The Briefing 03-24-15

The Briefing 03-24-15

The Briefing


March 24, 2015

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Tuesday, March 24, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Concerns rise as scientists near possibility of designer babies, a move beyond human dignity

The future of humanity, in genetic terms, was in the headlines of the New York Times as we went into the weekend; the headline, Scientists Seek Ban on Method of Making Gene Edited Babies and the article is by Nicholas Wade. It begins,

“A group of leading biologists on Thursday called for a worldwide moratorium on use of a new genome-editing technique that would alter human DNA in a way that [babies could inherit]…”

One of the things we’ve been watching for years is the threat to human dignity and the sanctity of human life that comes from the promise or the threat of designer babies. The reality is that for most of human history this has been an absolute impossibility. There has been no medical or technological means of doing anything like the creation of a designer baby. We’ve also noted the threat to human dignity presented by the fact that there has now been a negative technology for the last several decades that has become increasingly practiced. That is the use of prenatal genetic testing in order to determine certain traits likely or certain to be carried by the unborn child; the decision is been made by some parents either to go ahead with the pregnancy or to abort the child and begin over again.

But the headline in the weekend’s edition of the New York Times was very different. It’s not about aborting a baby that is found to be deficient in terms of genetic characteristics; it’s about creating a baby – a designer baby in reality using germline therapies. Germline therapies are those that involve the genetic information that will be brought together in an embryo by the egg and the sperm cells. And for the first time in human history, as this article makes clear, this is now not only the stuff of science fiction, it is also the stuff of very real scientific fears. After all, this was the front page of the New York Times.

Nicholas Wade writes,

“The biologists fear that the new technique is so effective and easy to use that some physicians may push ahead before its safety can be assessed. They also want the public to understand the ethical issues surrounding the technique, which could be used to cure genetic diseases, but also to enhance qualities like beauty or intelligence.”

Now the article grows only more interesting with the arrival in the report of David Baltimore, a very influential scientist and winner of the Nobel Prize. It is Baltimore who was key in gathering together the scientist last week in order to make a statement opposing the use of this kind of germline therapy on human beings. Baltimore is no outsider to the scientific establishment, in many ways he is the consummate insider. And at the journal science he issued an alarm, along with several other scientists, in which he calls what he termed “a prudent path” forward for genomic engineering and germline gene modification. This appeared in the Science Express, a science magazine – one of the nation’s most respected scientific journals – and it is a bombshell. That explains why something that took place in a group of very elite scientist in California made its way within 24 hours to the front page of the New York Times because even the secular world, operating out of a secular worldview, understands the importance in terms of morality, in terms of human dignity, when it comes to the idea of a designer baby. But something that becomes immediately evident is that the secular worldview offers no real grounding for understanding what the appropriate limits of an effort towards human perfection might be.

Why would a designer baby be bad? That’s a very interesting question. The secular worldview has very few resources or principles upon which it can make that determination. The one thing that is now clear is that David Baltimore and his associates are really fearful of what would happen if this genie were to be let out of a bottle. Because what they are worried about is this, this is the first time that these genetic techniques – these germline therapies – are now so accessible given some recent technological breakthroughs that virtually any laboratory with basic genetic equipment would be able to conduct this kind of experimentation. And that’s the real fear.

As I am looking at the actual article published at Science, the big fear is that in some place in the world (for instance in China) this kind of experimentation may not be something that is a threat for the future and may be something that is already going on. As a matter of fact there are credible reports coming out from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and its own journal that there are evidences that that kind of experimentation is ongoing and there is no outright denial from some of the scientist who are thought to be involved in it.

The very same week that David Baltimore and his associates issue that alarm, also in Science magazine was an article by Gretchen Vogel and she writes,

“Rumors are rife, presumably from anonymous peer reviewers, that scientists in China have already used CRISPR on human embryos and have submitted papers on their results. They have apparently not tried to establish any pregnancies, but the rumors alarm researchers who fear that such papers, published before broad discussions of the risks and benefits of genome editing, could trigger a public backlash that would block legitimate uses of the technology.”

Now from a Christian perspective, this just gets more interesting. So here you have some researchers worried about other researchers. You have some researchers worried about the research itself and its threat to human dignity. You have other researchers who are concerned about rogue scientist being involved in this kind of experimentation who would give the experimentation a bad name before the public has an opportunity to deal with it. And what we’re looking at here is a perfect recipe for moral disaster.

It was back in the 1960s and 1970s that figure such as Francis Schaeffer and a good many scientists as well warned about the effort to create a designer baby; the effort, by means of technology and genetic experimentation, to produce the perfect human being. And there is at least the promise that at some point in the future some of these germline therapies could be used to cure some diseases that are genetically carried and are themselves triggered by genetic information. But the promise of that kind of medicine also comes with a grave threat and that threat was made clear in the article that was published at MIT’s Journal. The fact that all these articles are coming together should tell us something. This one appeared at MIT’s Technology Review by Antonio Regalado and it appeared on March 5, 2015 – just days before the gathering of those scientists in California.

To give an indication of the secular confusion and the limitations of the secular worldview in dealing with these issues, MIT’s technology Journal put a chart in the article about the perfect designer baby, indicating that 15% of Americans believe it would be right to use this kind of genetic technology to enhance the babies intelligence, 83% said they did not believe that would be legitimate. But 46% said it would be legitimate to use this kind of technology to reduce the risk of serious diseases, 50% said it would be illegitimate. But the incredible insight from this comes down to the fact that those numbers are almost surely to change because once this genie let out of the bottle there will be no medical means of limiting its application to the use of trying to reduce serious genetic diseases. There will be nothing what so ever preventing these technologies to be used by prospective parents in choosing eye color or trying to enhance intelligence, not just choosing gender but choosing athletic abilities and other things that parents might want.

Now already we have the arrival of designer babies in two forms. First of all, by the horror of the fact that there are now so many pregnancies that end in abortion because genetic testing reveals to the parents the baby just doesn’t meet their standards. This is especially true when it comes to Down syndrome, when it is now estimated that over 90% of all unborn children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. But there are also right now designer babies available by the use of gamete catalogs from sperm banks and from egg donors where one can look in a catalog and choose genetic and physical attributes and look at intelligence scores in order to buy gametes for use in in vitro fertilization. But what we’re looking at here is the next great step beyond human dignity. The great next step towards defining human beings by what we will order when it comes to genetic information, what genetic information we will not accept, and what we will accept.

There is so much in these reports that it should have our attention, but the main thing is this: this issue has hit the front page of the New York Times. And the bad news is this: the secular worldview, as these articles make abundantly clear, has no ability to draw a line – anywhere for long.

2) Loss of deep relationships with grandparents unforeseen cost of delaying of childbearing

Next, an important article that appeared in TIME magazine on a related issue. This was written by Susanna Schrobsdorff and it is entitled The Grandparent Clock. As she writes,

“There’s often one forgotten variable in the decision about having kids.”

We’ve been tracking the fact that there have been major changes in the way human beings approach marriage and childbearing. For one thing the rate at which people are getting married has gone down, for another thing the age of first marriage has been going up, and furthermore not only are Americans not marrying at the rate they used to, not only are they putting off marriage until later ages – there is an extension of adolescence that is now remarkable among the millennial generation and those who are in their 20s – but there is also delay in childbearing. And this is now presenting a situation in which many women are having children not only into the late 30s, but into the 40s and beyond. And as Susanna Schrobsdorff writes, there is fallout to this that is often not recognized, and that is the fact that there are good many children will know their grandparents, if at all, only as the extremely aged. She writes,

“A few months ago I was sitting in the vast dining room of an assisted-living home in Washington, D.C., watching my 5-year-old niece bounce like a pinball between tables of seniors. It was a startling sight–that small, smooth blond blur amid a hundred crinkly faces. Her audience, mostly women in their 80s and 90s, grinned as she navigated all the parked walkers, canes and wheelchairs as if it were a playground.”

She goes on to write,

“She and my two daughters are among a growing number of kids who will see their grandparents primarily as people in need of care rather than as caretakers. They are the leading edge of a generation whose mothers and fathers had children later in life. They’ve seen us juggle our jobs, their school schedules and their grandparents’ needs simultaneously–one day missing work to be at the bedside of a parent who’s had a bad fall, another day trying to call an elder-care aide from the back row of a dance recital.”

One of the most basic insights of the Christian worldview is that we are to receive the gifts that our creator has given us in the way that he has intended them. This is a part of the goodness of God’s creation. Receiving the gift of marriage means that we do not put off marriage until there is a time when our society says it’s convenient, but rather we understand marriage to be the major marker of adulthood (for most people) and the major marker of accepting those full adult responsibilities. And with marriage, according to the Christian worldview, will come an openness and an eagerness for the gift of children – and earlier rather than later.

One of the things we’re looking at by the way is the fact that an incredible percentage of those who are now seeking assisted reproductive technologies are those who are seeking to become pregnant, and successfully pregnant, at an age beyond when most women in human history were even trying to have children. But Susanna Schrobsdorff is onto something really huge here when she points out that for most of human existence it was the extended family that helped to care for children – rejoiced in them and helped to take care of them. And now as she’s pointing out, so many children are being born so late that their grandparents are so old that they are people who need care rather than those who can give care.

Just in recent weeks we’ve been looking at new research out on the marginalization of marriage and we have seen even secular authorities say the big issue behind this is the rise of the worldview of personal autonomy. The idea that what is greater than any other good in terms of human value is our own personal autonomy. So we will get married, if we want to get married, when we want to get married, and we will have children if indeed we want to have children, the way and when and exactly how we want to have children. And life is seen not so much in terms of the interconnectedness of responsibilities, but rather the absolute autonomy of the individual. And now we see some the fallout; we see what is happening in a society in which an increasing percentage of children, if they are able to know their grandparents at all, will know of them as the enfeebled aged – those who are in assisted living facilities, those who are in need of care rather than giving care.

I can simply reflect on this article by saying that as a child I knew the care of both sets of my grandparents, I knew their intense involvement in my life, and I would not know who I am without knowing who they are as my grandparents. I can only sense the absence and the loss that is reflected in this article. And as you might imagine, Susanna Schrobsdorff comes to the very end of this article without calling for any mitigation or change in personal autonomy as the great good of human life. But at least she recognizes there is a problem, and from a Christian worldview, it’s the kind of problem that should point us to a deeper problem.

3) PCUSA shift on marriage reflects tremendous need for Scripture to resist pressure of culture

It was last week that the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States, the liberal PCUSA, voted to amend its constitution to change its definition of marriage from a man and a woman to an institution of two people, traditionally a man and a woman. So now that churches has changed its Constitution so to allow for same-sex marriage and it becomes just the latest of mainline liberal Protestant denominations to transform their understanding of marriage, only after they had transformed their understanding of Christianity. At National Review over the weekend David French wrote a very important article entitled Where God loves Abortion and Hates Israel, talking about the fact that when we are looking at a denomination like the PCUSA, we’re looking at a denomination that has had many theological and moral transformations before it could possibly get to the point of redefining marriage. That’s a theme to which we have returned over and over again. But David French writing at National Review offers some really keen insights on the PCUSA. As he writes,

“The drift from biblical orthodoxy to spiritualized leftism has profound real-world consequences. The church isn’t just shuffling out of Christianity, it’s shuffling out of existence.”

Pointing out, as we did last week…

“The church has lost 37 percent of its members since 1992,”

David French also points out that of course there were theological transitions before the redefinition of marriage, and there were moral compromises as well. Going all the way back to 1952 the PCUSA, at least in terms of one of its parent bodies that became the PCUSA in the 1980s, had redefined their understanding of divorce to take out the category of innocent party – leading to the avalanche of no-fault divorce that has had such devastating consequences for America and for Americans.

But there’s another very interesting article that appeared and for evangelical Christians this one is more important. It appeared over the weekend at the Daily Beast; it is written by Ross Murray and the headline is this: For Christians and Gay Marriage, It’s Culture, not Doctrine. Now let’s be clear, Ross Murray is in favor of the legalization and celebration of same-sex marriage. He is absolutely celebrating the fact that the PCUSA has now joined the crowd of those liberal denominations who have been affirming same-sex marriage. He writes that,

“The Presbyterians bring us ever closer to the tipping point of a majority of mainline Christian churches affirming LGBT people, including marriage equality.”

But then he raises the very interesting question, ‘how long will it take the other denominations – specifically evangelical denominations – to join the trend?’ And then he offers an absolutely stunning insight. He writes with specific reference to the Southern Baptist Convention and tells us that there had been theological changes that brought about the redefinition of marriage and mainline liberal Protestantism. He says that’s not going to work in these conservative denominations, but he’s writing to those who are in favor same-sex marriage and he says, don’t let that get you down, have no fear because the culture, not theology will eventually change those evangelical churches and denominations.

Now that’s coming as a matter of promise from this columnist to those who are in favor of same-sex marriage, but it should come as a matter of warning to us as evangelical Christians because we have to admit he’s really onto something here. He’s on to the fact that the culture has a pervasive influence on us and if we are not particularly careful the culture will determine our message, the cultural will determine our understanding of the gospel. The culture will determine our doctrine and our theology and the culture, not theology, not the Scripture, will determine our understanding of marriage.

Ross Murray understands that the velocity of this moral revolution has been unprecedented as he writes,

“Hardly any of this religious support for marriage equality was even imaginable a mere 15 years ago.”

So he’s pointing to the fact that even when you’re looking at liberal Protestantism you’re looking at a process of theological revolution that is less than two decades old. And that’s why he saying to his fellow supporters of same-sex marriage that when it comes to evangelical Christians – and as was reported last week, the last significant segment of Americans who do not support same-sex marriage are defined by their commitment to evangelical Christianity – Ross Murray says to those who favor same-sex marriage, ‘don’t worry, the evangelicals will eventually come to us in their own way and they will come to us not by a process of theological transformation,’ he says ‘don’t look to evangelicals to do that,’ but he says, ‘the culture will force them anyway.’

Now one of the things we need to note about the theological insight there is that when Ross Murray’s writing about the inability or the reluctance of evangelicals to go through that process of theological transformation, it is because evangelicals are committed to the authority of Scripture – and not only that, but to an understanding of the authority of Scripture that goes right down to the inspiration of the words. And Ross Murray, writing from his own worldview, is at least quite keen in understanding that that present a real obstacle towards the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage. But he says, and he writes with great confidence, ‘don’t worry, eventually the culture will trump theology.’

Eventually the cultural pressure will be so strong that even evangelicals will have to succumb and we shouldn’t hear that is a great challenge, we should heat that as a word from an outsider that we desperately need to take to heart. We should understand that what he is describing there is a real and present danger and we better be keenly aware that he’s absolutely right, the only thing that keeps us from redefining marriage is a theological commitment to the authority of Scripture and to our understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that also means we better be very, very careful watching not only this article and his argument, but watching the recent experiences of these other churches. The moment you let the culture determine your theology you have no theology whatsoever. Not when measured against the authority of Scripture and not when measured against the power of the gospel, not when measured against what Jude calls the faith once for all delivered to the Saints.

From time to time we need to hear this kind of theological alarm; generally it comes from inside the church. This one is perhaps even more powerful for coming from outside the church. And an argument we dare not ignore.



Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember we’re taking questions for Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your questions in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to  For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Concerns rise as scientists near possibility of designer babies, a move beyond human dignity

Scientists Seek Ban on Method of Editing the Human Genome, New York Times (Nicholas Wade)

A prudent path forward for genomic engineering and germline gene modification, Science Magazine (David Baltimore, et. al.)

Embryo engineering alarm, Science Magazine (Gretchen Vogel)

Engineering the Perfect Baby, MIT Technology Review (Antonio Regalado)

2) Loss of deep relationships with grandparents unforeseen cost of delaying of childbearing

The Grandparent Deficit: Fertility Isn’t the Only Biological Clock, TIME (Susanna Schrobsdorff)

3) PCUSA shift on marriage reflects tremendous need for Scripture to resist pressure of culture

Where God Loves Abortion and Hates Israel, National Review (David French)

For Christians and Gay Marriage, It’s Culture, not Doctrine, Daily Beast (Ross Murray)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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