What is a Christian view of genetic engineering?
Genetic engineering is the attempt to change an organism, or certain aspects of the organism, by working with its genetic material. A common example of genetic engineering is "GMO" produce. GMO stands for "genetically modified organism" and describes a crop, like corn, which is modified to withstand certain types of diseases that make the produce look less appealing, or to be less tasty to insects. This sounds harmless enough, but many studies have showed that the practice of genetic engineering has potentially devastating long-term consequences, ecologically speaking.
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The ethical question becomes even more daunting when we consider genetic engineering as it applies to animal life, particularly human life. Should we attempt to genetically modify ourselves, even in the pursuit of improving human health or extending human life? Is this pursuit biblical? What does God say about any of this? The Bible does not directly address the issue of genetic engineering, but there are some perspectives we can gain from the Scripture that will help us form an opinion. This article will focus largely on genetic engineering of food. For a specific discussion on cloning, please see our article "What should be the Christian view of cloning?"
God put man in charge of creation from the beginning (Genesis 1:28; 2:15–20). This is evident in the fact that the creation also "fell" when man did. Our sin literally plunged all of creation into chaos. Animals suffer, and kill and eat one another because of man's sin; this is not their natural state (Isaiah 11:6; 65:25). The ground produces thorns and thistles because of the fall of man, as a result of the curse (Genesis 3:17–19). Before sin, the Earth bore only healthy, perfect food. This will be the case again someday (Revelation 22:2). But for now, we know two things: humanity is responsible for weaknesses and cruelty in creation, and we are yet responsible to care for this world. Furthermore, our treatment of animal life is clearly a moral issue. "A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel" (Proverbs 12:10 KJV).
It can be therefore argued that humans have a responsibility to use all methods at our disposal to improve the creation. Caring for the Earth, minimizing pollution, and treating animals with care and concern, all fall under the umbrella of doing all we can to fulfill our responsibility in regards to creation. Some would argue that using genetic engineering is a way to help reverse some of the curse put upon creation. It can potentially be used to help ensure sustainable crops and access to food in areas that struggle with production. Perhaps genetic modification can prevent or cure diseases. Others argue that genetically modifying creation is overstepping the bounds and may even echo the fall in trying to take knowledge that was not meant for us (Genesis 3:1–5). Satan deceived Eve by saying that the forbidden fruit was good for gaining knowledge. It can be argued that when we strive after scientific progress that crosses the boundary between natural and modified genetic structure we are playing with fire, not only in terms of physical health, but in terms of spiritual health.
Again, the Bible does not directly address this issue. However, there are significant concerns—both scientifically and spiritually—that Christians should examine and consider when attempting to understand how they are called to interact with the topic of genetic engineering.
What should be the Christian view of cloning?
What does it mean that humanity is created in the image of God?
Why did God create humanity?
What was the effect of the fall on humanity? How did the fall affect our world?
Is creationism scientific?
Truth about Humanity