Philosopher John Pollock, who is well known in the artificial intelligence field, puts it this way: “We must be able to make informed choices in a climate of prevailing ignorance.” This statement is at the heart of defeasible reasoning, foundational to the development of artificial intelligence—it is how we as humans reason continually. Because there is far more about reality than any one person knows and far more than we humans collectively know, much of what we do is rarely, if ever, done with comprehensive knowledge.
When altering the genomes of entire organisms and releasing them into the environment to effect population-wide change, such impaired knowledge of ecological networks, potential species-to-species gene transfers, and the fidelity of our targeted changes makes each of these an area of deep concern.
The tool, when wielded by sensible and careful scientists, may be safe, but without regulations, such a widespread technology can be used by others with relative ease and perhaps at great cost to society.
Our Call to Stewardship and Humility
We are called to reflect God to the world, not to be gods of the world. It may seem a slight shift in emphasis between those two things, but the difference is critical. In recognizing ourselves as creatures who reflect the image of God, we acknowledge our finite knowledge and humble, if not privileged, estate. We recognize, too, our moral responsibilities to God, one another, and creation.
Technological advances are always morally neutral. It is the user of the technology that makes moral choices about how to wield it. This is where Christ-followers need to be engaged in making sure that human welfare and good stewardship of creation are paramount in the way we use the genome-editing power of CRISPR/Cas9.
We must be very careful. We must be morally good and just. We must continue learning, demonstrating humility, inviting dialogue, and patiently pursuing well-thought-out approaches and solutions. We cannot race ahead to gain fame or fortune at the risk of ecological mishaps. We must ask difficult questions and move past selfish interests.
What We Value Is What We Ultimately Pursue
Surely such power is not safe in the hands of some, and we should require temperance in its use on a national and international scale. As the spread of mosquitoes from Africa to the Americas or the introduction of new species into naïve ecological niches has shown,3 our world is an immense but common garden. If we are to become a new species of stewards, I pray we grow more in wisdom than in hubris.
As Christians and stewards, we must realize that a mutual accountability for our actions is both a good and healthy position that allows us to live in unity. As such, we should support regulation of such powerful technology and weigh in to public discourse about its moral and safe applications.