Today (15 December 2016) it was announced by the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority that 3 parent fertilisations can be undertaken in the UK subject to the granting by the HFEA of the necessary licence.
I must declare an interest. I researched for 4 years at Newcastle upon Tyne and gained a PhD from the University. My research was sponsored by the Muscular Dystrophy Group of GB who from press reports have an interest in the research behind this decision.
I am frequently surprised by the reaction of some Christians to scientific discoveries.
Rev Dr Sir John Polkinghorne recounts being asked by an interviewer where the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation in the universe left God. He wisely replied ‘where he was this time yesterday’ i.e. before this announcement.
The interviewer’s presumption, and that of many Christians, is that this new knowledge somehow destabilises, belittles or weakens God. What Sir John’s reply states clearly is that no science that man has ‘discovered’ is new to God. God devised every scientific relationship/Law, set the value of Planck’s Constant, Avogadro’s Number, the rates of radioactive decay, etc. etc. before the universe was created. There is nothing we can discover that is new to God.
Sometimes our understanding of God reduces Him to match our limited view.
God has over time lifted the veil of mystery and allowed us to understand a phenomenal amount of science. There is so much more still for us to see and then understand. Scientific understanding is a gift from God.
We are responsible to God for how we handle the knowledge he grants us about the science of the universe. Stewardship of the earth given to humanity by God (Gen chs 1 and 2) covers every aspect of the earth.
The Paul Berg letter written by many scientists to the journals Nature and Science in the early 70’s demonstrated the ability of scientists to pause to reflect on the implications of science. The US atomic research scientists in 1944 wrote in a similar vein to the US President about the atomic bomb.
Since the Berg letter the UK has set up a very clear system of licence and the necessary oversight of Genetic Manipulation in the UK.
The diseases behind the research that has led to 3 parent families are severe/lethal genetic traits. The ability to manipulate cells so as to use the parents’ nuclear DNA but replace the mother’s defective mitochondrial DNA with sound mitochondrial DNA from a donor woman could be seen as threatening, and opening the door to undesirable developments. It can also be seen as a gift from God, a demonstration of God’s love and care for us.
When the first antibiotic was discovered should our ancestors have withheld its use?
When the first inoculation was successful should they have withheld its use?
When the first blood transfusion was successful should they have declined to use the technique?
Should people with defective hearts, kidneys or livers have been denied life saving organ transplants?
We have in the UK a system of review and checks and balances. Science is publicly reported both in scientific journals and magazines and in grant applications and reviews. Our thinking and legislation influences others.
Responsible use of our scientific knowledge I am sure gladdens God’s heart.
Dr Andrew Wright was a medical science lecturer in Hong Kong and Edinburgh. He is a Director of JRI and is a church deacon.