Peters, Ted. Playing God with Our Evolutionary Future."
The theory of evolution
leads Ted Peters to emphasize that Gods creation is not fixed but changing,
and this may apply even to human nature. But should we seek to influence our
own genetic future? Some denounce this as playing God, especially when it
comes to germ-line intervention, but Peters analyzes this term in light of a
Christian theology of creation. He claims that Gods creative activity gives
the world a future, that humans are created co-creators, as Hefner puts it,
and that we should be open to improving the human genetic lot and thus to
influencing our evolutionary future.
Peters suggests three meanings for the term, playing God: learning
about Gods awesome secrets through science and technology; making life and
death decisions in medical emergencies; and substituting ourselves for God.
Concern for the third may lead to an attack on human pride in when we confuse
knowledge for wisdom or ignore the problem of unforeseen consequences of
germ-line intervention. A separate concern is that DNA is sacred and should be
off-limits to humans. Here Peters cites Jeremy Rifkin, who appeals to
naturalism or vitalism in defense of leaving nature alone. Still neither
Christian theologians nor molecular biologists are likely to agree with
Rifkin - though for different reasons.
Actually the term playing God raises the question of the relationship
between God and creation in terms of both creatio
ex nihilo and creatio continua.
In Peters view, giving the world a future is Gods fundamental way of acting
as creator. God creates new things including the new creation yet to come. The
human is a created co-creator: we are part of what God alone creates ex nihilo, yet we can have a special
influence of the direction of what God continues to create. Indeed the meaning
of imago Dei may well be
creativity. Though the results of human creativity are deeply ambiguous
ethically, we cannot not be creative. The ethical mandate concentrates instead
on the purposes towards which we direct our work
Peters next turns to the Human Genome Project (HGP). The aim of the HGP
is new knowledge and the betterment of human health, but the germ-line debate
is over taking actions now that might potentially improve the health or relieve
the suffering of people who do not yet exist. Should we instead only engage in
somatic therapy or should we undertake germ-line therapy, and should the
purposes of the latter include enhancement? Peters cites a number of church
documents which call for caution or for limitations to somatic procedures;
still others are open to germ-line therapy. At stake is the implicit
association with eugenics.
By and large, religious ethical thinking is conservative, seeking to
preserve the present human gene pool for the indefinite future. From this
perspective, germ-line intervention triggers the sense of playing God both
physically (we might degrade the biodiversity required for good health) and
socially (we might contribute to stigma and discrimination). But Peters is
critical of this perspective, because it assumes that the present state of
affairs is adequate, and it ignores the correlation between conceiving of God
as the creator and the human as created co-creator. Instead, we are called to
envision a truly better future and press on towards it, though certainly with
caution, prudence, and a clear concern for our hubris.
After recounting the summary of arguments for and against germ-line
intervention stipulated by Eric Juengst, Peters turns to the position paper by
the Council for Responsible Genetics (CRG). The strongest argument is that
germ-line intervention will reinforce social discrimination. Peters endorses
the CRGs concern: the definition of the ideal norm may be governed by economic
and political advantage. He reaffirms human dignity regardless of genetic
inheritance and the technical possibilities in genetic engineering, but he
recognizes that the underlying reasons for prejudice and discrimination today
are not germ-line intervention. A more serious challenge raised by the CRG
concerns persons who do not yet exist: should they be given moral priority over
present populations? Future generations might blame us for acting, or not
acting, in terms of germ-line interventions, and, arguably, we are morally
accountable to them. But the problem is complex, as Hardy Jones and John A.
Robertson point out, since actual, generational differences would occur
depending on whether or not we intervened. We clearly need an ethical framework
that is grounded in Gods will for the future, for the flourishing of all
humanity, and for that which transcends particular concerns for contingent
And so Peters asks the key question: would a future-oriented theology,
with the human as co-creator, be more adequate than the CRGs proposal? His
response is affirmative: a future- oriented theology would not give priority to
existing persons; it is realistic about nature as inherently dynamic; and our
task is to seek to discern Gods purpose for the future and conform to it,
while resisting the status quo.
Rather than playing God, in directing ourselves to that future we are being,
in Peters words, truly human.
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