This endeavor causes many Christians concern and raises a number of important philosophical and theological questions. It has become apparent to me that there is a need for a theology for synthetic biology. Part 1 of this series provides an introduction to synthetic biology and a brief status report about its progress, and also addresses key philosophical concerns. Part 2 proposes a theology for synthetic biology derived from Genesis 1:26–31 and applies it to the most important questions raised by this emerging discipline.
Should humans play God?
This question has become more poignant in the last few years as biochemists, molecular biologists, and origin-of-life researchers make significant strides in their quest to create life in the lab. Attempts to produce artificial life fall under the purview of a new discipline called synthetic biology, a fusion of engineering and the life sciences.
One of synthetic biology’s goals is the design and manufacture of nonnatural life-forms—man-made constructs—unlike anything found in nature. Typically, those interested in creating these artificial organisms focus on engineering novel microbes (bacteria, yeast, etc.) or producing protocells, chemical supersystems that assume many, if not all, of the properties of life.
Among other benefits, these man-made life-forms could potentially provide huge technological advantages. Researchers envision synthetic microbes and protocells as bioreactors that could use inexpensive raw materials and solar energy to generate extremely valuable materials, like biomedicines, vaccines, biofuels, bioplastics, etc. These novel life-forms could also be used to clean up contaminants from the environment and find use in agricultural applications.
- Will the creation of synthetic life-forms eliminate the need for a Creator? Will synthetic biology make it all the more reasonable to think that life emerged via chemical evolution?
- Is this type of work safe? If artificial cells “leak” from the lab will they cause a disaster of “biblical” proportions?
- Is it ethical to create artificial life?
- Are researchers “playing God”?
What have synthetic biologists actually accomplished?