In 1927 Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes stated: “Three generations of imbeciles is enough.” He was explaining the court’s support of a Virginia program of involuntary sterilization in a case identified as Buck vs. Bell. The Virginia law and others like it in other states compelled the involuntary sterilization of those people deemed genetically inferior. More than 60,000 people in the United States were sterilized in compliance with the laws the Supreme Court upheld. It was connected to the eugenics movement.
The concept of eugenics goes back at least to the ancient Greeks, but it became a popular movement in Europe and North America in the early twentieth century. In 1931, advocates of eugenics, the movement to improve the genetic quality of the human population, held a “Better Babies” contest in Washington D.C. to popularize the movement. Adolf Hitler used the concept of eugenics to justify his promotion of one superior racial group and to eliminate the inferior groups.
Now in 2018, the concept of using science to produce superior human beings is even more realistic. That is because of a gene-editing tool called CRISPR which geneticists can use to manipulate DNA to control the traits of animals, plants, and people. Dr. Henry Greely of Stanford University says that CRISPR “might one day be used to engineer humans who are more intelligent, beautiful, or athletic.”
It is essential to understand that the potential for good with CRISPR is enormous. It may be possible to cure genetic diseases by using gene editing techniques. It may also be possible to produce useful new food sources. The problem is that gene editing can also be used for evil purposes. Dr. Greely’s statement brings to mind Adolph Hitler’s justification of the extermination of what Hitler considered to be inferior humans.
So what will CRISPR be used for – enormous good, or enormous evil? The answer to that cannot come from science. The religious convictions of those doing the research and those who use the research will decide whether CRISPR does good, or whether it will become a tool of war and ethnic persecution.
Virtually every significant discovery of science can be used for good or evil. Nuclear energy has the potential for enormous good by providing unlimited energy to everyone on the planet. It also has the potential for immense destruction. Dr. Jennifer Doudna at the University of California, Berkeley, is one of the inventors of CRISPR. She has written that she has nightmares “of all the ways in which our hard work might be perverted.”
It is essential that brilliant young Christians become involved in science. They must be involved not only in the research but also in how to use the products of the research.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Wall Street Journal August 18/19 2018, page C5.