Perhaps I am getting a bit cynical in my old age but I am always amused when I hear President Clinton talk about God. (God forgive me.) He did it again when he was announcing the successful discovery of the human genetic code. He said:
“Today we are learning the language in which God created life….We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, the wonder of God’s most divine and sacred gift.”
For many of us who are not scientifically inclined, we may well ask, what is the big deal? What is so great about discovering the human genetic code?
Well, basically it means that we have now made a major breakthrough in understanding the ‘set of genetic instructions which govern the assembly and function of all human beings’. The knowledge of the completed DNA sequence has the potential of giving scientists “unprecedented insights into the workings of the human body, revolutionizing medicine and biology” (Newsweek, April 10, 2000).
How should Christians respond?
- We should be grateful.
- We should be careful.
- We should actively respond.
- We should be grateful
Anyone who has been afflicted with cancer or has seen a love one ravaged by the big C will welcome any discovery that holds the promise of radical new ways of defeating cancer and a whole host of diseases that continue to befuddle modern science.
Knowing the 3.1 billion sub-units of DNA that code the biological workings of human beings means we now can trace why that code breaks down and how we can rectify it. If we believe that God has given us a mind so that we can think His thoughts after Him, it means we now have a better idea of how He has made us. That means we have a much better idea of what to do when things go wrong.
Beyond the obvious pragmatic implications of this discovery, there are also clear spiritual implications. The Psalmist in Psalm 139 says:
“For it was you (God) who formed my inward parts. You knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
We now have a much better idea of God’s needle work. And it is marvellous indeed.
- We should be careful.However, Christians should also do well to be vigilant. Scientific progress has always proven to be a double edged sword. It has produced ploughs… and war chariots.Knowledge of the human genetic code means it is also possible to attempt to define what is ‘ideal’ or ‘preferrable’ human life. The question is, who will do the defining?The historical record is full of horror stories of some who have tried. From the pogroms of World War 2, to Pol Pot’s massacres, attempts at creating the ‘perfect’ human have often dehumanized us.It was one thing to use our knowledge of the human DNA to cure cancer and other human diseases. It is quite another matter to use the same knowledge to decide what should be ‘normal’ or ‘ideal’ humanity, and therefore who should live, and who should die.For knowledge of the genetic basis of human life can only tell us about certain aspects of human existence. It can not tell us everything about human existence.We now have a much better picture of what it meant for God to ‘form man from the dust of the ground’ (Genesis 2:7). Genetic coding cannot even begin to help us to decipher the ‘breath of life’ that God breathed into us.We must therefore be on our guard against any form of reductionism that seeks to understand humanity purely in materialistic, biological terms.
We are made from the dust of the ground but we are much more than that.
And so while we are grateful that our copy of the ‘Book of Creation’ is now more complete, we must continue to refer to the ‘Book of Revelation”, the Bible, to understand what it means to be truly human.
- We should actively respond.This is no time for Christians to be bystanders. We cannot afford to be purely spectators and observers.The discovery of the human genome is but one of many radical developments in the information age we now live in. The amount of human knowledge will continue to grow exponentially.In such bewildering times, fundamental questions are being asked again. From scientists in their laboratories, to the rakyat in the coffee shops, people are asking again – What does it mean to be human? What are the ethical limits of all this new technology? What is the meaning of life and death?Christians at all strata of society must be encouraged and equipped to enter such debates and discussions. This is an incredible time to share God’s truth and the Gospel.But take a long hard look at the curriculum of our Sunday Schools and our student groups. Again and again, I get the feeling that the church (including our parachurch groups) continues to live and function in a historical vacuum.We will have to answer to God if we do not ‘seize the day’ of opportunity.So, while we may be hard pressed sometimes to reconcile President Clinton’s Christian confession and some of his behaviour, he has put the discovery of human genome in the proper context. He gives glory to God and understands humanity from the perspective of creation.
I guess a lame-duck President doesn’t have to be that politically correct.So let’s give Clinton the benefit of the doubt when he speaks of the role of God in creating humankind, and in this matter at least, let us emulate him.