Synthetic Life and the God Complex
There’s an old story. You’ve probably heard it or some version of it already. It’s about an elderly lady caught in a flood. She’s sitting atop the roof of her home, which is the only part still remaining that’s not underwater. The lady is a Christian and she’s praying to Jesus to be saved from her mortally dangerous predicament. Several rescue boats come by . . . first the police, then the fire department, then even the National Guard. Each time she refuses to board the vessels, telling her would-be rescuers that Jesus will save her. In time, however, the flood waters engulf the roof and she drowns. After death, she sits in judgment before God. She asks Him why He did not respond to her prayers to be saved from the flood, to which God replies that He sent 3 boats fully manned by rescuers!
There are probably lots of morals in that story, but the one I want to highlight is that God often works through his creation to bring about good to and for man. In fact, that very idea may have even been part of the message Christ was communicating when he cured a blind man by making a paste of mud and spit and then applying that to the blind man’s eyes (John 9:6). This course of action was unnecessary for God. He could have merely willed it and the fellow’s eyesight would have been restored to 20/20 vision. Instead, he deliberately included his creation (mere dirt) in the miracle. Perhaps, in this biblical story, there’s another subtle message apart from the divinity of Christ. Maybe the subtle, tangential message is that God created the natural world as good . . . and, man is both its steward and benefactor.
The progress of science has done wonders to lengthen and improve the lives of mankind. And, such progress is certainly not contrary to God, but rather intended by him. The just and moral use of creation to benefit man is perfectly natural, given man’s God-granted status as steward of the natural world.
Sometimes, we may even discern a glimpse of God’s wisdom in creation and man’s stewardship of it, despite our limited, finite intellect. Take for example the existence of dinosaurs. Lots of irreligious people and plenty of atheists like to point out this era of earth’s history as something that’s somehow contradictory to Christianity or for that matter, the existence of an intelligent designer in the first place. But in the age of the dinosaurs, perhaps there was design, wisdom, and foresight of a divine nature which intended, all along, the good of mankind. Take a stroll though any hospital and tally the ways in which petroleum products have improved the lives of men. They are countless and impressive. Our progress in being stewards and certainly benefactors of the natural world is very likely intimately tied to the time of the dinosaurs, for it was thanks to that era in earth’s history that we have the foundation for oil and thus, petroleum products. Maybe that age was much like the boats sent to rescue the elderly lady caught in the flood . . . sent for our benefit (By the way, I’m familiar with the theories of the late Thomas Gold who hypothesized that oil doesn’t come from long dead plants and critters, but instead from some inorganic source deep in the earth. Some deep drilling was conducted in the 1990’s in Sweden with the purpose of testing Gold’s theories; the results turned out to be inconclusive. In the end though, perhaps it will be discovered someday that oil can come about from both organic and inorganic processes. Who knows? Time coupled with good scientific inquiry will eventually tell us more, but as of this date, more scientists seem to be in the organic camp.).
Now, fast-forward to 2010 and along come headlines about the creation of a synthetic, living cell. At first blush, the sensationalist headlines seem to imply that we’ve matched God with respect to his status as Creator. Upon closer inspection though, it isn’t anywhere near the faculties of God. This achievement is still firmly in the realm of man. It’s still classified under stewardship of the natural world . . . only a more sophisticated version of stewardship. Here’s what they did . . . through the study of DNA, scientists were able to create some of their own in the laboratory (that’s the “synthetic” part) and then inject that into a living cell, which ended up treating it like regular old DNA. In this new development, the laboratory created software (the genomes) was able to direct the cell into changing into a species of bacteria indicated by scientists.
Like any other development, scientists have great hopes and ideals for what they’ve just done, and ethicists have just as many concerns and warnings. This discovery has the potential to benefit mankind, and it also has the potential to be abused and do damage to mankind. That, however, is the responsibility and true gravity of stewardship. It is what God entrusted to us as creatures created in His image and likeness.
Discoveries like the so-called “synthetic” cell are often enough used . . . very deceptively, might I add . . . as weaponry for vehemently anti-Christian hacks like, for example, Charles Johnson of the Little Green Footballs blog. Their uber-faith in science goes way, way beyond the idea of stewardship and well into the idiotic, false-at-face-value idea of human deity. In other words, it’s the re-rearing of that old Garden of Eden fault whereby man wants very much to be his own god. Science can create life so ha-ha, there is no God but man! Evolution expands into Evolutionism and haughtily declares that there is no God. It is a story literally as old as man himself . . . the pride fueled, self-elevation to deity status. In this error, scientific discoveries are spun as proof of atheism. In this error, the need for faith, which is built into man, is filled with a religionized science in the hopes of appeasing the crater in man’s heart, a crater which can only be filled by God.
In our era, science has been divorced from its friendship with religion. Instead of helping man to discern the wonders of God and become better stewards of the creation He entrusted to us, it’s used to attack the very existence of God. In fact, in many cases, it has become a competitive religion. This is an unfortunate development. And, it’s also a call to remind a forgetful culture that God gave us this creation to discover and utilize. In so doing, we, like any steward, should ever appreciate the generosity of the giver and the awesome responsibility of the job. The so-called synthetic cell is not man being God, but man in the often hazardous business of stewardship. At the end of the day though, God is still the boss.