Tuesday, September 21, 2021
It's Tuesday, September 21, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The Brave New Genetic World Arrives—And Undermines Human Dignity—Polygenic Risk Score Now Used To Determine Inferior Genetic Traits In Embryos
From the very beginning of the modern reproductive revolution, it has been clear that some developments were, if not inevitable than nearly so, and one was the arrival of the designer baby. Here's a horrifying fact. It turns out that if parents have the opportunity, at least some parents, to choose children based upon certain preconditions, certain genetic traits, certain physical or intellectual features, it turns out they will do so.
There will be a market for doing so once there is a technology for doing so, and now that technology has largely arrived. This technology now produces what is known as a polygenic risk score. Polygenic means looking across many genes. It is a genetic evaluation of human embryos in order to determine a polygenic score, actually scoring embryos on any number of criteria. Now, predictably, one of the first things you hear is that this will be a negative screen for certain kinds of say genetic illnesses.
We've known that the impetus for this has been around for a long time, but make no mistake. What that means is scoring embryos in order to discard or destroy those, certainly not to transfer into the womb those that are considered genetically insufficient. That means you have human embryos that are being scored as acceptable, unacceptable, more acceptable, moderately acceptable, less acceptable, not acceptable, but as we know, it will never, even at that stage, which is already important to the Christian conscience, it will never, at that stage, stay with that kind of so-called negative selection based upon some kind of genetically heritable disease. It will get to other traits, such as wanting a tall child or wanting an incredibly smart child or a child that has a particular ability analytically or say athletically, and yes, that day basically has arrived. Whether it's honestly acknowledged or not, that day is largely already here.
Carey Goldberg, writing at Bloomberg tells us about Rafal Smigrodzki, and we're told that he wouldn't make a big deal of it, but "someday when his toddler daughter, Aurea is old enough to understand, he plans to explain that she likely made medical history at the moment of her birth." Aurea, we are told, "appears to be the first child born after a new type of DNA testing that gave her a polygenic risk score." Bloomberg reports, "It's based on multiple common gene variations that could each have tiny effects together. They create higher or lower odds for many common diseases." We are told that Aurea's parents "underwent fertility treatment in 2019," and we are told then "had to choose which of four IVF embryos to implant."
Now, I want to stop there for a moment. For the course of the last almost 30 years, I've been writing about a Christian worldview understanding of in vitro fertilization technologies, these modern reproductive technologies. Here's one of the issues. When there is the intentional creation of embryos that there is no intention to transfer to a womb, we have a huge problem, and here, you have the just assumed norm that parents "have to choose which of, in this case, four IVF embryos would be implanted." That means three would be not selected.
We're told that these parents turn to a company called Genomic Prediction and "picked the embryo given the best genetic odds of avoiding heart disease, diabetes and cancer in adulthood." Now, here's something else. It turns out that the neurologist, who is the father of this child has a doctorate in human genetics and "argues that parents have a duty to give a child the healthiest possible start in life and most do their best." The doctor said, "Part of that duty is to make sure to prevent disease. That's why we give vaccinations and polygenic testing is no different. It's just another way of preventing disease."
Well, there you have it. Now, you have a new moral mandate, a new moral mandate that is profoundly immoral, but notice how given a secular form of reasoning, this does make sense. If human beings are just secular beings, if we are just autonomous, accidental human beings, then we can define ourselves. If we can define ourselves, there is no particular meaning to any human embryo or unborn human life, or by extension, to any human life unless we decide to grant according to the secular worldview some kind of recognition, some kind of value to that life. These unborn embryos are of merely economic concern, unless they are chosen by parents to be transferred to the womb, and this doctor goes so far as to say the parents have a duty to pick the very best embryo, the embryo by this polygenic risk assessment that has the lowest risk and the highest aptitude.
You'll notice again, this is so important. He says that parents have a duty to give a child the healthiest possible start in life. Now, is that right or is that wrong? Well, it's right within ethical bounds. It is right, which is why you have expectant mothers who take care of themselves.
They deny themselves certain foods, they deny themselves certain goods, they deny themselves certain experiences. They protect that unborn life. That's one of the things that parents do, and in particular, mothers bear a particular burden and responsibility and stewardship there, but the same thing's true for parents, mothers and fathers when it comes to making preparations for a child to have the most wonderful start in life that is possible, but that has to be within ethical bounds. It's within ethical bounds and that you might want to have this particular consumer good for your unborn child, but there's no right to steal it. There are moral issues involved.
Similarly, when it comes to this kind of genetic testing, there are massive moral issues involved, frankly, on a broader scale, a lot more threatening than stealing baby furniture. We're talking about redefining humanity here. Carey Goldberg, writing at Bloomberg, tells us that this issue has become so much of frontline, hot issue in the medical community, that The New England Journal of Medicine published a report this past July on problems with using this kind of polygenic risk score when it comes to the transference of embryos with IVF, so I got that report. It is indeed a special report from The New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most authoritative medical journals in the world. The title is, "Problems With Using Polygenic Scores to Select Embryos."
The article is written in the kind of abstract language that you often see. The writers here are trying to say, "There are ethical issues, but we don't want to treat them as overly ethical," so for example, you find this sentence, "Also discussed," that means in the article, are potential unintended consequences of this kind of genetic scoring, "including selecting for adverse traits, altering population demographics, exacerbating inequalities in society and devaluing certain traits." Just imagine what's loaded into that language. It's the redefinition of humanity.
Nazi Germany’s Classification of “Life Unworthy of Life” Comes Back As Parents And Scientists Decide Which Human Embryo Is Worthy Of Implementation — And Which Is Not
The article in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that there are inherent limitations in this technology at present because there are so many genetic factors involved, and it raises all kinds now predictably of equity questions, and some of those are actually interesting because for one thing, it turns out that this kind of genetic testing, this kind of genetic risk assessment works best at this point for embryos produced by couples with European ancestry.
That is to say not ancestry from outside of Europe. Why would that be the case? Is there something unique to the European genome or genomic pattern? No. It has to do with the amount of data that's available.
The fact is that there's a massive amount of genetic data available. When it comes to those by European ancestry, there is no such commensurate data available when it comes to those who come by some other ancestry, and so it was interesting that amongst the other things that are involved here, including the redefinition of what it means to be human, at least on secular terms, you have the equity question and you'll notice that's not going to get very far, even the people on the left who say that they demand an absolute equity and absolute end to inequity. The fact is if they have the money, like this neurologist does, they are going to go after this technology, and if they can't get it here, they're going to get it somewhere.
That's life in a fallen world. And it also reminds us of another Christian worldview insight, and that is this, when such a technology like this is developed, it will be used somewhere, it will be deployed somehow, and that will usually involve those who will use it for evil intent, so you'll have people who will say, "Look, don't worry about this technology. We're just going to be screening out such things as Tay-Sachs disease, sickle cell anemia, et cetera," but notice that select out here means destroy or simply discard the human embryos that, by the way, aren't necessarily even marked by those genetic factors.
They would still be made in God's image and demanding of our protection if they did, but in this case, notice it is a risk assessment, and so they come back with a moral argument, "Why wouldn't there be a moral imperative to use this kind of technology so that there are fewer people, or indeed, even the goal of no people will suffer from this kind of genetically predictable pattern disease syndrome or whatever?" But notice that is already now being applied even without this particular technology to embryos and most particularly to unborn children who are marked with the risk for down syndrome. We've talked about that before. In some countries of the world and in some communities in the United States and pervasively coast to coast in this country, babies are increasingly not born with down syndrome. That doesn't mean that there are fewer unborn children. There are fewer embryos that have the down syndrome marker. It means that they are either not being implanted or they are being aborted.
They're being destroyed because they are simply rendered unacceptable. What does that tell us about the inevitable impact of a secular redefinition of human beings? We'll decide who's worthy of life, who's not worthy of life, which is exactly the error, the tragic, horrifying error of the 20th century that was represented in the Weimar doctors and what became Nazi medicine in Germany, Lebensunwertes Lebens, life unworthy of life. We understand where that led in the gas chambers in the killing rooms of Nazi Germany. Is that where we're going as a society?
Yes, we are, but we're going there at a level that will not be apparent to most people. There are not going to be massive camps or schools or institutions where the unworthy of life are sent in order to be eliminated. Instead, the elimination will simply take place far outside of our view, and even at a microscopic level. Here's where Christians understand, even if the embryo was microscopic, it is still human, period. There are some other aspects to this report in Bloomberg and the report in The New England Journal of Medicine.
We'll look at some of those in the future. I don't want to leave this without at least going to the fact that in the Bloomberg report, those who were involved in this were referred to as "potential customers" who "need to understand what they're signing up for." Potential customers, the baby is now just a consumer good. Those who are the prospective parents are now just customers. How's that for a redefinition of humanity, which points to another issue that is so central to the Christian worldview.
When in the name of progress and liberation, secular thinkers redefine humanity, it never ends up defining humanity up, but rather down. It's also very, very interesting that the threat of the Nazi medicine and of Nazi eugenics is very much behind. By the way, the eugenic movement was not limited to Nazi Germany. There were tremendous influences towards eugenics in the United States, in Great Britain and in other nations as well, but that's in the background to this so much with the threat that parents are going to say, "I want only a smart child," "I want only a blonde-haired, blue-eyed child," "I only want a child of this particular height," "I want this particular athletic ability." That is known.
It's so obvious that it's in the background, that in this Bloomberg report, there's a response to it. One of those responses comes from Steven Hyman, Director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. We are told by Bloomberg, "Still, the prospect of intelligence-based selection raises concerns not of Nazi-style eugenics, but of something much more subtle." At this point, Steven Hyman says this, "This is liberal eugenics. This is parental choice."
He says, "It's important to put an ethical stake in the ground because over many, many years, these technologies might become much more accessible, scalable, cheaper." Now, just notice this, this concept now of good eugenics and bad eugenics battle Nazi eugenics and modern liberal eugenics. To his credit, Professor Hyman seems to understand the threat of this liberal eugenics, but you'll notice how this is going to be repackaged. It's going to be eugenics with a smile, eugenics that is packaged for customers, eugenics, liberal eugenics. There's supposed to be a great leap forward for humanity, but understand that was exactly the argument of the eugenics movement in the 20th century that led to those death chambers and to the elimination of those who were considered unworthy of life.
Any way you look at it, eugenics is eugenics, and the development of this new technology is a clear and present threat to not only the definition of humanity, but to actual human lives, even if those human lives are mostly at the level of the embryo. A society that doesn't believe that those lives matter eventually will decide that many other lives don't matter either. We're headed there fast.
The Common Thread Among Christian Universities That Score High On ‘Campus Pride Index’ for LGBTQ Inclusivity? They Have Forfeited Biblical Truth
In recent days, NBC News published a very interesting report that should have our attention. Dan Avery is the reporter here. The headline in the story for NBC is this, "These 10 Religious Universities Earn High Marks for LGBTQ Inclusivity." This is another way the culture works. Let's just watch it. The culture works by saying, "Look, here are some religious universities that are actually with the moral revolution. They're just gung-ho for it."
They score very high in reviews by LGBTQ activists, following their own criteria, and look, they're the future. Those battle Christian and religious colleges and universities that won't join the revolution, they simply need to be shamed into compliance, coerced into compliance if necessary. Dan Avery reports, "Several Christian universities have earned high marks for being gay-friendly in a new report from Campus Pride, a nonprofit, focused on making higher education more inclusive for LGBTQ students." Hold on just a minute. Number one, the use of the phrase, Christian universities here require some definition.
Oh, it's going to get defined, just wait. The second thing is you have the identification of the group doing the study. That's this Campus Pride organization, and you'll recall we've discussed it on The Briefing because it is the same organization that is raising federal complaints against conservative Christian institutions that have exemptions for Title IX because of their adherence to a biblical standard of sexuality and gender. It's the same group, but it turns out that in the 2021 best of the best list honors, there are 30 four-year institutions from across the United States, "That have earned a perfect score of five, which evaluates LGBTQ-friendly policies, programs and practices. Those schools include Kent State University, Tufts University."
I think what's meant here is Northern Kentucky University, Kenyon College and University of Virginia. Well, none of those, by the way, have any reputation as being a Christian institution, but we're told that this year, Campus Pride singled out 10 religious schools for "living up to LGBTQ inclusive values." They had to score a five and be in the highest percentile for LGBTQ-friendly benchmarks. Now, before we go further, let me just remind you of something we come back to again and again on The Briefing. Here, you have another example of an organization, an activist organization that has a very clear political and ideological agenda that publishes what it's called research, and the media go after that as if it actually is research, but nonetheless, let's just follow the argument here.
The Executive Director of Campus Pride, Shane Windmeyer said, "A lot of religious colleges, especially these schools are strengthening their commitment to inclusivity. Just like four-year colleges recognize there's an importance to acknowledging and being seen as inclusive and friendly, religious colleges has seen it too." As I said, one of the first things we need to ask in this article is, "What exactly is a Christian university here?" Well, as it turns out, it's more university, a lot less Christian. In most cases, a lot, lot less Christian.
We're told, "Some religious institutions in the 2021 list did score a perfect five on the Campus Pride index. Minneapolis' Augsburg University, affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Guilford College, a Quaker school in Greensboro, North Carolina, Virginia Wesleyan University historically affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The other schools scored a 4.5, including Emory University in Atlanta. We're told that some others had slightly more modest grades. They included schools such as the Jesuit Catholic University, Georgetown University in Washington, Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, SMU, Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Well, there are more schools on the list, but here's the point, no one would look at any of those schools and say, "Yeah, that qualifies as a Christian college." Here's the problem, at least in what I see of the Campus Pride material, that's the activist group, it refers to religious colleges, sometimes use the word Christian, but basically religious colleges, but NBC's Dan Avery begins the article by saying several Christian universities. I just want you to look at any one of these schools and I dare you to find a major Christian identifier by the university on its homepage. You're not going to find it because they're not there. They're maybe historically founded by having the tradition of, but none of these institutions claims any continuing identity as a Christian college or university.
Not one of them. Here's the bottom line for Christians to understand. What's the kind of religious school, identified as a Christian college, that would score like this, abandoning any pretense, any claim of a Christian understanding of sexuality, marriage and gender? What will be true of them? What's true of them is by and large, they come from very liberal religious groups.
They have long ago severed any religious attachment, certainly any kind of religious control. They don't identify themselves in any ongoing way, and for the most part, haven't for a very long time as a Christian school, so they're basically not Christian schools at all. In any substance, they don't hire in a Christian basis, they don't evaluate on a Christian basis, they don't advertise to students and present themselves as Christian institutions, which is to say they're exactly the kind of Christian schools that the liberal left loves and the LGBTQ movement is going to champion as scoring high on what I will simply call the moral rebellion index.
History Is Closer To Us Than We Think: World War II ‘Ghost Army’ Soldier Dies at 106
But finally, for today, we need to remember with gratitude that history is often closer to us than we understand. Just a matter of days ago, Gilbert Seltzer died. He was one of the very few remaining soldiers from what was known as the secret unit of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops during World War II.
That was known as the 23rd unit, known as the Ghost Army, and he died at age 106, 106 years old in West Orange, New Jersey. What was the Ghost Army? It was a particular unit of the American and allied armed forces that sought to use decoy movements and even things like decoy tanks. They were basically big balloons, even to use loudspeakers in order to make it sound as if tanks were rolling through the territory in order to fool Nazi Germany into miscalculating about where the eventual D-Day invasion would take place, and here's the thing, it was stunningly successful, but many people don't know that this special unit actually operated beyond just preparations for D-Day. It operated in France, for example, and elsewhere in Europe even after D-Day, and it was so successful that there were people in France who seemed actually to believe that they had seen the tanks when actually they had only heard the noise of tanks.
That tells you something about how the human mind works. There were people who seemed actually not only to have convinced the Germans, but to convince themselves they were actual tanks when they weren't. The decoy methods worked. Another example is given in the obituary for Gilbert Seltzer, "In March 1945, in one of their most elaborate feats of trickery," this would be the 406 combat engineer company, as well as the Ghost Army were told, "During the critical Rhine River campaign, designed to finally crush Germany, the 23rd set up 10 miles south of the spot, where two American Ninth Army divisions were to cross the river." To simulate a backup of those divisions at their decoys location, the Ghost Army used inflated tanks, cannons, planes and trucks, sent out misleading radio messages about the American Troops movements and used loudspeakers to simulate the sound of soldiers building pontoon boats.
The article in The New York Times goes on to tell us, "The Germans fell for the ruse, firing on the 23rd's divisions, while Ninth Army troops crossed the Rhine with nominal resistance." It turns out that this was one of the most effective units in the American military, a Ghost Army with blown up tanks and loudspeakers. They too, heroically served the American and allied interest in defeating Nazi Germany and defending liberty. The New York Times reports that as of now, there are only nine Ghost Army soldiers left. Every single one of them, dead and alive, deserves our honor, and those alive deserve our thanks.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at Albertmohler.com. You can follow 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.
Today, I'm in Nashville, Tennessee, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.