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Keywords:

  • synthetic biology;
  • religion and science;
  • theology and science;
  • Catholic Church and science;
  • biotechnology;
  • biosafety;
  • biosecurity

ABSTRACT

Some religious believers may see synthetic biology as usurping God's creative role. The Catholic Church has yet to issue a formal teaching on the field (though it has issued some informal statements in response to Craig Venter's development of a ‘synthetic’ cell). In this paper I examine the likely reaction of the Catholic Magisterium to synthetic biology in its entirety. I begin by examining the Church's teaching role, from its own viewpoint, to set the necessary backround and context for the discussion that follows. I then describe the Church's attitude to science, and particularly to biotechnology. From this I derive a likely Catholic theology of synthetic biology.

The Church's teachings on scientific and biotech research show that it is likely to have a generally positive disposition to synbio, if it and its products can be acceptably safe. Proper evaluation of, and protection against, risk will be a significant factor in determining the morality of the research. If the risks can be minimized through regulation or other means, then the Church is likely to be supportive. The Church will also critique the social and legal environment in which the research is done, evaluating issues such as the patenting of scientific discoveries and of life.