I confess I have a love for horror movies, particularly the classics, such as Dracula, the Wolfman or The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Much of the horror on display reveals the fantastical side of men of science playing with God’s creation of human beings. The most famous was Frankenstein, where the attempt to reanimate dead tissue into human life is front and center. Perhaps more blatant was H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, where human-like hybrid beings were created from animals, courtesy of vivisection.
But while these on-screen thrillers might be considered plots of horror, it seems that when brought off the screen into everyday life, we no longer find similar notions quite so horrendous.
Just last month it was revealed that the National Institute of Health (NIH) plans to lift the ban on research funds for part-human, part-animal embryos.
No, you didn’t misread that.
The federal government plans to lift a moratorium on the funding of certain controversial experiments that use human stem cells to create animal embryos that are partly human.
As a National Public Radio report noted, the moratorium had been in place for “ethical” reasons. Namely, “that scientists might inadvertently create animals that have partly human brains, endowing them with some semblance of human consciousness or human thinking abilities. Another is that they could develop into animals with human sperm and eggs and breed, producing human embryos or fetuses inside animals or hybrid creatures.”
But all this was pushed aside for a reason so commonly produced that you would think it was the ultimate ethic: “The embryos provide invaluable tools for medical research.”
Then, just over a week ago, it was announced that a Swedish scientist is seeking to edit the DNA of healthy human embryos.
This, too, has long been considered taboo because of “ethical” concerns; namely, attempting to use genetically modified embryos to make babies, which could accidently introduce an error into the human gene pool. It could also open the door to so-called “designer babies” whose traits parents would be able to choose.
Think the movie Gattaca.
And again, it is being advocated in the name of treating various diseases.
I’m genuinely surprised this aspect of bioethics is being met with such a yawning silence by the Christian community. This is not about somatic cell therapy, which is when you do something to an individual body that stops with that person and that person alone. When used to apply medical healing to an individual, somatic cell therapy holds great promise.
This is germ-line therapy, which is radically different. Germ-line therapy is when you actually change the human stock. It plays with the very nature of our creation, impacting generations. It’s the changing of the human makeup, and it cannot be undone.
This kind of genetic work is not simply frightening, but totally at odds with the Bible.
It’s we-made vs. God-made.
It’s manufacturing vs. Creation.
It’s trying to make ourselves in our own image vs. being made in His image.
And it opens the door to nightmarish possibilities that are the stuff of horror films.
Like part-human, part-animal embryos.
Or the creation of a super race of people who can afford the best genetic enhancements over and against those who cannot.
Those aren’t horror films.
Those are the latest news headlines.
James Emery White
Rob Stein, “Breaking Taboo, Swedish Scientist Seeks To Edit DNA Of Healthy Human Embryos,” NPR, September 22, 2016, read online.
Rob Stein, “NIH Plans to Lift Ban on Research Funds for Part-Human, Part-Animal Embryos,” NPR, August 4, 2016, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.