Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Human-Animal Embryos: Crossing the Great Divide?

Scientists in Britain have recently created human-animal embryos for the purpose of medical and scientific experimentation.1 Soon after, Parliament voted to give them a green light to continue with such experiments, despite public, and especially religious, opposition.2 My initial reaction to such news was shock and dismay. How could they do such a thing? Since then I've done some more research on what is actually going on, and now I'm not quite sure what to think, especially since different people are making conflicting (and often confusing) claims.

The procedure itself seems to be quite similar to cloning, except that it involves replacing the nucleus of an animal egg cell with the nucleus from a human cell. The resulting combination is then stimulated to start growing and dividing. The result is an embryo with human nuclear DNA and animal mitochondrial DNA. This is not a true hybrid, since it does not involve a combination of nuclear DNA from two organisms, sharing of chromosomes, etc.3 Eventually, the nuclear DNA takes charge the the embryo becomes "mostly" human.

The purpose isn't to produce hybrid human/animal monsters, since the embryo is unlikely to live more than a few days. In fact, British law does not allow the embryos to be developed longer than 14 days, and forbids them from being implanted in humans or animals. Rather, scientists hope to be able to harvest stem cells from the embryos to aid in research to produce treatments or cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

What are Christians to think about all this? Is this a "sanctity of life" issue? What about the human-animal hybrid angle? What about the potential to find cures for such dreaded diseases? I don't know that I have a solid answer for all aspects of this issue yet, so please bear with me as I think through this aloud here.

I think the most crucial question we can ask, the most important issue to decide, is whether or not this "embryo" is a human being with a soul. I'm not a doctor or a geneticist, so I don't know what, exactly, the procedure entails. From what I have read, it seems like it's the nucleus of an adult cell (such as a skin cell) that is implanted in the animal egg cell. Pro-life Christians believe that a person begins at conception, but can this process be called conception?

If the embryo is indeed a human being, it is created in the image of God, and to mix human with animal in such a way violates the natural order God set up at creation. Furthermore, to create such embryos purely for the sake of experimentation and to deliberately destroy their lives once they have served their purpose is nothing short of brutal murder. It is, if possible, even more ghastly than the horror of abortion, since it involves the creation of life for the express purpose of destruction. No amount of cures would justify such inhuman behavior.

If, however, the embryo is merely a combination of human and animal cells, then the answer is not quite as clear. Humans have often made use of animal cells and tissues for numerous medical procedures, and have genetically modified animals with human genes, etc. for purposes of experimentation. The question then becomes, where do we draw the line between what types of research are allowed and what types should be avoided?

I don't intend to answer that question fully here, but I would like to mention several concerns I have relating to this particular issue. The first one could be called a "slippery slope" argument. I get the distinct impression that scientists are pushing the limits hard, and will go as far as the public allows them (and quite possibly farther, without the public's knowledge or consent). Not to say that scientists are unethical in general, or that there is some conspiracy going on. But (and this is another point of concern) we need to remember that scientists as a group are far more accepting of evolutionary theory than the general public is. They believe that humans are nothing more than highly evolved animals, and that as such there is no real difference between them. They do not recognize humans as made in the image of God, and as possessing a dignity above that of animals. There is therefore little reason why they should not engage in research and experimentation that violates that dignity or bridges that gap, especially if it promises good for the human race as a whole.

Which brings us to another concern, namely the promises made about such research. I personally think it is very misleading and unethical to use such optimistic promises to win the support of the public for something that is not guaranteed to deliver on those promises. Especially when the promises play a large part in helping people overcome their perfectly valid ethical concerns. To promise cures for currently incurable diseases as the result of such research not only portrays as certain something that is far from sure, it also sets up people with great expectations that will most likely not be met. I also find it disturbing that scientists would mislead people as to the nature of the "cybrids", claiming a far greater percentage as "human" than the actual conditions warrant.4 Why would objective scientists doing valid research need to resort to empty promises and misleading terminology to gain the acceptance and permission of society? Something does not seem quite right.

Which brings me to two more of my concerns, namely the great trust the public places in scientists and their research, and their willingness to put aside valid ethical concerns as long as they believe that people will benefit from it. It is rather revealing to read through the comments on some of the articles that discuss the issue.1 People who oppose or disagree with the research are accused of standing in the way of science and hindering progress. Other people come across as having the attitude, "who cares what you have to do or who gets hurt, as long as my loved one can get access to a cure." While accusing others of being more concerned about a "blob of cells" than a person suffering from some incurable disease, they seem to think that the diseased person deserves a cure, even if it takes the death of another human being to get it. And the whole thing is, they are basing such statements, such faith, on a promise, and an empty promise at that.

It is questionable whether any cure will be found based on this research, and even more so that it will happen in the near future.4 At the same time, there are other areas of research that are far more promising, without the ethical concerns or scientific difficulties involved. Some of them have already provided cures, such as adult stem cells. If the real concern were for scientific progress and medical breakthroughs, such research should gain top priority in funding and public support. But much of the scientific community seems more intent on challenging the ethical and religious standards of society and pushing the edge in the name of science than actually helping people.

So, even though I am not quite clear on whether such embryos should be considered human beings, I still think such research is dangerous and unnecessary. Any way you look at it, there is a clear divide between humans and animals, one that should not be bridged or tampered with lightly.5

1. Mark Henderson; "'We have created human-animal embryos already', say British team"; The Times; April 2, 2008.

2. "Britain allows human-animal embryo research"; CTV.ca News; May 19, 2008.

3. Don Batten; "Human-animal Hybrids?"; Creation Ministries International; August 29, 2001.

4. "Cloned human-animal hybrid embryos"; Human Genetics Alert.

5. See the article, "Of mice and men—and the monsters in-between" by Alex Williams, for some general guidelines relating to this issue, from a Christian perspective.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Trivial Pursuits

"Songs That Answer Questions"

I don’t want to spend my time, writing songs to answer questions that nobody’s even asking, anyhow. When the house is burning to the ground, there’s just no time to stand around, arranging all the pictures on the wall. I want to spend my life giving folks the living water, and the Bread of Life they just can’t live without...

I don’t want to spend my time praying prayers bombarding heaven with requests to rain down fire on saints who care. In our methods we may differ, but if Christ the Lord we live for, may we not forget the enemy’s out there...

These are pieces of a song that has been running through my mind lately. I was trying to find the lyrics, but they don't seem to be available anywhere, so I transcribed it. The song was written by Bill Gaither.

While some of the teaching might be questionable, depending on how you understand what he is saying, the picture he paints has stuck with me ever since I first heard it. Who in the world would mess around arranging pictures when their house is burning down?! Either do something useful or get out!

Yet strangely, a lot of Christians, myself too often included, seem remarkably content to bury themselves in trivial pursuits while God's House is being attacked from without and divided from within.

I'm reminded of another stark image that is sometimes used to remind us of our proper priorities concerning evangelism. This one is of people sitting on a hillside making daisy chains while all around them others walk unheedingly over the edge of a cliff.

What do we think we're doing? What do I think I'm doing? Is God going to be happy with that kind of behavior and attitude? I think not! And we all know that. So why do we persist in fiddling with the decorations while people perish around us? God help us!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

ID: The Anonymous Designer

The theory of evolution is under attack! In recent years, the Intelligent Design (ID) movement has gained much momentum in challenging Darwin's theory and attracted quite a bit of media attention, drawing heavy fire from committed evolutionists in the process. Perhaps nowhere is the controversy more evident than in the school board battles that have arisen across the country over the permissibility of mentioning ID as a scientific alternative to evolution in the public school classroom. One such controversy occurred in Kansas in 2005.

"Teaching Origins Objectively"1 is a very condensed video record of over twenty hours of testimony on the validity of ID as a scientific alternative to Darwinism. Twenty-three experts in fields of science and education testified before the Kansas State Board of Education, attempting to show that there is a controversy, that there are scientific problems with evolutionary theory, and that those problems should be taught in the classroom as part of the students' science education.

Though I was already familiar with the ID movement and some of the main proponents of it, seeing some of the faces and hearing some of the stories of some of the less well-known players put it in a different, more personal light. I'm sure several of them risked their careers or reputations by testifying, but they were willing to take that risk for the sake of exposing the problems with evolutionary theory and also the discrimination faced by scientists and educators who dare to question Darwin.

Creationists can sympathise with those in the ID movement who face such discrimination, especially when their objections are falsely painted as being purely religious and they are falsely accused of having no scientific basis for their arguments. The truth is, while most creationists would consider those in the ID movement as allies, and applaud their accomplishments, Intelligent Design is not creationism, no matter how often the media tries to portray them as the "new creationism" or "creationism revamped."

Intelligent Design has nothing to do with religion; it argues for a designer purely from science and common sense, without attempting to identify the designer. This leaves it open for the designer to be God, Allah, the ancient Greek gods, or whoever or whatever you desire him or she or it or them to be. For that reason, many creationists distance themselves from the movement. They argue that while ID is commendable for challenging Darwin, it does not go far enough. Failing to identify the designer with the Creator God of the Bible is not consistent with the goals and ideals of creationists.

Creationists strive to start from the Bible and build their entire understanding of the world around them based on that foundation. ID starts with science, and while it does present independent confirmation of the creationist position, it does not inherently share the same foundation. Of course, many Christians and creationists are involved in the movement, and some of the leaders would personally believe that the designer is the God of the Bible; but the theory itself leaves that open.

I personally believe that this is very dangerous, particularly in our post-modern society where atheistic naturalism is increasingly being abandoned in favor of New Age ideas and Eastern mysticism.2 More and more people are rejecting the idea that matter is all that exists, and embracing the idea of a spirit world, other dimensions, spirit guides, etc. An idea that attacks atheistic naturalism without strongly supporting Biblical creation at the same time could easily be adopted and modified to fit those New Age beliefs.

It is manifestly evident that Satan and his forces are deeply involved in New Age type beliefs. They can be expected to take an idea like ID and use it to their advantage, causing even greater deception than outright atheism does. Atheistic naturalism stresses logic, proof, and science. Since these are matters of objective truth, and since all truth is consistent with the Bible, atheism can be addressed on its own terms. Though an atheist believes that he is right and the Christian is wrong, he at least recognizes that it is either one or the other. New Age mysticism, on the other hand, focuses on feelings and personal experience, which cannot be objectively analyzed. To him, all truth is relative, hence he would say that both of us can be right, even though we hold completely different and contradictory beliefs. It is hard to logically expose error to someone with such a mindset.

Decades ago, C. S. Lewis wrote, in The Screwtape Letters (speaking through the Demon Screwtape),
"I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologise their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, a belief in us [demons] (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy [God]."3

Intelligent Design could easily play a significant role in that transition. Indeed, there are people who claim that alien civilizations were our "intelligent designers." There is even a group that advertises its teachings as "intelligent design for atheists."4 It is interesting to note that the group is one of the many "UFO cults" that have arisen in recent years. Particularly interesting, considering the strong connection between UFO beliefs and demonic deception, as I've written about before.5

Satan's ultimate goal is to get as much of humanity as he can to worship him instead of God. He wanted to usurp God from the very beginning, and has been trying to ever since. While atheism is obviously a tool of Satan, it has the obvious drawback, from his standpoint, that atheists do not believe in Satan either. Yet perhaps Satan found it expedient to use atheistic naturalism as an intermediate tool to rid man of the notions of God and the supernatural, so he could eventually plant seeds of belief in himself (though perhaps under a different, more attractive name) while at the same time excluding belief in God. Hence the rise of post-modernism, with its spiritual and occultic emphases. Once you throw intelligent design into the mix, you end up with Screwtapes' recipe for deception: "Intelligent Design for atheists."

I fear Bible-believing Christians are being placed in a difficult situation. Yes, ID is a powerful ally against one of the most formidable foes we face today. But could ID itself be an even more formidable foe we will have to face tomorrow? I fear we are being put in a similar position to the Allies in World War II: allying with communism to fight fascism, befriending a greater evil to destroy a lesser one.

So while we applaud ID for its courage to stand up to Darwinism, and rejoice in the victories gained, let us be very careful in our dealings with the theory. (And perhaps I should make it clear here that I am not talking about the people involved in the ID movement but rather about the idea itself.) Let us take care that the idea used to depose the old enemy is not used to support a newer, stronger enemy. And let us always make sure to let the glory go to whom it belongs, the Almighty Creator God of the Bible, the Intelligent Designer.

1. The DVD can be found on Amazon.com.

2. See, for instance, the article
here, or the website Christian Witness to a Pagan Planet for more information. Kjos Ministries also has some good information on this topic.

3. C.S.Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1961), 33.

4. The Raelian Movement.

5. See "SETI-The Search For a New God" and "ET: Nothing New Under the Sun."

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Wise Advice in Troubling Times

If you've been keeping up with the news lately, you know that things are looking pretty bad both at home and abroad. We're likely to face some fairly rough times ahead, and not just economically. For an excellent overview of some of the threats we'll most likely face in 2008 or soon thereafter, read Chuck Missler's article, "The Turbulence Ahead." Though he doesn't approach the issue as a doom-and-gloom hand-wringer, neither does he try to soften the impact or dilute the importance of the various issues he discusses. From potential nuclear (and other) confrontations in the Mid East, to the various geo-political forces vying for prominence in the global community, to political and economic threats at home - all of these are serious issues with deep and lasting impact on our lives and even on the next generation. While he acknowledges that "you and I cannot impact significantly any of the strategic trends that are destined to buffet us in the coming months and years," he ends his overview with a call to action. Not a political call, nor even an economic call, but - refreshingly - a spiritual call.
"The emerging clouds on our geopolitical and economic horizons should propel us to use every day-and every opportunity-to get on with the Lord’s business as our primary priority!

As you formulate your priorities for the coming year, have you included an objectively measurable program for your spiritual growth? All of us are a “work in progress.” Each of us needs to significantly “raise the bar” in our own walk with Him.

Will you commit to a program of serious study of God’s Word as part of a path toward spiritual growth? When 2009 rolls around, will you be able to look back and demonstrate personal growth spiritually?

Pray about it.


In reality, "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Ephesians 6:12) The only way we can ultimately make a difference in the midst of the chaos of this world is to follow Chuck's advice and make living for our King each and every day our first priority. Nothing else will matter, because nothing else will last. Not politics; not economics. Only the spiritual will last for eternity. Let's not lose sight of that in the days ahead.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

When Atheists Teach Sunday School

In general, it is not wise to take Bible instruction from atheists. Those who reject the very existence of God lack the Holy Spirit in their lives and are therefore incapable of understanding the spiritual things of God, much less teaching others about them. "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14) In other words, atheists make poor theologians.

Nevertheless, some truths in scripture are so blindingly obvious that only the obviously blind can fail to see them. In some such cases, some "blind" atheists prove themselves more capable of sight, limited though it may be, than some "believers" who, though claiming the gift of sight, apparently still can't see.

One such atheist is Sam Harris. In the first chapter of his Letter to a Christian Nation, he lays out the stakes far better than many Christians can:
"Before I point out some of the problems with these beliefs, I would like to acknowledge that there are many points on which you and I agree. We agree, for instance, that if one of us is right, the other is wrong. The Bible is either the word of God, or it isn't. Either Jesus offers humanity the one, true path to salvation (John 14:6), or he does not. We agree that to be a true Christian is to believe that all other faiths are mistaken, and profoundly so. If Christianity is correct, and I persist in my unbelief, I should expect to suffer | the torments of hell. Worse still, I have persuaded others, and many close to me, to reject the very idea of God. They too will languish in 'eternal fire' (Matthew 25:41). If the basic doctrine of Christianity is correct, I have misused my life in the worst conceivable way. I admit this without a single caveat."1
Yet despite this remarkably clear understanding of the issue, Sam goes on to say that
"The fact that my continuous and public rejection of Christianity does not worry me in the least should sugest to you just how inadequate I think your reasons for being a Christian are."2
Here is a man who totally and completely rejects the Bible and even the idea of God. According to biblical terminology, he is (spiritually) blind, as becomes quite obvious as you read the rest of his book. Yet he sees the essential truth of the exclusivity of Christ more clearly than a lot of professing Christians do. As he himself points out,
"Of course, there are Christians who do not agree with either of us. There are Christians who consider other faiths to be equally valid paths to salvation. There are Christians who have no fear of hell and who do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus."3
He rejects this middle ground position
"Let us be honest with ourselves: in the fullness of time, one side is really going to win this argument, and the other side is really going to lose."4
If only more preachers would proclaim that message from the pulpit! Yet many of them are actively promoting the same ideas this avowed atheist rejects as false! Many who profess Christianity deny the essential doctrines of the faith, yet they still call themselves the church, and much of Christendom accepts them as such.5 How far has the "church" fallen when "militant" atheists can see and understand biblical truth more clearly than many pastors and spiritual leaders? I am reminded of God's rebuke to the Laodicean church:
"Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent." Revelation 3:17 - 19 (emphasis mine)
Truly, we are in need of repentance.

Another atheist who at times sees more clearly than some Christians is Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is not by any stretch of the imagination a friend of the Bible. Quite the opposite, in fact. Yet in the middle of his tirade against the doctrine of redemption, he clearly and forcefully exposes the fundamental flaw of compromising on the accuracy of the book of Genesis. Let's listen in as Dawkins "teaches Sunday School."
"Progressive ethicists today find it hard to defend any kind of retributive theory of punishment, let alone the scapegoat theory - executing an innocent to pay for the sins of the guilty. In any case (one can't help wondering), who was God trying to impress? Presumably himself - judge and jury as well as execution victim. To cap it all, Adam, the supposed perpetrator of the original sin, never existed in the first place: an awkward fact...which fundamentally undermines the premise of the whole tortuously nasty theory. Oh, but of course, the story of Adam and Eve was only ever symbolic, wasn't it? Symbolic? So, in order to impress himelf, Jesus had himself tortured and executed, in vicarious punishment for a symbolic sin committed by a non-existent individual? As I said, barking mad, as well as viciously unpleasant."6 (emphasis in original)
As I said, Dawkins is obviously no friend of the Bible. Yet he realizes what a symbolic or just plain false Genesis does to the Gospel story, something many Christians either fail to think about or choose to ignore. In their efforts to marry biblical history to comtemporary science, they reject, distort, explain away, "correct," and otherwise mutilate the Genesis account of Creation and the Flood.7 But in doing so, they destroy the very foundation of the gospel itself, not to mention trust in the Bible as the inerrant, inspired Word of God.

Both of these atheists see right through the inconsistencies in these unbiblical positions. They can read their Bible too, and while they might not have the spiritual insight of someone indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they see things in black and white, and can tell when something contradicts what the plain words of scripture teach, even though they reject the authority of scripture. On the other hand, those who try to reconcile white with black end up in shady gray, unable to see clearly and subject to Satan's deception. Remember, compromise blinds. Stand firm upon the Word of God. Even those who disagree with you outright can at least respect you for consistency in adhering to your professed Authority.

1. Harris, Sam, Letter to a Christian Nation, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006), 3 - 4.
2. Ibid, 4.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid, 5.
5. Take, for example, the Emergent Church movement.
6. Dawkins, Richard, The God Delusion, (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), 253.
7. Take, for example, the Framework Hypothesis, Progressive Creation, and other old earth creationist positions.