I joke that growing up in a homeschooling community meant that I learned about all the cool, trendy lifestyle movements before they were cool and trendy. Essential oils, grass-fed beef and home births were popular in the homeschooling community before becoming somewhat mainstream. And the anti-vaccine movement was no different.
Recent events regarding the measles outbreaks have not surprised me because of the buzz I was privy to during my homeschool years. It grieves me that science has been relegated to the back seat of an important human issue and that people are suffering as a result.
I fear what this approach to science means to other sectors of our world, especially agriculture and the topic of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Here are my three broad observations concerning GMOs in light of the anti-vaccine movement.*
Christians should be pro-science. For the Christian, science is a noble study. If we believe the world was created by God for his glory and we are his image bearers, it follows that God created the world to be understood and explored by us. We also know the fall has left the world broken, and science offers a means of grace to understanding and fixing what is broken.
Like vaccines, GMOs are one solution to fixing what is broken in the world.
Pests. Drought. Disease. Weeds. Low-yields. Ask any farmer and he/she can tell you stories about these broken aspects of our world. Many farmers will also tell you how GMOs have the potential to restore what is broken.
I recently found this piece about genetic engineering from a photographer and graphic designer who is Ph.D. student of synthetic biology. Well-worth the read if GMOs interest you.
Discernment and humility are key. Growing up, a friend’s mom would remind us that we need to pray for critical minds, not critical hearts. As we enter this discussion where black and white fades to gray, we need to seek out sound information to help us ask the right questions. Internet rumors and bombastic interest groups don’t deserve our attention. We should seek out sources of information that come from rigorous research conducted with high ethics. We should look to and learn from history. We should consider the ethical, theological and philosophical implications of GMOs. Questions must be asked and science must never be accepted carte blanche.
Respect should be given to all involved in the conversation, especially those who have made the study of this field their life work. Imagine yourself as a high school English teach who is a leading expert and practitioner in your field. Then, a research chemist who is a parent of one of your successful students suddenly shows up in your classroom, explains that you’re doing everything wrong based on his recent Internet reading and demands you change your ways or he’ll remove his child from the classroom. The comparison isn’t perfect, but this mirrors what happens when people with little scientific training boycott specific ag practices and foods based on shoddy research and biased documentaries.
Thinking less of ourselves shifts the conversation. It’s easy to criticize the GMO movement as we sit in our homes with full bellies and a plethora a food choices at our finger tips. Generally speaking, we have choices that enable us to meet basic dietary guidelines, regardless of budget.
I believe GMOs can be a risk, especially in the wrong hands. I don’t believe they’re a silver bullet to alleviating hunger and poverty. But like vaccines, I believe they’re a calculated risk worth taking. As explained in one of the best vaccine articles I’ve read yet:
Christians are those that take risks for the advancement of the common good. We don’t teach our children “safety first,” but rather, “soli Deo Gloria” first, and everything else follows.
*Disclaimers: 1.) The similarities between the anti-vaccine movement and the anti-GMO movement have clear limits. 2.) I’m not a scientific expert; these are mere observations, folks! 3.) The goal here is to spur “consumers” to view themselves as participants in agriculture — not mere consumers — and ask well-informed questions about GMOs.