From my first day at university to the day I walked across the graduation stage, I had a front-row seat to the inner workings of human life as we know it today. We’re not just selfie-taking, early commuting, coffee fuelled beings – we are so much more than that. We are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, intricate pieces of handiwork. The human body at the micro-level reveals the hidden inner workings that not only keep us running but, like a well-oiled machine, carries out complex and efficient processes to ensure our survival for the future. To quote physicist Emerson Pugh, ‘If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t.’
How did we get here?
As a Christian, I believe that a good God created everything that ever was and all that is, and all that is to come. An important part of this creation for me is science. God created this amazing discipline that can be utilised to save lives, improve the environment, and come to know more about our very own origins.
Unfortunately, our humanity is affected by the fall, and so there has been an echoed groan from the beginning of scientific discovery to find answers and restoration. My own curiosity has definitely been shaped by the raw reality of our fallen humanity. I have a strong passion for restoration and healing on the genetic level. This is an area that is emerging in science and therefore there are not just unanswered scientific questions, but also a lack of clarity on ethics and regulations for future research. How far is too far in the name of scientific curiosity? If we’re altering the fabric of our humanity in replacing faulty genes with healthy versions, could we enhance or quiet the genes we want – to see future generations thrive in areas that we were genetically predisposed and limited in?
How far is too far?
One man thought he had the answer, and he was willing to defy laws to prove it. Recently as I was reading through the news, I stumbled upon a certain article that brought back a vivid memory of being back in my university lab discussing the latest scientific discoveries and technologies with my course mates. That day, we were talking about a scientist in China, Professor He Jiankui, and his work in gene editing using CRISPR-Cas9, one of the latest technologies at the cutting edge of gene editing.
Gene editing has been around for decades since the 90s. However, CRISPR-Cas9 has been so revolutionary because of its precise and programmable ability to alter DNA. This has to happen in the trillions of cells in our body to be effective and, therefore, is only really effective as of now with ‘simple’ genetic mutations in one cell type, making it suitable to treat disease like sickle cell anaemia and certain forms of cancer.
Professor He used the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool on a set of twin embryos to rewrite a gene called the CCR5, which gave them resistance to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In 2018 he made this news public on YouTube. Immediately, this event sparked a great outcry amongst non-scientists and scientists alike, leading to Professor He’s three-year imprisonment in China for conducting ‘illegal medical practices’.
Answers or more questions?
Fortunately, Lulu and Nana – the two embryos that Professor He genetically altered are alive and well five years on from his research, but what led him to the point of performing an illegal experiment?
There is a potential to crave progression and perfection in our work as humans, and in our science as scientists. We are challenged to, and often rewarded for, pushing boundaries in scientific research and progress. But how far is too far? To eradicate disease, to produce babies that have the prettiest eye colour, the highest intelligence, the list goes on. As someone in the field of science as a Christian, I have to be aware of my own curiosity and desires, testing them to know that they are good and godly, so that I won’t be tempted to idolise my work or successes, or to go outside of the law in pursuit of scientific glory. Are there areas as humans that we are yet to figure out ethically and legally? Of course, but I have hope knowing that we can make progress that is pleasing to God, as He has a good and whole vision of science that comes from His goodness, and good will be established. British author C.S Lewis is quoted to have said – ‘Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Law Giver.’
Even in the aftermath of the fall, and the trickle-down effects of suffering that we continue to see from it today, God has a plan. He didn’t start something that He didn’t purpose to finish well. He sent His one and only Son Jesus Christ into creation to save it! He came to be broken, to take our sin and brokenness onto Himself so that we could be made whole. His picture for our future in the new creation is one where there is no mourning or pain, for the former things will have passed away (Revelation 21:4). We can contribute to that image of hope and restoration as scientists right now, choosing to do our science not for our own glory or to just satisfy our own scientific curiosity, but seeking to honour God and the people He has placed around us through a right and godly stewardship of science.
I don’t know what your university experience has been like so far, whether it has also been one filled with the curiosity, joy and tribulations of a science lab. Regardless, maybe take some time to reflect on how God has helped you so far in your degree, and identify areas of your own life where you can surrender and let God lead you in your own curiosity. I hope that you have come to see the ways in which God has marked His fingerprints all over my journey as a scientist, fulfilling my curiosity in His bigger plan and giving us freedom on earth to partake in it. I hope that you are encouraged knowing that the same Spirit working in me, helping me to practice science and see the goodness in it, is working in you and illuminating your work and creativity in your field also.
For further reading:
Designer babies already exist, their creator went to jail – Fred Schwaller (article)
John Lennox (2019). Can Science Explain Everything?
Sharon Dirckx (2019). Am I just my brain?
Enjoyed this article? You might like these other resources on similar topics: