When Scientists Play God: How Far is Too Far?

   

The advancement of science in the last century is staggering. Its amazing to think of the progress that we have made and how modern science plays a role in just about every aspect of our lives. Undoubtedly, this progress will continue in the years to come. Much of what we now consider to be impossible will be well within our reach.

But, somewhere along the line we should probably stop and ask ourselves where the line of ethics is. Just because we can do some things, doesn’t mean that we ought to do them. How far can we push the line before we can say that scientists are “playing god?” I’ve heard that term a lot in the past, but its not really clear to me what that means. Can people really “play God?” Regardless of how far we get in our scientific progress, our abilities pale in comparison to omnipotence. Would God allow us to make progress on something that He didn’t see fit for us? We are on the brink of some amazing scientific advancements that will make the unbelievable possible. We have already made amazing progress, and not all of it has been without controversy.

Two weeks ago, we talked about human embryonic stem cell research because it is an area of science in which many believe that science has gone too far. Take a look at the comments section and you will see that this is not something that everyone is comfortable with. But this isn’t the only moral dilemma that science is currently capable of. Cloning has been a tool of science ever since 1996 when dolly the sheep was successfully cloned. Since then, we have cloned a myriad of animals, including a banteng for the San Diego Zoo and a monkey, one of our fellow primates. Granted the process of cloning is not perfect, we aren’t far from being able to clone humans. In fact, the process has already been attempted and may even be under investigation in other parts of the world. Human cloning has its own set of questions to ponder. Is a clone of me still me? Is he still human? Does he have a soul? Does a clone have human rights?

To take a step further, what if we created our own humans? Creation is definitely something that we attribute to God. If we hold the power of organism creation, are we then “playing God?” One of the most interesting scientific headlines around this time last year was about scientists who had synthetically created bacteria. The project leader, Craig Venter, was quoted saying, “This is the first self-replicating cell we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer.” In the future, we will be able to synthetically make our own plants, animals, or even humans.

Another area of study which raises some flags is genetic engineering. The more we understand genetics, the more we can take control of it for our purposes. Have you ever heard of a spider goat? How about NeonMice? What if we applied this in less of a sci-fi way to the human genome?

Understandably, eugenics is something that people are naturally adverse to. The word alone conjures up thoughts of euthanasia and the way that it was used to discard anyone seen as unfit in a process of “Race Hygiene” in Nazi Germany. But long gone are the days where we need to kill people in order to remove bad genetics from the gene pool. Take a look at this video talk by Harvey Fineberg.

Does this still sound like its going too far? Genetic engineering could offer a way that we could cure genetic diseases before a baby was even born. Cystic Fibrosis, Down’s Syndrome, several types of cancer, hemophilia, and a ton of other genetic diseases would be a thing of the past. What do you think? Would this lead to a better world or GATACA?

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  • Brilliant article Eric. It raises a ton of questions. I think we all, as humans, are nervous about messing everything up. We can see this within the stories we tell. Splice, A popular and recently disturbing film, tells the story of two ambitious scientists who are attempting to genetically manipulate and create new creatures for pharmaceutical reasons. The who project goes terribly wrong when human genes are spliced with animals creating a sort of chimera. Island of Dr. Moreau stuff. 

    I do think we can go too far. I do think we can play God—why? Because we play God each and every day when we choose our own vision of how our lives should be lived and the earth should be treated. Is it perfect? By no means. We have messed a lot of things up. Just because He stood by and watched us trash the planet, our bodies, and societies, does not mean He is cool with it. But He won’t intervene and stop us. The same, I believe, can and will be true of this sort of Science Fiction stuff. 

  • I believe that science is on the brink of making the “I will…” declarations, written about in Isaiah 14, that caused the fall. God always steps in when His creation is on the brink of pride and assumption that they can be like God. It happened at Babel too.

    If we continue down the path we have with the same pride, we’re likely to see another move of God in the same vein.

  • Eric,

    You asked:
    “Would God allow us to make progress on something that He didn’t see fit for us?”

    Yes.  Yes, He would and yes, He does.

    Nothing good can come from us tampering with the clay that belongs to the Master alone.  Nothing good can come from us analyzing and modifying and tampering with the cells, tissues, and genetics that He so lovingly assembled for His glory.

    Nothing.

    We are born.  We live.  We suffer, we excel, we cry, and we laugh.  We face the trials of life and the eventual reality of growing old and passing from this side of Heaven to the next. 

    To seek to try and derail His will for His creation is scary.  It is scary, improper, and it smacks of humanistic  arrogance.  Not that this is anything new.  Of course not.  For thousands of years humanity has sought to “one up God” in scientific or spiritual endeavors.

    My two cents.

  • I find the link between innovation and pride to be interesting. It is not uncommon for the advancement of science and other intellectual studies to be equated with pride, but I think that is a misrepresentation. Perhaps you could explain why you see this as an issue of pride and not an issue of learning more about God’s creation.

    I couldn’t help but think of the tower of Babel when I wrote this article. At first glimpse, it certainly seems to relate to this issue. We see a group of people who aspire to build a tower and make a name for themselves, and God acts in a way to confuse them and scatter them across the earth. But I have come to see this passage in a different light.

    There is definitely a level of pride related to the desire to want to make a name for themselves, but I don’t think this is the primary issue of the passage and I don’t think this is why God chose to scatter them across the earth. If we read Genesis 11, we see that the effort by the people to build the tower of Babel was made in order to make a name for themselves and prevent being scattered across the earth. This was in direct opposition to God’s command to increase in number and rule over the earth that we see in the preceding chapters. God’s act of confusion and scattering of the people was essentially making His will be done when the people disobeyed His command, not unlike Jonah.

  • I find the link between innovation and pride to be interesting. It is not uncommon for the advancement of science and other intellectual studies to be equated with pride, but I think that is a misrepresentation. Perhaps you could explain why you see this as an issue of pride and not an issue of learning more about God’s creation.

    I couldn’t help but think of the tower of Babel when I wrote this article. At first glimpse, it certainly seems to relate to this issue. We see a group of people who aspire to build a tower and make a name for themselves, and God acts in a way to confuse them and scatter them across the earth. But I have come to see this passage in a different light.

    There is definitely a level of pride related to the desire to want to make a name for themselves, but I don’t think this is the primary issue of the passage and I don’t think this is why God chose to scatter them across the earth. If we read Genesis 11, we see that the effort by the people to build the tower of Babel was made in order to make a name for themselves and prevent being scattered across the earth. This was in direct opposition to God’s command to increase in number and rule over the earth that we see in the preceding chapters. God’s act of confusion and scattering of the people was essentially making His will be done when the people disobeyed His command, not unlike Jonah.

  • You said:
    “Nothing good can come from us tampering with the clay that belongs to the Master alone.”

    I don’t take issue with the fact that this “clay” belongs to the Master alone, but we are commanded to be caretakers of His creation. We are to step in, take control, and alter the normal process of death and disease in this world. God even tells us to “subdue” His creation. Gene Therapy is just another way that we heal people of the death and destruction that has overtaken God’s good creation.

    I don’t mean to say that we have free reign to do whatever we want. I do believe that there is a line that should not be crossed, but I think you may be drawing your line a bit too conservatively. Do you feel that all attempts to alter cells, tissues, and genetics are overstepping our place as humans? This would rule out every type of surgical intervention, not to mention routine therapy such as steroid inhalers for asthmatics and chemotherapy for cancer patients.

  • Eric,

    You said:
    “We are to step in, take control, and alter the normal process of death
    and disease in this world. God even tells us to “subdue” His creation.”

    Normal process of death–
    It is appointed once for man to die.  I like to leave it at that and trust in His judgments and timing.  If I have 910,001 seconds left to live this side of Heaven, then so be it.  Jesus is now Master of Death and Hell, so dying is not a big issue for me.  (Shoot, I want people to throw a party when I pass away, complete with live chickens, the soundtrack to Repo Man, copious cans of whipped cream, some Heath bars, and of course, 23 weed-whackers full of gas.)

    Subdue His creation–
    By genetically altering, at times, the normal process of death?  This is subduing, orrrrr, is it actually seeking to circumvent because we have learned how to do so through science?

    You also said:
    “Do you feel that all attempts to alter cells, tissues, and
    genetics are overstepping our place as humans? This would rule out every
    type of surgical intervention, not to mention routine therapy such as
    steroid inhalers for asthmatics and chemotherapy for cancer patients.”

    Clever comments, Eric. 

    You used the words “all” and “every”, which are blanket words, and ended your comments with an obvious attempt to stir up emotion with the cancer chemo statement.

    This looks like a snare.  It looks like a trap.  I do believe I shall simply smile and let it lie.  You are not ready to really hear my answer, Eric.  You are looking to make a point based in something I cannot quite discern, yet.

    However, my responses above still stand.

  • “It is appointed once for a man to die,” but that is no excuse to ignore Jesus’ command to heal the sick. We are called to be good stewards in all of creation, including the care of our fellow man.

    In fairness, I didn’t make the blanket statements. You did:

    Nothing good can come from us tampering with the clay that belongs to the Master alone.  Nothing good can come from us analyzing and modifying and tampering with the cells, tissues, and genetics that He so lovingly assembled for His glory. Nothing.”

    I am also not trying to make an appeal to the emotion. I use the examples of inhalers and chemo as one trained in the profession of medicine. I use these examples because they are examples of therapy in which we modify cells, tissues, and genetics. The whole field of medicine is about learning how to alter the normal pathogenesis of disease processes. I am trying to get you to clarify your position because your statement above came across as a position of anti-intervention. There are christians who oppose conventional medical treatment entirely. I am trying to see if that includes you as well.

    It would help if you could clarify where you draw the line.

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