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Does the Bible Provide Guidance Regarding Genetic Engineering?

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by Scott B. Rae

 

Since human beings weren't able to manipulate the genetic code when the Bible was written, it doesn't directly address genetic engineering. It does, however, give general principles regarding medical technology that apply to genetic technologies.

 

Humans are created in God's image and likeness, and so He charges them to exercise dominion over His creation (Gen 1:27-28 ). Their mandate? To subdue and kindly master the earth, unlocking its resources to benefit themselves and their successors--in a sense continuing the spirit of creation by being subordinate "creators" with God in unlocking the secrets of the creation to benefit humankind.

 

The command to subdue the earth takes on added complexity after the entrance of sin into the world in Genesis 3. Exercising dominion over creation after the fall now involves dealing with sin's effects in the world. Dominion includes working toward improving the creation or reversing the effects of the entrance of sin. The most important of sin's effects is the reality of death (Gen 3:2-3), which is universal in its scope (Rom 5:12). That is, after the fall, death, decay, and deterioration face every person. Thus domino over creation largely involves dealing with death and disease (disease being the cause of death in most cases), which can alleviate the harshness of life after the fall, even genetic disease. In order to exercise dominion, God (through general revelation) provided human beings with resources necessary for accomplishing that task. That ingenuity and wisdom come from God as His "common grace" gifts to humans (Isa 28:23-29).

 

The knowledge and skill necessary to develop the kind of technologies that enable humankind to subdue creation are part of God's general revelation. Humans didn't acquire the ingenuity and skill to develop sophisticated technology on their own apart from God. It's not an accident that these technologies came to be so useful in our exercise of dominion over creation. They are gifts from God. Thus technologies that generally improve the lot of humanity and specifically help reverse the effects of sin's entrance into the world are part of God's common grace. The skill and expertise needed to bring about these creation-subduing technologies come ultimately from God, being His good gifts to humans in harnessing creation.

 

This is particularly the case when it comes to medical technology. Since death is one of the primary consequences of the entrance of sin into the world, and disease is the primary cause of death and physical deterioration, medical technologies bringing cures to diseases and other afflictions are among God's most gracious gifts to the human race.

 

Medical technology can be part of God's common grace to assist humans in fulfilling their role in exercising loving dominion. The more controversial technology of genetic engineering should be used only for therapeutic reasons (repairing damage), in keeping with the creation mandate. It should not be used for eugenic reasons (creating a kind of super race, as Hitler and the Nazis hoped to do, considering other races inferior to the so-called Aryans). C.S. Lewis warned that if "the dreams of some scientific planners are realized" by using their power to make their descendants into what they please, then their "conquest of Nature... means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billion s upon billions of men."

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