This series is my attempt to answer those who have used the Bible to demonstrate theological support for the creation of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). When considering the Biblically based arguments AGAINST the creation of GMO’s, it’s hard to know just where to begin because there are so many!
In this part of the series I will focus on the first book of the Bible where we read that God created the earth and all the animals and plants after their own “kind”…
“And the earth brought forth grass, [and] herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed [was] in itself, after his kind: and God saw that [it was] good.” [Gen. 1:12- KJV]
“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, [it was] very good.” [Gen. 1:31a]
We also read in the opening chapter of Genesis that God gave man “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” [Gen. 1:29b]
We have to agree on a few definitions before we can proceed with a discussion determining if scripture actually supports man’s creation of GMO’s or not. First, the term “create” as used in Genesis means to “bring into existence” while the term “dominion” is defined as having “authority; sovereignty; or ownership.”
It is God who created “every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew…” [Gen. 2:5a] “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” [Gen. 2:15]
Merriam-Webster defines “stewardship” as: “the conducting, supervising, or managing of things; especially : the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care; i.e. the stewardship of natural resources.”
God’s direction for “dressing and keeping” the garden is where we (humans) derive our stewardship mandate. There is simply no scriptural support found anywhere in the Bible that directs man to be a “creator” or a “co-creator” with God. Man has been given dominion over the created world in regards only to “dressing and keeping” it. The ability and desire to remake creation for our own purposes stems from our fallen nature, or the consequences we have suffered due to our disobedience in eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
In defending the theological framework laid out in an article written by Jordan Ballor in support of the principle of genetic engineering published in the April 10, 2013 edition of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation Newsletter, Dr. Calvin Beisner acknowledges (but downplays) our God given “stewardship” mandate and focuses his argument instead on man’s “dominion” over nature. Beisner points out that according to Genesis, the creatures themselves were not specifically prohibited from crossing the so-called “species barrier”, so therefore man is not prohibited, at least in principle, from utilizing methodologies that do just that.
“It now becomes apparent that the ‘species barrier’ is something read into the text, not arising from it. DID plants and animals reproduce after their kinds as created? Yes. Were they prohibited (either morally or causatively) from ever doing otherwise? Not so far as the text itself tells us.” 
According to Dr. Beisner, the word “kind” (miyn) as used in Genesis does not specifically refer to “species”, but instead may more accurately relate to a higher order of taxonomic classification. My concordance offers this explanation of the word “kind” as used in Genesis:
“Groups of living organisms belong in the same created “kind” if they have descended from the same ancestral gene pool. This does not preclude new species because this represents a partitioning of the original gene pool. Information is lost or conserved—not gained. A new species could arise when a population is isolated and inbreeding occurs. By this definition a new species is not a new “kind” but a further partitioning of an existing “kind”.”
Dr. Beisner is technically correct that plants and animals are not prohibited from changes to their respective genomes. In fact such changes are a natural part of the created order, or at least a natural part of a “fallen” order. New species do in fact come into existence from time to time largely due to isolation and inbreeding, while other species or sub-species become extinct.
This all becomes a moot point as soon as we realize that the manufacturing of GMO’s is not about combining genes from closely related species to create hybrids, but entails mixing up the gene pool between higher taxonomic classifications. Genetic information is removed from, or lost from particular genomes while new information is gained or added from vastly different lifeforms.
Beisner, and others of like mind, argue that scripture does not, in principle, prohibit man from using the tools he has cleverly invented or the knowledge he has acquired to manipulate genetic codes and/or create new organisms which incorporate genetic material from different “kinds“. Some of these same folks raise objections to the more disturbing or nefarious purposes of genetic modification programs. While fooling around with the genes of plants and animals is considered morally acceptable in principle as long as it creates something useful or “good”, the manipulation of the human genome or the creation of animal/human chimeras is strictly off limits. This to me, reeks of hypocrisy and exposes a lack of understanding of what it means to live in a fallen world.
As I read scripture, God alone is referred to as the “creator”. God alone created everything and declared it to be “very good”. Man was directed to “dress and keep” that which God had already created. Yet we have somehow decided that it is our God given right to manipulate everything around us any way that we see fit as long as we can rationalize the practice. The argument about principle falls apart when we understand that in practice, taking the basic building blocks of life and rearranging them in crazy ways may not result in the betterment of creation or something “good”.
Let’s just assume for the sake of argument, that man does indeed have the freedom to create new “kinds” of organisms, new mixed up life forms that do not and would never occur in nature without man’s ingenious ability to extract, manipulate, and add genetic information. What if these new organisms, or chimeras, turn out to be inferior or incredibly harmful to some or all of the established “kinds” that God has created? Who determines what is “good”?
Concern is growing over newly created GM wheat varieties that are designed to “turn off” the reproductive genes of insects. Evidence has emerged that this new GM food crop may also turn off the ability of humans to reproduce. Dr. Jack Heinemann from the University of Canterbury’s Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety has studied the potential effects of these new GM wheat varieties and has drawn some startling conclusions:
“What we found is that the molecules created in this wheat, intended to silence wheat genes, can match human genes, and through ingestion, these molecules can enter human beings and potentially silence our genes. The findings are absolutely assured. There is no doubt that these matches exist.”
Professor Judy Carman of Flinders University shares Dr. Heinemann’s concerns:
“If this silences the same gene in us that it silences in the wheat—well, children who are born with this enzyme not working tend to die by the age of about five.”
Some say the creation of GMO’s that can reduce human population or lower fertility levels is great news. Others are worried about where this type of manipulation will end. Whether this is an unforeseen consequence or an example of a nefarious purpose, either way it exposes the very real danger of creating new organisms in the laboratory and then either having them accidentally escape or purposefully unleashing them into the environment.
Getting back to Genesis, in chapter 3 we read where evil crept in and the “goodness” of the created order was corrupted. You all know the story. Because of the sin of disobedience, the environment surrounding man was cursed. God decreed that man must now toil for his food and deal with “thorns and thistles” (weeds). [Gen. 3:17-19]
God forced man out of the garden of Eden and made him go to work, “to till the ground from whence he was taken”. [Gen 3:23] Ask any farmer, rancher or gardener how much work is involved in producing a crop. Pests, weeds, predators, disease and unfavorable climactic conditions are all factors that make food production difficult. Hard working folks welcome new methods and new means for making life easier or their labor more productive.
Even a cursory examination of history or comparative religion demonstrates that man has been seeking ways to “reverse the effects of the curse”, attain mastery over life, alter reality and/or affect creation, fulfill his own vision, or become his own “god”. So the question Christian believers must answer about GMO’s is this: Does their development help us care for creation and/or promote the Gospel message or do GMO’s have the potential to create a stumbling block for others?
Man has invented all sorts of tools and methodologies to protect himself or make life easier in an often inhospitable world. We build dams and irrigation channels to bring water to arid lands and quench the thirst of urban dwellers. We devise medicines and energy sources to make life more comfortable and extend our days. But messing around with the very building blocks of life through genetic engineering goes far beyond our stewardship mandate of “dressing and keeping” everything God has created.
Consider for a moment the development of vaccines and antibiotics, both of which have saved countless lives over the past hundred and fifty years or so. However, today we are seeing many unforeseen consequences of the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. Viruses and bacteria have mutated into many types of “superbugs” that cannot be killed with any known treatment. Instead of putting our trust in the Biblical teachings regarding quarantine, sanitation, proper nutrition, and healthy and obedient living, masses of people were fooled into relying on the ability of medicine and new technologies to keep them alive. Even today, signs are posted everywhere telling people to follow the simple OT Biblical instructions to “wash your hands”. Meanwhile, there are growing concerns over vaccine efficacy, allergic reactions, and potentially life altering and devastating side effects.
Responsible stewardship requires understanding the ecological, social, and economic impacts of our decisions. To answer the theological question, “Is genetic engineering permissible?” I would have to say it depends on how you define “genetic engineering”. I define it is an act of arrogance and rebellion that says to God, “I don’t like the plants and crops you have created and given me. They are not so good. I’m going to fix them, make them better, and by doing so I can reverse the effects of the curse.”
Granted, others may not see the creation of genetically modified organisms the way I do. Time will tell if mankind is practicing behaviors and creating the conditions that will lead to an increase in God’s wrath or not.
“Before destruction the heart of man is haughty…” Proverbs 18:12a
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” Ecclesiastes 12:13
 Facebook discussion comment by Dr. Beisner April 12, 12:08 pm.