Beliefnet

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.

But ultimately, that's not where genetics is going to take us. We are going to learn from the opportunities now in front of us how to treat people who have cancer, how to cure them in ways that we currently can't do, how to prevent diabetes in somebody who's predisposed so that they don't develop that terrible disease, how we do things to treat mental illnesses in ways that are much more effective than the options we have right now. Those are the real promises of this field, promises that are going to come true over the next decade.

What do you think of the recent prayer study about the efficacy of prayer for medical patients?

I find this to be an interesting but somewhat puzzling area of research--these studies in which people pray for other individuals that they do not know and where the individuals being prayed for are not aware that that is happening are potentially revealing. But, in other ways, they kind of fly in the face of what I think prayer is intended to be all about.

For me, in my Christian belief, prayer is not an opportunity to manipulate God into doing what you want him to. Prayer is an opportunity to have a conversation with God to try to get in tune with what his will is.

The words in the Lord's Prayer are not "my will be done", but "your will be done." And it seems to me that that kind of research is predicated on the assumption that if we just say the right words in a certain circumstance, we can get God to do what we want Him to.

That's not quite consistent, it seems to me, with what I read about in the Bible in terms of the role that prayer has played in the lives of strong believers.

So, the fact that those research studies seem to leave one with ambiguous answers doesn't really provide me much reassurance about whether or not prayer has value. The research studies are designed in a way that assumes a certain value of prayer that's a bit different than what I find to be true in my own life.

Do you have a favorite prayer?

His Favorite Scripture
I don't have a particular prayer that I'm attached to. I have various scriptures that I'm attached to, especially when I'm struggling, looking for answers. One of mine is James 1:5: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him."

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