Critics attack the ethics of reproductive techniques, genetic modification, cloning, stem cell research and other practices where science interferes with human life. Scientists, however, argue that the only way to keep up with the increasing population is for us to extend our reach to enhance all areas of life.
Many believe that humans should stay within human limits rather than striving for a god-like status. By arguing that the gap between man and God’s necessary to keep ourselves in-check, our limits are a definable example of what it means to be human.
The more we extend beyond our limits, the harder it is to remember what it means to be a human.
How we play god
How do we play the role of God? Manipulating nature, sex selection, genetic engineering, deciding when to start and end life, and eugenic testing are just a few instances where God and science come face to face.
We play God by overlooking and attempting to eliminate human weakness or by manipulating the natural world around us.
The creation of artificial intelligence (AI) is another example of creating new life. In a recent experiment led by Google, 16,000 computers hooked up to a network. The computers were able to recognize a cat after being shown over 10 million images of cats.
Dr. Dean, who worked on the experiment, says, “We never told it during the training, ‘This is a cat.’ It basically invented the concept of a cat.” The ability for the computers to learn is similar to how an infant might arrive at the concept of a “cat” before knowing what the word means.
“Instead of having teams of researchers trying to find out how to find edges, you… throw a ton of data at the algorithm and… let the data speak and have the software automatically learn from the data,” says Dr. Ng, a Stanford University computer scientist.
Machines that constantly improve themselves and mimic human patterns can be describes as machines as “alive.” Our advancements in technology and genetic manipulation are the two biggest ways in which we play the role of God. While these advancements may improve our lives, we must ask ourselves whether or not we’re still living within the limits.
Potential for human misuse and abuse
There’s too much potential for human misuse and abuse when it comes to manipulating life. We wouldn’t be able to handle the consequences if a large mistake occurs since such an event would be too catastrophic even for us to fix.
Kirkpatrick Sale criticizes the cultivation of genetically modified organisms in regards to Monsanto, a company that uses genetic engineering:
Even if technological intrusion into and manipulation of the environment had not left a lengthy and frightening record of unintended disasters in the past century or so, there would be no reason to have any faith… that it could predict with any certainty what the consequences of its genetic intrusions would be - and that they would always be benign.
Thomas Midgely Jr. didn't mean to destroy the ozone layer when he introduced chlorofluorocarbons for refrigerators and spray cans half a century ago; the champions of nuclear energy didn't mean to create a deadly hazard with a life of 100,000 years that no one knows how to control.
And now we are talking about life - the alteration of the basic genetic makeup of plants and animals. A mistake here might have unimaginably horrible consequences for the species of the earth, including the humans.
Humans don’t tend to consider any possibly negative byproduct that may be produced when creating new things. Instead of really thinking about the negative effects of technology, we tend to focus solely on the positive outcomes. While the accusation of playing the role of God may hinder scientific initiatives, the criticism provides time for humans to reflect on whether or not we’re acting ethically and within human limits.
Even if scientific advancement is essential in order to understand how nature works, nature doesn’t necessarily have to be altered. Treating the world as one big laboratory will have consequences.
The benefits of playing god
While we may remain ignorant towards the consequences and irreparable damages that may result from playing God, there’re numerous benefits for using science to play the role of God. For example, Watson and Crick’s description of DNA in 1953, the birth of the first IVF baby, Louise Brown, in 1978, the creation of Dolly the sheep in 1997 and the sequencing of the human genome in 2001 all involve humans acting as God through science. These events are significant advancements in understanding who we are and the world around us.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have a significant number of advantages over foods that have not been genetically modified. GMO foods have an increased resistance to pests, diseases, and drought. Food can also be created to have a more favorable taste as well as an even larger size than food that isn’t genetically modified.
In addition, cancer researchers and patients are using experimental treatments with genetically modified viruses to target and destroy cancer cells. Many diseases and illnesses can now be prevented by removing a single gene.
By crossing over a gene from one species into another species, genetic engineering allows for an increase in genetic diversity. For example, it is possible to alter the genetics of wheat plants to grow insulin.
The benefits provided from genetic engineering or from playing the role of God have provided a tremendous, positive impact on the way we live. Whether it be in regards to plant cultivation and crop yield improvement to the ability to fight diseases and illnesses, genetic engineering has changed the world for the better.
Any technology that offers us benefits come hand in hand with controversy and risks. In order to decide whether or not to proceed with the technology in question, we must understand the impact that the technology will have on us.
The advantages and disadvantages from the creation or manipulation of life must be weighed heavily in order to understand what impact these actions will have on us.