Ecce homo, the transgenic mouse and the Christ metaphor

Paper presented @ Conference Religion, Science and Public Concern: Discourses on Ethics, Ecology, and Genomics October 2006 Venue: The Netherlands, University of Leiden


Moral concerns about transgenic organisms often stem from religious deliberations. Gene transfer from one species to another for example is regarded as “Playing God”. But concerns articulated in this manner are not always religious in a strict sense. They can often be understood as metaphorical ways of expressing social and moral concerns for which a proper ethical vocabulary does not yet exist. The transgenic lab mouse is a creature that raises such moral concerns. This animal has multiple faces: a common lab mouse, a scientific artefact and a monster (a mixture of human and mice genes). For this reason the transgenic mouse evokes a complex set of moral responses. As an ordinary lab animal its destiny is to be sacrificed in the process of science in order to free us from health problems such as cancer. As a living artefact it is a sign of ongoing human interference with and/or domination of nature/creation. As mouse/man mouse model the transgenic mouse serves as a stand in for humans in laboratory research. In other words, the transgenic mouse is designed to be like us, humans. How to make sense of such an ambiguous creature? How to elaborate a moral understanding of this living artefact? In my paper I will point out that there is a fundamental relationship between moral concerns and religious meaning. I will use Bryan Crockett’s sculpture Ecce Homo to illustrate how reference to religious iconography can be helpful in exploring the moral meaning of modern animal biotechnology. This sculpture, portraying the transgenic oncomouse as Christ revealing its wounds, illustrates how feelings of guilt, human responsibility, the sanctity of life, salvation and sacrifice come together in one image. It is in reference to this biblical scene that Crockett helps us to understand the moral complexity of (public responses to) the transgenic mouse.

Key words: Transgenic lab mouse, man/mouse, ethics, Christ as metaphor, salvation and sacrifice

 God talk in the life sciences

“God talk is in vogue” writes Dorothy Nelkin in her posthumous essay on the confusion between science and religion. Nelkin discusses the motives of scientists engaged in biotechnology for using religious metaphors. ‘Geneticists call the genome the Bible, the book of life, or the Holy Grail. DNA is not just a biological entity in the rhetoric of science; it is a so-called sacred text, the core of essential humanity or the master code’[1]. A simple answer to the question why Gold talk is in vogue might be that because biology is about the origin and destiny of life destiny, scientists involved in the life sciences believe they are engaged in a profoundly religious pursuit[2]. Nelkin also gives another explanation to this phenomenon. She takes it to be the response of scientists to tensions between science and religion. ‘By drawing on powerful images of Christianity, scientists are seeking to attract converts – to convince the public and many sceptics of the power of their ideas.’[3] This is an interesting hypothesis, because critics of modern biotechnology often refer to God and the Bible when expressing moral doubts about tinkering with genes. Experiments in genetic engineering such as the creation of transgenic organisms have brought objections from people convinced that scientists are playing God, are tampering with Gods will[4]. In other words, we are faced with the interesting situation that both advocates and opponents of biotechnology have recourse to God-talk or religious language, either when stressing the importance and legitimacy of their scientific work, or to articulate moral arguments against scientific practices such as genetic engineering. God talk conveys the general feeling that something important – boundary breaking – is happening within the life sciences, regardless of whether we value this as positive or negative.

In this paper I will elaborate further on how God talk or the use of religious metaphors can be helpful in clarifying the moral questions that are raised by the practice of the genetic engineering of laboratory mice. Since most biotechnological inventions in mammals are first applied to mice they are in a sense the pioneer species in the new world of biotechnology. First I will briefly reflect upon the complex relation between religion and science. To some the two are in a state of war, to others science can be understood as a religious pursuit. Subsequently I will introduce the main character of this paper, the transgenic mouse and its cultural icon OncoMouse™. I will use the work of the artist Bryan Crockett to illustrate how this living artefact can be interpreted as a representation of Christ. I will argue that this reference to the Christ figure indicates the religious dimension of the ethical debate on transgenic mice: our belief in salvation by technoscience.

Religion, science and the understanding of nature

One of the reasons God talk tends to enhance as well as to confuse the biotechnology debate can be found in the ambiguous relation between religion and science. Paul Fayter of the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) explains this in the CCC booklet on the OncoMouse patent case as follows. “The most common view held of how ‘Science’ relates to ‘Religion’ can be called the conflict thesis or the warfare model. In this view – an ideological invention of late nineteenth century anticlerical scientists – religion and science represent two independent autonomous and inevitably opposing domains. Science stands for the progressive light of reason; religion, for the dark ignorance of superstition. The church [ ] has done little more than to oppress and persecute scientists throughout history.[5] According to Fayter this warfare interpretation ignores the fact the modern sciences are deeply routed in Christian belief. ‘Foundational for the new views of nature in the seventeenth century were theistic assumptions. [ ] These assumptions include the intelligibility of the physical world; the reliability of human reason; the orderliness of nature and the universal uniformity of natural law[6]’.

A rather radical elaboration of this latter point of view can be found in The Religion of technology, The divinity of man and the sprit of invention by the historian David Noble[7]. In the first half of his book, Noble describes how the roots of modern technology reach back to the ninth century when the useful arts first became implicated in the Christian project of redemption. In the chapter heavenly virtuosi Noble describes how 17th century scientists like Boyle and Newton were inspired by millenarian prophecies. ”Heavenly virtuosi” refers to scientists who were involved in a project aimed at a recovery of prelapsarian Adamic perfection: a return to the state of innocence before the Fall. To illustrate his point he quotes Boyle, who believed scientists have a privileged relationship with God and that the scientific virtuosi (in the new millennium) will have a greater knowledge of God’s wonderful universe that Adam ever had[8]. In other words these religiously inspired scientists were aiming either to finish God’s work, or to restore the divine powers that were taken away from mankind by the Fall of Adam.

In the second half of his book Noble focuses on contemporary technologies. Biotechnology is one of these technologies. Genetic engineering allows us to become a co-creator and to free humans from the deficiencies of the human condition after the Fall. As such it is a radical attempt to transcend the limitations of fallen creation. In the chapter powers of perfection; genetic engineering Noble focuses on the Human Genome Project. According to him the Human genome project is not about “humble science devoted to bringing incremental advancement of the human condition”. Rather, it has a profile reminiscent of millenarian prophecies. In the eyes of its director, Francis Collins, it was nothing less than “the most important and the most significant project that humankind has ever mounted“. Other great scientists involved in the human genome project are also openly religious people and do not hesitate to reveal their millenarian motives[9]. As Noble summarizes most genetic engineers [] act as if their physical enterprise was indeed a project of perfection, as if their accumulated knowledge and techniques might ultimately restore mankind to its pristine condition, freed from its myriad deliberating inherited from the Fall”[10].

In is unlikely, however, that lay members of religious communities share these grand schemes. They will rather feel uneasy about such a project, whose scientific results may entail profound social problems and threaten cherished values and beliefs. This has been the case since the onset of modern science in the 17th century. On various occasions (Galilei, Darwin, etc.) science has challenged Christian views on creation and the nature of God. But in response to scientific progress, our understanding of God and His relation with creation also changed. In his Religion in the age of science Ian Barbour[11] describes eight different models of God’s role in Nature, ranging from the omnipotent classical ruler to an interpretation of God as a process leader, a wise teacher who desires his students to choose for themselves and interact harmoniously. Two of these models are of particular importance to the understanding of the relation between science and religion; the classical model and the mechanical model. The classical model describes God as the divine omnipotence, a God who governs and rules the fixed world, who is himself eternal unchanging and impassible, unaffected by the world. This monarchical model is challenged by the scientific evidence of evolution and the discovery of change in nature. Also there is no place for human freedom in this model. The growth of science in the 17th century led to a mechanical model of God as a clockmaker, the designer of a mechanical nature. But this view of God as the inactive God of deism who started the mechanism and then let it run, leaves little place for continuing creation, personal encounters or the biblical view of God as acting in history. Other models of God can be understood as intermediary positions between these two extremes.

These models do not only reflect the different ways we can view God in his relationship to nature, they also reflect different visions of nature[12]. Is nature sacred and therefore not to be disrupted by men? Do we have to interpret nature as finished or do we have to view nature as the result of an ongoing evolutionary process? If nature is changing, is it also malleable by us? These questions lie at the heart of the biotechnology debate. In contrast to classical biology, biotechnology is not about simply understanding the secret (or sacred) laws governing the living world. By changing the genetic code biotechnologists can change the essence of living beings. Biotechnology by its essence presupposes a vision of nature as malleable. By malleable nature I mean malleable by man. In doing so we become co-creator, we play God.

Playing God

The vision of a malleable nature implies that we distance ourselves from the view that creation is in principle finished and from the idea that God bypasses human beings in arranging everything. In this view the history of God’s creation is one in which humans have co-responsibility[13]. Concerns about human interference in life or nature are often articulated in terms of “playing God”. These concerns are not always religious in a strict sense. They can often be understood as metaphorical ways of expressing social and moral concerns for which a proper (secular) ethical vocabulary not yet exists. One does not need to be a religious person to fully understand the moral meaning of the statement that scientists involved in genetic engineering are playing God. Even an atheist might agree with the statement.

Ronald Dworkin explains the use of the playing God metaphor as the expression of a distinction we make between that which is given and that which lies within our hands[14]. Everybody intuitively feels there is a dividing line between what we are or nature is, whether this is the work of God or a blind process, and what we create when we change what is given by nature. This distinction, argues Dworkin, is the back bone of our morality. Biotechnology, like no other technology, challenges this distinction. The biotechnologists who ‘play God’ are involved in matters that go beyond the way we traditionally understand concepts like nature, the unity of life or species barriers. To play God is to play with fire. But is this a reason to put a hold on biotechnology? According tot Dworkin the answer should be No. To play with fire is what we mortals have done ever since Prometheus. We play with fire and accept the consequences, because the alternative is an irresponsible cowardice in the face of the unknown[15]. Although I find Dworkin’s argument enticing, I nonetheless believe this is only part of the story. Resistance to biotechnology is also based on a genuine fear that messing with nature in the end will turn against us. The apocalyptic character of these consequences is reminiscent of God’s punishment described in the Bible.

As God talk shows there is a fundamental relationship between moral concerns about biotechnology and religious meaning. Biotechnology is about changing creation, changing the essential code of life, the sacred script. With biotechnology we step across the Rubicon, so to speak. Instead of accepting what is given, by God, nature or life itself we become co-creators of life or nature. But can man really improve life, the work of God or Nature? Do we really have the power and wisdom to play God?

The multiple faces of transgenic mice

Improving the conditions of life is the driving force behind medicine and biomedical research. All over the world scientists are studying human biology and diseases in biomedical laboratories. In their search for ‘salvation’ – knowledge of the genome that will lead to longer, healthier and happier lives – scientists are “assisted” by an army of perhaps 25 million mice[16]. Many of these lab mice are genetically modified. Transgenic mice, also known as ‘mouse models’, are created in order to study human diseases. Mouse genes analogue to genes of man are knocked out, or genes that code for human diseases are knocked in. In the 25 years that have passed since the revolutionary birth of the first transgenic lab mice in the early 1980s the mice made an impressive career in the life sciences. Today transgenic animals are part of the standard equipment of a modern biomedical laboratory.

Although the transgenic mice are standard laboratory tools and even a commodity –you can order them as mouse models on the Internet[17]– they are not common animals. These mice are man-made. As scientific artefacts, transgenic lab mice are highly ambiguous creatures. They have multiple faces, multiple identities. As artefacts they are human inventions. As living artefacts the transgenic mice are signs of the ongoing human interference with and/or domination of nature/creation. These mice also have a human face. They are a bit human in the sense that they carry human genes. They are also a bit human in the figurative sense. In scientific practice the mouse is a model for a human disease. In laboratory research the mouse serves as a stand in for human beings. In other words, the transgenic mouse is designed to be like us, humans. Being a mixture of mouse and human, the mouse is a contemporary monster that evokes associations with famous monsters of the past like Frankenstein’s or Dr. Moureau’s.

At the same time the transgenic mice are mice like any other mice. They have the ability to suffer from pain. They have an innate desire to survive and to propagate. As ordinary (lab) animals these mice deserve ordinary (lab) animal rights. But as ordinary lab animal it is their destiny to be sacrificed in the process of science. They will suffer human diseases and will subsequently die. All of this in order to save us, humans, from health problems such as cancer, obesitas, multiple sclerosis and even Alzheimer’s disease. Through their suffering, the mice may one day reduce our suffering. And when a possible cure to cancer is found, mice literally become the saviours of man. They are the Unknown Soldiers, potential contemporary heroes.

The best known transgenic mouse is beyond doubt the Harvard/OncoMouse™. This mouse is the first patented transgenic animal[18]. The mouse expressing the MMTV myc oncogene was developed in the laboratory of Harvard professor Phil Leder in the early 1980s. When Leder and pharmaceutical company DuPont, that donated 6 million dollar to the research[19], were granted a patent on their genetically engineered mouse in 1988 this created a stir in academia and industry. To the scientific community it meant a threat to research because the patent included all non-human transgenic organisms that express a cancer-causing transgene[20]. With this patent DuPont got a tight grip on all research involving oncomice, including the mice that were created by the researchers themselves. OncoMouse™ also created a stir in society. The public was more upset about the fact that this mouse was supposedly a human invention than about the aggressive licensing demands of DuPont. The trade mark was taken to be the ultimate sign of human arrogance towards the creation of God or Nature. This was even more upsetting than the fact that species barriers were crossed or humans interfered in the mouse genome. In 1995 leaders from virtually every major religion in the US started a campaign against the patenting of the practices of genetic engineering[21]. In interviews a number of them claimed not to be opposed to the practice of biotechnology itself. It was the patenting of human genes or organisms that they were opposed to. Their major criticism on the patenting was that it would reduce the “blueprint of evolution” to a marketable commodity[22]. OncoMouse™ became a topic of wide public moral and religious debate, but also a source of inspiration for artists and philosophers. In the process, OncoMouse™ became the cultural icon of the transgenic lab mouse.

Ecce homo the Oncomouse

In 2000 a photograph of Ecco Homo, a sculpture by artist Bryan Crockett of a giant OncoMouse, appeared in the New York Times. Ecce Homo is a dramatic interpretation of the transgenic OncoMouse. Standing on its hind legs the mouse is portrayed as a humanlike suffering animal on a human scale. Crockett chose a realistic style to represent his oncomouse. “Almost six feet tall he is nude (as is the Oncomouse[23]) and his flesh is a very convincing pale skin tone. Upon further inspection, however, one realizes the mouse/man is actually sculpted in flesh-colored marble. The lifelike sculpture and skin texture makes the sculpture oscillate between a living creature and a strong likeness, evoking the Pygmalion myth.”[24]

Crockett is rather explicit about his understanding of the God playing activities of scientists. “Science has taken over the authority that religion once held. In this body of work, I am exploring the sacredness of the flesh and soul in a time when we have acquired the knowledge and tools to play God”[25]. Crockett sees the practice of genetics as an analogy to the worlds of allegory and mythology. “Like the Satyr or Minotaur, the Oncomouse is the literalization of a cliché man/mouse.” But more striking is the explicit reference he makes to the Christ figure. That is why I have chosen to reinterpret the ultimate figure of salvation, Christ, through the ultimate actor of contemporary science, the Oncomouse. This sculpture is intended to be a monument to the test object of modern science, human kind’s symbolic and literal stand-in personified. This human-scale, fleshy mouse, sculpted with the pathos of classical sculpture, stands in a gesture reminiscent of Christ revealing his wounds.[26]

Crockett is not the first visual artist to compare OncoMouse with the Christ figure. As a response to the first draft of “Mice into Wormholes” by Donna Haraway[27] in 1994 the artist Lynn Randolph painted a transspecific human mouse hybrid “the Laboratory, or the passion of Oncomouse”. In this picture OncoMouse is portrayed as half human half mouse with clearly recognizable human breasts. In contrary to Crocketts Ecce Homo this mouse is definitely a she. The reference to Christ is made by the crown of thorns she is carrying. In contrast to Crockett’s Ecce Homo this female/man/mouse is not visibly suffering. She seems to be obedient and awaiting her destiny in peace. Haraway describes Randolphs picture as follows: “She is a Christ figure, and her story is that of passion. She is a figure in the sacred-secular dramas of technoscientific salvation history, with al of the disavowed links to Christian narrative that pervade U.S. scientific discourse. The laboratory animal is sacrificed; her suffering promises to relief our own; she is a scapegoat and a surrogate.[28]“Although her promise is decidedly secular she is a figure in the sense developed within Christian realism. S/he is our scapegoat; s/he bears our suffering; s/he signifies and enacts our mortality in a powerful historically specific way that promises a culturally privileged kind of salvation – a cure for cancer [29]Haraway chooses to interpret her oncomouse within a feminist technoscience discourse. Her OncoMouse is a model for breast cancer and does affect all women. “If not in my own body, then surely in those of my friends, I will some day owe to OncoMouse™ or her subsequently designed rodent kin a large dept. [] Whether I agree to the existence and use or not, s/he suffers, physically, repeatedly and profoundly that I and my sisters may live”.[30]

Crockett chooses a broader perspective on the transgenic oncomouse. Because the lab mouse has been used to test almost every product, disease and other facet of human life, I have chosen to interpret this ultimate actor of modern science through the ultimate figure of salvation, Jesus Christ”.[31] To Crockett the transgenic laboratory mice as scientific models represent modern science. These mice represent mankind in a deep symbolic way. But according to Crockett ’this all happens out of the public eye, invisible yet also somehow present[32].”

In addition to Ecce Homo Crockett made Pinkie[33], a marble sculpture of a baby mouse representing the Christ-child. The scale of Pinkie is that of a fleshy human baby, sculpted with the pathos of classical sculpture. Pinkie/Christ’s hand reaches upward in a gesture of blessing and his always-present stare places you at the heart of his soul. What does Crockett want to tell/ show us with these monstrous mice? According to himself he is not opposed to “genetic tampering”, but he believes “that it will force us to come to terms with the metaphysical meaning of science[34]

In 2001 Crockett takes a step further in his artistic exploration of the man/mouse metaphor in his project Cultured. This group of marble sculptures, in the same style as Pinkie, represents seven new born mice personifying the seven deadly sins: lust, anger, gluttony, pride, sloth, greed and envy. The figures are representatives of actual mice that are engineered to study human diseases. Gluttony was based on the ob, or obese, mouse engineered by Jackson Laboratory in Maine to study obesity and diabetes. Anger is pumped up on testosterone and Lust is a mouse genetically altered to have an extreme sensitive skin. Pride refers to the vanity of cloning. The mouse of Greed manifests the extra chromosome that predisposes Down syndrome. Sloth has malformed legs as a result of arthritis and the effect of thalidomide. Envy, with its tiny human shaped ears, refers to the human ear that was grown on a laboratory mouse as well as the replication of a human immune system in mice. [35] With cultured Crocket addresses a double agenda. He wants to make “these invisible little workers/prisoners more anthropomorphic or human. But by choosing the theme of the seven sins he also merges religious ideas with scientific ones[36].

Ecce Homo, Pinkie and Cultured refer to both technoscientific practices and to religion. Therefore the work of Crockett can be placed in the tradition of Christian iconography as well as in the public debate on biotechnology. It is an explicit religious interpretation of the scientific practice of biotechnology.

The ethics of Ecce Homo the OncoMouse

 Someone who gets to meet real oncomice in a laboratory after having met Crockett ‘s mice, may well be disappointed. Compared to the grotesque and monstrous Ecce Homo, real onco mice are sweet little mice. There is nothing special about them. They are not nude. They do not stand on their hind legs. They develop tumours and become visibly ill. But you cannot tell by simply looking at them that these mice carry human genes in order to mimic human cancer. The trade mark is not imprinted on their fur. They look like normal lab mice and they behave like normal lab mice. The technology behind these mice is invisible to the naked eye. Not only are their genetic mutations invisible, the mice themselves, who live in laboratories specialized in containment of hazardous material, remain (as Crockett also pointed out) invisible to the public eye.

When Ecce Homo and subsequent Pinkie and Cultured entered the public arena – by their exhibition in art galleries and reviews in art magazines, news papers and even Nature[37]– the transgenic mice they were modelled after also became visible to the public eye. But Crockett dramatically added meaning to the original oncomice. He gave his OncoMouse a human size and a human posture. Standing on its hind legs Ecce Homo, the mouse/man mouse model literally resembles man. Being at eye level Ecce Homo can interact with the audience in a way that would not be possible for a mouse on a mouse scale. The pathos of the sculpture reveals how transgenic mice like Ecce homo are suffering; they are victims of science.

How does Crockett help us to understand the moral meaning of animal biotechnology? Although the animal suffering is visible in his work, Crockett does not take position on animal biotechnology from an animal rights point of view. In my opinion this explains why his work is so powerful in pointing out the other important issues at stake. Rather than entering the debate over the use of animals in laboratory experiments with a clear-cut moral message, Crockett’s sculptures visualizes the time-old conflict between religious doctrine and scientific rationality. By explicitly referring to the Christ figure Crockett questions what we have chosen as a substitute for faith in an era of dwindling spirituality[38]. This takes us to Crockett’s statement that man has to come to terms with the “metaphysical meaning of science”. Ecce Homo the OncoMouse can be interpreted as an icon of our overall optimistic faith in salvation by technoscience. But it also echoes a rhetoric of saving lives that I find stereotypical for the moral justification of (animal) biotechnology[39]. It is about what we want to believe and what we are told.

If a secular equivalent of redemption can be found in the promise of biotechnology to save us from life threatening diseases, what would be the equivalent of the Fall from Eden? By portraying his cultured transgenic mice as the seven deadly sins Crockett seems to explicitly reflect upon this question. The sculptures are not about sick mice, they are about us, humans. It incites us to have a closer look at the relation between his transgenic mice and the people they are modelled after. These mice are mouse copies of fat people, people who want to clone (themselves?) or people born out of mothers who took thalidomide[40] while pregnant. These medical examples are carefully chosen. These illnesses are the result either of “bad” or “immoral” (unhealthy or risky) human behaviour or scientific mistakes. Also many forms of cancer, the raison d’etre of OncoMouse™, are related to (unhealthy) life styles. There is a general consensus on the existence of a relation between smoking and lung cancer, sunbathing and skin cancer, unhealthy diet and colon cancer. Mice designed to model these forms of cancer are literally sacrificed for our sins. With Cultured, in my opinion, Crockett adds a very critical note to the heroic statement that with transgenic mice scientists are finding cures to life threatening diseases. Genetic diseases are the result of genes and behaviour. Transgenic mice will not change our behaviour.

But Ecco Homo the OncoMouse™ and Cultured are not only about human sins and faith in redemption by science and technology. They also reflect upon the trade marks the transgenic mice carry. OncoMouse is not just a transgenic mouse; it is the first patented animal. The sculpture of Ecce Homo does not only comment upon the promises made by the scientists, it also comments upon the promises made by DuPont and all other commercial companies involved in the world wide transgenic mouse business[41]. In advertising for their commercially available OncoMouse™ DuPont promises “better things for better life”. But it is hard to believe in the sincerity of this promise given the problems the patenting of OncoMouse™ gave to the – non profit- scientific community.

Noble has no doubts about the “profit-spurred acceleration of genetic experiments”. They have made health, safety, ecology and biological diversity “mere secondary considerations[42].” But to Noble, the greed and lust for power that motivate those who design and deploy the new technologies do not provide the answer to the question why the new technologies so rarely seem adequate to meet the really urgent human and social needs. According to him these technologies have not met basic human needs because, at bottom, they have never really been about meeting them. “They have been aimed rather at the loftier goal of transcending such mortal concerns altogether. In such an ideological context, inspired more by prophets than by profits, the needs neither of the mortals nor of the earth they inhabit are of any enduring consequence[43]. Without the religious underpinnings from which it arose, the quest for perfection leads to technical progress for its own sake. It is here, argues Noble, that religion of technology can be considered a menace.[44]


What dangers are associated with turning biotechnology into a belief system?[45] Referring to God is a very powerful strategy. To many people, whether religious or not, the idea that science can and will bring a form of salvation, a longer, healthier and even happier life is a tempting one. The whole biotech industry is based on this hope and promise. But although huge progress is made in genetics knowledge over the past three decades, the claims made by the geneticists have far outrun their actual achievements. Meanwhile there is a big industry built on the transgenic mice. It seems very unlikely that all investments – be it financial, political, scientific or even philosophical – in mouse genetics will ever pay off. Scientists are no Gods and never will be. Biotechnology will never lead to salvation; diseases and death will always be part of human existence. Aging is not a “genetic disease”, it is part of life. No mouse will change that.

Nevertheless, I do not think I can subscribe to Nelkin’s statement that ‘by drawing on powerful images of Christianity, scientists are seeking to attract converts – to convince the public and many sceptics of the power of their ideas.’ I do not see Gold talk simply as a matter of strategic rhetoric. Rather I am convinced that God talk illustrates how biotechnology itself has become a believe system. It is neither rhetoric, nor strategy, it goes much deeper. People like Francis Collins really do believe that genetic errors are the equivalent of original sin[46].

The danger of biotechnology turned into a belief system is that it is less susceptible to critique. If one starts from the believe that biotechnology will save lives and help us feed the world, every mouse and every amount of funding becomes important and necessary. Such a belief stands in the way of a sound moral and political debate on what animal biotechnology is about, the animal suffering involved, and the human, social needs that are likely to be. Notwithstanding all good intentions and investments in biotechnology, the number one reason for disease in today’s world is poverty. And this seems to call for a political, rather than a biotechnological approach. Out of ‘moral control’, taking on a religious sense of urgency and legitimacy, biotechnology and its army of transgenic mice might turn into a monster technology. Perhaps this is the message to be derived from Crockett’s monstrous mouse/man sculptures.


Andrews Edmund, may 13 1995, Company News: Religious leaders prepare to fight patents on genes. New York Times

Barbour, Ian, 1990 Religion in an Age of Science, Harper San Francisco

Blaugh et al, 2004, managing innovation: university industry partnerships and the licensing of the Harvard mouse, Nature biotechnology Vol.22, No. 6 761-763

Clarke Tom 2002 mice make medical history Nature

Crockett, B, 2001a, interviewed in Heiferman Marvin & Kismaric Carole Paradise Now: Picturing the Genetic Revolution Catalogue for exhibition (the thang Teaching museum and art gallery at Skidmore college, Saratoga Springs New York)

Crockett, B, 2001b

Drees, Willem B., 2004, Where to look for guidance? On the nature of “religion and science”, Zygon, Vol 39. no. 2 367-378

Dworkin Ronald, 2000, De onterechte angst voor God te spelen, in Peter Sloterdijk, Regels voor het Mensenpark, Boom

Fayter Paul, 2003, science and religion 101, in Life: Patent Pending, Canadian Council of Churches.

Gladman Randy 2002 Bryan Crocket at the Lehmann Maupin, ArText issue No 77

Haraway 1997 Modest witness@second_millenium. Femaleman©_meets_OncoMouse™

Johnson Ken, 2002, Art in review; Bryan Crockett- “Cultured” New York Times

Leroi Armand Marie, 2003, Mutants

Leffingwell, 2002, Bryan Crockett at Lehmann Maupin, Art in America,

Nelkin Dorothy and Anker Suzanne, 2002,The influence of genetics on contemporary art Nature Reviews Genetics 3, 967-971

Nelkin, 2004, God Talk: confusion between science and religion, posthumous essay, Science Technology and Human values, Vol 29 No.2 139-152

Noble, 1997, the religion of technology the divinity of man and the spirit of invention Penguin books (1999 edition)

Osborne, Lawrence 2000, Fuzzy Little Test Tubes, The Ney York Times, july 30

Proctor, James D., 2004 Resolving multiple visions of nature, science and religion, Zygon Vol. 39 no.3 637-657

Rapaport Brooke Kamin, 2006, Transmogrifications: a conversation with Bryan Crockett, Sculpture

Turner Leigh, 2004. Biotechnology as religion, Nature biotechnology, Vol 22 No 6, 659-660

Wade Nicholas, 2000, Reading the book of life: the overview genetic code of Human life is cracked by scientist New York Times


[1] Nelkin 2004 p.140, see also Wade 2000 who cites Bill Clinton ”Today we are learning the language in which God created live”

[2] See also Noble 1997

[3] Nelkin 2004 p. 150

[4] Ibid. p.142

[5] Fayter 2003, p. 10

[6] Ibid. p. 11

[7] Noble 1997

[8] Noble 1997 p. 62-67

[9] For example Warren Weaver, Paecocke, Collins. Noble 1997 chapter 11

[10] Noble 1997 p.

[11] Ian Barbour

[12] Procter (2004) distinguishes five different visions of nature, evolutionary nature, emergent nature, nature as scared, malleable nature and nature as culture.

[13] Drees 2004

[14] Dworkin 2000, (a Dutch translation of the original paper that appeared in Prospectus magazine is used)

[15] Ibid.

[16] Clarke 2002

[17] See for example:

[18] In fact this is not ‘a’ mouse. Harvard/Oncomouse ™ is a trade mark for all transgenic mice carrying the ras or c-myc oncogenes.

[19] Blaugh et al 2004

[20] It took more than ten years to come to a workable agreement between DuPont and the academia on the free use of oncomice See Marshall 2000 and Blaugh et al. 2004

[21] Andrews 1995

[22] Ibid.

[23] Harvard/Onco™ mouse is not a nude mouse. The original Harvard/Oncomouse™ was an furry albino mouse see fig. 5. Nude mouse do exist in laboratories. They lack hair and an effective immune system. This last property makes the nude mouse, discovered in 1962, a very good candidate for cancer research because they do not reject human tumor transplants. However, this nude mouse is not genetically engineered.

[24] Crokett 2001a

[25] Crockett 2001b on Pinkie 2001 ( Terrors and monsters

[26] Crockett 2001

[27] Reprinted in revised form as chapter 2, part two in modern witness second millennium femaleman meets oncomouse

[28] Haraway 1997 p 47

[29] Ibid. p. 79

[30] Ibid. p. 79

[31] Crockett 2001b

[32] Rapaport 2004

[33] See Fig. 4

[34] Crockett 2001b

[35] Johnson 2002, Rapaort 2006, Leffingwell 2002

[36] Rapaport 2006

[37] A photograph of Ecce Homo appeared in Nature Genetics as an illustration to the article by Dorothy Nelkin and Susanne Anker on the influence of genetics on art (Anker Nelkin 2002)

[38] Gladman 2002

[39] Animal biotechnology in the Netherlands is only permitted when experiments are useful and necessary. Whether an experiment is useful and necessary is usually depends on how much it will contribute in finding a cure to a life threatening disease.

[40] Thalidomide was a widely used sedative to prevent morning sickness in pregnant women in the early sixties. By the time it became clear what the effect of thalidomide had on human development more then ten thousands thalidomide induced teratologies (short limbs) had been found. Leroi 2003 p. 118-121

[41] The overall mouse industry was in 2000 estimated as a world wide $200 million affair Osborne 2000

[42] Noble 2007 pp 206

[43] Noble 1997 pp. 206-207

[44] Noble 207

[45] Ibid.

[46] Collins 2003