Gene Editing: The Next Step in Self-Evolution
Article by David Ewing Duncan (2017)
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What is the Science?

What was once only in the imaginations of science fiction writers is now a reality. In 2012, scientists from Sweden and California discovered a way to edit DNA with something called Crispr-Cas9. This technique allows scientists to “cut and paste DNA” to change the genetic code of an organism. The first human trials began in China in November 2016 on lung cancer patients. Scientists have begun discussing the ethics of gene editing by differentiating between many different possible uses. They differentiate between editing somatic cells which are not involved in reproduction and editing germline cells which would alter the DNA that is passed down to one’s children.

Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (Crispr): A “natural process used by bacteria to remember the DNA of invading viruses so that that they can identify and destroy similar intruders, aided by DNA-slicing enzymes.”

Cas-9: A slicer enzyme used to edit the DNA in an organism.

“We have within our grasp the technology to change evolution… This could change the course of biological life.” – Paul Berg

What is the Theology?

While God’s people were in exile in Babylon, Jeremiah brought these words from the Lord: “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7 NRSV). Many Christians have taken these words as a message for their communities, seek the welfare of the place where you live. Modern science has provided more opportunities than ever before to facilitate the flourishing of communities. Yet, Christians must ask, what means are appropriate to use? Do the ends justify the means? Can Christians use methods that, although they might contribute to the flourishing of humanity, might have important negative consequences as well? Gene editing can be used to cure harmful diseases. However, if used in certain ways, gene editing could be used to create two castes – one with edited genes who can afford Crispr-Cas9, and one with unedited genes. How can Christians contribute to the ethics conversation so that the welfare of the entire city is furthered?

What to Consider

  • What might ethically appropriate uses for gene editing be? What might some inappropriate uses be?
  • How do issues of social justice and equality fit into the discussion on gene editing?
  • What methods are appropriate to use for the bettering of individuals and society? Is gene editing for non-medically necessary reasons allowed if there is equal access to it?
  • What does it mean to be human and made in the image of God? Would editing one’s genes affect this? What about if edited genes were passed on to posterity? How would what it means to be human change after a few generations? How would our understanding of being made in the image of God change?

How to go Deeper

  • Preach a series on big topics in science and theology. Make one of your topics gene editing. You might try to invite a medical researcher from a nearby university to share how gene editing and Crispr-Cas9 work.
  • Preach on what it means to be human. You might consider using Genesis 1-3 or Psalm 139. Share this research on gene editing and discuss how this affects what it means to be human. You might consider tying in this article on what it means to be human or this one on the philosophy of materialism in physics.
  • Preach on the Tower of Babel from Genesis 11. Bring this scripture into conversation with the potential of gene editing to change our future as a species.

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

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About the Author:

Zach is currently a PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary researching the role of leaders in congregational change. His calling in life is to train and equip pastors to faithfully lead local congregations. When not studying, he'll most likely be watching Sporting Kansas City score goals or hiking with his wife and two kids.

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