Last week a team of American scientists had claimed to create living cells through artificial means. The news is an occasion for both optimism and caution.

The optimism acknowledges that new synthetic cells could help treat diseases in people or serve as a potential energy source for a power-hungry society (there’s a metaphor to consider). The note of caution concerns the meaning of life itself. {{more}}

The scientists say they made life by making the genetic code for a bacterium (the code that tells a cell how to make copies of itself) then inserted it into another cell as a host, until it began to replicate and grow into a colony of bacteria. Conceivably, simple organisms like bacteria can be programmed to fulfill any purpose its designers choose. This includes bacteria whose only function is to eat crude oil spilled in the sea, to use one timely example.

Technically the research represents a triumph. Ethically it blinks a flashing yellow light: proceed with caution. Even if scientists’ motives for creating what may be called synthetic “life” are pure (and there are those whose motives are sinister) do they possess the wisdom to ascribe purpose to that which they create?

Scientists should not be prevented from discovering the mechanisms of the physical world. Prudence dictates that appropriate regulation of this emerging field protects the dignity of creatures, including complex forms such as plants and animals, if the science ever makes it that far.

The key for people living in a time only dreamed about in science fiction is to understand the truth of life underlying the science. Life is more than strings of genetic code. Its meaning extends infinitely beyond the reordering of amino acids, the building blocks of life.

God alone creates life because He alone gives purpose and meaning.

The Catechism teaches that God creates to show forth His love and goodness in His creatures. He communicates His love in all creation so that He may become “all in all,” for His glory and our ultimate benefit (nos. 293-294).

“The glory of God is man fully alive,” is how St. Irenaeus, an early Church Father, put it. We possess great potential for good because of the goodness of God’s creative act and the eternal redemption won by His son, Jesus Christ.

Humanity must use its God-given powers responsibly and cooperatively with the vision of God. The ultimate end of humanity, and all life including bacteria, is the glory of God. This spanine purpose should be the road map of our journey down a new path of our own making.