Managing Fire

US Scientists have released a set of recommendations about how and whether and when embryonic human beings should be genetically modified.  The report was mentioned in this article, and you can download the entire 261-page report here.  A shorter summary is available here.

Important take-aways include the reality that this is already being done in laboratory situations where implantation for pregnancy is not the purpose.  Another important take-away is that scientists are basically saying that since the technology is going to be developed somewhere, by somebody, we should develop it here and regulate it carefully.  How this improves things eludes me.  If people dislike the idea of extensive regulations and prohibitions in their own country, they’ll simply travel to destinations with less regulation and restriction.

This reality makes the recommended prohibitions in the release a moot point.  The only type of genetic modification explictly recommended against development or deployment would be genetic enhancement modifications – to produce an exceptionally strong child, for example.  But again, if someone somewhere else has less scruples about this, it’s still going to happen.  Medical tourism is a reality that we don’t have a way to control and therefore even those technologies we really don’t like are eventually going to be developed and deployed in the name of safety or some other fuzzy goal.

Once again this reminds me of one of my favorite books, A Canticle for Leibowitz, which grapples with our scientific and technological dilemmas.  Scientists can’t control how their discoveries are used and applied, and there will always be someone willing to take the step in a bad direction that others refuse to.  Our own intelligence is our own undoing, an inevitable result of our fundamentally broken and sinful condition.

So it’s nice that scientists are thinking about these things.  But at the end of the day their research money comes from governments and other entities that will exercise control of one sort or another over the application of their discoveries.  There isn’t a way to avoid this, just as there isn’t a way to prevent less reputable or ethical researchers from selling off discoveries to the highest bidder.

That would be fundamentally depressing, if there weren’t some greater hope beyond our own abilities or inabilities.  As a Christian I can applaud the judicious use of science and our intellects, while fully expecting that it is only a matter of time until these things are abused or misused by someone or other, perhaps to the detriment of all humanity.  But my hope is not in these discoveries, in their proper or equitable use or distribution, but rather in a future where our abilities will ultimately be able to used and managed properly.

In the meantime, managing fire will remain a difficult and dangerous business.


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