Sunday, 23 May 2010

It's alive!

Unless you've been living under a rock (or perhaps with your head in the sand) you would have heard about the stunning announcement from the J Craig Venter Institute about the creation of synthetic life. This remarkable, amazing research bears thinking about theologically, and not just ethically.

For a start, it has the potential to threaten the notion that organic matter cannot be created form inorganic matter. Many Christians (and other religious believers, I'm sure) would hold the belief that this was impossible, that life could only be created by the intervention of a creator, and not through chemical processes. But now, since it has been developed in a laboratory, by humans no less, one argument to support the existence of God has less sure footing.

This is good for two reasons. First, it weakens the case for natural theology (clutching at straws, if ever there was a-clutching). There are now fewer arguments to derive God from "evidence" in nature. The argument has been exposed as tenuous. Second, it makes us more aware that the material is all there is. The dualism of the ancient near east has held on for too long, insisting on the heavens as a real place, with complex angelologies and demonologies to accompany it. All of this is a distraction away from being Christian.

Being Christian does not demand an exhaustive metaphysical account of the universe. It demands a daily choice to follow Christ. It is a waste of effort, time, breath and ink to try and use theology to systematise the cosmos. Jesus did not command his disciples to do anything of the sort. His command was to love.

Unfortunately, I anticipate that the everyday Christian (especially the fundies) will find another circular or flawed argument to flail about as an alleged proof of the fallacy of the Venter research. It'll be about as convincing as the "But Darwin's theory is just a theory, not a fact" argument that still floats about. And once again, it will distract us all from being Christians.

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