Terms such as gene splicing, recombinant DNA technology, and genetic engineering inspire futuristic images of mutant insects and beings that are only part human. Can such reactions be blamed on widely held misconceptions, or does genetic engineering actually pose a threat to life forms as we know them?

To address such questions, a group of scientists, physicians, ethicists, and theologians met earlier this year at Eastern College in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. The four-day event was sponsored by the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), an organization of evangelical Christians who work in the field of science. Participants discussed applications and ethical implications of gene splicing—from the creation of “improved” living organisms to the possibility of curing hereditary disease at its genetic source.

Lewis P. Bird, cochairman of the Christian Medical Society’s ethics commission, warned against “unwarranted futuristic scenarios” that unfairly impede the advance of genetic technology. Public perceptions are generally characterized by “fear of the future, fear of the unknown, fear of scientific discovery …,” he said. “Prognostication based on unscientific speculations should be avoided and rebutted.”

Bird and others called for a clearer understanding of both the risks and the benefits of gene-splicing technology. “We serve as vice-regents of God on Earth,” said Bird. “Our stewardship over all God’s creation [includes] the reshaping of the organisms of life. [We are called to] make responsible decisions based on the data available, … to do good and not just avoid harm.”

He concluded that gene therapy (the manipulation of human ...

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