Tania Lombrozo in Nautilus:
Last November Chinese scientist He Jiankui announced the birth of twin babies whose germline he claimed to have altered to reduce their susceptibility to contracting HIV. The news of embryo editing and gene-edited babies prompted immediate condemnation both within and beyond the scientific community. An ABC News headline asked: “Genetically edited babies—scientific advancement or playing God?”
The answer may be “both.” He’s application of gene-editing technology to human embryos flouted norms of scientific transparency and oversight, but even less controversial scientific developments sometimes provoke the reaction that humans are overstepping their appropriate sphere of influence. The arrival of the first IVF baby in 1978, for example, was denounced as playing God with human reproduction1; more than 8 million “IVF-babies” have been born since.2 As we face a global climate crisis, an article at Religion News Service questions whether proposed climate fixes based on geoengineering are playing God with the climate system.3 For many, the idea that mere humans can or should interfere in lofty natural or human domains, whether it’s the earth’s climate or human reproduction, is morally repugnant.
Where does this aversion to playing God come from? And might it present an obstacle to scientific and technological advance?