A&M professor says she found answers in Raelian doctrine

Hortense Dodo member of group linked to firm that claims clone birth
The Huntsville Times, Jan. 21, 2003
http://www.al.com/
PATRICIA C. STUMB

The origin of humanity was a sticky spot for Hortense Dodo.

Born and raised in Africa’s Ivory Coast, she was exposed to an earthy spirituality. Through colonialism and a Catholic grade school education, she was taught that God created man. Her own scientific research led her to believe that evolution had to have a hand in man’s development.

Almost 20 years ago, when Dodo was in college, a fellow biology student gave her the book ”The Message Given To Me By Extraterrestrials,” by a former French writer who now goes by the name Rael.

Dodo read the book in one night, and the questions she’d had all her life were answered.

”It was like the last piece of the puzzle,” Dodo, now in her 40s, said of the Raelian doctrine. ”I read it with my Bible. It brought together my scientific background and my Christian background.”

Dodo, a microbiologist working to produce allergan-free peanuts through cloning, has been a biology professor at Alabama A&M University for 10 years. She is also a leading member of the Raelian Movement, the small religious group linked to a company that claims to have cloned a baby girl named Eve.

Dodo and another local scientist, Damien Marsic, have been widely quoted as Raelian repre A&M professor says she’s pleased with attention clone claim brought to group Raelian Continued from page A1 sentatives since Clonaid announced the birth late last month of what would be the first person produced through cloning. A second birth was announced this month. In neither case has the company, founded and run by sect members, provided proof of its claim, and the scientific community generally has rejected the Eve announcement as unsubstantiated.

But Dodo said Friday she’s been pleased by the attention the announcement has generated. Along with being happy and nonviolent, spreading the word is the only active requirement to be a Raelian in good standing, she said.

Dodo said she believes there is a cloned baby, even though Clonaid President/Raelian bishop Dr. Brigitte Boisselier has not identified the parents.

”I have no reason not to believe her,” Dodo said. ”She’s a credible person. I’ve met her and spoken with her, and she’s highly regarded.”

Small movement

The Raelian (pronounced RYE-elian) movement is small, claiming 55,000 members in 84 countries. By comparison, there are more than 1 million Southern Baptists just in Alabama.

Its founder, once known as the French writer Claude Vorilhon, says aliens took him on a spaceship in 1973 and told him that they created human life by genetic engineering and that cloning is a path to immortality. Biblical accounts that credit God with creation were misinterpreted, Raelians claim. Rael, who says he is a prophet in company with Jesus and Buddha, claims the aliens will return to Earth when humans build an embassy here to welcome them.

The mix between mainstream science and the Raelians concerns some researchers, who fear the public will become more skeptical about therapeutic cloning because of the group’s unusual religious beliefs.

“There do seem to be some legitimately trained scientists out there who are believers,” said Guy Caldwell, an assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Alabama.

Dodo said she keeps her religious beliefs out of the classroom, though news of the human clone has given her and other Raelians a forum for their beliefs.

A Raelian guide reaching out to blacks in the United States and worldwide, she likens her position to that of a priest. Her duty, she said, is to tell – not necessarily convince – others that humans are descended from aliens.

Dodo, one of a handful of Raelians in Huntsville, helped get Boisselier to speak at a cloning conference at the University of Alabama in Huntsville last year. It came at a time when the debate over the wisdom of stem cell research was raging. Boisselier’s Eve announcement takes the debate a step further.

”Science is trial and error,” Dodo said from her office at A&M. ”It would be unwise to ban human cloning. It should be regulated, but not banned.”

Even people who don’t believe the Raelian message shouldn’t be put off by human cloning, Dodo said; all major scientific discoveries have sounded crazy at their beginnings.

An example: the test tube baby. Twenty years ago, there was a brouhaha over the in vitro fertilization techniques now accepted as common practice.

”The pope and almost all of society came out against it,” she said. ”They said, if God wanted you to have a baby, you’d have a baby.

”In spite of the controversy, science continued. Today, I have friends who have babies that couldn’t otherwise have had them.”

In vitro doesn’t always work, Dodo said, and for those couples, cloning could be an answer. As for potential problems with cloned babies, she said, ”The natural means of fertilization isn’t foolproof, either.

”Cloning has so much possibility for humanity,” she said. ”It could mean the cure to genetic diseases. It could end so much suffering.”

Ultimately, Dodo said science will lead the way for a person’s memories and experiences to be downloaded into a brand new body, cloned from the person’s old body. That person could, in effect, live forever.

”I know it sounds far-fetched, but everything that is normal to us now seemed far-fetched once upon a time,” she said. ”If you think I am cuckoo, that is fine. You don’t have to believe me. You are to do whatever makes you happy.”

Dodo doesn’t haven’t children. The thought of being cloned doesn’t turn her off, but she isn’t rushing out to give it a shot, either.

Yet she would like to have that option.

”The problem is, society’s value system is so far behind advances in science and technology,” she said. ”Many people say that cloning challenges their Christian beliefs. I don’t know how it does that.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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