What’s the bet that, right at this moment, Saddam is alive and well, hiding out in a secret cave somewhere on the Pakistani border with Afghanistan, playing cards with Osama, using the 55-‘Most-Wanted-Iraqis’ deck distributed to Coalition troops? (After all, he, you and I can now order a casino-quality set via the web for $5.95.)
Or would you prefer to put your money on the odds that US agents will soon find a DNA match for Saddam with human tissue samples retrieved from under the rubble of that restaurant mercilessly bombed out of business just a couple of weeks ago?
Actually, this w e e k l y w o r d is not about the myriad questions left unresolved in the messy aftermath of Gulf War 2. Like, “Will Saddam rise from among the dead in Babylon as the anti-Christ, as predicted in Revelation?”
Rather, it’s about those three initials: DNA (deoxyribonucleicacid). For these three letters suggest a far greater challenge to the human race than posed by those elusive WMD (weaponsofmassdestruction).
While we’ve all been watching the contest of wits between GWB (georgedubyabush) and the popular Iraqi MOI (ministerofinformation) on CNN (cablenewsnetwork) and the BBC (britishbroadcastingcorporation), I’ve been waking up to realise that, in the long run, the most significant development of this year will probably NOT (notanabbreviation) be the fall of Saddam.
No, 2003 will not be remembered as the Year of the Clown, but more likely as the Year of the Clone.
And that’s pretty serious.
Maybe you’ve been tracking this issue for years, and have seen it coming. You’ve been collecting articles and books on genetic engineering, the human genome project, stem cell research and you’re well aware of the far-reaching global consequences of research that is threatening to get out of hand.
But if you’re like me, some of these vaguely familiar terms have been so complicated you left it to the egg-heads to worry about.
Recently I was preparing for one of our monthly Crosscurrents evenings here in Centrum ‘s Heerenhof, when we seek biblical perspectives on current issues. Our subject was “Salvation through genetic engineering?” A little bit of research began to disturb me as I uncovered the following facts.
* 2003 is the golden jubilee of the discovery of the structure of the DNA by two then-unknown Cambridge scientists, Watson and Crick. This unlocked the secrets of the genetic code and released keys to heredity and developmental biology, transforming science and medicine over the past half century. Its full impact on modern life, positive and negative, has yet to be felt.
* The DNA is a very long string of instructions written in chemical code, made of sections called ‘genes’, which in turn are instructions for making proteins. Most drugs act on proteins, not genes. Breakthroughs in understanding proteins are therefore likely to make 2003 the year when biomedicine goes into overdrive.
* The huge global Human Genome Project which climaxed in 2001, sequencing the 3.1 billion letters of the human genome in what Bill Clinton called the ‘most wondrous map ever produced by humankind’, is now being surpassed by the Human Proteomics Organisation (HUPO). A thousand scientists gathered in Versailles late last year to set global standards for research about proteins, accelerating the rate of breakthroughs.
* The world’s first crop of genetically modified rice will sprout in Chinese paddy fields this year. A revolution is under way which supporters believe will lead to more and better grains, grown in more diverse environments; while critics fear unforeseen consequences.
* The staggering amount of information contained in a single human cell (equal to the 30-volume Encyclopaedia Britannica!) ought to have stirred awe and wonder at the intelligent design expressed in all life forms. But scientists did not shrink back from playing God and cloning the first sheep, Dolly, in 1997. Earlier this year, Dolly died from a lung-infection after showing premature signs of old-age and rheumatism.
* Last year, the Raelian sect (who believe they are descendents of space aliens) and a biochemical firm called Clonaid claimed the first two cloned human babies. Few took these claims seriously, but political philosopher Francis Fukuyama (famous for his book ‘The end of history and the last man’) predicted that in 2003 “the Chinese will announce the successful cloning of human embryos, causing moral mayhem in the United States and Europe.”
* In his newest book, ‘Posthuman Society’, Fukuyama portrays a world in which humanity as we know it ceases to exist. He warns that humanity is headed for a moral abyss, beginning by mapping the biological data of individuals, creating more drugs to counter each human problem, extending life expectancy to 120 years or more, and by (rich) parents screening their infants for hereditary shortcomings. No one knows what effect genetically manipulated plants could have on the environment. Biotechnology is being driven by prizes of fame and fortune with no ethical restraints, and will create further divisions between the rich and poor.
* Fukuyama calls for a global discussion on moral norms and values. Should researchers simply be allowed to do anything that is possible? If cloning is permitted, will we not create sub-human species, products of human decision, made in the image of man? Will not cloning lead to the practice of creating super scientists? super soldiers? super studs? super athletes? super policemen? i.e. ‘post-humans’ created for specific functions. Is a clone a sibling or an offspring of the original human? And would not the original parents be both grandparents and biological parents of the clone?
* Ordinary citizens should be involved in this debate, believes Fukuyama, not just politicians, ethicists and scientists. A big question is, of course, on what do we base our norms and values? How do we define ‘human nature’ without biblical guidelines? Is not this then a debate in which we as followers of Jesus should be vitally involved?
Two things I found really disturbing about all this.
Firstly, this was the first time I had been involved in any discussion on these topics in our mission.
Secondly, if the Pentagon really DOES have Saddam’s DNA samples, then maybe he COULD be raised from the dead!
Till next week,