By Helen Gibson
Highly-religious Americans are less likely than others to approve of genetic engineering in animals, according to recently released research from the Pew Research Center.
Pew defines genetic engineering as “a range of biotechnologies that can add, delete, or change an animal’s existing genetic material and thereby introduce new traits or characteristics.” In the survey of 2,537 U.S. adults, they asked participants their opinions regarding five areas of genetic engineering of:
- Mosquitos to prevent the spread of disease by limiting their reproduction,
- Animals to grow organs/tissues for humans needing a transplant,
- Animals to increase protein production leading to more nutritious meat,
- A closely related species to bring back an extinct animal,
- And aquarium fish to cause them to grow.
On each of these scenarios, individuals with high levels of religious commitment were less accepting than their peers of genetic engineering.
For example, 30 percent of those with low levels of religious commitment said they thought genetically engineering aquarium fish to glow would be an appropriate use of technology — a practice which, Pew notes, is already commercially available.
However, only 15 percent of those with high levels of religious commitment said they thought this would be an acceptable practice.
When asked about using genetic engineering to bring back an extinct animal, a similar trend took place. Among those low in religious commitment, 44 percent said this would be an appropriate use of technology, while 21 percent of the highly religious agreed.
Over half (53 percent) of those with low religious commitment said genetically engineering animals to increase protein production would be appropriate, and 68 percent said genetically engineering animals to grow organs for human transplant would be appropriate. However, 32 percent and 48 percent, respectively, of those high in religious commitment said the same.
Men were also generally more likely than women to support the five scenarios of genetic engineering that were presented. As were those with more science knowledge over those with less science knowledge.
There was, however, one issue on which all groups were close to agreement: the genetic engineering of mosquitos. Overall, 7 in 10 Americans (70 percent) said this would be an acceptable use of genetic engineering technology — with 69 percent of those high in religious commitment and 71 percent of those low in religious commitment agreeing.
Why They Believe What They Believe
When Pew asked some of the respondents to explain the reasoning behind their beliefs, a significant portion cited religious beliefs or concerns about nature.
Of those respondents, 23 percent said genetically engineering mosquitos would mess with nature and the natural balance of things, while 8 percent said it would mess with God’s plans.
“Nature is a balance and every time man interferes with it, it doesn’t turn out well,” one respondent said.
On the issue of genetic engineering to grow human organs for transplant, 6 percent said this practice would mess with nature, while 11 percent said it would mess with God’s plan.
Meanwhile, 13 percent said genetic engineering for more nutritious meat would mess with nature, and 9 percent said it would mess with God’s plan.
In regard to bringing back extinct species through genetic engineering, 12 percent said this would mess with nature, while an additional 12 percent said this would mess with God’s plan.
“God is the creator of all living things, not mankind,” one respondent said in response to this question. “Extinction is part of the evolution of the universe.”
Another respondent warned against humans trying to “play God.”
“Nature has selected species to become extinct over millions and millions of years,” that respondent said. “We have no right to bring animals back and play God.”
Significant numbers of other respondents expressed separate concerns — such as negative effects on the ecosystem, human health, or animal welfare. Others said these measures were unnecessary and a waste of resources, among other concerns.
HELEN GIBSON (@_HelenGibson_) is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee.