The completion, or near completion, of the human genome project was announced with expressions of Promethean awe. The New York Times called the feat “a pinnacle of human self-knowledge.” Other commentators referred to the new knowledge as the “Book of Life.” President Clinton said mapping the body’s sequence of genes was like “learning the language of God.” And Dr. Francis Collins, who headed the U.S. government side of the project, said possessing the genetic code was like obtaining “God’s instruction book” for humanity.
Of course, those schooled in the biblical tradition know that becoming like God is a treacherous occupation for mortals. Most commentators alluded to moral risks as well as practical benefits in knowing genetic secrets. Cracking the genetic code is indeed opening Pandora’s Box—we have only begun to know what’s inside, much less know what to do with it once we understand it.