'God Is Not Threatened by Our Scientific Adventures'
A genome researcher explains how he reconciles science with his deep Christian faith.
You also touch on some of your fears related to DNA. You talk about the "Gattaca" scenario and designer babies--parents being able to pick and choose what genes they want for their kids. What are your moral concerns?
I do believe that we have been given the gift of the ability to understand aspects of our own mechanical structures and that includes our instruction book. I also argue, of course, that that's not the whole story. The knowledge that we get about human biology and human genetics is neither good nor evil. It's just knowledge. The application that we choose for that knowledge can take on moral character.
In that regard, applications that we develop to prevent or cure terrible diseases are generally things that people embrace. Certainly the mandate of virtually all of the great faiths of the world is to try to alleviate suffering and to try to help those who are sick, give them a chance to get well. And it seems to me the study of DNA of the human genome is a wonderful, unprecedented opportunity in that regard.
But what are the boundaries? Are we comfortable with the idea of going beyond the treatment of disease to try to enhance certain human traits? Part of those discussions are predicated on the kind of science that we don't know how to do. I don't think we will get to the point of being able to dial in the characteristics of future generations because so much of that is determined not by genes, but by upbringing, by free will, by all of those wonderful things about being a human that are not hard-wired into our DNA.
But I do think there are some serious questions there about how far down that path we want to go. None of those opportunities are imminent, but it would be useful for us as a society, and particularly for people who are believers, to come to the table in a rational, thoughtful, non-emotional way and try to decide where are the limits that we want this technology to not go beyond.
It seems in some ways, it's already happening; for example, sometimes when parents learn that their child has Down Syndrome, they terminate the pregnancy. What is your opinion of that sort of scenario?
I'm troubled that the applications of genetics that are currently possible are oftentimes in the prenatal arena. That is not the reason I went into this field.
The reason I went into this field was to figure out how to treat illnesses, rather than try to stop such individuals from even being born. But, of course, in our current society, people are in a circumstance of being able to take advantage of those technologies. And we have decided as a society that that choice needs to be defended.