Main   Terms   People   Interviews   Resources   Events

Is DNA the Essence of Life?

Should we treat nature in general, or DNA specifically, as sacred and therefore morally immune from technological intervention? Ronald Cole-Turner criticizes Sinsheimer and Rifkin for making an unwarranted philosophical and theological leap from the association of DNA with life to the metaphysical proscription against technical manipulation.

Is DNA the essence of life? Is it any more arrogant or sacrilegious to cut DNA than to cut living tissue, as in surgery? It is hard to imagine a scientific or philosophical argument that would successfully support the metaphysical or moral uniqueness of DNA. Even DNA’s capacity to replicate does not elevate this molecule to a higher metaphysical or moral level. Replication and sexual reproduction are important capacities, crucial in biology. But they are hardly the stuff of sanctity.United Church of Canada, 14.

To raise DNA to a status of functional sacrality, says Cole-Turner, is arbitrary. Theologians in particular should avoid this pitfall. “To think of genetic material as the exclusive realm of divine grace and creativity is to reduce God to the level of restriction enzymes, viruses, and sexual reproduction. Treating DNA as matter—complicated, awe-inspiring, and elaborately coded, but matter nonetheless—is not in itself sacrilegious.”United Church of Canada, 13. See: NCC, 43: Lutheran, 2; Manipulating Life, 7-8.

One can argue to this position on the basis of creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. All that exists has been called from nothing by the voice of God and brought into existence, and at any moment could in principle return to the nonexistence from which it came. Life, as everything else in existence, is finite, temporal, and mortal. The natural world depends upon a divine creator who transcends it. Nature is not its own author. Nor can it claim ultimacy, sanctity, or any other status rivaling God. This leads biologist Hessel Bouma III and his colleagues at the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship to a pithy proposition: “God is the creator. Therefore, nothing that God made is god, and all that God made is good.” This implies, among other things, that we should be careful when accusing physicians and scientists of “playing God.” We must avoid idolatrous expectations of technology, to be sure; “but to presume that human technological intervention violates God’s rule is to worship Mother Nature, not the creator. Natural processes are not sacrosanct.”Cole-Turner, "Genetics and the Church," 55.

Email link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Ted Peters

Topic Sets Available

AAAS Report on Stem-Cells

AstroTheology: Religious Reflections on Extraterrestrial Life Forms

Agency: Human, Robotic and Divine
Becoming Human: Brain, Mind, Emergence
Big Bang Cosmology and Theology (GHC)
Cosmic Questions Interviews

Cosmos and Creator
Creativity, Spirituality and Computing Technologies
CTNS Content Home
Darwin: A Friend to Religion?
Demystifying Information Technology
Divine Action (GHC)
Dreams and Dreaming: Neuroscientific and Religious Visions'
E. Coli at the No Free Lunchroom
Engaging Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: An Adventure in Astro-Ethics
Evangelical Atheism: a response to Richard Dawkins
Ecology and Christian Theology
Evolution: What Should We Teach Our Children in Our Schools?
Evolution and Providence
Evolution and Creation Survey
Evolution and Theology (GHC)
Evolution, Creation, and Semiotics

The Expelled Controversy
Faith and Reason: An Introduction
Faith in the Future: Religion, Aging, and Healthcare in the 21st Century

Francisco Ayala on Evolution

From Christian Passions to Scientific Emotions
Genetic Engineering and Food

Genetics and Ethics
Genetic Technologies - the Radical Revision of Human Existence and the Natural World

Genomics, Nanotechnology and Robotics
Getting Mind out of Meat
God and Creation: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on Big Bang Cosmology
God, Humanity and the Cosmos: A Textbook in Science and Religion
God the Spirit - and Natural Science
Historical Examples of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)
History of Creationism
Intelligent Design Coming Clean

Issues for the Millennium: Cloning and Genetic Technologies
Jean Vanier of L'Arche
Nano-Technology and Nano-ethics
Natural Science and Christian Theology - A Select Bibliography
Neuroscience and the Soul
Outlines of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)

Perspectives on Evolution

Physics and Theology
Quantum Mechanics and Theology (GHC)
Questions that Shape Our Future
Reductionism (GHC)
Reintroducing Teleology Into Science
Science and Suffering

Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action (CTNS/Vatican Series)

Space Exploration and Positive Stewardship

Stem-Cell Debate: Ethical Questions
Stem-Cell Ethics: A Theological Brief

Stem-Cell Questions
Theistic Evolution: A Christian Alternative to Atheism, Creationism, and Intelligent Design...
Theology and Science: Current Issues and Future Directions
Unscientific America: How science illiteracy threatens our future
Will ET End Religion?

Current Stats: topics: >2600, links: >300,000, video: 200 hours.