THE Church of Scotland today becomes the first church to publicly comment on the novel area of synthetic biology.
In a report to the General Assembly, the Kirk’s Society, Religion and Technology Project concludes that, while there are potential benefits to be had from breakthroughs in this field, scientists are urged to carry out research in an appropriate ethical framework.
It also calls for the Church to engage constructively with those seeking to utilise science and technology in a responsible manner
The authors of the report acknowledge that from novel forms of biofuels to improved medical interventions, the manipulation of micro-organisms in the ways envisaged by synthetic biology has “the potential to revolutionise much of our lives”.
However, despite some protestations to the contrary, the report argues that synthetic biology does not put humanity on a par with God and that our “creatureliness remains”. It believes this field of research, which has been styled as “creating life” and “Life, version 2.0”, holds out much promise, but also brings many concerns.
Reverend Ian Galloway, convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, said: “In trying to create new life-forms, synthetic biology raises tough questions about what risks we are will to take with our new knowledge.
”I am sure that there will be ways in which this scientific understanding can enhance our quality of life, but it needs to do so in the context of having first grappled with the kinds of hard questions this report poses.”
The report also states that in treating biological organisms as little more than sophisticated machines, synthetic biology seems to reinforce a reductive approach to life and challenges different world-views which do not agree with this particular understanding of life.
However, the paper affirms that synthetic biology is a new scientific application which, if used correctly, could revolutionise medicine, transform the primary and secondary sector of industry and offer solutions to energy and environmental problems. If appropriate legislation and effective control could make sure that all potential risks were eliminated, or at least avoided, there is no compelling reason to stop or ban synthetic biology.
The report argues that everybody, including the Christian world, could welcome this scientific innovation. It says eliminating human suffering, protecting the environment, promoting general well-being and advancing scientific knowledge using reason and human ingenuity are goals in harmony with Christian teaching.
With the SRT Project celebrating its 40th anniversary earlier this month, it is hoped that this paper might result in constructive discussion between the Church and the scientific community.