The Problem With “Playing God”

The phrase sows moral panic about science without helping to solve it.

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Media Outlet: Slate Future Tense

Bina Venkataraman wrote for Slate's Future Tense about the issue with the phrase "playing God."

In Mary Shelley’s classic story Frankenstein, the notorious creature is hiding from human view when he encounters a suitcase in the woods filled with books and clothing. The monster reads Milton’s Paradise Lost and can’t help but compare himself to both Adam and a fallen angel. He recounts his discovery to his maker, the distraught Dr. Victor Frankenstein, with indignation:
Since its publication nearly 200 years ago, Shelley’s gothic novel has been read as a cautionary tale of the dangers of creation and experimentation. James Whale’s 1931 film took the message further, assigning explicitly the hubris of playing God to the mad scientist. As his monster comes to life, Dr. Frankenstein, played by Colin Clive, triumphantly exclaims: “Now I know what it feels like to be God!”


Bina Venkataraman is a Future Tense Fellow and was a Class of 2016 & 2017 Carnegie Fellow with the Fellows Program at New America. She is writing a book about how our society of gamblers can forge tools to think about the future amid rapid technological change. She is the director of global policy initiatives at the Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard.