Genetic Engineering & Religious Beliefs

Genetic modification of DNA occurs in plants, animals and lower organisms.
... Hemera Technologies/ Images

Genetic engineering, or the alteration of organisms at the level of DNA and genes, has been occurring since the late 1960s when Dr. Allen S. Fox and Dr. Sei Byung Yoon at the University of Wyoming altered the DNA of fruit fly eggs. Since that time, research into the genetic modification of organisms has increased and expanded into the realms of antibiotic production, pesticide resistance in foods and even cloning. Though science is moving at an ever-quickening pace, many people suggest the ethics of such research should first be considered from a religious standpoint.

1 Aims of Genetic Engineering Research

Genetically engineered organisms are found readily in the food and medical world. With crops from corn and soy to the production of antibiotics from yeast, genetic engineering has already been considered a success in the field of science, but it's not stopping there. Scientists are currently working to be able to generate life itself by altering DNA and creating novel genomes. For example, cloning in pigs is currently being tested to genetically alter the animal's production of fats to include omega-3 fatty acids, which are normally produced by fish. While only suggested at this point, the possibility of using genetic engineering to fix birth defects in fetuses and even create superhuman abilities, termed genetic enhancements, are both on the horizon.

2 Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design is a religious theory of creation that has fought against the scientific theory of evolution that was first introduced by Darwin in 1859. Intelligent Design suggests that living organisms on Earth are so complex and variable that they couldn't possibly have arisen from unguided evolution -- the gradual adaptation and change of species over time -- and therefore prove the existence of God. According to Intelligent Design, God made all organisms on Earth in their current perfect form; thus human creation and alteration of life are outside the realm of what is religiously acceptable and appropriate. Although belief in Intelligent Design has waned in recent years, with numerous clergy and churches now accepting biological evolution, many conservative Christians continue to believe that Intelligent Design precludes human interference with what God created.

3 Human Finitude

From a religious standpoint, the most basic argument against people intentionally altering genes is that humans, unlike God, are not omniscient. God is viewed as the creator, solely responsible for creating and directing the course life takes. Human alteration of genes puts people on the same level as God, which is outside religious acceptance. In addition, humans' inability to see the future and the outcomes of their actions inherently means there are unforeseen consequences to all actions, including genetic modification, and suggests that genetically modified plants and animals could evolve in unexpected ways. With the state of genetic engineering today, these consequences could manifest as illness and allergies from genetically modified foods as well as increasing antibiotic resistance in microbes.

4 Social Justice

An issue that causes the most ambiguity toward genetic engineering is social justice, where religious doctrine falls on both sides of the argument. From a religious perspective, it is the responsibility of every person to help every other, as commanded by the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," that permeates not just Christianity but many religions. In this sense, religion would dictate that people are morally obligated to do anything they can to help others, and with increasing food shortage and increase in disease, genetic engineering is a valuable route for aid. On the other hand, many religious traditions also believe in the equality of all people; thus from a religious perspective, all people should have equal access to created benefits such as those produced through genetic engineering. This suggests that if the benefits can not be offered to all, they should not be offered to some.

Tiffany Andras received her bachelor's and master's degrees from Georgia Tech in Biology and Biochemistry. Her work was first published in the "Journal of Chemical Ecology" as both a full-length article and the journal's cover. She has been writing professionally since 2012, with articles spanning topics from French culture to nutrition and brain disorders.