Gerald McKenny
University of Notre Dame 


Biotechnology, Human Nature, and Christian Ethics 

In debates over biotechnological enhancement, the claim that normative status attaches to human nature is frequently heard. My project investigates the various versions of this claim, asking what normative significance, if any, human biological nature has, and what implications of this significance follow for the ethical evaluation of biotechnological interventions that bypass, control, select, replace, or alter human biological characteristics. Although it is often assumed to reflect religiously-based opposition to biotechnology, the claim that normative status attaches to human nature has been made on both religious and secular grounds and has been put forth by both critics and proponents of biotechnology. The relationship of normative concerns to biological nature is central to the societal implications of astrobiology. At what point do biological alterations amount to changes of the nature of something into something else? What characteristics of biological nature, if any, are necessary conditions of membership in a common moral community? My project treats human biological nature from multiple standpoints, including those of theological ethics, moral philosophy, recent developments in the biological sciences, and the philosophy (and recent history) of biology, all of which are also integral to the consideration of the societal implications of biotechnology.

Gerald McKenny is the Walter Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame (USA). He is the author of two books, The Analogy of Grace: Karl Barth’s Moral Theology (Oxford, 2010) and To Relieve the Human Condition: Bioethics, Technology, and the Body (SUNY, 1997), and of many articles and book chapters in the fields of theological ethics and bioethics. He is also a co-editor of five books, including Darwin in the 21st Century: Nature, Humanity, and God (Notre Dame, 2014) and Altering Nature (2 volumes) (Springer, 2008). He is currently writing a book on positions in biotechnology debates that attach normative status to human nature.