Genes and Geeps

Old MacDonald would never recognize some of the creatures on today's farms--thanks to genetic engineering. At the University of California, scientists used cell fusion to create an animal with the face and horns of a goat and the body of a sheep. The animal was dubbed a "geep." Other scientists have taken "anti-freeze" genes from flounders and engineered them into plants--producing plants that grow at lower temperatures. In Canada, researchers inserted growth hormones from cows into salmon, producing supersalmon. Oddest of all, scientists extracted fluorescent genes from fireflies and inserted them into tobacco plants. The result is a plant that glows 24 hours a day. Some of the examples are funny, but the possibilities of genetic technology are awesome. From the dawn of history, farmers have cross-bred plants and animals to create new variations, but they were limited to the existing gene pool. You can interbreed a cow with a buffalo but not with a horse. You can interbreed cabbage with brussels sprouts but not with watermelon. Nature has built-in limits to biological change. But today genetic technology is crossing those limits. Geneticists are in a position similar to that of the early chemists, who first discovered how to make synthetics. Nowhere in nature do we find plastic, nylon, or polyester; these are manufactured by combining atoms and molecules in patterns that never occur naturally. In the same way, geneticists can now combine DNA in patterns that never occur naturally. What will happen if we release all these engineered organisms into the environment? At this point, no one knows. But our record with polluted air and water prove that we often put human desires and utility above respect for the integrity of God's creation. Who knows what ecological unbalances we may create by introducing completely novel life forms? That's why it's so important that you and I bring a Christian world view to bear in public debates on genetic technology. On one hand, Christians support various forms of technology as a way of cultivating the creation. The cultural mandate in Genesis calls us to nurture God's creation--to develop its intrinsic power and potential. On the other hand, precisely because it is God's creation, our work must be morally constrained by his will and his word. We are not to use technology for self-indulgent or destructive ends. We are not to reduce creation to merely a means for amassing personal or financial power. Since the earth is the Lord's, technology must be used for the Lord's purposes: to cultivate, to restore, to heal. Unfortunately, modern science has largely abandoned any moral constraints. Genetic researchers often have their eyes solely on the bottom line: Will it make farming more productive, more efficient, more profitable? The guiding ethic is purely utilitarian. That attitude spells danger when we tinker with the genes of plants and animals. But think of the tragedies it could cause when applied to humans. In the commentaries to follow I'll be talking about ways the genetic revolution could affect you and me.


Chuck Colson


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