The Science of Man

Recently the world of biology experienced a jolt as Craig Venter (founder of the Institute for Genomic Research) made the claim that we are on the verge of creating true synthesized life forms. As of now, this has consisted of taking a computer-generated schematic of a bacterium and placing it into real bacteria in order for it to begin reproducing the artificially synthesized original. To me this is both amazing and staggering. Venter goes on to say in the near future we will be able to create solutions for biofuels, toxic waste, and even global warming. But his recent video from the TED conference (Technology, Entertainment, Design) depicts Venter claiming that his team will be able to create entirely new species, and even impact the evolutionary tree of life.

If we stop and think about this, it is almost reflective of some strange Sci-fi movie. In fact a recent feature film called ‘Splice’ deals with this idea of creating a being synthetically. Of course in the movie things do not go smoothly. But what if Venter’s claims are true, not just science-fiction? I think this would mean an incredible advancement for human life as we know it. The ability to invent and create alternate fuel sources. No more offshore drilling disasters. No more cleaning up beaches. Think of the impact this could have on disease prevention. We are human beings of course, so there will also be the temptation to pervert this type of technology for financial gain and/or terror. What could the ability to play God do to the psyche of a malevolent, tyrannical leader? What if Hitler had the A-Bomb?

But that is really the question, isn’t it? Playing God. The ethical and moral considerations on something like this are off the charts. Can it even be governed? It was interesting to hear Venter discuss his findings in the TED video (I have attached the link below in case you want to listen). He uses terms like Evolution and Design in the same breath. In fact, more often than not, Ventor speaks about designing and creating. These acts of course pre-dispose that there is someone to do the designing. If we break down what his team is doing – at least as I understand it – they are taking something designed, using an intelligence (the human intellect) to alter this design, and them plugging it back into nature in an intentional and organized manner. Nothing here really gives me any reason to conjecture that Venter and his team are able to play God. They are simply taking something out of nature, copying it, altering it, and re-introducing it back into the world.

If he does pull off a new creation, good or bad, this would be immense. But we need to keep in mind that everything we use to manipulate our biological world was here for us to begin with already. We split the atom, but the atom was already around; we just discovered it, and then abused it. The Institute for Genomic Research is trying to create artificial biological life forms, but they would still be life forms made up of a combination of what was already here + the human intellect. The bigger question I think would not be “have we become our own gods?”, but rather, “how will we use the intellect and technology that the real God has allowed us to possess?” How we decide to play out this scenario will demonstrate whether or not we are worthy of this power. Let’s hope that God is more than just a fleeting thought in the minds of those who wield this technological sword. I would sleep a little better at night, at least, if the people piloting that boat were submitting to an intelligence greater than our own. The stakes are bigger now, the bar has been raised.



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