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For the last 40 years, the “14-day rule” has served as an international guideline in embryonic research. That is the point in which an embryo starts to form a body plan. Under that rule, scientists made a political decision to never allow human embryos to go beyond that as a sort of promise to the public that they would not attempt to grow babies in labs.
It seems that now, though, The International Society for Stem Cell Research is ready to do away with that standard. They are currently drafting recommendations to ease those restrictions to allow expanded research. It seems that new scientific techniques are expanding the possibilities – particularly as it relates to scientists’ ability to create human-animal chimeras (organisms composed of cells from more than one type of animal).
The people who are promoting this expansion are scientists who hold a naturalistic worldview. Naturalism is the belief that the natural universe, operating by natural laws, is all that exists. These people have very little concern with ethics because their naturalistic worldview assumes that there is no real distinction between humans and other animals. They believe that all life forms have naturally evolved based on the evolutionary principle of descent with modification. Based on their point of view, crossing of the boundary between human and animal cannot be “immoral” because crossing the species lines happens in nature all the time. They see absolutely no fixed differences or breaks between animals and humans.
It is not that they don’t have any concerns, however. Primarily, they are concerned with how it will affect the animals they are experimenting upon. This is an animal welfare concern, and they feel they need to come up with ethical guidelines to mitigate harm to the animals they are working with. One other concern has to do with ecology. They want to make sure that they don’t create creatures that will cause damage to the environment.
Christians, on the other hand, have different concerns. Specifically they are concerned with:
- Overstepping the natural order - Christians believe that there is a natural boundary between humans and animals, and that crossing that boundary is unnatural.
- Dignity of the human person - Christians also believe that humans are special creations of God, and doing this kind of experimentation denigrates man’s dignity.
- Playing God - A third Christian concern is that it is not man’s prerogative to manipulate humanity in this way, as man is a special creation of God.
- Killing a human embryo - Finally, doing this kind of experimentation requires killing a preborn baby – which is considered murder by Christian standards.
As this debate moves forward, it needs to be understood that the controversy cannot be settled in secular terms. The way people evaluate the value of the human person, and determine the morality of this kind of experimentation, is not a scientific decision. Science is a methodology, not a set of beliefs. Science is practiced within the framework of some larger set of worldview beliefs. If the people making these decisions believe that human beings are nothing more than physical animals with a highly evolved brain, then there is really no reason not to move forward with the experimentation. If, however, humans are understood to be persons created in the image of God, then doing experimentation that denigrates the value of the person must be considered to be evil.
The debate over this technology has mostly been focused on the capabilities of modern science, and there have been advancements that certainly make this kind of experimentation possible. On the other hand, there is clearly an ethical side to the argument, as well. The reason there is an ethical side is because of the fact that the decision to do it or not is a value determination, not a scientific one – does the human person have value beyond the fact that human beings are animal creatures?
The biblical answer to that question is an unqualified “YES!” Human beings are persons created in the image of God. For Christians who believe that to be a fact, pushing back against this kind of barbarity is the only moral position one can hold.
Freddy Davis is the president of MarketFaith Ministries. He is the author of numerous books and has a background as an international missionary, pastor, radio host, worldview trainer, and entrepreneur. Freddy is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Communication, and holds MDiv and DMin degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a popular speaker, particularly on the topic of worldview and its practical implications for the Christian life. He lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife Deborah.
You may also contact Freddy at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule him for speaking or leadership engagements.
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