Science in Christian Perspective
A Journal Symposium
The Recombinant DNA Controversy
Could Anything But Good Come Out?
Robert L. Herrmann, J. W. Haas, Jr. Russell Mixter Edwin J. Geels Gareth Jones Fred Jappe
Richard H. Bube Gordon Mills Charlotte Jones Jerry D. Albert
From: JASA 30
(June 1978): 73-81.
This Symposium was conceived and organized by Dr. Jerry Albert, Consulting Editor.
Could Anything But Good Come Out?
Robert L. Herrmann Department of Biochemistry Schools of Medicine and Dentistry Oral Roberts University Tulsa, Oklahoma
Having worked in the molecular biology field for most of my academic life, I've found it difficult to deal briefly with my first academic love. Experimentation with bacterial and bacteriophage genetic systems has the unique quality of incisiveness-relatively simple interpretation-which make many experiments things of beauty and high expectation. It is easy to feel with Jacques Monod that molecular biology and the science it represents is the gateway to all the essential knowledge and even the ethical systems to guide the future of man.1 And, too, the land is peopled by giants -Nobel laureates like Monod, Luria, Watson, Crick, Dulbecco, Kornberg, to name a few-and I recall with considerable pleasure the many scintillating seminars I received at their hands during my two decades in Boston. To hear Francis Crick talk about the triplet code or Arthur Kornberg about the details of bacterial DNA replication, was surely to be at near-center stage in the most exciting drama of this century. Could anything but good come out of such a setting?
But early in this decade, a few molecular biologists began to ask that question of some of the work about to be carried out in the field of molecular recombination. The major concern was expressed for gene transfer between animal and bacterial cells, a process made possible by new chemical and enzymatic methods for generating gene segments which were then capable of reconstitution in almost limitless combinations. The immediate concern was for the production of dangerous pathogenic bacteria by introduction of tumor-virus genes into bacterial cells capable of growing in the human body.
The wider recognition of the dangers has come slowly. A 1973 Cordon Conference chaired by Maxine Singer belatedly and briefly examined the issue and voted to request the National Academy of Sciences to make a study. That body appointed a study committee chaired by Paul Berg which took the extraordinary step of publishing a letter in Science and in Nature in July of 1974 calling for a temporary moratorium on certain molecular recombination experiments.2 As a sequel to the announced moratorium, a conference was convened in Asilomar, California, in February of 1975, to plan a future course. Some 140 scientists doing molecular recombination research and a few lawyers and reporters met for several days. Most of the time was devoted to scientific presentation, but on the final day, the lawyers had occasion to present something of the legal liabilities of molecular recombination research.
That revelation, together with the reaction of several influential members of Congress and the Senate, placed the discussion of recombinant DNA research squarely in the public arena. Senator Edward Kennedy's critique of Asilomar was that its deliberations were "commendable but inadequate ... because scientists alone decided to impose the moratorium, and scientists alone decided to lift it. Yet the factors under consideration extend far beyond their technical competence."3 Atlantic writers, Bennett and Curio, wrote of yet another scientific limitation. In their view, "The scientists came to Asilomar like the barons to Runnymede ... running their laboratories as personal fiefs . . . to forge an agreement they feared might affect them for decades to come. The clash of armored egos was noisy."4
All of this must begin to sound familiar to the Christian. Science is no special repository of moral sensitivity or self-sacrifice. In fact, that realization on the part of educators may be the most important consequence of these debates. Indeed, it is this writer's conviction that the present situation provides the Christian with the best ammunition with which to storm the twin edifices of scientific reductionism and educational specialization. A hundred years ago the Ph.D. program often carried with it generous exposure to theology and the humanities. A student in the natural sciences was expected to know something of the history and culture in which his science had flowered. The "philosophy" part of his degree had significance! Today, every aspect of professional qualification in the sciences, and in the healing arts as well, is designed to force the scholar into ever-narrowing areas of specialization. It is no wonder that the protagonists on the side of complete freedom of scientific inquiry are unable to understand the fears of ethicists and theologians. Their language, their sources, their goals are totally foreign to him! In the face of this moral vacuum at the scientific workbench, may the teacher in the Christian college be challenged to realize his potential to prepare young men and women who are broadly and expertly trained to enter this and other arenas-nuclear engineering, mind-control, world food production, whole-person medicine in which the very way we perceive and evaluate our selves is at stake. May the boards of trustees of these same institutions be led by God to mobilize support for these efforts, and may we Christians of the scientific community who are so small of voice discover the prophetic power of a Jeremiah and the courage of a John the Baptist in our crucial position in a culture which surely has lost its way.
1Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity, Vintage Books, N.Y., 1972.
2P. Berg, et al. Science, 185, 303, 1974.
3B. J. Culleton, News & Comments, Science, 188, 1187-1189, 1976.
4W. Bennett and J. Curio, "Science That Frightens Scientists- The Great Debate over DNA" Atlantic, pp. 43-62, Feb ruary 1977.
Dangers Less Serious Than Earlier Believed
J. W. Haas, Jr. Department of Chemistry Gordon College Wenham, Massachusetts 01984
Since World War lithe general public has been increasingly concerned with the pervasive influence of science and technology on everyday life. The spectre of nuclear holocaust has haunted the world and influenced international politics for a generation. The message of a few lone environmentalists effectively addressed by Rachel Carson has become a multitude of voices, and the word ecology has entered our vocabulary. Questions formerly resolved (or ignored) by scientists, plant managers or the military are handled in the halls of Congress, at the ballot box or in the courts. Laetrile and saccharin now vie for attention along with taxes and law enforcement.
The effects of science "going public" have been mixed and there is some feeling that "the people" are unable to make rational decisions on complex issues. The high emotions and street corner debate that characterized some of the discussion of recombinant DNA research in 1976 and early 1977 tend to support this view. The initial outcry has subsided and procedures to regulate the research are being developed on the national level. It is interesting to note that research interests and government officials in most of the European nations have been able to develop standards for recombinant studies in a much cooler climate.
My comments on genetic research refer only to the work with recombinant DNA. There are two basic types of questions that should be asked. First, is the research worth doing? Is there potential for a fuller understanding of nature or are the products of the research of benefit to mankind? Secondly, does the research meet commonly held standards of morality and safety?
In answer to the first question, academic, govern mental and industrial researchers alike are convinced that these experiments will enhance our understanding of genetic mechanisms and offer the possibility for developing new or cheaper antibiotics, nitrogen-fixing plants, microorganisms to clean up oil spills, etc.
The second type of question has raised the bulk of the discussion. There are those who feel that the proposed experiments are precursors to genetic manipulation in humans and eventual loss of freedom and individuality. I fail to see the inevitability of this chain of events. Surely, when and if genetic studies reach the level of sophistication where genetic manipulation becomes possible, decisions can be made on a value basis at a point where the issue is clear. To forbid a particular line of research because of a possible value judgment which could appear far down the line, reduces one in the widest view to suggest that we should have stopped with the work of John Dalton or Gregor Mendel. It may be that some short term project should be avoided because it degrades the human condition (research on poison gas) yet one generally cannot assess the potential effects of a particular kind of knowledge until it has come to development. In general (and especially in this case), we should go slowly so that our ability to evaluate moral and ethical implications of an action will come to maturity at the time an action becomes possible.
The safety issue appears to be less important at this writing than was earlier believed. The June 1977 Gordon Research Conference on Nucleic Acids, in a letter to Science indicated that "the experience of the last four years has not given any indication of actual hazard." Until all evidence of hazard is removed, I would support a regulatory system at the national level which can monitor the safety provisions for the work being done yet impede this work as little as possible-wishful thinking in this age of bureaucracy. For the Christian in science the challenge to use his gifts in a responsible way will continue to expand as science and technology push further to the heart of human existence.
Published Pros and Cons
Russell Mixter Department of Zoology Wheaton College Wheaton, Illinois
Science and Time have adequately stated the pros and cons of research in combining DNA's of differing organisms, so a review of their contributions will let the reader make up his mind as to whether or not to approve this research.
The stated advantages of trying to add a few genes from various
sources into the
colon bacillus are: preparation of research and diagnostic agents in studying
disease, development of vaccines against influenza and hepatitis, production of
interferon, the agent counteracting viruses;1 a 500-fold increase in the enzyme
that permits the fractionation of DNA, the possibility of examining the genes
of organisms with formed nuclei;2 obtaining cheaper insulin, a clotting factor
for hemophiliacs, vitamins, antibiotics, nitrogen-fixing capacity in bacteria,
enzymes to degrade oil spills, a vaccine against diarrhea, location
of many human
genes, the unlocking of genes causing cancer, a safe microbe not
causing any infection
even if possessing introduced genes;3 and, I suppose as usual, a few
not yet imagined.
But opponents of DNA research in making hybrid strains state the following: the risks are terrifying, a slight increase in disease could result which our present techniques cannot detect ;4 a tumor and a cold virus combined could have disastrous results, a gene yielding an enzyme for cellulose added to the colon bacterium may spread diarrhea, a tumor virus may be inserted into the colon bacterium;5 the military or industry might misuse research results or scientists would engage in genetic manipulation of humans;1 some of the pus-forming bacteria are now resistant to antibiotics;6 and science is not justified in tinkering.4
Here are a few reactions to the worries of the opponents of laboratory manipulations of hereditary substances: the whole mass of criticisms are overblown .4 knowledge would be suppressed, citizenry should be willing to accept the risks as research is continued;7 the opponents of recombinant DNA research have been criticized unjustly by colleagues and have feared for their tenure if not already having it;8 biological warfare is already forbidden by agreement between the Soviet Union and the United States, National Institutes of Health Guidelines already forbid inserting new toxins or antibiotic resistance into pathogens, public health measures would certainly control any epidemics started by the intestinal germ, recombinant DNA research and genetic engineering should not be confused, Congress will probably make research guidelines apply to all scientists;1 the added amount of new genetic material is a mere fragment of the receiving organism (for example, only 1 millionth of a mouse's genes are inserted into a bacterium), so that the bacterium is still itself, no lab worker has ever had an illness as a result of his research;2 science itself is at stake if research is hindered;9 the hazards are in the imagination;10 137 scientists at the Gordon Conference on Nucleic Acids recommend nothing beyond the NIH guidelines;" 11 E. coli K12 which is used in bacterial genetics cannot be made epidemic;12 the long career of nature has brought
The prospective benefits must be taken seriously by the Christian, and should push him towards this work as long as it is continually balanced by responsible guidelines governing the protection of researchers, the public and future generations.
on epidemics such as bubonic plague, smallpox, yellow fever, typhoid
and surely the wisdom of scientists will not yield such results.6
A full discussion of both sides should be welcomed.13 The citizens' review board in Cambridge did an admirable job of holding such a conference and the Archdiocese of Boston agreed that the confrontation should be settled by scientists themselves.14 It can be assumed that future scientists will be as willing to control their research then as now. Any attempt by the national government to control research is temporarily in abeyance.12 We must ". . . distinguish carefully between the acquisition of knowledge and its application" writes Maxine Singer.9
What does Scripture say? "What your hand finds to do, do it with all your might." "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." "Fill the earth and subdue it . . . till it and keep it." It is like the knowledge and use of atomic energy: we need the information; we need to use the scientific findings wisely.
1Nicholas Wade. Science, 1 Apr. 1977.
2John Abelson. Science, 8 Apr. 1977.
3Time, Apr. 18, 1977.
4Nicholas Wade. Science, 12 Nov. 1976.
5 Nicholas Wade. Science, 28 Jan. 1977.
6Time, Apr. 8, 1977.
7Nicholas Wade. Science, 21 Jan. 1977,
8Nicholas Wade. Science, 4 Feb. 1977.
9Maxine Singer. Science, 8 Apr. 1977.
10Pbilip Handler. Chemical and Engineering News, May 9, 1977.
11Walter Gilbert. Science, 15 July 1977.
12Philip Abelson. Science, 19 Aug. 1977.
13Clifford Grobstein. Science, 10 Dec. 1976.
14Nicbolas Wade. Science, 21 Jan. 1977.
Examine the Dangers and Benefits Carefully
Edwin J. Geels Department of Chemistry Dordt College Sioux Center, Iowa
During the twelve years I have taught a one semester course in Biochemistry I have seen a great outpouring of information particularly in the area of molecular biology involving nucleic acids and proteins. During this time the text in this course has increased in size from 393 pages in the first edition to 628 pages in the 4th edition. In spite of this increase in knowledge about the living cell the surface has barely been scratched and much remains to be done. One of the most controversial areas of research is the area of recombinant DNA. This basically involves splitting open a small usually circular DNA molecule from a host cell, splicing in foreign DNA from an entirely unrelated cell, recombining the open ends into circular DNA, and introducing this DNA back into the host cell. These new cells carrying recombinant pieces of DNA or plasmids may in some cases express the newly acquired genes in some way. It is this possibility upon which many of the benefits of this research are postulated but upon which the fears of others are based.
One of the most often voiced fears is that the recombinant technique may lead to the emergence of a new strain of virulent pathogen which will decimate the ranks of man. The fact that a large percentage of this research centers on the use of strains of E.scherichia coil as host cell increases these fears since the parent E. coil exists in symbiotic relationship with the human intestine. Other concerns deal with the possible extension of this technique to the cells of man in genetic manipulation, with the possibility that the calls for regulation of this research may lead to overregulation and stifling of free scientific inquiry of all types, and with the possibility that a great deal of time, money, facilities, and scientific personnel will be wasted by a rush into this new and possibly faddish research area. Also, voices are heard asking if man even has the right to tamper with God's creation especially by crossing species barriers between procaryotes and eucaryotes.
The list of possible benefits of recombinant DNA is understandably a bit thin, since it is usually somewhat difficult to visualize how one will benefit from a discovery before it is made. However, I feel it is safe to conclude that no matter what new discoveries are made, some men will find good uses for them and other men will find evil uses for them. I have only to menlion a few examples, such as the printing press, dynamite, drugs, and nuclear energy. At present the suggested but unproven benefits include the use of recombinant DNA to yield bacteria which could produce human hormones such as insulin, could synthesize antibiotics and vitamins, and be able to convert nitrogen into a form usable by plants. A more certain benefit would seem to be a better understanding of the genetic equipment of the cell.
How should a Christian scientist, cultural mandate in hand, approach the question of whether or not recombinant DNA is a permissable research area for man? I feel that as a Christian and a scientist I should have an open-minded attitude toward the question and examine carefully both the dangers and the benefits of this type of research.
Having examined as many of both as I could as summarized above, I have concluded that we will through the use of recombinant DNA research undoubtedly be able to uncover more and more of the pattern of creation, especially as it reveals itself in the DNA of the cell and genetic expression. By so doing, we can praise and glorify God all the more for His created order. This type of research will undoubtedly also provide benefits to mankind not even yet imagined.
On the obverse side must also be the balancing realization that the influence of sin will also lead some to exploit this new research into new ways to make a profit. Not that profit is bad in itself, but quite often a new market must be created for a potentially profitable but often unnecessary product whose mutagenie and carcinogenic effects have not been investigated, such as Red Dye No. 2, PBB, PCB, and more recently, the soil fumigant DBCP. Since the development of biological weapons has been actively pursued in the past, it would seem that the use of recombinant DNA would be a natural area for attempting to find a superpathogen or poison. Even though the use of DNA from venom-producing snakes and insects and bactteria producing botulinum toxins is presently banned from government-supported research, this may not deter foreign governments from carrying out this type of research using methods carefully developed and widely published by American scientists.
Recombinant DNA research is being carried out and I feel that it will be continued in the future. However, because of the possible risks involved and possible misuse of results, I feel careful regulation of this research may he necessary. This does not necessarily have to stifle research, as some claim. But regulatory groups must watch over it and should have the power to stop research proceeding in a direction dangerous to man and the world about him. Such a regulatory group should involve representatives from private industry, federal government, and education, including a number who have no vested interest in this type of research. I also think a similar organization at the United Nations level is necessary, since this problem is not only a national one, but one which will eventually be global in nature.
Dangerous Territory, Not Forbidden Knowledge
D. Gareth Jones Department of Anatomy and Human Biology University of Western Australia Nedlands, Australia
The debate about the advisability of proceeding with recombinant DNA research cannot be viewed as an isolated issue. One day it may well be seen to have played an important, and perhaps even decisive, role in the shaping of attitudes to scientific endeavour in the 1970s. This is because the opponents and proponents of this type of research are not divided simply on its postulated hazards and on their reactions to these, but on their far more fundamental response to scientific research and its applications.
I am not suggesting that there is no room for debate over the risks of various genetic procedures. There is, and there should be ample debate. Nevertheless, those who demand that these procedures be absolutely safe with no possibility of any type of risk-or a standard approaching this absolute one-are demanding an unattainable goal. Those who press this point demonstrate,
DNA research is like any other research. The potential for good and evil is always present.
not only their scepticism towards recombinant DNA research, but also their scepticism towards the processes of scientific investigation.
Much of the risk
debate has raged over recombinant DNA experiments has been over
speculative possibilities rather than over expected consequences.
Even the N.I.H.
guidelines are framed to counteract postulated as opposed to
They are demanding, to quote Stanley N. Cohen1 "not only that there be no
evidence of hazard, but that there be positive evidence that there is
Perhaps this is right; undoubtedly, there have been past occasions when far too
little regard of
potential and even actual hazards was taken. This current approach
be recognized as an unprecedented one, although once it is pressed too far it
takes on anti-scientific overtones.
The recombinant DNA debate has engendered such heat, because too little recognition of the nature of the projected hazards has been taken. This, in turn, appears to have acquired some of its basis from a fear of the unknown-the possibilities of epidemics, eugenics, the manipulation of the genetic equipment of man, upsetting evolutionary processes, and so on. While these scenarios cannot be completely dismissed they acquire special significance for those who lack faith in the scientific enterprise and who emphasize the misuse to which scientific knowledge has been put in the past. And so we find Chargaff putting together splitting of the atom and manipulation of the genetic apparatus as the two greatest deeds and probably misdeeds of science in recent times. In other words, it is fear of future misapplication of genetic knowledge that is uppermost in his thinking.
This introduces the distinction between fundamental and applied research. Advocates of recombinant DNA research stress both aspects of the research, whereas its opponents tend to emphasize the misuse to which it may well be put. For instance, Chargaff argues that there are forbidden uses of knowledge, while others go a step further and stigmatize this type of genetic research as forbidden knowledge. From here it is but a short step to the position that this research should be opposed because it is evil. Hence all claims to freedom of inquiry are abrogated.
What is being called in question therefore, is the nature of basic research. Two facets stand out in this regard: (1) that there is knowledge which is inherently dangerous and should not therefore be indulged in, and (2) that non-scientists should have a stake in what limits, if any, are placed on research and its applications. This latter proposal is essentially a practical one and should be debated at that level, although it needs to be borne in mind that non-scientists have to be advised by scientists on genetic issues. Great care is required, therefore, to ensure that the advice they are given is as impartial and representative of responsible opinion as it is possible to give.
The alleged danger of genetic knowledge takes a number of forms.
Besides the hazards
associated with experimentation and fear of its misapplication in the
future, other aspects that are stressed touch on interference with evolutionary
mechanisms, the unjustified expense of the research and the unlikelihood of any
great benefits accruing from it. Underlying these objections is a
that mankind will be helped by this, or even related forms, of research. What
is demanded too is that we work within the limits of our grasp of the
of our immediate actions.
On the opposite side, what are stressed are the potential medical and social benefits of recombinant DNA techniques, such as the production of antibiotics, vitamins, and medically and industrially useful chemicals. More generally, the course of action advocated is that we advance knowledge and increase our vigilance in assessing the hazards and costs of possible applications.
From a Christian perspective, a number of principles emerge as significant. Scientific enterprise must not become a sacred cow, so that all research-regardless of nature, danger or costs-is legitimate. There are priorities and these need to be assessed from the human perspective. What will, as far as we can judge, benefit mankind? Into what beneficial channels should effort and money be directed? These are, of course, somewhat subjective questions, but they need to be faced and criteria enunciated to make value judgments.
Although science must not be granted a semi-divine status, neither must it be denigrated. At base, it is a God-given way of investigating the natural world, exerting control over it and living out this exercise of authority in a responsible manner. In these terms, it is difficult to concede that there is forbidden knowledge, in the sense in which that term is being used with respect to gen
A Christian Perspective Favoring Recombinant DNA Research
Fred Jappe Department of Chemistry Mesa College San Diego, California
If Christianity is to be a viable religion, it must do more than provide an escape route for sinners. It must speak to the moral and intellectual issues of today with vigor, clarity and intelligence. Christians must be effective in rebutting the claim that Hebraic religion in general and Christianity in particular is chained to ancient books and consequently lacks relevance for modern man.
As a Christian, I naturally see my faith speaking to all the great issues of mankind. It can do this because the thrust of Christianity is that man-Christian man has a dynamic relation with the living God mediated by His Son and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Christian man is thus not left to his own resources in solving moral issues, but has help. One "help" is the biblical insight that man is a sinner and that sin affects our judgment. As a Christian I'm acutely aware of my shortcomings. Another insight is that God is ultimately "calling the shots" of history. He is sovereign and hence mankind and history are not left to man's devices, nor is history just the output or consequence of mankind's actions. The thought of Thomas Aquinas, that God is the continuing ruler of the universe-the prime cause of every event although secondary causes may arise-assuages my fears.
With that as a brief backdrop, let me state my position as one who favors recombinant DNA Research, All scientific research involves risks, since in no case can the results of a new experiment or theory be known with absolute certainty before hand. The scientific method at its unavoidable core means taking risks. And the application of science-technology-continues the risks, normally even over a wider area.
Who could have foreseen that Newton's Laws and the understandings related to them would be used 350 years later to develop killer satellites or other perverse devices? Since all knowledge augments man's power, science continually enables man to do more and more. And this inevitably means to make bigger and more costly mistakes.
DNA research is like any other research. It is not and should not be philosophically isolated. The potential for both good and evil is always present. Here as in other areas of research, mankind's suffering may be alleviated and other good things may happen. But since when must science justify itself on the grounds of practical utility? It need not do so in this case either. Perhaps, if one needs it, a justification for the Christian exists in the biblical concept of subduing the earth. Our understanding of the DNA code can be seen as a part of that process.
Science grew in the Graeco-Hebraic soil of western culture. It could flourish partly because Western man was, as he increased his understanding of nature, also understanding his creation better. Dillenberg in Protestant Thought and Natural Science (p. 88) quotes Galileo as saying "for the Holy Bible and the phenomena of nature proceed alike from the divine word, the former as the dictate of the Holy Ghost and the latter as the observant executrix of God's commands."
While my insights suggest that the key biblical element is the personal and human participatory aspects of God, this does not mean that I cannot argue for and come to an increased understanding of God through impersonal scientific research. After the science is done, it can be reviewed in the light of biblical insights and glory given to the Creator rather than the creature.
As a citizen I naturally want that reseach to be done with minimum risks to the community. My biblical insights into the nature of mankind suggests that it is not wise to have the researchers "watch themselves." Hence, an outside agency, perhaps non-governmental but supported by government funds should see that NIH or other Guidelines are revised and followed.
Avoid Simplistic Thinking
Richard H. Bube, Department of Materials Science and Engineering Stanford University Stanford, California
One of the greatest pitfalls that Christians must avoid upon entering into advocacy on social issues is the temptation to simplistic thinking. This temptation is great, for simplistic thinking avoids agonizing appraisal, can be carried out without full understanding of the situation, and is well suited to receive public support. I realize that there is not the space to respond in depth on recombinant DNA-nor do I personally have the full technical competence that should be demanded but I would like to enter a warning against certain types of prevalent simplistic thinking.
1. That it is possible to plan scientific research so that only good for the human race will result. Scientific research provides knowledge; all knowledge is dangerous. If God is not sovereign and we are totally on our own, then every endeavor aimed at increasing human knowledge requires a permanent moratorium. Every advance of knowledge in every field can be used or abused by human beings. The fact that it is contrary to the nature of the human being to proclaim a moratorium on new knowledge, however, cannot be escaped. Simple solutions that prescribe public con demoation of whole branches of scientific research cannot be sustained.
2. That recombinant DNA research represents a totally new and unique biological interference into nature. Genetic change is a process going on at all times. For centuries human beings have deliberately exercised the principles of selective breeding to change the properties of plants and animals. That we may with excellent reason believe that controlled selective breeding is not appropriate for application to human beings has not led us to reject the study and use of selective breeding per se.
3. That recombinant DNA research is primarily a means for altering the human population. A major application of this type of research is in the area of agriculture where developments may lead to a food supply to meet the burgeoning population in a world that finds it difficult to take population limiting seriously. Researchers in the area would welcome heartily increased research support from the Department of Agriculture, but find instead that they must seek support from the National Institute of Health, which in turn demands that they describe their research in terms of its applications to human genetics. Concern with human genetics is of course heightened by the realization that cancer research cannot proceed without recombinant DNA techniques. Still it appears that the emphasis on human genetics is as much a consequence of the distribution of government funding as it is of the actual intentions of the researchers involved.
4. That issues involving technical evaluations can be resolved by appeal to the public. I certainly favor every action that can lead to an informed public and therefore an informed public opinion of essential issues. Experience in the world indicates, however, that public opinion is a very volatile ingredient, quite at the mercy of those skilled in manipulating popular thought. I am pessimistic, therefore, of the ability to resolve questions of truth, or even of wisdom, by appeal to what is inevitably a political process. I realize the dangerous ground that this opinion may appear to involve, but not to recognize the weaknesses of the democratic process may simply be a way to hasten its demise.
Precautions in matters of safety are certainly demanded as long as they do not amount to nothing less than a complete restriction on all activities. Let's not minimize the problem. We are in a mess. The whole creation is groaning in travail, awaiting the day of redemption. But if there is danger in going forward, it is not ethically possible to go backwards. Only our trust in the sovereign Cod and Father of our Lord Jesus enables us to walk out into the darkness with him, seeking to be his responsible and obedient servants.
Reprinted from Sojourners, August 1977, p. 38
Research with the Required Protective Safeguards
Gordon Mills Department of Human Biological Chemistry and Genetics The University of Texas Medical Branch Galveston, Texas
In regard to recombinant DNA research, I personally
thought Dr. Phil Handler's editorial in the chemical
and Engineering News (May 9, 1977) was good. I definitely favor continued research, but do share the view that careful guidelines need to be established. I believe proper guidelines have now been set up, and think that research should proceed in laboratories that have the required protective safeguards. I tend to think that the possibility of producing a terribly virulent organism has been greatly overemphasized. Whether this view comes from my particular Christian philosophy or from my scientific training and experience is difficult for me to ascertain.
No Line Between Safe and Dangerous Knowledge
Charlotte Jones Department of Biogenetics University of California San Diego, California
To reach a Christian position on the issue of recombinant DNA, let us not lose our perspective on technology as a whole. Recombinant DNA is a technique being used by molecular biologists to study the organization, regulation, and expression of genetic material on a biochemical basis. It is a method of manipulating the DNA of organisms ranging from man to virus, and the controversy over its use centers in two areas. The first is that the risk of unexpected side effects from performing these manipulations may not be worth the benefit accrued through its use, and the second is whether society would misuse the capability of genetic engineering enough to warrant shutting off such research as attempting to attain dangerous knowledge.
The first area requires a technical assessment.1 The benefits are more clear-cut than the risks, which are entirely hypothetical at this point.2 Medical spin-offs are already feasible, such as the production of human insulin and human interferon (a naturally occurring antiviral protein) in large enough quantities to be used therapeutically. Examples of the feared risks are that an unknown cancer gene could begin functioning if removed from its normal genetic environment or that a regulatory gene out of place could start regulating the wrong functions at the wrong times. Is it possible that a new combination of DNA molecules could function as described above or could provide an entirely new function to a bacterium? To date there is no evidence that this is possible, and indeed with our present knowledge it appears unlikely, but we cannot rule it out. However, we do have some information on whether such a bacterium could escape from the lab and cause havoc. If researchers follow the containment procedures outlined in the NIH guidelines, we know that the chances of such a bug escaping are very low, the chances of it surviving outside the lab are very low, and the chances of it spreading are very low. The probability of all three occurring is so low that it is considered only due to the consequences in the event that an unsuspectedly dangerous gene combination is formed.
However, we cannot pretend that this technology does not exist. It is easy and does not require more than common lab equipment (in contrast to nuclear physics), so we do not have the option of an effective way of preventing all research. The question is whether we compound the problem by openly continuing the work. I believe that by using the aforementioned safeguards, which is generally done now, the risks involved are simply those which are unavoidable in any field given our incomplete knowledge, and we have to live with this baseline of risk in all areas of life. Life does not give us the option of avoiding risk entirely. We cannot do nothing; if we chose not to do something new, we have chosen to continue as we are now, and that choice has its own risks.
Let us now look at the future impact of this research on society. We must realize that using the techniques of recombinant DNA does not make genetic engineering inevitable (or even imminent) nor does refraining from their use avoid the possibility of it. However, recombinant DNA certainly will increase our understanding of (and thus our ability to manipulate) genetics.
Is this really an example of dangerous knowledge? We have already admitted that scientific knowledge is valid and that in at least some areas it is worth pursuing by practicing science and subscribing to the statement of faith of the ASA. I do not believe one can draw a line between safe and dangerous knowledge. The Navy can use information from research on porpoises to develop weapons and doctors use techniques spawned by nuclear physics to save lives. When God created us He gave us the responsibility of making choices, and we cannot avoid those choices by attempting to set aside our knowledge.
I do believe, however, that Christians have an important role, especially those of us who do know enough molecular biology and genetics to be able to anticipate what will be technically possible in the future. We as scientists must attempt to clarify for society exactly what its choices are by setting out the results and implications of those choices. And we, as Christians, must remind people of their responsibility for those choices as moral beings accountable to God.
1Further details can be found in: B.D. Davis in 'Recombinant DNA Research: A debate on the benefits and risks" Chemical and Engineering News, May 30, 1977, p. 27-31.
J. Abelson, "Recombinant DNA: Examples of Present-Day Research," Science 196: 159-160, (1977).
21 do not include here the willful avoidance of using the proper safeguards. This is not a new problem and it is just as possible with those working with Rabies virus as with those doing recombinant DNA work.
Worthy Goals and Genesis Mandate Outweigh Dangers
Jerry D. Albert Research Biochemist Mercy Hospital Medical Research Facility San Diego, California
Recombinant DNA research has worthy goals in keeping with the service of science to human welfare, and thus, it should be vigorously pursued with reasonable safeguards to protect the scientists and the public they serve. Some of the goals of this research include: (1) extension of basic knowledge of molecular genetics; (2) medical applications in elucidation of the nature and control of cancers, therapy of genetic diseases (e.g., diabetes may be treated by enabling a patient to make his own insulin, instead of being dependent on injections of preparations from animal sources), treatment of other molecular lesions, vital organ repair (kidney, heart, liver, lung), cheaper and more efficient syntheses of biomolecules (hormones, enzymes, antibiotics); (3) agricultural applications in feeding a hungry world full of humans by developing faster growing, disease resistant, more nutritious plants and animals, especially plants with more efficient photosynthetic systems and with nitrogen-fixation nodules grafted on their roots; (4) energy and environmental applications in production of faster growing forests, pastures and biomass for fuel and raw materials, and in development of microorganisms to dispose of pollutants and make methane and other fuels.
Christian and biblical perspectives: All of the above goals are directly in line with the Genesis mandate to bring the earth and all life under our control as God's representatives, for we are to be faithful managers of God's good world. Gen. 1:26-28 (TEV):
Then God said, "And now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us. They will have power over the fish, the birds, and all animals, domestic and wild, large and small," So God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female, blessed them, and said, "Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control. I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals."
This mandate was not lost as a result of our sin, but continues even after our Fall. Ps. 8:4-6 (TEV):
What is man that you think of him; mere man, that you care for him? Yet you made him inferior only to
yourself; you crowned him with glory and honor. You appointed him ruler over everything you made; you placed him over all creation: sheep and cattle, and the wild animals too; the birds and the fish and the creatures in the seas.
We have the responsibility to manage the earth and its resources for our good and to God's glory.
Of course, there are risks and dangers (both known and unknown) in every human endeavor because we are sinful, make mistakes, have limited knowledge and wisdom, and fail to trust continually in our Creator for guidance. Therefore, we need nation-wide (worldwide, if possible) application of the NIH guidelines to provide safety margins and containment of potential hazards, which should minimize the risks and circumvent real dangers. Imaginary dangers have been exaggerated, but enforcement of safety factors will be welcome as long as the research is not stifled and discouraged by local citizen groups. We need to recognize that the potential benefits outweigh dangers and to ensure that the safety and containment guidelines be flexible enough to meet any changing assessment of the hazards.
We should not allow fears of imaginary or exagger ated dangers to drive us to over-react against the possibilities to accomplish good for mankind. We who trust in and worship the Creator of all should take seriously our responsibilities as God's managers of the earth and be prepared to make use of this research for our good and His glory. All knowledge is from the Creator. If we refuse or otherwise fail to encourage recombinant DNA research, others who do not accept or acknowledge our Creator may boldly move ahead, for whatever motives, in another country if not in our own. As scientists who are Christians, we especially should lead in the encouragement and application of this gift from God.
Before making up your own minds on this issue, I strongly recommend that you also read the News Forum Debate on Recombinant DNA Research, Chemical & Engineering News, pp. 26-42, May 30, 1977, for detailed arguments by prominent scientists for and against this research.