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CRISPR Babies and the Genetic Code


A  software developer friend brought this article in The Atlantic to my attention:  The CRISPR Baby Scandal Gets Worse by the Day

And he writes:

I find it amusing that they keep referring to this kind of thing as “editing”.  They’re going to need to figure out if they’re going to keep using “editing” as the concept they want to convey and as such provide an opening for ID proponents to make the connection to the semiotic nature of genetic code (and thereby creating testimony against interest) or begin utilizing a different concept to bulwark their materialist approach.

Even the notion of DNA being “code” is going to require alteration.  Granted, DNA is an amazingly efficient data storage mechanism, but again referring to it as code strongly implies the notion that someone/something had to create the language the code is written in.  Again, they need a different metaphor or they will continue to provide an opening to ID adherents.

As a software developer, I envision the whole notion of editing genetic code as a process that could one day look very much like what I do.  Open an editor, delete the code you don’t want, insert the code you do want, save, compile/build, and run.  If that is the picture they want to paint, so be it, but doing so will undermine the notion then that DNA can be derived from purely materialistic terms.

Grabs popcorn and wonders if they’ll even notice.



The OP and the article it cites underscores a couple of big problems that confronts the modern scientific and secular mindset-- the co-called facts/ values dichotomy. We can illustrate it this way: VALUES Individual Choice (Private, Non-rational and Non-cognitive) –––––––––––––––––––––––––––– FACTS Binding on Everyone (Public, Rational and Verifiable)
In the upper level is values—individual preferences—, while on the bottom level are facts which are binding on everyone. Facts represent knowledge drawn from and proven by science, which means they are objective and rational and binding on each of us. On the other hand, the top level values are considered subjective. Because they are a product of tradition and are essentially irrational, they have little to say about reality and cannot be binding on anyone’s conscience except my own.
https://www.challies.com/articles/the-two-truths/ However, when we look at this dichotomy more closely it begins to break down. Notice how metaphysical assumptions get smuggled into science, which is on the lower level of FACTS. For example, from a naturalistic perspective the so-called genetic code is not really a code but is only analogous to a code because the only way it can be explained is by a mindless and naturalistic evolutionary process. So even though we cannot explain how the code originated (again, if you can explain how, let us know) we MUST assume that the cause is mindless and naturalistic. But that is nothing more than an a priori commitment to naturalism or materialism. How am I obligated to accept your opinions and beliefs without any proof? Belief without proof is how the dictionary defines faith. But faith is something that belongs, according the facts/value dichotomy, on the upper level of VALUES. On the other hand, the “Brave New World” possibilities opened up to us by now being able to manipulate and “re-engineer” our own genetic “code,” raises a number of ethical concerns. For example, very recently (11/5/18) a young Chinese researcher named He Jiankui, “became the center of a global firestorm when it emerged that he had allegedly made the first crispr-edited babies, twin girls named Lulu and Nana. Antonio Regalado broke the story for MIT Technology Review, and He himself described the experiment at an international gene-editing summit in Hong Kong. After his talk, He revealed that another early pregnancy is under way.” (see the article cited in the OP.) While a number of people, bioethicists and scientific associations had raised ethical concerns about this kind of research beforehand He went right ahead anyway. But it's actually worse than that because He (it’s confusing but he is named He) pretended that he concurred with these ethical views. According to the article cited in the OP:
9. He acted in contravention of his own stated ethical views. In July 2017, He spoke at a conference at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He didn’t mention his plans to edit human embryos, but he brought up the case of Jesse Gelsinger, an American teen who died in a botched gene-therapy trial in 1999. To avoid such deaths, and the chilling effect that they can have on research, He urged scientists to move cautiously before editing the genome of embryos. He also published a paper in The crispr Journal that lays out ethical principles, such as transparency, that he himself violated. The paper was in the works well before the news of the babies broke, and was published two days afterward… 10. He sought ethical advice and ignored it. Sharon Begley at STAT reports that He spoke at length with bioethicists William Hurlbut at Stanford University, as well as his son Benjamin Hurlbut at Arizona State University, neither of whom was aware of He’s plans. The elder Hurlbut spent time telling He about opposition to the instrumental use of human embryos in the United States, and the grounds for believing that human life begins at conception. But despite those discussions, He proceeded with his experiments and seems, by Hills’s reading, to have “developed his own personal code that reads like what you would expect from a freshman in the first weeks of Bioethics 101.”
But if ethical opinions are really just opinions then according to the facts/values dichotomy they are not binding. Who knows, maybe He just changed his mind and opinion. I mean after all, if values are non-binding aren’t we allowed to do that? john_a_designer
john_a_designer, Thanks for the interesting comments. PeterA
Here is a stunning claim from Abel and Trevors.
Genes are not analogous to messages; genes are messages. Genes are literal programs. They are sent from a source by a transmitter through a channel (Fig. (Fig.3)3) within the context of a viable cell. They are decoded by a receiver and arrive eventually at a final destination. At this destination, the instantiated messages catalyze needed biochemical reactions. Both cellular and extracellular enzyme functions are involved (e.g., extracellular microbial cellulases, proteases, and nucleases). Making the same messages over and over for millions to billions of years (relative constancy of the genome, yet capable of changes) is one of those functions. Ribozymes are also messages, though encryption/decryption coding issues are absent. The message has a destination that is part of a complex integrated loop of information and activities. The loop is mostly constant, but new Shannon information can also be brought into the loop via recombination events and mutations. Mistakes can be repaired, but without the ability to introduce novel combinations over time, evolution could not progress. The cell is viewed as an open system with a semi-permeable membrane. Change or evolution over time cannot occur in a closed system. However, DNA programming instructions may be stored in nature (e.g., in permafrost, bones, fossils, amber) for hundreds to millions of years and be recovered, amplified by the polymerase chain reaction and still act as functional code. The digital message can be preserved even if the cell is absent and non-viable. It all depends on the environmental conditions and the matrix in which the DNA code was embedded. This is truly amazing from an information storage perspective. (emphasis added)
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1208958/ One of the key questions you have to answer if you believe in a naturalistic dysteleological origin for the DNA or RNA is how did chemistry create the code? Do you have any evidence of how an undirected and purposeless physical process created what we intelligent beings recognize as code? If you do please give us your explanation. Or, is it just your belief? If you don’t have an explanation, I’m going to make the same assumptions I use to identify ducks. If it looks like a code and operates like a code chances are that it really is a code. Some people call that the duck test. I just call it logical thinking. john_a_designer
john_a_designer - excellent points. I am glad you got right to the heart of the ethical matter at hand. The Hubris of man has always been his downfall from the very beginning. As a believer it is terribly frustrating to see Men, many that could otherwise be very good men, using their intellect with a moral compass. I must be careful or I forget it simply by the grace of God, which took me decades to accept, that separates me from those that gaze at all of creation, and then act as if it is nothing impressive!!! But of course it all seems like so much gibberish to them, and they walk through this incredible vast universe as if it was nothing, positing the most insane ideas to avoid the truth that their own science tried to reveal to them. A type of insanity has man securely in a headlock, and it will end like it always has throughout history: I agree with you that this is what they will TRY and do, but in the process, if history is our guide, they will, in their arrogance, bring things crashing down around them, and left in shock at the horror the helped create. And if God once again sees fit, he will allow us to rebuild once again. Science is a wonderful tool, it has lead to technologies that, in the right hands, have done wonderful things. BUT NOT LATELY - everything in the last few decades has been geared toward extending the atheists life, or make him/her more comfortable in their horribly sad separation from the divine and from love. It is amazing to me - we are supposed to be so "enlightened" and yet we are slowly creating a hell on earth, hoping to find bacteria "life" on mars, but throwing babies in a garbage heap. Idolizing science as if could provide us with truth - science can no more provide us with truth, than man can be wise without humility and faith and trust in God. It all boils down to a worldview, one that keeps us running and chasing our tails, and one that keeps its eyes on the eternal. I look at all of these attacks by the enemy, and I see grown men act like spoiled children, and I just am so, so, so, grateful, that I opened the door to God, and he hunted me down until the rest of my life became devoted to thinking and pursuing God. It is only in that state of grace where I can see the good, and find joy in something every day, even as I go through the trials of life - it's worth more than any amount of money, it's worth more than any achievement, and all we have to do is accept it!!! So what to do? The only thing we can do, and that is pray their eyes would be opened on a very personal level, and love God and the people around us with all our might! It's the only way I can push back the darkness of this ever more Orwellian world we have created. We spend 100's of billions smashing particles together, but can't take the time to listen and care for our fellow man, we spend trillions on "climate change" passing around the collection plate, and forcing an offering at gunpoint. OH WELL, by the grace of God go I indeed. But you go it right, that will be where we will take this, and by that time I think if you have enough money, governments will turn a blind eye - but I have a feeling it will all backfire, and bring this house of cards down yet again - our tower of babel... Tom Robbins
Just imagine the possibilities. You could clone a copy of yourself which would be identical to you in every way except you would have the gene that causes the development of the cerebral cortex turned off. So essentially your clone twin is a mindless zombie who persists in a vegetative state. What value would such a zombie twin be? It would be a source of organ spare parts in case you needed a new heart, lung, liver or kidney etc. Because “it” is your twin it’s a perfect match. Of course, towards the end of your life you might want to think about cloning a second zombie twin so you could do a whole body transplant to add another 70 years to your life. Didn’t somebody already do a whole body transplant with monkeys? Ethical considerations? I am reminded of this bit of dialogue from Jurassic Park. John Hammond: I don't think you're giving us our due credit. Our scientists have done things which nobody's ever done before... Ian Malcolm: Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn't stop to think if they should. PS Of course, only very wealthy people would be able to afford a zombie twin. john_a_designer

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