Genetic Scissors

This week the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Emmanuelle Charpentier, a French microbiologist and Director at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Germany, and Jennifer Doudna, an American biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley. The prize was for their 2012 development of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing method, which “can change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision,” according to the Nobel committee. “This technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences, is contributing to new cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true,” the Nobel Committee said in a press release titled, “Genetic scissors: a tool for rewriting the code of life.”

This tool has contributed to many important discoveries in basic research, and plant researchers have been able to develop crops that withstand [mold], pests and drought. In medicine, clinical trials of new cancer therapies are underway, and the dream of being able to cure inherited diseases is about to come true.

– The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

“A tool for rewriting the code of life.”

God’s work? Or the work of Satan?

As I have written before, I believe that God wants us to study and delight in the intricate details of His creation. And He doesn’t just want us passively to observe it. He wants us to prune His vines so that they bear more fruit. He wants us to study His vines and learn enough about them so that we know that counter-intuitive pruning, which seems like it would hurt them more than help them, is what actually causes them to bear more fruit. And having studied them and learned that, He expects us to use that knowledge.

But “rewriting the code of life?”

I believe we have been doing that since God gave us dominion over all the plants and creatures on Earth.

Since the beginning of time humans have been domesticating animals and selecting certain animals to breed in order to make them more useful to humankind. Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics, was an Augustinian monk and later abbot of St. Thomas’s Abby in the Czech Republic. But that doesn’t prove that the science of genetics is God’s work. It could still be the cunning work of Satan.

I prefer to think of it another way. A tool, in and of itself, is neither good nor evil. Even a hammer can be used either for good or for evil. It can be used to build shelter for the homeless, or to build a church or a hospital. Or it can be used to commit murder.

The good or evil that comes from a tool depends on what is in the heart of the person who is using it, not from the tool itself.

I see CRISPR technology the same way. It is a tool that can be used for either good or evil.

Although some disagree with me, I believe it is the work of God to use such tools to create plants that resist drought in arid lands and therefore can produce more food to feed the hungry. I’m not sure what I believe about using it to cure genetic diseases, but I do believe that God approves of curing illness and alleviating suffering. I’m pretty sure that God would not approve of using it to create a superhuman Master Race — a very real possibility for misuse of the same technology – just as He would not approve of using a hammer to murder.

And that puts the responsibility of discernment squarely on us – a task for which He has provided us gifts to use for that purpose.

What do you think?

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