With the recent announcement of the synthesis of an organism by Craig Venter’s research team, the predictable protests have begun. One of the most predictable is the concern that by “creating” synthetic life forms, man is “playing God.” I would like for some theist creationist to explain to me the concept of “playing God.” A good place to start is with a clear definition of “create.” That word comes up a lot in creationist arguments but it seems to be ill defined and subject to shifting definitions.
In this universe, matter and energy cannot be “created” or destroyed. It can only change forms. In that statement, “create” obviously means ex nihilo – out of nothing. Because of the law that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, it is impossible for man to “create” ex nihilo. All we can do is manipulate existing matter and energy into different forms. When man “creates” a log cabin, he simply changes the form of some tress by cutting them down, laying them in piles and using other materials to hold them together. When Venter and his team synthesized the bacteria, they were merely manipulating existing matter and energy. They “created” nothing ex nihilo.
So theist creationists, when you say that man is “playing God,” are you admitting that your god did not create anything ex nihilo? Are you admitting that some form of something came before your god and your god simply manipulated it into the universe in which we live? If so, from whence came the pre-existing “stuff” your god manipulated into our universe?
If you insist that your god did in fact create all that exists ex nihilo, then how can man be “playing God” when he merely manipulates that existing matter and energy into a different form?
If you still insist that man is “playing God” when he manipulates matter and energy into a synthetic bacteria, can you explain when man’s manipulation of matter and energy becomes “playing God?” Is the manufacturing of a car “playing God?” Is the manufacturing and administration of a vaccine “playing God?” Is building a sand castle “playing God?”
Is it possible that your real concern is that man, by pushing back the frontiers of knowledge, is wresting power from the priests of the gods and rendering continued belief in their existence and begging for their favor less and less relevant? Since the beginning of human history, the followers and priests of the gods have constantly told us that adverse weather (hurricanes, tornados, forest fires, lightening, etc.), disease outbreaks, accidents, losses in war and business are the result of the gods manipulating weather patterns, viruses, rocks, vehicles and even other people into punishing us for failing to properly worship them. But the more things in our universe that we can understand, manipulate and master, the less need we have to beg for the forbearance of the gods. The less justifiable believe in and submission to the gods becomes and the less power their followers and priests have over the rest of us. Thus we are “playing God” in the sense that we are destroying and replacing him.
I for one am glad that my species is refusing to turn away from the tree of knowledge and, instead, eating regularly of its fruit and drinking deeply of the juice of its fruit. Increasing our ability to manipulate our universe, will free us from the superstition and fear that the followers and priests of gods have been using to manipulate us.
If that is playing god, play on Maestro!