Visions of Perfectibility
John Hedley Brooke
Andres Idreos Professor of Science and Religion, Theology Faculty,
of Evolution and Technology - Vol. 14 Issue
2 - August 2005
This paper was originally presented as a talk at a conference
entitled “Posthuman Futures” held in Oxford by the Ian Ramsey Centre
in the Faculty of Theology. The subject of the conference was what
it means to be human as we contemplate a posthuman future.
In July 2004 designer babies were again in the news. The UK’s Human
Embryo and Fertilisation Authority had to decide whether it could
allow the practice of pre-implantation screening when the object of
the tissue-typing and selection would be to give parents the chance
of producing a child that might save an ailing sibling. At the same
time an issue of Science & Theology News carried a feature on
the use of such techniques at the Reproductive Genetics Institute in
In several cases stem cells from the umbilical cord of one infant
have been donated to the endangered brother or sister. The
technology is clearly new; but it is often justified with an appeal
to continuity. In the past parents have conceived a child in the
hope that it will have the necessary genetic complexion to act as a
saviour. The new technique simply eliminates, or promises to
eliminate, the chanciness of the process. Not surprisingly,
however, it raises the spectre of a positive eugenics in which
parents may choose the characteristics of their offspring. Is a
brave new world of human perfectibility just around the corner?
For most of us, this and related questions have become familiar.
They featured in Francis Fukuyama’s controversial book Our
Posthuman Future (2002). Whatever we may think about the cogency
of his arguments, Fukuyama did offer an imaginative assessment of
the social consequences of transformative technologies. Explaining
why we should be worried, he observed that
People want smarter kids so that
they will get into Harvard, for example, but competition for places
at Harvard is zero-sum: if my kid becomes smarter because of gene
therapy and gets in, he or she simply displaces your kid. My
decision to have a designer baby imposes a cost on you (or rather,
your child), and in the aggregate it is not clear that anyone is
better off. This kind of genetics arms race will impose special
burdens on people who for religious or other reasons do not want
their children genetically altered; if everyone around them is doing
it, it will be much harder to abstain, for fear of holding their own
We should note that reference to “religious or other reasons”. In
Fukuyama’s account it is the religious objections that are said to
be most transparent. With both the Catholic Church and conservative
Protestants in mind, he notes that
These reproductive technologies,
even if freely embraced by parents out of love for their children,
are wrong from this perspective because they put human beings in the
place of God in creating human life (or destroying it, in the case
of abortion). …Genetic engineering, moreover, sees a human being not
as a miraculous act of divine creation, but rather as the sum of a
series of material causes that can be understood and manipulated by
human beings. All of this fails to respect human dignity, and thus
violates God’s will.
We might want to make finer distinctions, but even sophisticated
Christian commentators have been willing to use the ‘playing God’
objection as a way of articulating a cautionary principle.
From Fukuyama, and from much of the press coverage of genetic
enhancement, it would be easy to suppose that a history of
technology would include a story of religious objection to
innovations promising improvement, whether of nature in general or
of human beings in particular. Have not our visions of
perfectibility been largely secular visions? Have not our religious
values been lodged in the defence of a pristine nature or of a human
nature with which we interfere at our peril?
In this brief essay, I want to suggest that the story is not so
simple. The relationship between the sacred and the secular in the
history of technology is more complex but also more exciting than
the familiar dichotomies assume. I shall therefore argue that
secular ideals have often been a legacy from earlier sacred visions,
though in secular cultures this often passes unnoticed. Secondly I
shall point to a few homologies between sacred and secular systems
of belief. Fukuyama himself insisted that
Religion often intuits moral
truths that are shared by non-religious people, who fail to
understand that their own secular views on ethical issues are as
much a matter of faith as those of religious believers. Many
hardheaded natural scientists, for example, have a rational
materialist understanding of the world, and yet in their political
and ethical views are firmly committed to a version of liberal
equality that is not all that different from the Christian view of
the universal dignity of humankind.
Varieties of perfectibility
I have chosen ‘visions of perfectibility’ as my title because it
hints at an important truth - that dreams of a better world and of
human perfectibility have been the property of both religious and
secular traditions. There is of course an immediate objection to
their conflation. When Christian mystics and theologians have
spoken of human perfectibility, their vision has been one of
spiritual growth, a progressive sanctification having as one of its
pre-requisites the renunciation of the material goods and sensual
pleasures of this probationary world. It is doubtful that Teresa of
Avila would have bought into genetic enhancement as a way of
achieving perfection. To be perfect was to be wholly given to God –
an ideal Teresa was alarmed to discover she had not attained, when
she recognised that she loved her sister above other women.
For St John of the Cross the imperfections from which it was
necessary to be released were any attachment to “a person, a
garment, a book, a cell, a particular kind of food, [and]
Yet not all visions of perfectibility within the Christian tradition
have been so austere. For John Henry Newman, the perfect man was he
who “does the work of the day perfectly”. As for his prescription:
Do not lie in bed beyond the due
time of rising; give your first thoughts to God; make a good visit
to the Blessed Sacrament; say the Angelus devoutly; eat and drink to
God’s glory; say the Rosary well; keep out bad thoughts; make your
evening meditation well; examine yourself daily; go to bed in good
time, and you are already perfect.
This was Newman speaking, as John Passmore observed, rather like a
In what follows I do not wish to suggest that sacred and secular
visions can or should be conflated. But if I am to do my ‘work of
the day’ perfectly I must fulfil my promise to explore the subtle
ways in which secular and sacred visions have often been related.
Utopias as derivatives of millenarian visions
One of England’s early enthusiasts for the promise of technology was
the seventeenth-century Protestant reformer Samuel Hartlib. Let’s
hear him on human longevity, a subject of perennial concern to
physicians and religious thinkers:
I would have you understand my
prognostication of the true universal medicine, which shall serve
not only men, but also all flesh; namely, that there grows in
Paradise a tree, which is, and is called the tree of Life, which in
the glorious and long expected coming of Jesus Christ our God and
Saviour shall be made manifest, and then it shall be afforded to
men, and the fruits of it shall be gathered, by which all men and
all flesh shall be delivered from death, and that as truly, solidly,
and surely, as at the time of the fall, by gathering the fruit of
the forbidden tree, we together with all flesh fell into sin, death
and ill. And this glory and great joy hath God reserved for us,
that live in these latter days, and hath kept his good wine until
now… I do foretell all physicians, that then their physick shall be
worth nothing; for another garden will be found, whence shall be had
herbs, that shall preserve men not only from sickness, but from
Note the intertwining themes: this is a vision in which there is
explicit reference to the transcendent. There is another
garden; with the coming of Christ there will be another
dispensation; present medical effort will be trumped. But the
vision of what it will be like when Christ has returned, when the
earth has been restored, when there are prospects for immortality –
this vision is one that could so easily be secularised to sponsor
In the religious vision there is assurance that the new garden will
be found, that deliverance from death will be achieved solidly and
surely. From fall to final redemption there is a direction to
history guaranteed by a divine providence.
Nietzsche would later say that belief in the inevitability of
progress could be seen as a thinly disguised religious way of
thought and there is some justification for that view. Progress and
providence were linked in the minds of seventeenth-century English
Protestants, most famously by Francis Bacon. There was a sense in
which one had the duty to prepare the world for Christ’s return.
The application of science to the relief of man’s estate was one way
of doing so. Bacon had no doubt that correct empirical methods
would lead to a continually progressive science – superior to that
of Aristotle, which had been sterile as far as practical
applications were concerned. It was precisely an applied science
that would help to restore human dominion over nature, lost as a
consequence of Adam’s fall. The homology between sacred and secular
visions was perfectly explicit in Bacon himself:
The rule of religion that a man
should justify his faith by works applies also in natural
philosophy; knowledge should be proved by its works. For truth is
rather revealed and established by the evidence of works rather than
by disputation, or even sense. Hence the human intellect and social
conditions are enriched by one and the same means.
For Bacon the linkage between providence and progress was assured by
Scripture itself. Prophecies in the book of Daniel made reference
to a time when many would pass to and fro and knowledge would
increase. Bacon could point to the voyages of discovery, the
expansion of trade and progress in natural philosophy to underscore
the biblical prophecy.
In the Protestant dissenting movements of the eighteenth century,
concepts of providence and progress continued to be intertwined.
Joseph Priestley would write that advances in science and technology
were the “means, under God, of putting an end to all undue and
usurped authority in the business of religion as well as of natural
The chemist was a collaborator with God in creating a brighter
future when the world would be rid of superstition. Scientific
progress provided both model and vehicle for social progress. One
facet of that progress for Priestley had to be an increase in
religious toleration, which in turn was a precondition of a fair
competition between different religious traditions, ensuring that
the most rational would eventually prevail.
Medicine as a form of redemption
In the case of Baconian science the homology between sacred and
secular turned on the concept of restoration. Bacon did not make
the mistake of saying that spiritual redemption could come from the
applications of science, but he did envisage a time when the fruits
of science would go a long way towards restoring a fallen earth. In
the most famous of sixteenth and seventeenth-century medical
reforms, the homology turned on concepts of purification and
redemption. Among disciples of Paracelsus, an act of purification
was involved in the very process of extracting remedies from their
impure sources. This gave to chemistry a high profile in extracting
and distilling the efficacious components of natural substances.
This analogy between material and spiritual purification has been
well captured by Charles Webster:
Natural products were ordained by
God for man’s use, but their properties would not be revealed
directly, since Adam’s transgression had sacrificed our rights to
direct experience of nature’s purity. Medicines were ‘imprisoned’,
and they could only be isolated by the ‘artificial anatomy of
chemists’; their labour would show that God had created an
inexhaustible supply of specific remedies, each country furnishing
sufficient for its own requirements.
The optimism of modern pharmacology was presaged in the Paracelsian
doctrine that there were chemical remedies for all ailments – in the
denial of which the Galenic physicians had a vested interest.
Paracelsus attacked their indolence and the rationalisations they
gave for their failure to cure. God in his mercy had provided a
remedy for everything, but men had to labour hard to discover them
and to extract their effective ingredients. It is also to the
Paracelsians we owe the modern notion of specific causes for
specific diseases and the consequent need for specific remedies.
It is worth noting that, according to some Christian commentators,
humankind had originally been naturally immortal. For example Roger
Bacon had observed that, even after the fall, men had retained a
residual capacity to live for 1,000 years. The vision of modern
medicine by comparison may look a little pale!
The body as a machine
It has often been said that modern medicine regards the body as a
piece of machinery to be serviced when it goes wrong. Today we are
familiar with more holistic approaches but there is no doubt that
the mechanistic models have been paramount in western cultural
traditions. Mechanism is often linked in peoples’ minds with
materialism, but it does not have to be. The most mechanistic form
of physiology in seventeenth-century Europe was that of Descartes,
who argued for the immortality of the soul. Of greater interest,
perhaps, mechanical analogues for anatomical structures were
supportive rather than destructive of religious understandings.
Having examined the workings of the human eye, Isaac Newton
concluded that it could only have been designed by a Mind acquainted
with the laws of optics. William Paley was arguing for the same
conclusion 100 years later. There were homologies between secular
and sacred understandings of the body because mechanical analogues
reinforced concepts of design. A machine is not the kind of thing
that makes itself. Or so it was naturally assumed until more
sophisticated models of organic change materialised in the
This particular convergence of sacred and secular understandings of
nature was deeply entrenched in the culture of science
popularisation until the Darwinian era and beyond. In the
seventeenth century it had been common to compare the universe to
the great cathedral clock in Strasbourg. One could study its
workings without prejudice to the claim that it had been designed
for a purpose. And such were the fantastic designs revealed through
the microscope that Robert Boyle would conclude that only those who
had not studied nature could be atheists. Mechanical images of
nature always ran the risk of reductionism; but they definitely
served ulterior theological as well as medical interests.
If nature ran like machinery one could dispense with a host of
spirit agencies in nature that compromised, or were perceived to
compromise, the sovereignty of God. There is some truth in the
assertion, made by the Dutch historian of science Reijer Hooykaas
among others, that one of the preconditions of modern science was
this “de-deification” of nature.
It is true, of course, that Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859)
became the focus (and still is) for arguments purporting to expel
teleology from the world. But, at a deeper level, we find that
another interesting homology was preserved rather than destroyed.
We must all be familiar with the way in which Darwin’s theory
undermined the design argument as Paley formulated it. Natural
selection, operating over countless generations, could counterfeit
design. The antithesis between a sacred and a secular reading of
nature is epitomised by Richard Dawkins’ treatment in The Blind
Watchmaker (1986). The issues are, however, too subtle
to capture in a simple antithesis. When Darwin composed his
Descent of Man(1871) he did not set out to subvert Christian
values, even though by then he had largely lost his early faith. He
did not argue for the relativity of ethical values. His object
rather was to explain, naturalistically, how the highest ethical
norms had come to be as they are. He explained how the golden rule
that we should treat others as we would wish them to treat us had
developed. He did not suggest it was dispensable. Indeed his
hostile attitude to slavery has been seen by his biographer, James
Moore, as a survival of the Christian faith he had lost. In fact
several historians have noted that even the most radical of the
scientific naturalists tended to naturalise values that had been
prominent in the religious traditions they were calling into
Nor is it entirely true that Darwin evacuated Paley’s argument,
since Paley had focussed not only on the exquisite design of organic
structures, but also on the general laws of nature that the physical
scientists had discovered. The argument from the very existence of
laws of nature to a divine legislator was barely touched by
Darwinian theory. Darwin himself had spoken of a Creator creating
through laws – laws, to use his own language again, impressed upon
matter by the Creator.
It is true that this kind of language would sit comfortably with
deistic models of nature; but the metaphysics with which it was
often associated was one in which sacred and secular understandings
could be almost perfectly fused.
Additionally, there is a homology between Darwinian natural
selection and Paley’s natural theology that was recognised by Darwin
himself. Both natural selection and natural theology broadly
require that an organic structure be useful to the survival of the
organism. The adaptation did not have to be perfect, though under
the influence of Paley it is possible that Darwin for some time
believed it be so. Evolution was perhaps nature’s way of preserving
perfect adaptation in changing environments. The legacy of Paley’s
thinking may have constrained Darwin; but the analogy between sacred
and secular visions he made absolutely clear:
I was not … able to annul the
influence of my former belief, then almost universal, that each
species had been purposely created; and this led to my tacit
assumption that every detail of structure, excepting rudiments, was
of some special, though unrecognised service. Any one with this
assumption in his mind would naturally extend too far the action of
I have entered these Darwinian waters because there is an argument
for deference towards an existing state of nature that can come from
evolutionary biology itself. If, in Darwin’s words, natural
selection works for the improvement of every organism, might there
not be arguments against undue genetic interference, grounded in the
degree of perfection natural selection itself achieves? Fukuyama
may have exaggerated the import of this particular consideration but
his concerns have to be addressed:
There are good prudential reasons to defer to the natural order of
things and not to think that human beings can easily improve on it
through casual intervention. This has proven true with regard to the
environment: ecosystems are interconnected wholes whose complexity
we frequently don’t understand; building a dam or introducing a
plant monoculture into an area disrupts unseen relationships and
destroys the system’s balance in totally unanticipated ways. So too
with human nature. There are many aspects of human nature that we
think we understand all too well or would want to change if we had
the opportunity. But doing nature one better isn’t always that easy;
evolution may be blind process, but it follows a ruthless adaptive
logic that makes organisms fit for their environments.
The Scientist as Co-Creator
Those who write about the relations between science & religion or
between theology and technology have sometimes made the mistake of
thinking in essentialist terms – as if there might be a definitive
relationship between a religious doctrine and an attitude towards an
undifferentiated entity called ‘science’ or ‘technology’. The
problem is not only that the meaning and content of ‘science’ have
changed with time, but also that everything depends on how the
doctrine in question is interpreted. For example, in some
formulations the doctrine of creation could be conducive to the
physical sciences – as it was for Copernicus, Kepler and Newton,
each of whom celebrated the greater elegance and harmony that could
be achieved by placing the sun rather than the earth at the centre
(or focus) of a planetary system. A voluntarist theology of
creation also lent itself to the defence of empirical methodologies
because the more one stressed God’s freedom to make any universe God
wished, the more necessary it was to investigate empirically which
of the many possibilities had in fact been instantiated. But we
also know that creation doctrine could be obstructive to
certain forms of science if formulated in other ways. If the
doctrine itself were taken to imply an essentialism, that the
species God had created were immutable because each reproduced after
its kind, then concepts of the mutability of species would encounter
resistance – as we know they did for much of the nineteenth century.
This dependency on how religious doctrine is interpreted becomes
especially crucial when considering the premise that humans have a
unique dignity because of their having been made in the image of
God. This premise often features in discussions of biotechnology,
but on the side of the objections. It does so in Fukuyama’s
discussion. And it has often been made to stand in the way of
anything that threatens that special dignity - such as using a
person as an instrument, especially if exclusively a means to an
end. This clearly can be an issue in discussions of saviour
siblings. But there is the other side of the coin. Perhaps one of
things it might mean to be made in the image of God is that we may,
in some respects, have the prerogative to imitate God, or in more
modest language, operate as collaborators with God-given resources.
Using the suggestive language of Philip Hefner, why should we not
see ourselves as created co-creators?
In one sense this description is suspect because the most human
creators can do is to act like a Platonist demiurge using the
materials we already have at our disposal. The basic question,
however, remains: could not responsible, therapeutic genetic
engineering be seen to be in line with our responsibility, as
Francis Bacon saw it, to offer glory to God and to seek the relief
of man’s estate? Creation doctrine is involved here, because as
Newton pointed out:
If any think it possible that God
may produce some intellectual creature so perfect that he could, by
divine accord, in turn produce creatures of a lower order, this so
far from detracting from the divine power enhances it; for that
power which can bring forth creatures not only directly but through
the mediation of other creatures is exceedingly, not to say
This same logic was applied by Christian theologians in the wake of
the Darwinian controversies, both Charles Kingsley and Frederick
Temple celebrating a deity who evinced a greater wisdom than before,
not merely in making things but in making things make themselves.
There is a danger here of being too facile. From where do we derive
the ethical principles to ensure that the work of the
biotechnologist could also be deemed to be God’s work? But that
does not mean we should ignore this more liberal resonance within
theological tradition. Where the manipulation of nature is seen as
a form of collaboration with God-given resources, the space has been
created, at least in principle, for pursuing schemes of
Looking at this way, yet another analogy appears between the sacred
and the secular - symbolized by the sympathy between two writers on
human perfectibility who at first glance might be thought to have
nothing in common: the Jesuit visionary Teilhard de Chardin and the
secular prophet of evolutionary humanism, Julian Huxley. Both wrote
extensively on the uniqueness of man and the value of the individual
life. Here is Huxley drawing the parallel I have in mind:
A … major concept is the primacy
of the human individual, or, to use a better term, the primacy of
personality. This primacy of human personality has been, in
different ways, a postulate both of Christianity and of
liberal democracy: but it is a fact of evolution. By whatever
objective standard we choose to take, properly developed human
personalities are the highest products of evolution; they have
greater capacities and have reached a higher level of organization
than any other parts of the world substance.
Of his own philosophy, Huxley said that he found himself “inevitably
drawn to use the language of religion”.
When he goes on to say that he is envisaging the germ of a new
religion that need not necessarily supplant existing religions, we
can perhaps understand why he was willing to listen to Teilhard de
Chardin in a way that Peter Medawar famously was not.
Teilhard’s vision of human perfectibility was profoundly eclectic.
It was brilliantly summarized by John Passmore in his book The
Perfectibility of Man:
To an extraordinary degree …
Teilhard. built into a single system almost all the main forms of
perfectibilism which we have so far distinguished from one another.
He was a mystic: perfection consists in union with God. He was a
Christian: perfection depends on Christ’s working in man through
evolution. He was a metaphysician: perfection consists in the
development to its final form of that consciousness which is
present, according to Teilhard, even in elementary electrons. He
believed in perfection through science: scientific research is, in
his eyes, the prototype of “working with God”. He believed in
perfection through social change: men are to be perfected through
their participation in a society infused with love. He believed
that Christianity shows us in what perfection consists…He was
Pelagian in his constant emphasis on human effort; he was
anti-Pelagian in so far as he argued that God’s grace is essential
if mankind is to achieve its final perfection.
Passmore goes onto say that, if Teilhard had not existed, it would
almost have been necessary to invent him in order to weave together
the different metaphysical threads with which visions of
perfectibility have been associated. It is not my purpose to praise
Teilhard – rather to show that in the very possibility of the
synthesis that Passmore describes, there is evidence of a congruence
between sacred and secular motifs.
For my last example of such congruence I turn to the problem with
which I began, the case of saviour siblings, or, for reasons that
should become clear, the case of what might prefer to call sibling
saviours. The vocabulary of perfectibility may be inappropriate
here, since we are talking about remedial techniques; but those same
techniques obviously could be used for more ambitious engineering.
Others have thought about this problem more deeply than I, but I
have thought enough to see how difficult it can be to weigh the
respective arguments. The issues are complex because if the
additional child were to be perceived by the parents as only
a means to an end, then references to impropriety might be salient.
However, one could envisage that the saving child would be loved all
the more for having made a priceless contribution to the life of the
family. It is even conceivable that parents with religious
convictions would see in the technological intervention a kind of
“miracle” that would not preclude seeing the later child as a divine
gift. From the child’s point of view, it is surely undeniable that
there could be deeply conflicting feelings. It might be difficult
to prevent the feeling that they would not have come into being had
they not been wanted for the saviour role – especially if they were
to suspect that their parents would not otherwise have had another
child. An additional concern might be the guilt feelings that could
come from the knowledge that, in the selection process, other
embryos had been discarded. There could be the loss of that
uninhibited gratitude for life, springing from the sheer
improbability of one’s existence, on which both religious and
secular writers have movingly written.
On the other hand, the child might grow up to be grateful for the
fact that its life had been given an additional meaning by virtue of
its saving role – and even a possible religious meaning in
conforming to a model of redemption through sacrifice. One thing is
certain. It is impossible to generalise about consequences. What in
one family might be a binding process, in another could be
explosive. In the real world of sibling rivalry and jealousy, it is
discomfiting to contemplate a scene in which one child could say to
another, “but for the grace of me you would be dead” or “if
it hadn’t been for my illness you would never have been born”.
Speculations about psychological damage cannot be excluded from the
debate and it should not be surprising that religious commentators
take them seriously. Indeed, John Polkinghorne once declared the
production of “saviour siblings” unacceptable: “it would be very
psychologically damaging for a child even to suspect that he or she
owed their existence primarily to the duty to help a sibling, rather
than for the sake of the value and worth of their own being”.
The very fact, however, that it is possible to speak of religious
meanings in the birth and saving role of a sibling, suggests to me
the possibility of this additional homology in the current debate.
After all, it is open to the medical ethicist to argue that of all
the reasons people may own for having babies, this is a “wonderful”
one, since most are born of either mindless sex or out of selfish
I have been suggesting that, despite the prevalent and
understandable impression of religious votes being lined up against
new technologies, a deeper and longer term perspective suggests that
we must also do justice to traditions of thought in which the
secular and the sacred have a surprisingly large amount in common.
I am not of course arguing for a conflation. In a perceptive essay
on science and secularisation, the theologian Janet Martin Soskice
has contrasted two kinds of hope, two kinds of vision. In secular
visions of perfectibility, a time is envisaged when it would be
marvellous for those lucky enough to be alive at that time; but in
this vision little solace is offered to those whose lives have been
a means to this glorious end. By contrast, “Christian hope looks
forward to God’s time, the kingdom, when all will be well and when
every tear will be dried, when all the suffering of the world
through its ragged and jagged history will be made whole”.
That first kind of vision was perfectly articulated by Benjamin
Franklin when he lamented the fact that he might not have been born
in an optimal era. In a letter to Joseph Priestley he wrote:
The rapid progress the sciences now make occasions my regrets
sometimes that I was born too soon. It is impossible to imagine the
heights to which may be carried in a thousand years the power of man
over matter…All diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured,
not excepting even that of old age, and our lives lengthened at
pleasure, even beyond the antediluvian standard.
Whether a Christian understanding of hope would strictly allow such
regrets is a nice question. Such contrasts, notwithstanding, I have
aimed to bring out some of the congruence between the sacred and the
secular and for at least two reasons. First it helps us to
understand the depth of the controversies when they occur, because
in this, as in so many disputes, the greatest tensions can exist
between positions that are very close rather than very distant.
Secondly it helps us to understand something of the complexity in
the relations between science and secularity. The simple model of
religions in retreat as scientific rationalism advances is not at
all satisfactory. As the anthropologist Mary Douglas insisted long
ago, it is a model that only works by ignoring the fact that
religious beliefs are more about the quality of social relations
than the state of scientific knowledge. It is a model that also
ignores the fact that scientific knowledge can itself give rise to
feelings of awe and ultimate mystery. On the point that the
sciences do not entail secularism I find myself in agreement with
Fukuyama. He, however, goes further and makes a proposal that would
require another essay, or many, for its evaluation:
The view that religion will necessarily give ground to scientific
rationalism with the progress of education and modernization more
generally is itself extraordinarily naïve and detached from
empirical reality…The ability of modern societies to free themselves
of authoritative accounts of who they are and where they are going
is much more difficult than many scientists assume. Nor is it clear
that these societies would necessarily be better off without such
And he continues : “Given the fact that people with strong religious
views are not likely to disappear from the political scene anytime
soon in modern democracies, it behoves nonreligious people to accept
the dictates of democratic pluralism and show greater tolerance for
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Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man, 2nd ed.
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Dawkins, Richard. Unweaving the Rainbow (London: Penguin,
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Fukuyama, Francis. Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the
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cited by Charles Webster, The Great Instauration: Science,
Medicine and Reform 1626-1660 (London: Duckworth, 1975).
Hooykaas, Reijer. Religion and the Rise of Modern Science
(Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1972).
Huxley, Julian. Evolution in Action (Harmondsworth: Pelican,
Kramnick, Isaac. “Eighteenth-century science and radical social
theory: the case of Joseph Priestley’s scientific liberalism”, in
Schwartz and McEvoy, Motion Toward Perfection.
Passmore, John. The Perfectibility of Man (London: Duckworth,
Polkinghorne, John . “Cloning and the moral imperative”, in Human
Cloning: Religious Responses, ed. Ronald Cole-Turner
(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997).
Soskice, Janet Martin. “The ends of man and the future of God”, in
The End of the World and the Ends of God, eds. John
Polkinghorne and Michael Welker (Harrisburg: Trinity Press
Tuveson, Ernst. Millennium and Utopia (New York: Harper,
Science and Theology News, July/August 2004, 10.
Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of
the Biotechnology Revolution (London: Profile Books,
John Passmore, The Perfectibility of Man (London:
Duckworth, 1970), 120.
Samuel Hartlib, Appendix to his Chymical Essays
(1655), cited by Charles Webster, The Great Instauration:
Science, Medicine and Reform 1626-1660 (London:
Duckworth, 1975), 246.
Ernst Tuveson, Millennium and Utopia (New York:
Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, book II, aphorism 52,
cited by Webster, The Great Instauration, 325.
John H. Brooke, “ ‘A sower went forth’: Joseph Priestley and
the ministry of reform”, in Motion Toward Perfection: The
Achievement of Joseph Priestley,ed. A. T Schwartz and J.
G. McEvoy (Boston: Skinner House, 1990), 21-56.
Webster, The Great Instauration, 284.
Reijer Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science
(Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1972).
John Brooke, “The relations between Darwin’s science and his
religion”, in Darwinism and Divinity, ed. John Durant
(Oxford: Blackwell, 1985), 40-75.
Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 2nd
ed. (London: Murray, 1906), 92.
Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future, 97-8.
Cited by Betty Jo Dobbs, The Janus Faces of Genius
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 36.
Julian Huxley, Evolution in Action (Harmondsworth:
Pelican, 1963), 152.
Passmore, The Perfectibility of Man, 257-8.
See, for example, Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow
(London: Penguin, 1998), 1-6.
John Polkinghorne, “Cloning and the moral imperative”, in
Human Cloning: Religious Responses, ed. Ronald
Cole-Turner (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997),
See for example the comments of the ethicist Norman Fost,
cited in Science and Theology News, July/August 2004,
Janet Martin Soskice, “The ends of man and the future of
God”, in The End of the World and the Ends of God,
eds. John Polkinghorne and Michael Welker (Harrisburg:
Trinity Press International, 2000), 78.
Cited by Isaac Kramnick, “Eighteenth-century science and
radical social theory: the case of Joseph Priestley’s
scientific liberalism”, in Schwartz and McEvoy, Motion
Toward Perfection, 57-92, on 68.
Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future, 90.