Playing GodMay 24, 2010 • 2:55 pm 1 Comment
Virtually every significant medical advancement has been met with cries that scientists and doctors are trying to “play God.” From the first heart transplant in South Africa on December 3, 1967 to the development of CPR, defibrillators and respirators in the late 1960s and early 70s, society, often led by religious leaders, has waved it’s hands and proclaimed that man has gotten too big for the britches God gave him. Which is why it’s refreshing to hear that last week’s announcement that Craig Venter and his team had created “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer” had some believers rejoicing. Michael Cook at BioEdge writes:
No one has greeted this with more enthusiasm than the Raelians, a bizarre cult which believes that humans were created by aliens called the Elohim and wants to clone humans as a path to immortality.
Their leader, Rael, a former French sports journalist, says: “With Venter’s achievement, we’re witnessing the first step toward the Elohimization of humanity that will bring the creation of the first synthetic human being.”
One man’s cult is, of course, another’s true religion. (If Michel Houellebecq is to be believed, the Raelians come to no good end, alas.) The scientific community is much less enthusiastic about Venter’s “creation”:
Harvard’s George Church told Nature that “The semi-synthetic mycobacterium is not changed from the wild state in any fundamental sense. Printing out a copy of an ancient text isn’t the same as understanding the language.” And Martin Fussenegger, of ETH Zurich, in Switzerland, said that “Since appearing on the planet, mankind has rarely created something new. Instead, people help themselves to materials that are already present, and produce increasingly complex devices. This latest technology will simply increase the speed with which new organisms can be generated.”