Engineering Illusions Part I: Religion and Technology — III

An Insider’s Take on the Tech Industry

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From the Perfect Cell to the Perfect Kid

CRISPR has emerged as one of the most exciting tools for gene editing in the world of biotechnology. Short for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, it allows for the targeted alternation of DNA sequences to modify various gene functions. Researchers believe CRISPR can upend how diseases are diagnosed and treated. For instance, CRSPR could fix defects by targeting specific anomalous gene sequences. The tool and its applications in gene editing are being extensively studied around the world, and news of triumphs is not in short supply. Research institutions are animated by the possibilities presented by CRISPR.

Faith and Conviction: Schrödinger’s Human

The father of genetics was the Moravian Augustinian priest, monk and abbot Gregor Mendel. Around the mid-nineteenth century, Mendel, a creationist with an education in the sciences, developed the laws underpinning the inheritance of various genetic characteristics in successive generations of peas. Years later, nucleic acid was discovered and was identified as the physical material of the gene. The function and operation of the gene were deemed to originate from the physical properties of this constituent material.

I Am Become Divine

In the mid-1980s, several members of the American scientific community began lobbying for a federally funded effort to sequence the entire human genome. Such a project would sequence and document the tens of thousands of genes that make up the human DNA. In the inceptive conference for the effort, then president of UC Santa Cruz Robert Sinsheimer declared, “For the first time in all time, a living creature understands its origin and can undertake to design its future.” Emphasizing the religious importance of this monumental scientific project, he insisted, “Throughout history, some have sought to live in contact with the eternal. In an earlier era, they sought such through a religion and lived as monks and nuns in continual contemplation of a stagnant divinity. Today, they seek such a contact through science, through the search for understanding of the laws and structure of the universe and the long quest back through time and evolution of our own origins. Perhaps this urge is a riposte to fate, a nay to human mortality.”

“But with God all things are possible.”

In his 2015 essay titled Against Edenism, billionaire technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel reproduced a modern rendition of the old pious program of technological salvation. He proclaimed, “Science and technology are natural allies to this Judeo-Western optimism, especially if we remain open to an eschatological frame in which God works through us in building the kingdom of heaven today, here on Earth — in which the kingdom of heaven is both a future reality and something partially achievable in the present.”

  1. Reordering Nature: Theology, Society and the New Genetics, edited by Celia Deane-Drummond, Bronislaw Szerszynski, Robin Grove-White

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Writing about politics, philosophy, technology and current affairs. Questioning ideologies of power and discussing alternatives. Twitter: @ap_prose

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Tech Insider

Writing about politics, philosophy, technology and current affairs. Questioning ideologies of power and discussing alternatives. Twitter: @ap_prose