Synthetic DNA: The Path to Paradise? (and woolly mammoths)   

Biotechnology is advancing at an astonishing rate.

Synthetic DNA: The Path to Paradise? (and woolly mammoths)

In the past ten years scientists have learned how to read the entire human genome and can now edit DNA using a technology called CRISPR. This has made it possible to construct synthetic DNA from scratch, allowing scientists to create their own varieties of living micro-organisms, potentially capable of producing anything.

Drew Endy, a professor of bioengineering at Stanford University has said, “The potential is for civilization-scale flourishing, a world of abundance not scarcity, supporting a growing global population without destroying the planet.”[1] George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, provocatively claims, “Getting E. coli [a type of bacteria] to churn out jet fuel is nothing compared to . . . viruses getting the same bacterium to fabricate more of themselves.”[2] In September 2021 Church founded a company called Colossal, with the aim of bringing about the revival of the woolly mammoth! Colossal’s mission statement is ambitious: “to advance the economies of biology and healing through genetics. To make humanity more human. And to reawaken the lost wilds of Earth. So we, and our planet, can breathe easier.”[3]

It seems that those pioneering this field of science believe they can save humanity, allowing us to live as we wish, free from the fear of disease or environmental calamity. William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus sums up well the ideology underlying much of this endeavour: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” While biotechnology promises much, and likely will bring many benefits to society in coming years, its goal of saving humanity independently of God contradicts all that the Bible teaches.

The Bible is clear that humans have been created by God and for God (Colossians 1:16). In the opening chapters of Genesis, we read that He made us in His image, as living souls. We are not mere DNA-replicating machines but spiritual beings who will exist forever. We are image-bearers of the Living God, made for a relationship with Him. Although we may not realise it, we are dependent on Him for everything: “He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord” (Acts 17:25-27).

As stewards of God’s creation, God has given humankind the responsibility of acting as His agents in caring for and managing the world (Genesis 1:26; 2:15, Psalm 8:6). He wants us to use our intellect and creativity in a God-honouring way, for the blessing of all. However, as scientific progress rushes on, our society has believed the oldest lie known to humanity: “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). We want to be the masters of our own fate. We hope that with our own intellect, science and engineering we will save the environment and create paradise on earth. Without God.

Yet genetic bioengineering claims it can do more than save the planet – it can save us from the problems that lie within. With just a few alterations to our genetic code it is claimed we may be able to banish disease, human suffering and perhaps even ageing. We might even be able to boost our IQ or alter our physiology to allow interplanetary travel. The prospect of immortality seems to be edging closer, whispering tantalisingly, “You will be like God.”

Genesis 3 teaches us that this is a lie from the devil. He promised Adam and Eve, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of [that fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4,5). But when they disobeyed God and overstepped His limits, they did not acquire divine understanding or reach immortality. Rather, they were separated from God and began to die. Their environment was cursed, and their lives were filled with sorrow: “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Their desire for divinity ended in disaster: “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Any attempt to live life apart from God, although seeming to succeed for a while, will ultimately fail. The ancient proverb warns us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 16:25).

To try to save humanity in a purely physical way is to ignore the reality of what we are as humans. We are spiritual creatures who are loved by God, but also separated from Him because of our sinful rebellion, and helpless because of our sinful nature. We are facing eternal judgment. Our greatest need is not increased immunity to disease, boosted IQ or micro-organisms that can mass-produce jet fuel. It is to be reconciled with God our Maker and to receive His eternal life. No amount of gene editing will remove the sinful nature that lies within us. Only God can change us. He has given His eternal Son to die on a cross, where He suffered for our sins “that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

Millions have experienced this life-transforming change by humbly repenting of their sins and trusting the risen Lord Jesus for salvation. The apostle Paul wrote about this in his letters to the Ephesian and Corinthian Christians: "you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins . . . For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:1,8-10); “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Many may feel that by abandoning God they are casting off the shackles of oppressive superstition, allowing them to truly thrive as humans. But in Romans 1, God exposes the fact that the road of secular “progress” inevitably leads to the degradation of humanity. If we remove God from our thinking there will be inevitable consequences for society. We already see the disastrous effects of the previous generation’s abandonment of God’s truth about sex, marriage and family, with broken families all around us and an epidemic of anxiety and depression. While biotechnological progress may achieve much in the coming decades, without God earth can never be transformed into paradise. Society will only descend further into chaos and sin. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness” (Romans 1:28,29).

Thankfully, the Gospel gives us a much better ending to the story of our planet. The Lord Jesus is coming again to judge this world’s rebellion and then He “shall be King over all the earth” (Zechariah 14:9). Injustice and oppression, disease and famine will be things of the past (Isaiah 11:4-10; 35:5,6). People will no longer be trying to take God’s place and authority, for all who enter God’s Kingdom will have humbly trusted Christ and received God’s eternal life. He will make them perfect like Himself: “we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). All who believe will rejoice in the fact that the One who died for their sins now wants to dwell with them forever. It will be paradise.



[2] Church GM, Regis E. Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves. Basic Books. New York. 2014.



Photo credit: Warren Umoh