Jurassic Genetics

Fooling with Mother Nature

In the mirror of his Jeep the driver sees the hungry jaws of a dinosaur closing in on him. It’s a life-and-death race—high adventure from “Jurassic Park,” this summer’s blockbuster movie.

But “Jurassic Park” isn’t just about entertainment; it’s about the ethics of genetic engineering. As director Steven Spielberg says, “There’s a big moral question in this story: DNA cloning may be viable but is it acceptable?”

Well, acceptable or not, genetic engineering is charging ahead at breakneck speed.

DNA is in every cell of your body. It functions as a chemical code, giving instructions to the cell on how to operate. Scientists can now slice up the DNA from one organism and insert a section into the DNA of a second organism—giving it in essence a new set of instructions.

In one bizarre experiment, researchers isolated the gene that produces light in a firefly and inserted the gene into the DNA of a tobacco plant. The result is a plant whose leaves glow 24 hours a day.

On a more serious note, biotechnology could revolutionize agriculture. One laboratory produced a strain of corn that can survive three weeks between watering. Another engineered a bacterium that prevents plants from freezing. Chickens have been engineered to eliminate the genetic trait for brooding, which speeds up egg-laying.

What are Christians to make of all this? Is it moral to tamper with nature?

That depends on what kind of tampering it is. Producing better crops is a relatively minor change, not too different from the breeding farmers have always done. Similar techniques might one day be used to treat genetic diseases in humans.

But many scientists don’t want to stop there. They want to use genetic engineering to reshape human nature itself—to create a new and improved version of humanity . . . while eliminating inferior strains.

The term for this is eugenics: creating a race of superhumans. And as we remember from the Nazis, it is extremely dangerous.

The Bible teaches that human beings are created in the image of God for a purpose. But eugenics sees the human race as merely one stage in the progress of evolution, a stepping stone to a higher species: By tampering with our genes, we are merely helping nature along on its path to a superior race.

These are two absolutely contrary philosophies. Which one will direct the future of genetic technology?

To answer that, we can simply look at the way we’re using what we already know. Every day science advances in its ability to diagnose genetic disorders. And how are people using that knowledge? To make decisions about abortion. Babies diagnosed as defective are often aborted.

This is eugenics, pure and simple: the elimination of babies deemed genetically inferior.

So go ahead and take your kids to see “Jurassic Park”—then use it as a springboard to talk about the serious themes it raises. Christians are not against science. But unless we take a strong stand for the biblical view of human nature, genetic technology may well end up creating a brave new world.

Where human beings are treated merely as raw material for eugenics experiments—to be used, manipulated, and thrown away.

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