May 2, 2013 at 9:42 AM

Are We Playing God? The Wisdom in Bringing Back What Is Gone

"If the technology existed, it would not be a good idea to bring back the dinosaurs."

By Levi Ben-Shmuel

Speaking for a Wiser Life

Levi Ben-Shmuel is a Tai Chi and Kabbalah teacher, and co-creator of "Sulam Chi: A Dance of Life."

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I missed seeing a lot of movies in the 1990s. The 20th anniversary of Jurassic Park gave me the chance to see this modern-day classic on a big screen (an added bonus was seeing it in 3D!) Going to the movie was part of our son's 11th birthday celebration. Seeing it as a family with other children along made it extra special.

We loved the movie. Afterward while discussing it, there was unanimous agreement that if the technology existed, it would not be a good idea to bring back the dinosaurs. The movie brought the point home with remarkable flair. It left me wondering why anyone in his right mind would want to take a chance and unleash extinct biological forces on the world whose impact would be unpredictable and potentially harmful.

Guess what? The technology now exists. The cover of the April National Geographic proclaims: "Reviving Extinct Species. We Can. But Should We?"

After seeing Jurassic Park, I read the cover story with great interest. It turns out we can't bring back the dinosaurs, but we have a good shot at bringing back the wooly mammoth, saber-toothed cats, and the red-breasted American carrier pigeon (the list goes on). There is great debate in the scientific and ethical communities as to the wisdom of bringing back species that are long gone.

The bigger question de-extinction raises is: Just because we can do something, is it wise to do it?

As much as we like to think we can control nature or other people, the reality is we never know what the full outcome of any decision will be. In a world that is becoming increasingly connected, the impact of a decision as it ripples through life is a mystery. Being that we cannot see into the future, it is imperative that we use our hearts, minds, and spirits to muster as much wisdom as we can in deciding what the best course of action is.

What factors would you consider important in determining if it is wise to bring back extinct species? Hank Greely, a leading bioethicist at Stanford University quoted in the cover story, is very interested in exploring the ethical and legal implications of de-extinction. Even as this professional carefully considers this question, he said, "What intrigues me is just that it's really cool. A saber-toothed cat? It would be neat to see one of those."

Herein lies the danger. Are we going to be blinded by the cool factor, by the allure of some spectacular technology that is so compelling, we discount considering all the potential costs and dangers just for the fun of seeing what the end result will look like?

In the Bible, God said to the Israelites:

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!

The essence of these verses is as relevant today as it has ever been. Do our choices enhance life for all of us? It seems to me the wisdom lies in letting the extinct stay extinct. Parts of life are under attack due to factors such as climate change, political forces, greed, and just plain stupidity. All things considered, the cool factor or curiosity shouldn't be enough to move forward with de-extinction technology while so much of life desperately needs help in order not to go extinct (including us).

What do you think?

This blog was orginally published on the Huffington Post.

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