Jurassic Parkis a 1993 science fiction film based on a 1990 novel by the same title written by Michael Crichton. In the movie scientists develop a way to clone extinct dinosaurs, and an entrepreneur builds a theme park around these formerly extinct animals. The film makes the idea of bringing back into existence formerly extinct animals seem realistic. Well, it is not only realistic, it is on the verge of being done.
West of Melbourne, Australia, there is a lab where American scientist Ben Novak has made a significant breakthrough. He is obsessively pursuing a process known as de-extinction, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal by Amy Dockster Marcus. Novak’s goal is to bring back a bird that disappeared from the face of the earth in 1914 – the passenger pigeon, and he is getting closer to achieving this goal.
Central to this process is a gene-editing technology known as Crispr-Cas9, which has already given scientists unimaginable control over genetics. Crispr, as it is called, has already been used to produce disease-resistant chickens and hornless dairy cows. Scientists around the world have used this technology to edit the genes of mice, looking for possible cures for human diseases such as autism. Crispr-edited pigs have kidneys that scientists hope can one day be used as transplant organs for humans.
Supporters of this technology say it offers the unprecedented power to direct the evolution of species. To direct the evolution of species: let that statement soak into your brain matter for a few moments.
It makes me think of that moment in the original Jurassic Parkfilm. The three scientists and the lawyer, brought in to evaluate the stability of the theme park, are seated for a meal with entrepreneur John Hammond. They have seen some of the dinosaurs, toured the labs, and witnessed the hatching of a cloned dinosaur. Hammond expects them to be awed by what they have observed and ready to sign off on the park, but they are hesitant, much to Hammond’s disappointment.
At one point in the discussion, Ian Malcolm, the mathematician (played by Jeff Goldblum) says, “Don’t you see the danger, John, inherent in what you’re doing here? Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun … Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to ask if they should.”
In other words, there are moral questions that need to be asked. And as Christians, there are theological considerations, also. Just because science and technology can do certain things, should they do those things? What does our belief in a creator God, who made all that is, say to these things?
Morally and from the view of Biblical theology, using science and technology to alleviate human suffering and to fight diseases is without question a worthy endeavor. If it can be done, it should be done in nearly every case. However, using the same technology to create designer babies genetically edited with certain intellectual or athletic traits is something else altogether. Science seems to be saying this can be done, but we need to ask if it should be done.
Theologically, the Bible teaches us that life, all of life, began with the purposeful actions of the Creator. He made the earth, the sky and the sea, filling them with plants and animals. Then He completed the crown of His creation – humankind, made in His image.
As part of that creative work He made DNA and reproduction. It is our belief as Christians that bringing a new human life into being is more than just the reproductive actions of a man and a woman. God himself is involved in every new human life. The mixing of the DNA of a man and a woman to create a new life is something God ordained, and in some mysterious way, directs.
Thus, every new life brought into this world is a new life that God willed into existence. Should science pursue technologies that allow changing reproduction from what God created? Do we – should we – manipulate this process with Crispr-Cas9?
Novak still has a way to go to before he successfully brings the passenger pigeon back. One critic in a scientific journal asked whether or not this clone will truly be a passenger pigeon. After all, there is more to being alive than DNA. Beyond genetics, there is nurture. How much does a passenger pigeon learn about how to be a passenger pigeon from its passenger pigeon parents? Novak’s de-extinct pigeons will not have passenger pigeon parents. Can it be said this is really a passenger pigeon like the ones last seen in 1914?
Probably not. Just because it can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done.