We are currently experiencing technical issues with some of our video content. If you are unable to access a video, please email [email protected] for help.

The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

Never miss a thing!


Why we should be ‘playing God’

Some phrases think for us. They slip easily off the tongue, the obvious thing to say. We use them without noticing the presuppositions that have smuggled into our argument. 

‘Playing God’ is one such phrase. Recent news stories have accused us – the phrase is almost always used accusingly – of playing God with the atmosphere, with wildlife, with the human brain, and of course with technology. ‘Playing God’, it’s fair to say, is rarely used positively. 

We’ll hear many more such accusations in coming years. Advances in AI, genetic modification, life extension, immunology, obstetrics – to name a few – have allowed us to understand, manipulate, and ‘improve’ life to an unprecedented degree. And as our capacity to ‘play God’ increases, so will the accusations. 

So, we should rescue the phrase, fast. What, after all, does it mean? It’s commonly used to mean exercising power in a way that’s reserved for God alone, but if that’s so, it has no place in the Christian tradition. 

One Genesis creation story grants humans the right to name, and implicitly understand and order, God’s creation. Another, famously, commands us to rule over it. Humans are made in the image of a creative God. Christ, the model of humanity, is characterised precisely by his control over the world – ‘who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ (Mark 4:41) – not his renunciation of it. Humans are a God-playing species. 

In truth, all species have the power to modify their environment, but humans – uniquely communicative, imaginative, reflective, and moral – have a responsibility to play (or, less frivolously, act on behalf of) God. The real question is, what kind of God should we play? Or, in more secular language, what are the ultimate ends and goods we should seek in our interventions? 

It’s an urgent question because science is beginning to offer us the prospect of extended life, augmented capacities, pre-selected birth, or, though AI, a life of perpetual leisure. And while these may be goods – who objects to a bit more leisure time? – they are not ultimate goods, the kind of ends that fulfil our humanity. 

That end, that fulfilment, can be found only in relationships, made possible through the patient, determined cultivation of kindness, generosity, forgiveness, and love. Ultimately, we cannot but play God. But the God we should play exercises control not for the sake of personal advancement or eternal leisure, but for the good of those around us and our shared home. 


Nick Spencer, Senior Fellow, Theos

Join Nick for a special live recording of The Whole Life Podcast

On 15 May in London, see Nick in conversation with LICC’s Paul Woolley and Grace Fielding for a special live recording of The Whole Life Podcast. Together, they'll discuss Nick’s book 'Playing God: Science, Religion, and the Future of Humanity' – and how the Christian story connects to the massive technological leaps of our time.


  1. Really interesting and thought provoking piece, thanks Nick. Are there any circumstances in which we should refrain from playing God, even with good intentions, because we know that fallible human beings simply can’t be trusted with such power?

    Ps 131.1 “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”

    By Martin Tiller  -  26 Apr 2024

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *