What is wrong with creating life?
Question: The recent scientific attempts to create artificial life have been glamorized as man “playing God” through science. Why are religionists fearful of such scientific breakthroughs?
Answer: The history of science shows that, when man “plays God”, what is initially hailed as a breakthrough eventually causes a breakdown.
In new fields of research, scientists almost invariably promise beneficial, often sensational, future results. However, the past track record of such promises shows counterproductive, often devastating, consequences. For example, genetically-modified (GM) food was advertised as the solution to world hunger, but it ended up causing hunger-deaths of hundreds of farmers in Maharashtra, India. These farmers were captivated by promises of pest-resistant seeds and high yields, but when the pests developed resistance to the seeds, the yields failed utterly. Moreover, as the GM seeds are designed to not give seeds for the next sowing, the farmers had no chance of a yield in the next season either. Afflicted by poverty, hunger and hopelessness, multitudes of them committed suicide. Alarmed by the possible adverse consequences of GM food, the European Union has outright banned their use and concerned NGOs worldwide are striving for similar curbs.
What are the possible dangers in “artificial life” research? Genome manipulation of the kind done by Dr Venter can lead to the development of medicine-resistant variants of disease-producing microbes, which could trigger a pandemic. The genome Dr. Venter synthesized was copied from a natural bacterium that infects goats. Before copying the DNA, he claims to have excised fourteen genes likely to be pathogenic, so that the new bacterium, even if it escaped, would be unlikely to cause goats harm. But such measures may not be incorporated in future similar researches – either unintentionally or intentionally. Will we then see headlines of artificial deaths – deaths caused by attempts at artificial life – in the papers? While some may consider such a scenario unlikely and unduly pessimistic, it is certainly a possibility. And perhaps contemplation on the worst-case possibility is necessary to prevent it from becoming a reality.
On a positive note, the “artificial life” news, by bringing to the forefront the age-old question of what life actually is, may prompt some soul-searching – at least figuratively and maybe even literally. For such soul-searching, the Bhagavad-gita can act as a reliable, time-tested guidebook of higher dimensional science. If the energy spent on creating artificial life were directed to cultivating spiritual knowledge and practice as outlined in the Gita, humanity would take quantum leaps in its understanding of life. The scientific establishment may or may not do this, but each of us individually can. If we choose to become courageous soul-searchers, we will no longer be taken in by overhyped reports about artificial life, for we will be constantly experiencing and relishing the meaning of real life.