Gene Editing: Our New Tower of Babel

Religion has a historical tendency to foster Luddites. Examples from the Galileo affair to the advent of birth control remind us that faith must often yield to reason when the two conflict.

Gene editing is apparently a thing, or soon will be. It might be perceived as a scary technology, if only for the undiscovered country it presents. But it’s certainly not heresy, at least not on its own.

Writing after a recent gene summit held in Washington, D.C., Christopher Benek of The Christian Post takes a theological left turn:

… what if we could genetically modify one another to be more spiritually gifted human beings? Wouldn’t people want to be more merciful, more discerning, have better leadership or administration skills, become better teachers, have more knowledge, or even have more faith? Or maybe the more fundamental question is: If we have the ability to enhance ourselves to build up the body of Christ – do we as Christians have a responsibility to do so?

Such questions may be answered with another. If we can genetically modify one another to be more spiritually gifted, don’t those attributes cease to be gifts? Benek addresses that concern by muddying the waters between creation and creator.

Our understanding for much of human history has been that something is only supernatural if it was a characteristic pertaining to God or the unobservable universe. If an attribute pertained to humanity or the visible universe then it was deemed natural.

But another way to envision our theological reality is to observe that the supernatural is beginning to be intertwined with what we view as natural.

It seems logical to me to presume that the Creator is a technological God and that humankind, made in God’s image, is a technological cadre of creatures. Moreover it appears that when people are rightly directed, communities and God work toward a common purpose. This might indicate that, through the development of emerging technologies, people are invited, by way of the Holy Spirit, into co-creatorship with God.

Whoa. Co-creatorship? Being open to technological development is one thing. But attributing divine attributes to them? That should be considered dangerous ground for any Christian.

Benek concludes with a rallying cry evocative of Nimrod:

… the past failures of human history also demonstrate a need for Christians, who are genuinely seeking to advance virtue in the world, to engage and advocate technological development in ways that advance positive uses of technology for the future. One of those ways just may be the eventual genetic enhancement of ourselves in an effort to build up the body of Christ and to better creation. In that regard we may, in the future, find ourselves asking from both a theological and technological mindset of discipleship: “What gifts do I lack, and what can I tangibly do to remedy that deficiency for the Kingdom of God?”

Let us build for ourselves a tower to heaven, no?

Technology has unquestionably provided humanity with a better quality of life. Even so, the Christian worldview dictates that we have not and cannot become, through our own effort, a better creation. Through technology, we’ve simply broadened the bandwidth of our sin. Genetic editing may cure diseases or enhance capabilities. But it will never be our means of either salvation or sanctification. No matter how smart we become or how high we build, the Spirit will remain the only power by which creation improves.