Now that such impressive scientific achievements are commonplace, people are growing restless for new categories of medical treatment. No longer content with merely being well, the selfie culture wants to be better than well. In humbler times, providing patients compassionate care was enough. But public expectation is shifting away from therapy toward enhancement, from restoring health to pursuing perfection. New medical consumers, already sold on cosmetic surgery and at ease with performance-enhancing drugs, are counting on a larger mall of products and services from which to choose. Genetic engineering promises to take their personal enhancement to a whole new level. Some scientists are channeling resources away from the pursuit of legitimate gene therapy to the search for genetic upgrades to sell to healthy people. They paint the picture of a biologically-augmented superhuman – a healthy, pretty and witty demigod engineered to live for centuries.
This fascination with human enhancements panders to pride. Behind the narcissism lurks the materialistic delusion that human life is a merry-go-round that rotates once and then vanishes. Since a person goes around just once, he must quickly push and wheedle and sue to acquire the things that make for a happy ride. If he could obtain a premium mind and a perfect body, his ride would be all the merrier. What fun to be superior to the little people who can’t afford the technology! Amos rebuked the wealthy, self-indulgent people of Samaria, calling the leisure-class women “cows of Bashan” who graze in luxury, demand that their husbands satisfy their cravings, and despise the needy around them (Amos 4:1). Similarly, modern first-world egoists will consume more and more medical resources for personal enhancements not central to medicine, while millions will go without even basic care.
If a designer body is appealing, many future parents are even more excited about the prospect of designer babies. Gender selection is already straightforward with current artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization techniques. We might justify choosing the sex of a child if parents want to avoid passing a sex-linked genetic disorder to their children, such as the hemophilia B that Queen Victoria spread through her offspring to many royal houses in Europe. Such illnesses are unusual; most parents have no medical justification for choosing their baby’s gender. Some want a boy or a girl to “balance” their families, while others want to choose the gender favored in their culture – usually male. China’s one-child policy shows where sex selection leads: because of their preference for male children, Chinese couples created a gender imbalance by selectively aborting girls. By 2008, China had 22% more boys than girls, and this surplus of young men is now fomenting social unrest.
Genetic engineering promises choices far beyond a child’s gender. Technicians can now use CRISPR-Cas9 molecular scissors to edit the DNA of egg and sperm cells. If we use this powerful technology to cut out and replace faulty genes, we will promote wellness. However, as genomic research identifies gene clusters associated with desirable traits such as increased intelligence, athleticism and musicality, engineers will start to edit genes for non-medical purposes. Parents will soon be able to point and click their way down a menu of options to upgrade their baby’s personality, abilities, and appearance.
The designer-baby movement affronts God’s sovereign will. God makes each child male or female and chooses his or her characteristics in the womb as He pleases (Gen 1:27; Psa 139:13-17). Children are His gifts, and parents are to accept and love them unconditionally as whole persons, and not merely as commodities with pre-selected traits (Psa 127:3-5). Further, if parents control their child’s genetic endowments, they will corrupt normal bonding. Genetically engineered children will quickly realize that their parents, looking for a return on investment, love them not for who they are, but for how they perform. Children with genetic upgrades will bear the burden of living up to the standards their parents designed them to meet: they must excel. The oppressive weight of these expectations will smother their freedom to make their own way in the world.
Like current in vitro fertility techniques, the process of gene editing requires technicians to generate many embryos. From these, they will select one or two expressing the desired traits and destroy the rest – or sell them. They will implant the chosen one or two in a mother’s womb either to go to term as designer babies, or to die by abortion to harvest their designer tissue. As recent exposés have shown, the current abortion industry has grown rich from the sale of fetal organs; the designer-baby and designer-abortion industries will greatly expand this trafficking in baby parts. We would rightly denounce surgeons and scientists who took advantage of an organized homicidal machine that provided them with a limitless supply of cadavers for transplantation and research. The horrified world condemned the Nazi death system for doing just that. Two generations later, it is happening again. The only difference? We have substituted human embryos as the group of violated, commodified human beings priced at market value (Rev 18:13).
At Nuremberg, the world rightly rejected the Nazi doctors’ argument that since these inmates were going to be killed anyway, they should be put to good use. Yet proponents of gene editing have joined with abortion propagandists to advance the same rationale. They assuage the guilt of parents who are choosing death for their unborn children, arguing that the mother can redeem her abortion by donating the baby parts to provide tissue for research and therapy. Further, when patients need fetal tissue with precise genetic profiles to correct their medical problems, the system will recruit women to conceive life solely to terminate it. Who can possibly give consent for this? The mother who has chosen to have her unborn child killed, and who profits from the death, plainly has no moral status to speak on her baby’s behalf.
The Bible teaches that the “let us do evil that good may come” argument is wicked, and that utilitarian end-justifies-the-means reasoning is unconscionable for believers (Rom 3:8). Killing an innocent human being to alleviate the suffering of another is an immoral way of achieving that end. God never justifies evil means to produce good ends, even when those ends are highly desired. Since all human beings bear God’s image, we must honor each person as a noble end, and never demean him or her as a mere means for another’s gain. Adding a wrong to a wrong does not subtract the first wrong; it simply adds another wrong, compounding evil.
Self-Salvation Through Transhumanism
In the end, the greatest designer body will turn into a moldering corpse. Even with the most amazing genetic upgrades, the human container will still wear out. “The wages of sin is death” and “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Rom 6:23; Heb 9:27 ESV). Humanists, refusing to accept this cursed limitation, are seeking technological solutions to overcome it. Denying their place as God’s finite creatures and disowning the consequence of their sin, they believe that they will soon be able to convert themselves into transhumans, limitless creatures who are better than human. By overcoming mortality and reaching for infinity, transhuman technology allows man to be his own savior. He will conquer the last enemy, death, by himself (1 Cor 15:26).
To transform from a human to a transhuman, a person simply needs to merge with a machine. This idea is not new: the use of mechanical parts has blessed many people. Orthotics and prosthetics first gave us peg legs and wooden teeth, then hearing aids and glass lenses, and now titanium joints, mechanical heart valves, cochlear implants and biomechatronic limbs. However, as marketing forces continue to divert the business of medicine away from curing ill patients to enhancing well people, newer bionic devices become ethically troubling. Implantable computer chips that improve intelligence and memory, for example, would benefit patients with dementia, but would also attract wealthy narcissists with normal brains.
Proponents of transhumanism, however, see much further. They admire the sleek lines and shining chrome of machinery, and idolize the purity of purpose and cold logic of artificial intelligence. They believe that the brain is simply an information-producing machine, and that human consciousness is reducible to neural circuits and biochemical reaction. If the mind is merely data, then everlasting life simply requires uploading brain information into a supercomputer.
Once they have ascended to a digital plane of existence by transferring consciousness to an indestructible machine, these futurists believe that they will enjoy a perfect state of being. By discarding their mortal bodies, they will eliminate sickness and death. They will run no longer on DNA, that imperfect blueprint from their pre-converted lives so prone to mutation, but on infallible software. With their ultrafast microprocessors and unlimited memory banks, their mental capacity will expand incredibly. Their new computerized selves will remember being human, but their minds will be free from human limitations. They will have to become less human to become superhuman, but this will allow them to bypass the gospel and still secure for themselves that Christian promise of eternal life.
Lessons from Eden and Babel
The tsunami of biotechnology is about to engulf us. Since we have never found a technology we don’t like, we stand gullibly on the shore, eager for the next big thing. The dehumanizing effects of modern digital culture have never really fazed us. We see technology as an unmitigated good and an urgent imperative: what can be done must be done. But we are horribly mistaken. We are wrong to construe technology as entirely good, or even as morally neutral, because it operates in the shadow of the fall. It produces tools too powerful for fallen mortals to wield. Our ruined race lacks the ethical heft to handle nuclear bombs and cellular phones and will fall short again with genetic engineering. Although biotechnology in the right hands has blessed man and glorified God, the wrong hands are now exploiting it to defy God and demean His creature man.
“You will be like God,” the serpent assured Eve (Gen 3:5). Satan himself had coveted this autonomy, driven by radical self-love. Rejecting his place as a created being, he boasted, “I will set my throne on high…I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa 14:13-14 ESV). At the incident in Eden man took up the Devil’s treasonous pursuit of ultimate control. Greedy to be “like God”, humans first recreated truth and morality to their liking, and then set out to seize control of their destiny. Biotechnology brings a quantum breakthrough to this quest: man has hacked into the genetic program and is now rewriting it to wrest control of his future.
The early rebels of Babel banded together and said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (Gen 11:4 ESV). These ancient conspirators misused technology to defy God, unify themselves against their Creator, and escape His judgment. Modern rebels, driven by the dread of death, are again hijacking technology to gain immortality through transhumanism. Rejecting God’s offer of “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23), they think they can thwart the death their sins deserve and so usurp the work of Christ.
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil informs us that God has wisdom that is His alone, a wisdom beyond human capacity that we must receive by faith. The future of each person and the whole race belongs in His hands. We therefore must not question His goodness and wisdom: “Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?'” (Rom 9:20 ESV). We gladly take our place as God’s creatures and trust Him. He wisely barred Adam and Eve from the Tree of Life to keep them from living forever as fallen creatures (Gen 3:22). Instead, He has promised a full salvation – eternal, abundant life – to all who receive His Son (John 3:16; 10:10). We can embrace the human condition, knowing that our destiny is to live forever in a fully reconciled universe (Col 1:20).
As stewards of our bodies, we must use them for God’s glory; the body of every believer belongs to Christ and is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19-20). Thus we pray for good health and welcome medical therapy (3 John 2). However, we reject biotechnology as a savior. We refuse the offer of an ugly disembodied post-human future, and confidently embrace God’s final solution to frail mortality, the redemption of the body (Rom 8:23). We know that when Christ returns, He will transform our bodies of humiliation to be identical to His glorious body (Phil 3:21). Although we now bear the image of Adam, the man of dust, from that day on we will joyfully bear the image of Christ, the Man of heaven (1 Cor 15:49).
(Used with permission from Truth and Tidings magazine)