The Need for Biblical Ethics
Many agree that “If we do adopt a policy of human genetic engineering, we ought to do so with extreme caution.” I believe that a biblical and Christ exalting ethical system is necessary to provide bedrock convictions. Without the Bible we are left to our own devices, to do what is right in our own eyes.
The Bible does not address the subject of genetic engineering directly. You will not find “genetic modification” in a Bible concordance. The Bible does, however, provide foundational principals that are vital for us to consider and apply. The storyline of the Bible and of reality provides some very important insights.
First, in the beginning of the story of Scripture we see that God created everything, and He created it very good (Gen. 1:31). God is the Great Creator but we also see that we are made in His image and are also creative (Gen. 1:26-27). We also see from the fact that we are made in the image of God that all human life is precious and should be protected. This is where we get the concept of the sanctity of life. We also see from the beginning of Genesis that humans are called to subdue the earth, we are to reign under God as His vice-regents. So, we are to obey His will and bring blessing and flourishing to all we can.
This is important to remember when we consider gene editing because we learn a number of things. 1) God made us creative and made us to bring flourishing and blessing. 2) God also made us to obey Him, He is the Lord. We should never do anything that is outside of His will. 3) The fact that God is the Creator of all provides a basis for the reasonableness of the laws of science. We can make logical deductions and seek out God’s creative design because God has designed things in a reasonable way.
Types of Genetic Engineering
As you read this, remember, “The best insurance against possible abuse is a well-informed public.” So, with that in mind, let’s look at four types of genetic engineering.
First, and lest controversial, is somatic gene therapy. The way I remember what somatic refers to is by remembering that soma is the Greek word for “body.” Somatic gene therapy involves the manipulation of gene cells within the body that are non-reproductive. So somatic genes that are edited do not get passed on to future generations.
Second, germline gene therapy involves the genetic modification of the germline cells (eggs or sperm). So germline therapy changes the genetic make up of the individual and is thus carried on to future generations. That is one of the reasons that “No aspect of gene therapy is more highly charged than that of germline or germ-cell therapy.” One of the questions that is important to ask regarding germline gene therapy is: “Will a ‘deleterious’ gene of today be considered a ‘deleterious’ gene tomorrow?”
This discussion, I must remind you, is not some sci-fi dream, “Many assure that within our decade, depending upon the family and the circumstances, height, weight and even eye color will become elective.”
The topic of genetic engineering makes me think of the movie Universal Soldier where the soldiers were genetically engineered to have superior strength and heal quickly. The
Boys from Brazil is another movie that has genetic engineering as part of the plot. In this movie there are ninety-four clones made of Adolf Hitler and sent to different parts of the world. Examples of plot twists and possible plot twists could be multiplied but does it make sense to realistically think about genetic engineering?
Specialists from varied backgrounds think so. Take these examples:
Megan Best has said: “Genetics will have an important role in shaping society in the future because it increases our understanding of how disease occurs and how treatments work differently between individuals. It promises new ways to improve the health of the population.” “Full of promise, full of challenges—we will all be involved in the genetic revolution before we know it.”
George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, said in 2016 regarding genetic engineering that “It is urgent that citizens around the world inform themselves and participate in this rapidly moving set of decisions.”
“Prominent voices in the genetic technology field believe that mankind is destined for a genetic divide that will yield a superior race or species to exercise dominion over an inferior subset of humanity. They speak of ‘self-directed evolution’ in which genetic technology is harnessed to immeasurably correct humanity—and then immeasurably enhance it. Correction is already underway. So much is possible: genetic therapies, embryo screening in cases of inherited disease and even modification of the genes responsible for adverse behaviors.”
The way we think deeply matters. Adam S. Cohen says this in his essay, “Harvard’s Eugenics Era”: “There are… forward-looking reasons to revisit this dark moment in [Harvard’s] past. Biotechnical science has advanced to the brink of a new era of genetic possibilities. In the next few years, the headlines will be full of stories about gene-editing technology, genetic ‘solutions’ for a variety of human afflictions and frailties, and even ‘designer babies.”
“Why does a person’s sexual preference matter? If a guy loves another guy why can’t they hook up? Why would God have a problem with that? God created everything, right? So, did He create homosexuality?”
I appreciate those questions. They are important because sex and sexual identity are deeply personal as well as powerful. So, the main question seems to be: Did God create homosexuality, is it part of God’s good design? In order to answer this question, I need to ask you a question. Do you consider yourself a tolerant person? Will you hear me out and listen to my perspective?
If you answered that you are a tolerant person, that’s great. That will be helpful as we look at this controversial subject. So, I ask you to kindly consider my perspective on this question.
I want to be faithful to what I believe the Bible teaches because through it God shows His love and grace. So, as we consider this question, I deeply want the love and compassion of Christ to come through. He loves us all and wants us to have abundant life here and now and forever. Yet, life holds many struggles and temptations.
As we consider this question, we are all caught up in God’s story, a story that can be summed up as creation, fall, redemption and new creation. What does the Bible have to say about this issue? The Bible provides directions to protect us and help us thrive. This is part of God’s good design. The directions include prohibitions against certain types of sexual activity. Those that violate the directions God has given often suffer for it. Individuals that struggle with homosexuality need to realize that natural disposition does not justify it any more than any other sin. And the fact that society elevates sexual fulfillment to the point of communicating that it is the purpose of life does not exempt it from God’s prohibition any more than any other sin. If you are struggling with this issue, then join the rest of us sinners and turn to Christ, who is good. God has given us the means to live within His good design.
Here are a few things I left out of the video…
Thinking and talking about abortion is very difficult but also important. I, therefore, ask that you consider what I say before discounting it. I have strived to consider the subject with compassion and candor. So, out front, I want to say two things: First, I believe abortion is clearly wrong and cannot be morally justified in any circumstance. Second, and very important, there is grace, forgiveness, and hope for those who have had an abortion.
We all do wrong. The Bible says everyone is a sinner. But it also thankfully says that whosoever—liar, thief, cheat—goes to Jesus in faith and repentance can receive new life and be saved by the grace of God. All our sins can be washed away. First John 1:9 gives us all hope: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It is vital that we all remember that there is grace, forgiveness, and hope for all!
And here are some statistics about abortion in America that I left out too…
- Since 1973, there have been 59,000,000 reported and legal abortions. That’s more than the total population of California and Virginia.
- There were 908,000 abortions in 2015.
- 1/4 of American women will have an abortion by the time they are forty-five.
- Reasons why women have an abortion:
- 1% listed rape or incest
- 6% listed potential health problems
- 93% listed social reasons:
- Abortion brings several health risks:
- Breast cancer
- Ectopic (tubal) pregnancy
- Bad effects on future pregnancies
- Becoming sterile
- Sexual dysfunction
- Mental health risks
“Lesser of two evils” is a fairly common phrase but how helpful is it? Is there really a situation when we would have to choose between the lesser of two evils? That is a contested ethical issue and an important one.
In answering this difficult question we are dependent. We need wisdom outside of ourselves. John Frame points us in the right direction through his meditation on Scripture. He offers us some helpful theological reflections (See Frame, DCL, 230-34). I share just two of them.
Dawkins says “justice is a human construct of great importance in human affairs.” And Dawkins believes that there is probably a Darwinian explanation that explains justice. So, our concept of justice is just a convenient Darwinian happenstance. I believe he says “blessed precious mistake” in his book The God Delusion. Of course, Nietzsche would disagree. Nietzsche in On the Genealogy of Morals doesn’t think it’s blessed or precious.
Also, if justice is merely a human construct then the cannibal clan in Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road are not wrong in keeping people locked up in the cellar in order to slaughter and eat.
I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 9 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)