The Human Genome Project: how should we view it?
4 July 2000
It has recently been announced that almost all the ‘letters’ in the human genetic code (carried on the DNA (Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid) in our chromosomes) have been mapped. This is a wonderful achievement, certainly a major scientific milestone of the 20th century.
This has caused many, not just Christians, to focus again on issues such as cloning, genetic engineering and similar matters concerning the boundaries of biotechnology and ethics. A number of points need to be made.
- Mapping the letter sequences of human genes undoubtedly involves a major frontier of knowledge. Nevertheless, this is not the same as understanding the genes. But it does hold the potential for eventually reaching this understanding, i.e. what sort of protein molecule is made by each gene, and then understanding how those protein molecules interact in the almost unimaginably complex machinery of our bodies.
- Down through history, advances in knowledge of our bodies (many by creation scientists) have given us new ways to intervene in the course of ‘natural events’, and this will be no exception. Such possibilities have always caused ethical tensions to surface. We’ve been made in a particular way; do we have the ‘right’ to ‘interfere’? Even atheists are capable of similar thoughts—instead of being concerned about interfering with God’s handiwork, they are concerned with interfering with the ‘course of evolution’ or similar.
- Christians who look at the ‘big picture’ through the history of the Bible, founded in Genesis, have an advantage in being able to judge such matters. They can consider these other factors:
- God’s Genesis 1:28 mandate to humanity to ‘have dominion’ over creation has never been revoked—advances in knowledge are not in themselves anti-God.
- New knowledge, or new technological possibilities, are not in themselves evil (Titus 1:15)—they may be used for good or evil purposes.
- Humanity is fallen—hence there needs to be great caution where advances in knowledge are applied.
- The world is not the same as God originally made it—it is a broken, cursed world (Genesis 3:17–19, Romans 8:20–22—see also Death and Suffering Questions and Answers
- Where technological ‘fixes’ are applied to people’s bodies, if the purpose is to bring about healing, this is unlikely to be ‘opposing God’. It is always seen as blessed in Scripture to oppose, locally and temporarily, the enmities brought about by the Curse (e.g. the Fall set people against each other, yet ‘blessed are the peacemakers’). Following Christ’s example as the great Healer, it can always be seen to be blessed when fighting against the disease resulting from the Curse.
- Strictly speaking, no discussion of moral or ethical questions makes any sense without a logical basis for such a discussion, which means that a set of moral/ethical absolutes is required. Where God’s revelation to humanity, the Bible, is rejected as authoritative, there can be no basis outside of the shifting sands of fallible human opinion.
- Genetic engineering has nothing to do with evolution. Evolution involves things happening ‘by themselves’. Deliberately manipulating the genetic code in a plant, for instance, involves intelligent effort and purpose, the very opposite of Darwinism.
- As indicated earlier, genetic engineering may be used for good in reversing harmful mutations that are the result of the Curse, or it could conceivably be used for evil. For instance, it could be used for the purpose of one human ‘having dominion’ over another, something that is excluded from the Genesis mandate to ‘subdue the earth’.
- Genetic engineering of plant crops to get better yields, for instance, may not be morally wrong biblically, but it involves ‘wisdom issues’. I.e. in a particular instance, it may be wise or foolish. To help Christians make such decisions, good science, real science, is important. Also, a consideration of the motivations—is it going to help feed the world’s starving millions, or is that the ‘spin’ put out by some huge corporation planning to make a killing in the wealthy developed countries? There seems to be no single, simple set of answers applicable to each unique situation; rather, biblical principles must be applied on a case-by-case basis.
- There are vexed questions such as: who gets to have this information? Should everybody know what diseases they are predisposed to suffer from in old age? Should insurance companies have the right to test the DNA of people applying for life coverage?
- More important than that will be the pressure coming from this increasingly evolutionized, humanistic culture to find out the genetic code of unborn babies, so that ‘undesirable’ traits can be eliminated by abortion. This is a clear line in the sand for Christians—there is ultimately no difference between this and the worst of the Nazi ‘murder for racial hygiene’ programs. Secular societies which have already put their ‘blessing’ on aborting unwanted babies have no logical way to tell parents that it is ‘immoral’ in principle to use the genetic blueprint for this purpose. It is more urgent than ever for Christians to have a clear understanding of ‘where the battle is at’ in these ‘culture wars’—it is ultimately at the foundational level, the rejection of God’s authority over our lives as Creator. We need to understand the enormous extent to which compromise in the church over Genesis for most of this century has been a major, root cause of the decline in our ability to influence the culture. Nowhere is this more readily visible than in the United States, in which some 40% of the population claims to be evangelical Christians, but they have next to no influence on the culture (e.g. court decisions banning prayers, the 10 Commandments, creation and even ‘intelligent design’ teaching, etc., from government-funded schools; and inventing a ‘right’ to kill unborn babies even by the gruesome ‘partial birth’ method’).
- We need to be at the forefront in pointing out the incredible inconsistencies presented by the unravelling of the human genome: all of our human experience indicates that a message requires a message sender. Also, codes, real information such as in the DNA in all living things, never arise by random (‘natural’) processes (see Q&A: Origin of Life). Programs can program other programs, but ultimately there must be a mental source, a mind to account for the origin of all that information. Humanity scans the skies in vain for one tiny ‘blip’ of information in radio signals coming from outer space, which would be taken as an indication that there is an intelligent source ‘out there’ (see Q&A: Alien life/UFOs). But we stand before the stunning mysteries of the human DNA code, a massive message of unimaginable complexity and huge amounts of real information, and we are taught that this came about with no intelligence, no mind, no Creator (see Information: A modern scientific design argument). Romans 1 is worth reading, the whole chapter, in this context of our world today.
- Cautionary note: The future is likely to show that there are many more and far deeper complexities to the code, and the way in which information is transmitted in heredity, than the relatively simplistic model we have at present. For instance, some evolutionists claim that 97% of human DNA ‘has no function’ and is left-over evolutionary ‘junk’. This is just the discredited old ‘vestigial organs’ argument in new guise (see Q&A: Vestigial Organs, including the articles on so-called ‘junk DNA’). Like the older versions of the argument, there are reasons to believe that claims of ‘functionlessness’ are just a reflection of our present ignorance. After all, it is impossible in principle to prove that no function exists, because we can never rule out the possibility that an important function will be found in the future, as has indeed happened with over 100 important organs in the human body that were once thought to be ‘useless’. When interviewed for Creation magazine, one of Australia’s leading molecular biology researchers, Dr Ian Macreadie, a biblical creationist, explained humbly that humanity is still only just ‘scratching the surface’ in such matters.