Raelian cloning beliefs illustrate dangers of naturalistic worldview
The Raelian movement that is behind the claimed cloning is actually a 29-year-old UFO cult, said Tal Davis, interfaith evangelism manager for NAMB. The group claims 40,000 members nationwide. Their religion is built on the popular science-fiction notion that extraterrestrials started life on earth thousands of years ago -- and that ancient references to the Hebrew God are actually primitive attempts to understand the advanced beings that created them.
The cloning itself, Davis said, is an attempt to mirror the alleged cloning efforts of the ancient alien visitors who cloned themselves to become the first humans. Cloning, then, becomes the Raelians' route to immortality.
"It starts with a totally naturalistic worldview that says that miracles and the divine as described in the Bible cannot be true -- and therefore there must be some other explanation," Davis said. "And then in comes this UFO explanation, which on the face of it is totally absurd. ... Yet people who will dismiss Christianity as ancient mythology and fairy tales will turn around and buy into this UFO-ology."
The Raelian beliefs are traced to an encounter on Dec. 13, 1973, in which French journalist Claude Vorilhon claimed to have been visited by an alien being and asked to establish an "embassy" to welcome the former earth inhabitants back to the planet. Vorilhon now is known among the cult as "Rael."
The biblical connection came in the name of the messenger, who allegedly was named Yahweh, and the name of the alien group, known as the Elohim, which they translate as "those who came from the sky." Students of the Old Testament will recognize both as names for God.
"The Elohim supposedly argued that the ancient peoples mistakenly assumed that these aliens were gods, but they were actually our ancestors who seeded this planet thousands of years ago," Davis said. "They supposedly said they are the offspring of this alien race, and now they have come back to save the people of earth."
The concept of alien forerunners who established civilization on earth is not unique to the Raelians, Davis said. The view became quite popular in the early 1970s after the publication of Erich von Daniken's "Chariots of the Gods" and has proved a mainstay of science fiction from "Battlestar Galactica" in the early 1980s to "The X Files" in recent years.
Davis said, however, that the claims of Daniken and others have been successfully debunked for many years.
"All of the evidences that were claimed in that book have perfectly reasonable explanations that don't have to involve UFOs," he said. "PBS did a program 20 years ago in which they took each of these supposed evidences and showed how from a purely historical perspective they can all be explained."
Such ideas are attractive to people because they are naturalistic explanations, Davis said, and even Christians can be vulnerable. The danger is that without a supreme God far more powerful than a mere advanced life form there can be no absolute truth and absolute right and wrong. And in the absence of absolute truth, it becomes easy for charismatic leaders like Rael to convince followers with their own manufactured reality.
"They'll believe him, even if all his information is proved to be false," Davis said. "This could include even some Christians who don't discern and don't take the time to find out or ask themselves, 'Is this compatible with my faith as a Christian?'"
An example is the Raelian belief in "sensual meditation," Davis said. The purpose is "to decondition oneself, uninhibit oneself and appreciate the present in a much deeper way, enjoying every sensation with a maximum of pleasure and love without the paralysis of society's guilt," according to a Raelian website. Christians would recognize that as classical, selfishly motivated hedonism -- which both human experience and Scripture teach as being inherently destructive.
On the issue of cloning, Davis said experiments with animals have shown that cloning is far from the perfect route to reproduction -- with numerous problems arising due to the inherited age of cloned cells. And in the case of Clonaid, several weeks after the announcement of a successfully cloned baby have yet to produce any sort of evidence.
"Think of all the free publicity this organization has received," Davis said. "If enough people hear that kind of stuff, they are going to be intrigued about that and it will draw some new adherents -- as outlandish as it is. Even if it's proven to be a fraud it will have proved its purpose of making their movement known."
Rudy Gonzalez, director of interfaith evangelism for NAMB, said the issue is a reminder of the dangers of bringing presuppositions to the interpretation of Scripture.
"If I come to the Bible thinking it's a book filled with myths, I'm going to read it mythologically," Gonzalez said. "So wherever they see God manifested in the Bible as a supreme being they just say that's the superstition of early man reading the divine into these events -- rather than letting the Bible speak authoritatively for itself."