Hot Potatoes: Is there a ‘creationist view’ on genetically modified foods?
29 March 2001
Some years ago I wrote about the fact that our ministry was often asked for an ‘authoritative opinion’ on a number of ‘hot’ issues concerning which Christians in Australia were split. At the time, this included such things as uranium mining and trade union power.
Today, we are more likely to be asked, in similar style, for an opinion on such things as the Greenhouse Effect, or whether we should support or oppose genetically modified (GM) food.
Back then, my position was basically that we should be careful before implying that Bible-believing Christians all need to think alike on every issue. It still is. Where an issue is not clearly addressed in the Bible, or may not be directly deduced from a Biblical teaching, it is likely to be what we might call a ‘wisdom issue’. I.e. one on which we should feel free to find out the relevant facts, and make decisions based on the best evidence available to us. Not forgetting, of course, the Biblical instruction and advice to seek wisdom (note: not the same thing as intelligence) from God in prayer (James 1:5, Col. 1:9).
When it comes to the evidence on an issue, usually, different people will have come across different portions of the total evidence available. Some of the evidence they have heard might be unreliable. Then also, our interpretation of evidence is always capable of being coloured by subjective things such as something in our own experience, what we would prefer to be the case, and so on.
I would submit that the same is true, broadly, concerning the GM issue. Within the worldview of Scripture, I see the command to ‘have dominion’ over the rest of the created world (Genesis 1:28) as mandating—as it has usually been taken—the wise usage of the natural world for the benefit of mankind. It is important also to note the widespread teaching of Scripture that it’s a blessing to ameliorate the effects of the Curse on creation (Genesis 3:16–19, Romans 8:20–22), e.g. saving lives and curing famine and disease (e.g. Matthew 11:4–6).
Christians have generally had no problems with the idea of selective breeding to improve crops, milk output and so on—this is also a ‘manipulation of creation’, but one we would seem entitled to carry out. But that does not mean that it is always going to be the wise thing to do. All I am saying is that there is no moral/ethical/Biblical barrier, not that there are no good reasons for moving cautiously in such matters.
It has always been obvious that, just because we can do something, in the sense of technical know-how, does not mean that we should. Further, even where there is no absolute ethical barrier against something, it does not necessarily follow that we should.
It seems to me that a balanced approach would not try to force a blanket ‘for or against’ opinion on something which the Bible does not prohibit, even indirectly, but would instead look at the totality of the evidence, for and against.
And the weight of evidence might shift. It may well be that something which is unwise in one generation becomes appropriate in another. Surgery is a case in point. I can imagine how, when doctors first began to open up the human body, some well-meaning believers would have said things like: ‘We’re getting into God’s territory now…’ or ‘If He had wanted us to do that, He would have made an obvious access point…’. No doubt the horrific complication rate for some of the pioneer operations would have seemed to vindicate what now looks, with hindsight, rather naïve.
Similarly with GM crops; there may be a number of risks involved in pushing ahead in cavalier fashion at this point, and it may be true that the real motive is enrichment of large conglomerates, and not the feeding of the Third World’s hungry. But if so, perhaps future advances will change the equation.
What sincere believers need to do, I think, is to first ensure that the issue is not one which transgresses a clear Biblical principle. Second, to seek wisdom directly from God. Third, to ensure that they have access to as much of the evidence on the issue, preferably from a wide range of biases and viewpoints, as possible. Then assess each situation, case by case, not necessarily insisting on a ‘creationist party line’ on all such issues.
It makes sense to ask a trusted creationist researcher for help in coming to such conclusions, but don’t be surprised if trusted-creationist A comes to a different conclusion than trusted-creationist B—and not necessarily because the one is more (or less) spiritual, or smarter, than the other.
In fact, those working in creationist ministries may not have the time to go into such issues in the same depth as some others, and so a secular opinion from someone who has done their homework, and thought long and hard on the issues, may even turn out to be more valuable when it comes to a ‘wisdom issue’.
Remember that genetic engineering of any sort is
- Nothing to do with evolution. Evolution is all about things happening ‘by themselves’, with no intelligent input. Genetic tinkering is all about human creativity, demonstrating the very opposite of evolution.
- Able to be used for good or evil—like any advance in knowledge and technology.
In case you’re thinking we’re not concerned about human cloning and so on, that’s an entirely different issue from animal cloning because humans are uniquely made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27). We have an entire section of our Q&A part of our website devoted to cloning—see Q&A: Cloning. Dr Werner Gitt’s article in this section, Cloning: Right or Wrong?, addresses this very well. It first appeared in Creation magazine, which is a great way to keep your thinking on a whole host of issues clear, unclouded and thoroughly Biblical.