Friday, August 28, 2009

Reinventing Man

This was a commentary done by Chuck Colson recently that I wanted to express my stern objection to.

If you have been watching the Olympics, you cannot help but be awed by the strength, speed, and skill of Olympic athletes. Take Michael Phelps, the phenomenal American swimmer who took gold in event after event. Or Dara Torres, a 41-year-old American swimmer who bested much younger athletes, winning a silver medal.

These men and women have spent years training, strengthening, and perfecting their skills and their bodies. As much as we applaud their accomplishments, we marvel at their effort.

Now, imagine not long from now, watching an Olympic games featuring athletes who never had to train like Phelps and Torres have. Instead, their skills and physique were planned before their birth, enhanced through nanotechnology. The games would be called the "Bio-Olympics," in which competitors have artificially enhanced features, like superhuman strength and speed.

Sound like science-fiction? It's not. Not long ago the President's Council on Bioethics wrote about such a possibility.

We talk often on "BreakPoint" about bioethics, especially when it comes to cloning, embryo-destructive research, genetic engineering, and so forth. But science is bringing even greater ethical dilemmas right to our front doors now.

As my friend Nigel Cameron points out in the latest issue of BreakPoint WorldView magazine—which, by the way, you can subscribe to for free at—science is moving beyond improving or fixing humanity, to remaking humanity.

Thanks to genetic, robotic, information, and nano technologies—collectively known by the ironic acronym GRIN—mankind is poised for what some call "engineered evolution." Nigel warns that the very technologies that can "help us restore function to the disabled and fight disease, can also be used to bring in the 'Brave New World'—in which what it means to be human, made in the image of God, is fundamentally lost."

Not only will the results of this "evolution" be unprecedented, but so will the speed at which it happens. "Pain vaccines," "memory pills," and "gene doping," which may turn even the scrawniest kid into a Hercules, are being tested as I speak.

But who will enjoy the fruits of such enhancements? As Nigel writes, developments in "blending human nature and machine nature through such means as the implanting of brain chips for memory, skills, or communication . . . could compound both the intelligence and the wealth of a small segment of society." This could lead "to a new feudalism, in which power of all kinds is concentrated in the hands of 'enhanced' persons."

This raises unimaginable ethical problems, and Christians must be engaged in the debate. As Nigel writes, "At the heart of the agenda for the 21st century lies the need to build a policy framework in which ethical principles set the ground-rules for our use of these new powers." We must, he says, "secure human nature from commodification."

I could not agree more. Humans and human nature are not commodities to be manipulated, bought, and sold. In the rush to "make life better and easier" by "improving" the human body, we cannot allow human life to become less human.

First and foremost, I would like to say that I believe that God made us with the ability to do such things to improve ourselves. The same philosophy that drives Christian Science, many members of which die from illness, drives this point of view. That God made us how we are, if He wanted us to fight disease, He would have built it in us. Chuck is saying the same thing here, except saying that if God wanted us to be stronger, faster smarter, and healthier, that He would have made us that way. Humans have operated on improvement for thousands of years. Life expectancy has increased, technology increased, population size, capabilities. For that matter, God put us on the earth, and now that we have left it, are we defying His order?

The bottom line is that the Bible's words do not oppose human progress. And as I have always said, Its words remain true today just as they were 2000 years ago. Now why would anything change then? Are we no longer in God's image because we are stronger? The fact is, that the issues central to the plan God has for humanity (loving Him, loving others/spreading His good news, multiply, subdue the earth) will not change just because we are tougher. Humans will still have to face the same problems that turn us to God in the first place. Emotional dependency, desire for love and intimacy, mental reasoning, and whatever else the human condition entails. We will still die, most importantly.

Another argument he brings up is the idea that a feudal system would form around those who are enhanced. I have two things to say about this. Biological enhancement will never effect the human spirit, and those who are determined, who make that effort, will not be eliminated or phased out. And one other thing, just because a feudal system might form (which in this country I actually find unlikely) doesnt mean that it will or that such fear is a good motivation to hinder such progress.

Last time I checked, the image of God had nothing to do with being able to see for miles, jump 20 feet in the air, or lift 1000lbs consistently. I welcome anyone to find a scripture that says we are no longer humans in the image of God when we become tougher. Sampson would agree I think.

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