Hundreds gathered on September 27 to celebrate the dedication of the new Ken Olsen Science Center. Professors from neighboring campuses, including Harvard and MIT, joined national science writers, executives from Olsen’s company--Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)--and Gordon faculty, alumni and students for a daylong commemoration of the newest addition to the Gordon campus.
Following a ribbon cutting ceremony in the Science Center, the dedication service took place in A. J. Gordon Memorial Chapel. Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, spoke on “Genomics and the Human Condition.”
As director, Collins took a remarkable scientific project to completion--a project mapping the human genome with its billions of letters. According to Karl Giberson, director of Gordon’s Forum on Faith and Science, the Genome Project is “one to be compared with the building of the atomic bomb or putting a man on the moon, though with far more benefit to humanity.”
Along with his formal address, Collins was also interviewed informally by Gordon Provost Mark Sargent. Sargent, in a recent essay, has expressed the hope that the new Olsen Center will provide the Gordon community with “new opportunities to think about the alliance of faith, science and democracy in our own culture.”
Among other questions, Sargent asked Collins: “What do you see as the greatest good that can come from the future in the field of genetics, and what are those ethical dilemmas right around the corner?”
Collins’ response: “Having our own human DNA instruction book provides us with a foundation to understand medical problems at a level not dreamed of before. Soon that should put us in a position to offer people the chance to practice much more effective prevention by knowing what’s written into their DNA code that ought to be attended to, in terms of what specific actions they might take concerning diet and lifestyle and medical surveillance.
“Along with that comes an ethical mandate to handle this information in a way that is benevolent, that reaches out to help people and does not distort other aspects of society or create inequities or do harm.
“I think we are gradually--not immediately--going to need to face up to what we want to do about enhancements that might actually affect us as a species. Those could become possible in another 100 years. Are we prepared to go that route or is there a line we don’t want to cross?”