Monday, May 3, 2021
It's Monday, May 3rd, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Scientists Blend Cells to Form Human-Monkey Chimera: The Absolute Necessity of Maintaining the Distinctions That Scripture Makes
One of the first responsibilities of Christians thinking Christianly, that is, operating out of a Christian worldview is to maintain proper and essential distinctions. The Bible begins with these distinctions. All true Christian thinking begins with these distinctions. The most important of these distinctions are found in the opening chapters of scripture. The most important of all was found in Genesis 1:1. It's the distinction between the Creator and creation. As the Scripture tells us, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." God created the cosmos. He created his creation, and he didn't just take existing matter and shape it into the cosmos we know. He created the universe ex nihilo. He created the entire cosmos out of nothing. Everything that exists, exists only because God has willed it to be, and the distinction between the creator and the creation is absolutely essential. Almost every form of idolatry and almost every false theology begins in confusing the Creator-creation distinction.
The second distinction is also found in the first two chapters of Scripture, and that's the distinction between the human being and all other animals. All other animals are distinct from human beings and that human beings alone are made in God's image. That's again fundamental to Scripture, the distinction between the Creator and the creation, and then the distinction between human beings and all other animal creatures. Where you find that confusion, you find a very deadly confusion because whether one is an animal rights activist or someone else arguing that we need to raise animals to the same level of moral consideration as human beings, that can happen, and it won't happen. Instead, rather than raising animals up, you end up bringing humans down. You end up effectively subverting the very idea of human dignity, and that's exactly what we see at work right now in scientific work being reported in not only the mainstream media, but in academic and scientific journals.
It comes down to the development of what is known as a chimera. That goes back to Ancient Greek mythology. It is a part human, part animal creature. If it sounds like something out of ancient mythology, that's true. If it sounds like something out of science fiction, that's true too, but we're actually talking about what is headline news these days. Time Magazine reported, Alice Park is the author, "In a ground-breaking experiment, researchers have successfully created the first human-monkey chimera." That's C-H-I-M-E-R-A, if you're interested in the word. Again, it goes back to the Ancient Greek. It refers to a part human, part animal creature.
As Park goes on to tell us, "The work, published in the journal Cell," that's an academic journal, "describes the first embryo containing both human and monkey cells that was cultured for 20 days. Led by Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, the study represents the culmination," we read, "of decades of work in understanding early embryo development in non-human species, which Belmonte hopes will now apply to humans." The article and the lead paragraph in Time Magazine continues, "But it is bound to raise serious ethical questions about the implications of combining human cells with those from a different species (even if it is a closely related one), and the report was accompanied by commentary from ethicists on how the work should be interpreted and what the careful next steps should be in pursuing this line of study."
Notice right away that we're not looking at a proposal for this kind of experiment or this kind of research. We're looking at a report on it. It has already happened. The headline news has come only after you have the scientists reporting the successful creation of some entity that included reproducing human and nonhuman cells. In this case, it's macaque cells, the cells of a common monkey. The article that appeared in the journal Cell and in the mainstream media, this medical researcher says that his goal is not to create something out of science fiction X-Men style. Instead, he insists that what he's trying to do is just basic biological research to discover whether or not this kind of entity created would actually lead to the successful replication of cells, and he wanted to track at least four different specific steps in the development of this kind of cellular entity.
Belmonte described the human embryo itself as "the biggest mystery of human development." He went on to say, "Well, we know a lot about development after we're born and even a little about what happens during pregnancy. We really don't know anything about human development in the first two or three weeks after fertilization. All we know about early embryogenesis comes from different lab models from rodents, mice, and worms, but we really don't know anything about us."
Now, why would they have developed this chimera? Why would they have developed this entity with the cells from both a macaque monkey and a human being? Why are they experimenting on this particular entity? It is because just imagine the ethical violations that would take place if we're talking about this kind of experiment on anything that could become a human being. But here, we're also looking at a very dark question. It's an inescapable question. What do you call an entity that is part human? How human does it have to be to be considered human? How nonhuman can it be and not be considered a human?
This is very dangerous research. By the way, the ethical issues that arise in this research go all the way back to the fact that when you're looking at consent and sexual morality as we say, it is essential, but it is not sufficient. In this case, when you're looking at even consent for experimentation, the researchers had to admit that there was no particular consent given by the donors of these human cells for this particular kind of research.
It is also true that we do not know a great deal that we might like to know about the process of embryonic development when it comes to human beings, and that is because it would be absolutely categorically wrong to do experiments on human beings. But what we're talking about here, from a Christian perspective, is fundamentally flawed at so many levels. For one thing, the very creation of a chimera, an entity containing human cells in any form of other animal cells, denies that basic distinction between the human being and all other animal creatures. That's a distinction that is fundamental to Scripture.
The distinction is the human beings and human beings alone are made in God's image, and it's not just that explicit teaching of Scripture. It's the fact that that becomes foundational. It becomes a premise for understanding all of Scripture, and for that matter, understanding all of reality. Here, you're not looking at some kind of biological accident. You're looking at intentional biomedical experimentation. As I say, this is not being proposed, it has already happened. If it's happening in one place, you can count on the fact that it's happening elsewhere also.
When you hear this kind of report, you will almost always hear some kind of vague promise about what human good may come out of this. Most importantly, there are two human goods they say might result from this. One is a greater understanding of the development of human beings at the embryonic level. Now, there's an irony in that, isn't there, because we're also looking at the fact that this society is trying to deny the basic humanity of human beings, of the human person at the embryonic level. The entire biomedical premise of so many going all the way through the process of abortion right up till the moment of birth is that there is a denial not only of human dignity and human personhood at the level of the embryo, but far beyond that.
The second good that is held out as the kind of hypothetical promise is the fact that we could turn certain kinds of animals into what would amount to factories for donor organs. This has been something that has been hypothesized for a long time. The most likely candidate animal would be a pig because the pig's tissues often are successfully used in human beings. Pig valves in human hearts, for example. The suggestion is that the pig, the basic pig might offer a good host experimentation animal for this kind of attempted development of donor organs and coming from pigs or from some kind of pig-human chimera, the risk of the tissue rejection or organ rejection might be minimized as well. But here's what we need to note. There is no horizon right now in which there is any real likelihood that there is going to be an advance when it comes to the production of donor organs. What you're seeing is that this is held out as a justification to make legitimate this kind of research.
Again, let's come back to the Christian worldview principles. The very first issue is that this is an illegitimate mixing of human and animal cells. Not only a mixing of cells in a test tube, but we're talking about the formation or development of an entity that actually for a number of days successfully reproduced cells. One of the other issues that Christians always have to watch is the moral argument that the end justifies the means, that if there's a good end, if there's a good purpose, or some good product, or good gain would come out of this research, then it would justify the fact that the research itself is basically immoral and ethically wrong.
A statement to that end was made at NPR by Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University and Harvard University. You can see that kind of reasoning in what he said. "I don't see this type of research being ethically problematic. It's aimed at lofty humanitarian goals." That was the end justifies the means argument of the Bolshevik Revolutionaries who killed so many in the name of creating the Soviet Union, and not only that, the Soviet Union that starved tens of millions of its own people, and the Stalinist Regime that executed untold numbers of persons, again, for the greater good, for lofty humanitarian goals.
The Weimar doctors and the doctors of the Third Reich said that amongst the lofty humanitarian goals they were presenting was the goal of a eugenic human species. That would be a human species that was genetically bred to breed out what they defined as undesirable genetic characteristics. Again, they said that was a lofty humanitarian goal, but consider just how many of the horrible evils of the 20th century were explained by the use of just that kind of logic.
At the journal Nature, the report came out that at least raised many of the moral issues involved here. The report in Nature says, "But the latest work has divided developmental biologists. Some question the need for such experiments using closely related primates. These animals are not likely to be used as model animals on the way that mice and rodents are. Nonhuman primates," says this article, "are protected by stricter research ethics rules than are rodents, and they worry such work is likely to stoke public opposition." Now, notice this argument. Their argument is not that there's something inherently wrong with this research, not that there's something inherently subversive of human dignity in this research, but that it just might not sound good to the public, and there might be ways of avoiding that kind of public opposition.
Alfonso Martinez Arias, a developmental biologist at a university in Barcelona, Spain said, "There are much more sensible experiments in this area of chimeras as a source of organs and tissues." Notice that kind of argument. He's saying that there will be more sensible alternatives to the use of a monkey or monkey cells in this in the area of chimeras, he says, as a source of organs and tissues. But notice he basically endorses the idea of a chimera. He just says it would have been more palatable if the cells mixed with human cells had not come from a monkey.
Is Human Dignity Just Considered a Taboo Now? When You Surrender One Part of the Biblical Worldview, the Eventual Unraveling of the Whole Worldview Is Predictable
Some of the most important reporting and editorial work on this research came in The Economist, again, published in London. It's one of the most influential news sources in the world. It ran a news report just basically telling us about the development of this human and monkey chimera. It said that there would be two goals. "One is to shed light on the complicated process of embryological development." Second, "The other is the hope that chimeric animals might one day provide a source of organs to be transplanted into sick humans." Again, the same basic two purposes or two promises that were held out in the American reports on the very same research.
More importantly than the report in the news section of the magazine was an editorial entitled, "Biology and Ethics: Softly, Softly." The subhead said this, "The creation of part human, part monkey embryos will discomfort many, but research should be encouraged." Notice, not just tolerated, not just authorized, but encouraged. One particular statement in this editorial is of extreme importance as we Christians are trying to think about the issue Christianly. Just listen to these words, "It," meaning this research, "is another example of humanities growing power to tinker with the basics of life, a power which makes many people uncomfortable. The work leaves the very idea of a species looking at least a little blurry at the edges."
Let me stop there. There's an open acknowledgement of the fact that this is a denial or compromise of that basic distinction between human beings and all other animal creatures. This editorial goes on to say, "Yes, this kind of research makes the very idea of a species 'a little blurry.'" But it's the next sentence that's even more important. "Experiments involving human cells can break deep-seated taboos about human dignity, human exceptionalism, and among the religious, stir up worries about interfering with God's creation." So much in just a few words.
Let's work backwards. First of all, it is an assignment of meaning to creation. If you believe in creation, if you believe that God created the world, if you believe that God created human beings, if you believe that God created human beings in his image, then you are likely to oppose this kind of research. But you'll notice the logic is flipped in this article, "It's those who believe in creation, who might be a rather noisy minority." The majority of people are far beyond any understanding based in creation, and thus there's no basic worldview or ethical principle that is at stake here. But you'll notice it's not just the idea of divine creation. It is also the fact that this kind of experiment can raise questions about what the editors called "deep-seated taboos about human dignity and human exceptionalism." Deep-seated taboos about human dignity and human exceptionalism? Is that all we're talking about here?
Now, wait, just a minute. I don't believe that the editors of The Economist is secular as they may be. I don't believe that they actually want to deny that there's any exceptional character to being human or that there's any reality to claims about human dignity. I don't think they want to say that, but they at least must recognize that in calling the very categories of human dignity and human exceptionalism even deeply-seated taboos. Well, the reality is they've opened the door for the fact that that's all human dignity and human exceptionalism are, just deeply-seated fantasies or fears about what will happen if we eventually just discovered that human beings aren't separate from the rest of creation after all. There's nothing exceptional about us, and there is no reality to human dignity.
But understand something else. If you are operating from a secular, naturalistic, materialistic worldview, if you deny that very first distinction, which is so fundamental, it's the first necessary distinction between the creator and the creation. If you deny that distinction, then eventually, you will deny all the subsequent necessary distinctions as well because the distinction of humanity made in God's image is distinct from all other animal creatures. That distinction relies on the fact that there is a God and whose image human beings have been made, that there is a creator who made human beings in his image.
We come to understand what the Christian worldview tells us from the beginning, and that is that it holds together as a comprehensive whole, or it begins to unravel utterly, and what you find in scripture about human dignity if you deny the creator begins to unravel. If what we understand, not only in scripture, but in everyday life about human exceptionalism, if you deny the creator, eventually, you will subvert the very idea of human exceptionalism, and that's exactly what we see here.
Of course, the editors of The Economist talking about this kind of research say that what needs to happen is that there needs to be an international agreement, but the right kinds of boundaries and limitations on this kind of research. I don't know how that can be said straightforwardly or with a straight face anymore when you consider the fact that there is basically no way to do that. Even if it were done, there would still be rogue scientists and rogue countries not signatories to such an agreement, and they would simply go ahead with the research.
Here's where we need to note that if it is not categorically wrong, then it's really hard to come up with a categorical argument for why anyone's application of it would be categorically wrong. One sentence comes to my attention here in the editorial, the board writes, "Scientists should also work to ensure that international rules are harmonized to the extent that is possible." Yes, to the extent, that is possible, but that reality is actually impossible. This takes us back to Ancient Greece once again. Not only the concept of a chimera, but also, the reality of the moral warning that comes in the fable of Pandora's box. Once you open the box, it's open.
There’s a Clear Distinction Between Biblical Marriage and Every Other Type of Human Relationship: Will We Deny or Display the Glory of God?
But actually, understand that we are facing the same reality when it comes to the redefinition of marriage, the utter unrestricted redefinition of marriage. We've been warning about this for decades when same-sex marriage, as it is called, was first envisioned as a possibility, and then a possible legality, and then possibly constitutional by means of liberal court activism. When we saw claims that it could be normalized, we were told all it means. All it means is the minor redefinition of marriage so that two men can be married or two women could be married. But of course, number one, that is not a minor change. That is an absolute refutation of the creator's intention in giving us the gift of marriage as the union of a male and a female.
Furthermore, it runs against the very logic of creation. By the way, we won't go into this in any detail, but it doesn't work reproductively. I'm not going to draw you a picture, but the point that we made is that redefining marriage in any way is going to lead to redefining marriage in many other ways. Now, you have the vowel section of the style section of The New York Times this past Sunday, just yesterday with a headline story "When Best Friends Become Platonic Spouses." Danielle Braff is the reporter in the story, and we are told about two women, both of them identifying as lesbians, who do not intend to have a physical relationship together, but they are now married. They have married because they want to be considered a married couple with a family.
But if you think the story is strange, I can promise you it gets stranger. "First came blood brothers, best friends who would solidify their bond by cutting themselves and swapping a bit of blood. Then came the tiny house besties, friends moving into adjoining tiny houses. Today, however, some people are taking their friendships a giant step further. They're platonically marrying each other, vowing never to leave each other's side for better or for worse." We're told that back on November, the 14th of 2020, two women "donned wedding gowns, walked down the aisle, exchanged rings, and shared their first and only kiss." Later, we read, "The besties, both queer and open to dating anyone but each other, met in 2011, and they decided to get married in September. They sleep in the same bed, but their relationship remains platonic."
I don't want to know any more about it, but the point is here, we aren't looking at an article that is presenting this as something new, and attractive, and perhaps trendy. But what we're looking at here is the further dissolution of marriage. If you had any doubt, just continue in the article. You have one of the two women saying, "We wanted the world to know we are each other's go-to person in the world and be able to handle legal matters with the other appropriately." The same person speaking of the marriage said that the marriage "is stable. It's long-lasting, and it has no conditions." Well, wait, just a minute. Stable and long-lasting? They just got married in November of last year. I realized that in some circles, that might be considered a long marriage, but it's hardly something to crow about being stable and long-lasting.
But then, the article gets to another point when the reporter tells us, "There are no statistics about the number of platonic best friend marriages, and many people who are in them aren't open about their situation. But we're told that chat boards on Reddit and within smaller asexual and aromantic communities..." Just pause for a moment to recognize that language being used. We'll come back to it, but you have these chat boards on Reddit within smaller asexual and aromantic communities that have popped up "suggesting this could be a larger portion of the marriage population the numbers portray."
But then, remember this is The New York Times, an extremely liberal paper, writing to extremely liberal Manhattan residents in the Maine who are supposed to know what asexual and aromantic means. But just in case they didn't, even in The New York Times, they have to define these terms, "Asexual is defined as having no sexual feelings or desires. Aromantic means having no desire for a romantic relationship. Hetero-monogamous is a sexual relationship between a man and a woman." Hetero-monogamous. Well, that is what we previously understood to be marriage, period. By the way, according to the Christian biblical worldview, that remains and will remain forever the only relationship that can be called marriage, hetero-monogamous.
Nick Bognar, a marriage and family therapist in Pasadena, California said, "It should be acknowledged that we've really normalized heterosexual monogamous romantic relationships to the point of stigmatizing other kinds of relationships." He went on to say, "All of this is to say I think this probably happens a lot, but people don't talk about it much because their relationships are invalidated by others when they're seen as not being part of the norm." Okay, folks. That's exactly the point. Here, you have this marriage and family therapist complaining about the fact that society even now normalizes what he refers to as heterosexual monogamous romantic relationships to the point of "stigmatizing, other kinds of friendships."
Yes, that's really interesting. The fact that that's in The New York Times coming from a Pasadena, California marriage and family therapist today tells you a great deal. It tells you that the creation witness continues to shine through to the extent that even when you have a society that at the elite level says we are going to de-stigmatize every other relationship, even when they produce an article like this in the vowel section, of the style section of The New York Times, they can't make it look normal. They're trying, but they can't pull it off.
The article continues looking at several other so-called platonic same-sex marriages. But as you look at it, all of them turned out to be amongst women or at least those who identify as women. These days in this kind of newspaper, you can take nothing for granted. The other thing is that when you look at this, it turns out, even beginning with the very first couple described, that even though they describe their own relationship as platonic, or asexual, or aromantic, they are also saying that they're open to developing sexual and romantic relationships with someone else or as they actually say in the article, anyone else.
So as we come to a conclusion today, let's remind ourselves of another basic distinction that God makes in creation that he reveals in his word and that he gives us in the first two chapters of scripture. That is the distinction between marriage as the lifelong commitment and covenant union of a man and a woman, and every other human relationship, and certainly, every other kind of human sexual, or romantic, or even residential relationship. The distinction between marriage and everything else is absolutely fundamental to scripture.
So we end as we began with the necessity of distinctions. The most fundamental distinction between the creator and the creation, the second distinction between human beings and all other animals, and then a third distinction between marriage and every other form of human relatedness that could be imaginable. The sad thing is what we see is that once you subvert marriage, then everything evidently becomes imaginable. You might also say that everything apparently eventually becomes published in The New York Times.
In conclusion, the first task of the Christian is not just to look at the society around us and how it's in rebellion against these distinctions, but to understand that we must premise our own lives upon them, our thinking first, and then our lives as well. That's what faithfulness looks like, making the proper distinctions, and knowing from scripture and on the authority of scripture alone, even as revealed in the creation around us, what those distinctions these are and why they matter. Ultimately, it's not just about human flourish. It's about whether or not we deny or display the glory of God.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.