to inhibit activity from the chromosome and then to re-initiate activity at the appropriate stage of development. The nucleus in quiescent cells is comparatively inactive. It is hypothesised that in that case the recipient egg is more readily able to ‘programme’ gene expression in the new embryos.

The number of donor cells can be increased by several orders of magnitude. It is also possible to make genetic modifications and to select just those cells in which the desired modification has occurred and multiply these up. Before these cells are fused with an unfertilized egg or the nucleus of the donor cell is introduced by cell fusion, the chromosomes are removed from the recipient egg by micromanipulation. Then the nucleus of the donor cell is introduced by cell fusion. The electric current used to fuse the cells also triggers the egg to begin development. The new embryos are then transplanted into recipient sheep and lambs are born naturally.

In Nature (Vol. 380, pp 64-6), the potential practical value of this new technique is explained as follows:

It will become possible to produce a number of genetically identical offspring from a population of cells. This would enable a farmer to have a small group of identical sheep each with the same high level of performance. Uniformity of this kind would offer advantages to the farmer, as the animals will mature at a very similar rate, to the food processor, as they would have a more consistent product to sell, and to the consumer, as they could be more confident of purchasing a consistent, high quality product. It seems more likely that the first uses will be for biotechnology. Sheep and goats are already making, in their milk, proteins that are needed for the treatment of human disease. The new technique will make it possible to obtain proteins that are more like the human protein even than those that are being made at present. In addition, this route may provide a more practical means for introducing change in cattle. Some proteins are required in very large quantities and it would be useful to be able to produce these in cattle, with their larger milk yield, than in sheep or goats. However, in the longer term, as the techniques are improved, then they may be used to modify many aspects of agricultural products. Changes may be made to the composition of cow’s milk. Most of the fat in cow’s milk is saturated and this has implication for the health of the human consumer. The situation arises because of the activity of enzymes in the udder and it may be possible to reduce that activity and so have cow’s milk with more unsaturated fat. It would be important to show that this did not have any adverse consequences for the cow or her calves...

PPL Therapeutics also hopes to use this technique to enable the production of new drugs for the treatment of a range of conditions using its transgenic technology. This could lead to cheaper drugs for currently untreatable diseases.

It is not possible to inhibit scientific advances. For the last few centuries, science has been preparing ‘new worlds’ for the human race. As with many previous ‘victories’ of science, intellectuals and moralists discuss this new step of gene-technology from ethical base. Arthur Caplan from University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia Inquirer, March 4, 1997) writes:

Think of current cloning technology along the lines of the Wright brothers first aeroplane flight. Many argued that human beings would never fly in a machine. The Wright brothers proved them wrong. But it took many years before the first safe, reliable and practical aircraft was up in the air.

The same is true of cloning. The sheep in Scotland and the monkeys in Oregon represent first steps down what is a very long road. They show cloning is possible but they do not prove it is practical. The techniques used are not only not safe to try in humans, they are still not very effective or efficient for use in animals.

There is still time to control cloning technology if that is what we want to do. It will be years before today’s cloning technology could reasonably be applied to human beings. If we do not want it to be then it is up to us to engage in the moral, religious and legal discussion that will make sure human cloning does not happen.

The hysteria over cloning has led many experts to wonder why we should even bother to try and control its use in human beings. After all, once a technology is available its use is inevitable-isn’t it. There is no stuffing the cloning genie back in its bottle. Phooey!

True no one can stop a nut from grabbing a spare embryo at an infertility clinic and transplanting adult genes into it to see if human cloning will work. But, that is a long way from doing anything practical, useful or even very interesting in terms of human cloning. If we really think that it is an offense to human dignity to have people bred by design, if it seems nuts to let anyone create a human being just to have a place to get spare parts, or if we really do not want grieving parents trying to ‘restore’ a lost child by making a physical copy of the child’s body, we really can bring such activities to a grinding halt.

How? Slap stiff penalties on human cloning, let researchers know that experiments on human cloning will not be published and pull all Federal and foundation support for human cloning research. For all practical purposes human cloning will grind to a halt.

The pressures in the past of Western ethical opinion-makers or of the Church on scientific researches give little reason for optimism. Especially in a world where a ‘better’ worldly life is everything and all ‘human’ values are judged according to how much one consumes, and at a time when scientific researches and successes are valued. (and funded) in terms of their marketability, it will be of no use to exert ‘moral’ pressures on scientific studies. What is necessary and important is that first it should be understood that religion and the universe or nature are the two ‘different’ expressions of the same ‘Divine’ truth and then nature should be re-acknowledged its sacredness coming from the fact that nature is the realm where God’s Names are manifested.

Science will continue to advance. However, in order that it is not harmful for mankind, it is not a lethal weapon in the hands of an irresponsible, selfish minority, God-fearing believers should direct scientific studies. The first verses revealed from the Qur’an are enough to illuminate our way in scientific studies. The first revelation to the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, was:

Read: in and with the Name of Your lord who created, created man of an embryo suspended.

Read: And your Lord is the most Munificent, who taught by the Pen, taught man that he knew not. (al- ‘Alaq, 96.1-3)

It is quite significant that the first command of God to His Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, was ‘read’, when there was not yet the Book to read. This means that there is another book or, rather, there are two books, counterparts to the Book which was to be revealed. These two books are the universe and man. A believer should approach the study of universe and man without prejudice. It is also significant that the verses of the Qur’an and the phenomena in the universe and in man-material and psychological-are both called ‘signs’. The imperative ‘Read!’ is followed, not by a direct object or an adverbial, but by ‘in and with the Name of your Lord who created’. This signifies:

1. ‘Reading’ the universe- studying it-has principles of its own, like, for example, observation and experiment.

2. The word translated as Lord is Rabb, among whose meanings is ‘educator, upbringer, giver of a certain pattern, and, one who gives each entity a particular nature. Man’s nature includes free will, whereas every other entity acts according to the primordial nature assigned to it, what modem science refers to in the words ‘nature’ and the ‘laws of nature’. What man is commanded to do is to discover these ‘laws’.

3. Every act of man, including his scientific studies, should be performed in the name of God, and therefore be an act of worship. That is the only limit which the Qur’an or Islam has put on science. Any act so performed cannot be against God’s Commandments. For example, in the pursuit of scientific knowledge as worship, no one could harm mankind, nor put that knowledge in the form of a deadly weapon in the hands of an irresponsible minority. If done only in the name of God, by people conscious of always being supervised by God and who will be called to account before a Supreme Tribunal for all their actions in the world, science could change the world into a garden of Eden.


Said Nursi writes (The Words 1, Izmir 1997, pp.316—7; 325—9)): 'In the wise Qur'an there are many apparently insignificant events behind each of which is hidden a universal principle, and which are presented as the tip of a general law. For example, the verse (He) taught Adam the names of all of them. (al-Baqara, 2.32) mentions that Adam was taught 'the names' as a miracle to demonstrate his superiority over the angels in being favoured with God's vicegerency on the earth—the rule of the earth in the name of God. This is, in appearance, a small and particular event but it constitutes the tip of a universal principle which is as follows: On account of his comprehensive nature, man was taught (or given the potential to obtain) lots of information, and many sciences concerning all aspects of the universe, and extensive knowledge about the Creator's Attributes and acts, which gave him superiority over not only the angels but also the heavens and earth and mountains in bearing the Supreme Trust, and made him the ruler of the earth in the name of God.

Likewise, the prostration of the angels before Adam by contrast with Satan's rejection is a small, particular event in the Unseen. However, it is the tip of a most comprehensive, universally observed principle, and suggests a most extensive truth which is as follows: By mentioning the angels' obedience and submission before the person of Adam and Satan's haughty refusal, the Qur'an makes understood that most of the material beings in the universe and their spiritual representatives are subjugated to man and are ever-ready to satisfy all the needs and desires of all of his faculties. In addition, the Qur'an warns man against the evil beings and their immaterial representatives and the devilish inhabitants of the earth, who corrupt his potential for perfection and seduce him into wrong paths, and it reminds him what terrible enemies and great obstacles in the path of his progress toward perfection they are. Thus, while narrating a particular matter pertaining to a single individual—Adam, upon him be peace—the Qur'an of miraculous expression holds an elevated discourse with the whole creation and all mankind.

The Qur'an states that everything, wet or dry, is found in it. Is that really so? Yes, everything is found in it, but everyone cannot see that everything therein, as the things are found at different levels. The Qur'an contains all things, either in the form of seeds, or of nuclei, or of summaries, or principles, or signs, and they are found either explicitly or implicitly, or allusively, or vaguely, or suggestively. One or other of these forms is preferred according to occasion, in a way fitting for the purposes of the Qur'an and in connection with the requirements of the context. For example: As the result of man's progress in science and industry, some scientific and technological wonders such as aeroplanes, electricity, motor vehicles, and means of radio and telecommunication have come into existence and taken the most prominent position in the material life of mankind. As it addresses the whole of mankind [at all times], the wise Qur'an certainly does not ignore these. Indeed, it has not ignored them and points to them in two ways: The first is by way of the miracles of the Prophets. The second is in connection with certain historical events, for example: Down with the makers of the trench of the fuel-fed fire! When they sat by it, and were themselves the witnesses of, what they did to the believers. They ill-treated them for no other reason than that they believed in God, the Mighty, the All-Praised One. (al-Buruj, 85.4-8) Likewise, …in the loaded fleet. And We have created for them the like thereof whereon they ride. (Ya Sin, 36.41-2) Verses like these point to trains, while the following verse, besides having many other meanings and connotations, alludes to electricity: God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His light is as a niche where in is a lamp, the lamp is in a glass. The glass is as it were a shining star. Kindled from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the East or of the West, whose oil would almost glow forth (of itself) though no fire touched it: Light upon light. God guides to His Light whom He wills. (al-Nur, 24.35)

As God Almighty sent the Prophets to human communities as leaders and vanguards in respect of spiritual and moral progress, so also He endowed them with certain wonders and miracles and made them the masters and forerunners with respect to man's material progress. He commands men to follow them absolutely. Thus, just as by speaking of the spiritual and moral perfections of the Prophets, the Qur'an encourages people to benefit from them, so too in presenting their miracles it intends that people should try to achieve the like of them in scientific way. It may even be said that like spiritual and moral attainments, material attainments and wonders were also first given to mankind as a gift through Prophetic miracles. The Prophet Noah, upon him be peace, was the first to build ships, and Joseph, upon him be peace, the clock. Therefore, the ship and clock were first given to mankind as Prophetic miracles. It is a meaningful indication to this reality that so many craft guilds take a Prophet as the 'patron' or originator of their craft. For example, seamen take Noah, watchmakers take Joseph, tailors take Enoch, upon them be peace, and so on. Since truth-seeking scholars and the science of eloquence have agreed that each of the Qur'an's verses contains guidance and instruction, then the verses concerning the miracles of the Prophets, the most brilliant among the Qur'an's verses, should not be taken as historical events; rather they comprise numerous meanings of guidance. Truly, by mentioning the miracles of the Prophets, the Qur'an shows the ultimate goal of scientific and technological developments, and specifies their final aims. It urges man forward toward those aims. Just as the past is the field for the seeds of the future and mirror to its potential, so too the future is the time to reap the harvest of the past life and mirror to the actual situation.

Now out of many examples, I shall point out only a few: The verse, And to Solomon (We subjugated) the wind: its morning stride was a month's journey and the evening stride was a month's journey. (al-Saba', 34.12) which expresses the subjugation of the wind to Solomon as one of his miracles, says: “The Prophet Solomon covered the distance of two months walk in two strides by flying through the air.” By this it suggests that the road is open for mankind to cover the same distance in the air. “So,O mankind! Since the road is open to you, attain this level and do so!” Almighty God also means by this verse: “O man! A servant of mine did not obey his carnal desires, and I mounted him on the air. If you give up laziness and benefit properly from certain of My laws in nature, you too can mount it.”

The verse, When Moses asked for water for his people, We said: 'Strike the rock with your staff.' Then gushed forth there from twelve springs (so that) each tribe knew their drinking place' (al-Baqara, 2.60) indicates that it is quite possible to benefit with simple tools from the treasuries of Mercy under the earth. In places hard as rock even, the water for life may be drawn with so simple a device as a staff. Thus, through this meaning, the verse says to man, “You can find the finest blessing of Mercy, the water for life, with a staff-like device. Therefore, come on, work and find it!” Through this verse, God Almighty suggests: “O man! Since I gave to a servant of Mine who relied on Me such a staff that he draws with it the water for life from wherever he wishes, you too can obtain a device resembling it provided you rely on My laws of Mercy. So, come and do so!” One of the important results of scientific developments which mankind have achieved is the invention of devices with which water is caused to well up from most of the places where they are applied. The verse points to further goals and limits beyond that, just as the previous one specified further attainments far ahead of today's aeroplanes.

The verse, I heal him who was born blind, and the leper, and I raise the dead by God's leave. (Al 'lmran, 3.49) concerning a miracle of Jesus, upon him be peace, alludes to and encourages the highest level of healing with which the Lord endowed him. It suggests: “it is possible to find cures for even the most chronic ailments. Therefore, O man! O calamity-stricken sons of Adam! Do not despair! Whatever the ailment, its cure is possible. Search for it and you will find it. It is even possible to give a temporary tinge of life to death.” By the verse God Almighty means: “O man! To a servant of Mine who renounced the world for My sake, I gave two gifts, one the remedy for spiritual ailments, the other the cure for physical sicknesses. Dead hearts were quickened through the light of guidance, and ill people who were as though dead found health through his breath and cure. You too may find the cure for all illnesses in My 'pharmacy' in nature where I attached to each thing many important purposes. Work and find it! You will certainly find if you seek it!” Thus, this verse marks the final point of medical developments, a point far ahead of the present level, and urges man towards it. In view of the explanations of Said Nursi, we can say that genetics will realize further successes than cloning. The Qur'an tells us that God created the human race from a single 'soul'— human nature, according to some interpreters, It is narrated from the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, that Eve was created from Adam's rib. Also, we read in the Qur'an that Adam was created from 'clay'. Whatever is meant by 'clay', it is clear that Adam was created without a father and mother. Again, Jesus, upon him be peace, was created without a father—Virgin Mary gave birth to him—and the Prophets Isaac and John were gave born by old, sterile women. These are examples marking further points of developments in genetics. Besides the Qur'an, we find also in the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, indications to further steps of genetics. For example, as recorded in reliable sources of Tradition such as Sahih al-Muslim (Fitan, 110) and Sunan al-Tirmidhi (Fitan, 59), the Prophet predicted that one day would come when a single pomegranate would suffice for as many as twenty people, with its rind providing shade for them. He also prophesied that the wheat produced in so small an area as a house balcony would be enough for the annual consumption of a family. (Fethullah Gulen, Prophet Muhammad, The Infinite Light, Vol. 1, pp. 77)