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When We Play God, We Play to Win

Well, for the first time in history, scientists have created a synthetic genome and successfully transplanted it into a cell. There is now life on this planet whose genome is entirely the work of human hands. These breakthroughs, published in Science (article scan provided by the Guardian) by a team lead by Craig Venter, represent a huge step forward in human engineering. This opens the door a wide range of bio-engineered micro-organisms that could be useful in everything from medicine, to ecological preservation, to classical engineering, to just plain day-to-day life.

So seriously, how cool is that? Human beings have officially created synthetic life! *Insert techno-utopian, geek-squee happy dance here.*

Now undoubtedly, there will be Luddites and Primitivists and other species of the deranged wringing their hands and wailing and gnashing their teeth about people “Playing God”. I have news for them. People have been playing God since people were people. Part of human nature is an insatiable curiosity to discover and to create and to engineer our world and our environs to better suit us. That is part of what makes us who we are. Really, such things shouldn’t be called “playing God”, but rather “playing Human.” Though I suppose “playing Human” doesn’t scan as well.

My point is that “playing God” is part and parcel of human nature. The entirety of human history has involved a long, hard, slow march towards better understanding of our world, and towards developing better ways to adapt to it. This is not some vain attempt to punch above our weight class and become like God. This trend is simply an elegant expression of the curiosity and drive that resides in the human spirit.

So do we “play God”? And are Venter and team doing so in this instance? Undoubtedly. But we human beings “play God” because doing so is a natural human behavior. And when we play God, just us squared off against an uncaring world and an apathetic universe, we play to win.

Posted in Science/Tech.