Changing My Mind About Gene Editing

A father unexpectedly finds hope in the midst of CRISPR’s darkest hour, the gene-edited twins Nana and Lulu. If this represented the bad, what’s the good?


Very thoughtful and humorous. Thank you

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Gardening is not just something we do to the land but in our stewardship of technology. After every groundbreaking discovery, we must garden that broken ground.

Nicely put. Quoting Dr Seuss was apt too:

“Easy it is not you will find, for a mind maker upper, to make up your mind.”

We accept medication used to help people. If we can get biological medication that helps in suffering caused by deleterious genetic mutations, we use it provided that it is cost-effective. We have also used vaccines that are designed to affect the biological functions within cells in a way that may save lives and reduce serious suffering.

I would compare the use of gene editing in health care to using medication. There could be a similar kind of official acceptance procedure as with drugs. Gene editing would be evaluated for each sickness or condition caused by genetic mutations separately, and accepted gene editing could be used in health care as we use biological medication. Not freely but used by licensed professionals within the health care.

I do not see any deep theological reasons why we should not use biological medication or gene editing to help people that suffer because of deleterious mutations that could be fixed by modern gene editing technology. There could of course be serious problems if the gene editing is used in irresponsible ways, as with drugs, but that has not prevented the use of drugs in health care.


It barely seems real anymore… like on the boundary of a black hole and yet it’s not the singularity in the hole that’s going to unravel you. Those “what ifs” in Scripture and the heart of God to be worshipped are concerning as we are ever so close to becoming like God apart from God

The people who would argue against it these days are like those who opposed lightning rods on church steeples or health insurance.


If God is the Pacific Ocean, we’re still walking on just the wet sand.


The gardening metaphor is indeed helpful and generalizes to pretty much everything we humans do. Some years ago it dawned on me that God has hope in us–otherwise we wouldn’t have these opportunities. And as the author notes, we are left to manage what we’ve started. Such a wise way to look at it, because we won’t ever solve these quandaries once and for all. Humility is critical in recognizing this ongoing work, and this in itself is a challenge.


Very thoughtful article. Thank you. I would also pursue treatment for my suffering child, or for anyone’s, I hope. I am excited about gene therapy (including gene editing) for anyone suffering from a genetic disease like hemophilia.

But it seems to me there is a qualitative difference between alleviating, or healing, a disease, in an existing person, and editing living embryos for the sake of birthing a healthy child. Wouldn’t that involve creating more human embryos than you plan to bring to adulthood, and destroying some in the process of creating the one you want?

Experimenting on a human life “no matter how small” (to quote Dr. Seuss) crosses a line, in my conscience.

Biologos’ commitment to constructive, respectful dialogue very important to me, that is my goal as well. I welcome your thoughts.


Good question. It matters how we try to achieve our goals.

I do not know enough about the methodology but I guess it would be possible to edit the genes in an egg cell, or sperm cell, before fertilization. That would avoid the ethical problems related to working with embryos.

Another question is what to do if an unwanted condition is noted in a growing embryo within the uterus. That does not involve producing extra embryos but may lead to ethical questions about trying to alter or end the life of the embryo.

Ending the life of a human is a greater ethical question where we should think about the whole trajectory of life instead of focusing on a certain period of life. Abortion, death penalty, euthanasia, use of deadly force by authorities - these are all parts of the question: when do we have the right to end the life of a human?
This question is likely to evoke strong emotions so I will not discuss it further here. It is anyhow an ethical question we should think.


You aren’t in the least bit amused how we are on the verge of some great science fiction coming to be and yet nearly everyone thinks atheism is rationally possible?

Indeed, that is an important issue. I find it hard to argue against those who believe human life starts as soon as the egg is fertilised. The view that the life is only really ‘human’ at some point in development seems rather arbitrary to me, and rather convenient for those who have no particular problem with abortion.

So for me there is a huge difference between editing genes in a developing foetus with the hope he/she will be healthy (this makes sense if we view the foetus as a developing human life) and doing the same on multiple foetuses knowing that most will then be destroyed.

My position has long been that the unborn is definitely a person once recognizably human brainwaves are present, such as dream states, enjoyment, etc. At the very least, it’s ridiculous to argue that the unborn is not a person once that happens!
Some comments by Dr. Michael Heiser that I’ve encountered recently have me reconsidering, but I’ll still hold to the brainwave measure as indicating that the unborn is definitely a person.

Interestingly the early church was not unanimous on this; one common view was that “quickening” was when the unborn became a person. That’s when physical movement gets noticed by the mother, and it correlates roughly (at about ninety days) with the appearance of those brainwaves.

So on the gene editing issue I’d say get it done before quickening.

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That ethical dilemma is already here even without gene editing.

While my own views on abortion may differ from many here, I still think this is absolutely something we should be discussing as a society, and beliefs such as yours should be seriously considered and respected.

As to the article in the OP, I agree with 99% of it. Gene editing is not ready for modifying germline DNA, but it does look like it is ready for somatic editing in many cases. The recent approval of gene editing treatment for sickle cell anemia is a great achievement, and we should be excited about what the technology holds for the future.


The life journey of the unique person starts at fertilization. All the genes are there, what follows is just growth. The embryo does not feel anything at the start and does not think but there is no step after the fertilization that could be considered the start of becoming a living person. Biologists are fairly unanimous about this, if I remember right >90% of biologists agree with this, atheists, agnostics and believers alike.

What is the point where the embryo or child starts to feel and think, that is less clear. It may happen gradually. Anyhow, if we put the criteria of being a living person at something else than fertilization, we could as well slide towards the old Roman criteria. I have read that the baby was not considered a person with full rights and were not given a name before the head of the household had accepted the child.

For the sake of clarity, the start of being a unique person at fertilization is not a commitment to a particular standpoint to abortion. That was written clearly to a paper that was sent to the supreme court in USA as a background paper about when does the life of a person start. This paper included the answers of a large group of scientists with some sort of expertise about the matter to a global questionary about when does the life of a human (person) start.

Just thinking out loud, so to speak, but I wonder if it’s not analogous in some way to a seed germinating. We wouldn’t consider a seed that had been planted to be ‘a plant’ at least until it had germinated. So brain waves and the ability to feel pain might be analogous indicators of personhood, and who has issues with aborting an ectopic pregnancy?

The only type of gene editing I would be opposed to is the use by parents on their children to have greater control over what kind of children they have. Diversity is essential for life and parents already have so much power over their children. The preference for boys in some countries is already misusing technology to create an imbalance in the ratio between the sexes.


I’m about two decades behind on the science, but what I recall is that the onset of brainwaves indicating dream states and such was fairly sudden and occurred at about the tenth to twelfth week. The drawback to defining personhood this way is that no one does monitoring of an unborn’s brainwaves and I presume it would be obnoxiously expensive. The advantage to defining it this way is that it matches the current common definition of death, which is cessation of brain activity: if an adult with definite brain activity is a person, then the same is true of an unborn.

If the ability to dream is used as a measure, we’d be tying personhood to the species name because the ability to think would be the criterion. That’s an improvement over the fairly common early Christian view that quickening is the defining point; that was believed on the basis that the unborn moving in the womb must be when God attaches a soul/spirit. As I recall the brain wave criterion would put the critical point at ten to twelve weeks, while quickening was more like twelve to fourteen.

The beginning of personhood as being defined by those brainwaves ties it to the definition of death, so I don’t see any room for sliding.
Roman definitions apparently varied; one that was shared by pagan and Christian in the early centuries A.D. was that life began at the first breath, that being interpreted as the child now having the “breath of life”. But the version you related did exist – and in fact was quite the contributor to the growth of the church since when the head of a household rejected a child it generally got exposed; Christians knew of the standard places where children were “disposed of” in this way and kept watch, rescuing the babies and raising them in the faith (trivia: this seriously pissed off some of the temple high priestesses because they had used exposed girl babies as a source of future priestesses, and some competition developed to try to beat the other group to claiming a new girl baby; Christians had enough of an edge that the temples started to suffer from not having enough priestesses to carry out standard duties).


I think the ability to feel pain doesn’t show up until about 24 weeks, i.e. about the end of the second trimester. On the other hand, the startle reaction in response to loud noises shows up in week nine, ten at the latest. Since being startled is an all-too-frequent occurrence with me, I’d accept that in the unborn as indicating there’s someone in there!

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I once had a dream where gene editing for longer legs and broader shoulders was legal, but not for eye color. Very weird.