Sunday, May 15, 2016

#136 / Designing Life From Scratch

Two articles caught my attention when I read the newspapers yesterday morning. The San Jose Mercury News carried an article entitled, "Designing life from scratch: A fledgling field is about to take off." The Wall Street Journal ran a book review of a new book by Siddhartha Mukherjee, entitled The Gene: An Intimate History. The book review, by Nicholas Wade, ran under the title, "Peeking Into Pandora's Box." It discussed the same sort of genetic engineering experiments that were reported on by the Mercury.

I think it is fair to say that both the Mercury article and the Journal's book review, while pointing out some problematic aspects of genetic engineering, concluded that designing life "from scratch" was an overall positive for us, and a step ahead. 

I beg to differ. 

Just as I don't think that we preserve and protect "humanity" by exporting various human specimens to Mars, I don't believe that we are going in the right direction for "humanity" when we decide that the future nature of human life will be "designed by humans."

Profound philosophical (even, dare I use the word, "religious") questions are raised by the idea that human beings should take over responsibility for their own creation. 

I maintain that any such claim would be an attempted usurpation, and that we are, inevitably, "creatures," part of the Natural World that sustains all life, and inhabitants of a world that we did NOT create, but into which we were born (by grace). 

Presuming that we can replace the Natural World (on Mars, for instance), or even replace our own biological makeup, is a profound rejection of the gift of life, which IS a gift. This Earth, and our lives, are gifts to us. They are not, now, and never will be, the product of our own design and construction. 

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  1. Humans will one day live on Mars. On that world they will lead lives full of love and hate. They will make music and art. They will build homes. Raise crops and children. Mars is just more space for people to call home.

  2. Colonizing Mars is the modern equivalent of Manifest Destiny.

    Fortunately, for Mars and for us, it is impossible to to occupy Mars in any meaningful way. There is not enough energy available on the Earth for a celestial wagon train to any other planet, or even to sustain the level of technocratic enthusiasm for such a venture.

    Humans will one day live on the Earth, or not at all.


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