Who speaks for God?

The pending announcement of an initiative by a variety of religious groups against patents on genes and animals is a reminder of the continuing tension in our society between science and religion, and of the relative isolation of the biotech elite - for it is an elite of highly educated and compensated scientists, entrepreneurs and financiers - from the mainstream of American society.

The challenge for the industry will be to figure out a way to reach out across this gulf to explain the importance and even the very legitimacy of its work to those whose world views are often vastly different. Historically, this has frequently proven to be impossible, which is why religious and ideological wars can be so brutal.

Accepting the existence of God for the purposes of this discussion, the debate marks a collision between two perspectives of divine creation. One is that life is a gift from God, not to be tampered with or owned by humans who would act as gods. In the other view, humans follow the will of God in using their God-given intelligence to manipulate the world around them in order to improve their lot and to achieve continuing enlightenment about the miracle of existence. In every age, there are those who want to push on into the unknown, and those who, purporting to speak for God, say we've gone far enough, or farther than God wants us to go.

Sacred vs. profane

The religious concerns also raise questions about