The sportswriter, the aliens,Paul Thomasch
and a cult with 55,000 believers
Nearly three decades ago, Claude Vorilhon, a sportswriter and racing car driver, stood at the top of a volcano and began a movement that now lies behind a stunning scientific breakthrough - or a staggering hoax.
Vorilhon, a Frenchman who calls himself Rael, claimed to have had six meetings with space travellers at the volcano, and promptly founded a religion based on the belief that aliens created humankind through cloning 25,000 years ago.
Now a research company with close ties to his sect, the Raelians, says it has followed suit: cloning a baby girl from cells provided by a 31-year-old woman.
The Raelians, who are based in Canada and are estimated to have about 55,000 members, have said cloning is a chance to combine science and religious beliefs, largely based on teachings by aliens.
One academic who has studied the sect said it has been able to raise large sums of money through the internet.
"Part of it is a cult that worships a race car driver who believes cloning will lead to reincarnation," said Glenn McGee, associate director of the Centre for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "The other part is a website that brings people into its grip who are interested in cloning and raises significant amounts of money from them."
While the announcement renewed the questioning of the ethics of cloning, scientists were sceptical of Clonaid's claim that it had successfully produced the first human clone with procedures much like those used to clone Dolly the sheep.
Rael has said in an interview that opponents of cloning were more worried that Clonaid's first cloned baby would be "beautiful, perfect and in good health.
"Of course, Clonaid's goal is not to make a monster or a handicapped child, which would be terrible. The first child must be perfect, let's say in a health that is recognised as perfect," he said during a Reuters interview last year.
Rael's movement is said to have started on December 13, 1973, in France. While commuting to his job as a sportswriter, he decided to drive past the office and stop at a nearby volcano in Auvergne.
During his stop, he claimed to see the flashing red light of a spaceship, which opened its hatch to reveal a green alien with longish, dark hair.
Once aboard the spaceship, Rael has claimed to have been entertained by voluptuous female robots and learned that the first human beings were created by aliens called Elohim, who cloned themselves.
The aliens, who apparently spoke fluent French, are also said to have instructed Rael to begin his religious movement during their spaceship meetings.
First human clone?
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley