Playing God With DNA

“Eugenics was not unique to the Nazis It could — and did — happen everywhere.”  Daniel Kevles, a historian of science, NY University

In 2018, a Chinese scientist announced he’d used CRISPR to genetically modify human embryos. At the time, more “respectable” scientists denounced his actions as “unethical,” given how little ethical oversight there was for using it.  In essence, this dangerous technology has been released into the world with no limitations except “play nice.”

A team of researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London used CRISPR to edit 18 donated human embryos in order to “study the role of a particular gene in the earliest stages of human development.”  This experiment in human development produced “major unintended edits” in the egg.   

Major unintended edits is a euphemism for mutation and genetic damage which “could lead to birth defects or medical problems like cancer later in life.”  As one genetics researcher put it, “…you’re affecting so much of the DNA around the gene you’re trying to edit that you could be inadvertently affecting other genes and causing problems.”

Fyodor Urnov, a professor of molecular and cell biology at Berkeley,  was slightly more blunt:  “There’s no sugarcoating this . . . This is a restraining order for all genome editors to stay the living daylights away from embryo editing.”

Unfortunately, the desire to play god with the human genome is not easily discouraged. For example, consider the title of a recent article at Wired which proclaimed a “Neo-biological Revolution,” – “Covid-19 Is Accelerating Human Transformation—Let’s Not Waste It.”

From gene editing to brain computer interfaces,” the authors write, “our ability to engineer biological systems will redefine our species and its relation to all other species and the planet … And Covid-19 is accelerating this transformation.”

The authors quickly go from confidence to hubris, in language that resembles Satan’s from Paradise Lost: “Our ability to manipulate RNA and DNA, bacteria, viruses, algae, and fungi gives us the power to engineer life…” We can, the authors promise, “prevent a future [COVID-like] lockdown,” and failure to do so would be “a crime against humanity.”

Our ability to manipulate RNA and DNA, bacteria, viruses, algae, and fungi gives us the power to engineer life. Advanced imaging technologies allow us unprecedented views inside the body while big data sets, machine learning, and AI are helping us read those images and giving us correlations and predictions … and ultimately root causes.   And the only thing standing in our way is what Edward O. Metcalf claims is fear, jealousy and greed and our medieval institutions (health care) to deploy our godlike technologies.

WIRED didn’t mention what happened at the Crick Institute and only offered a passing reference to “the risk of unintended consequences and a backlash from patients, consumers, regulators, religious groups, and more.” After all, according to this worldview of scientism, unleashing dangerous mutations on the human genome isn’t the real crime. The real crime is standing in the way of “Progress.”

For whom is that progress promised?  As C.S. Lewis warned in his masterful book The Abolition of Man, “the Power of man to make himself what he pleases means. . .the power of some men to make other men what they please. The man-molders of the new age will be armed with the powers of the omni-competent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.”

Of course to warn of the risks and human costs of this Neo-biological revolution is to be labeled anti-science and anti-progress.  But that shouldn’t dissuade us from teaching others that what we know as science emerged as a product of the Christian worldview during the medieval period, grounded by the belief in a rational God.  And because this rational God is also moral, science is not autonomous, untethered from ethical, moral or theological considerations.

The Christian assumptions which undergirded the Scientific Revolution also undergird the dignity of each and every human being and demand that we see everyone as ends in and of themselves, and never as mere means of our collective aspirations of “Progress,” whatever that means.

If we do allow this technology  some worry that it could lead to the creation of “designer babies” whose DNA has been carefully selected to enhance their appearance, intelligence, or other traits that are not medically necessary.   These enhancements may also be unevenly distributed among the population, leading to a society of genetic haves and have-nots. 

So why pursue it?  Follow the money.  Studies estimate that revenue potential from CRISPR-Cas9 at $30 billion by 2030, which covers revenue from different applications, including human therapeutics, agriculture and plant genomics, animal biotech and research grants.

Source:  More Evidence of the Dangers of CRISPR: Stop Playing God with Human Gene and Covid-19 Is An Opportunity to Redefine The Human Species by  John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera, Breakpoint; Covid-19 Is Accelerating Human Transformation—Let’s Not Waste It by Jane Metcalf, WIRE; CRISPR, Another Name for Eugenics,  The Next Step In Human Evolution?, FCP

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