Mark and I became friends through our mutual interest in high school sports. As far as I knew, he was an only child. He had never mentioned another brother or sister. I had visited his house on several occasions, but had not seen other children. One visit, however, revealed someone else. I do not remember if this visit was unexpected or if Mark’s family knew me better and were less vigilant. Walking through their kitchen, I saw a girl lying on the floor on a pallet in such an awkward position that she appeared to be a distorted assembly of thin legs and arms with a head randomly placed somewhere among them. I was so startled that I merely glanced and went on without a word. On another occasion she appeared in a similar position in the back seat of their car. Eventually, I asked about her. Briefly Mark said that she was his sister and that she had been that way all her life. After that exchange we never discussed her again. That day in their kitchen became indelibly fixed in my memory. She was my first exposure to the grotesque deformity that can occur from genetic problems.

Genetic engineering, like no other subject, brings us close to the extremes of the scientific and the biblical understanding of man. Any discussion of these areas can quickly move into deep water. The attempt, however, is both worthwhile and necessary. It is worthwhile because all ethics in general, medical ethics in particular, are closely dependent upon the anthropology (view of man) upon which they are based. Discussion is necessary because genetic engineering brings the possibility of profound changes in the most basic physical structure of man, his genes. My reviewers of these pages have been keen to keep me within scientific and biblical bounds, as best we can determine them reasoning together. Since almost all accomplishment in genetic engineering in humans still remain future, for once, evangelicals have a chance to formulate ethical principles “before the fact.” In most other applications we have arrived extraordinarily late. Perhaps this work will be a stimulus in that direction.

Genetic engineering could be beneficial or demoniacal. Many severely debilitating medical problems have long been known to be genetic in origin. Virtual elimination of these problems is possible through genetic engineering. More direct and indirect links between genes and diseases are being found almost daily. Many think the possible elimination of disease is only limited by time and technology.

The other side of this story is potential abuse. Bizarre changes in man’s physical and mental structure are suggested by some. Other changes are not so bizarre but seriously bring into question basic human values. The potential for abuse is limited only by the imagination. We will explore both sides of these possibilities.

Physiology of Genetic Engineering

The individual cell, as the most basic “unit” of biological life, performs all those functions that are characteristic of living things. Some complete organisms, such as bacteria, consist only of one cell.1 Aggregation of specialized cells form tissues and organs. These are joined to form whole organisms, such as man. Even these complex systems are derived from one reproductive cell that receives the genes and other cellular material, with all the necessary information to construct the whole. Although every cell in any organism contains the information (see Cloning), only reproductive cells and a few exceptions in nature (for example, the onion root and the nuclei of the cells that line the intestines of frogs) have the capacity to activate this total store of information into a whole organism.

Since our concern is medical ethics, I will confine myself to genetic engineering in humans. In sexual reproduction genes from a male and female gamete (germ cell) unite to form a zygote that will grow into the adult organism. Certain plants and animals, however, do not reproduce in this manner. Thus, everything here does not apply to the entire plant and animal kingdom. The ethics of genetic engineering in plants and animals is another complex ethical subject in itself.2

Manipulation of genetic inheritance began in 1865 with Gregor Mendel, a monk, who noticed that certain characteristics of peas could be produced by selection of the seed-producing plants. His work remained unrecognized by the scientific community for 35 years. The framework, however, for his work had been laid by Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 that dealt with the variability of characteristics within species, even though Darwin had no idea how these were transmitted to subsequent generations. In 1953 Drs. J. D. Watson and F. H. C. Crick discovered the double helical structure of DNA. Later, they and others worked out the sequence of the biochemical structure that “encodes” (that is, carries the information) for its own replication and the production of other chemicals within the cell. Until these discoveries, genetic manipulation had involved only experiments on the selection of mates with desired characteristics. For example, thousands of experiments were done with the fruit fly to breed various colors, wing structures, and other variations. Some characteristics could be produced in patterns that did not even occur in nature. These “new” species were called hybrids. In agriculture, hundreds of plants have been “engineered” in this way. Examples of animal hybrids are the mule (from a horse and an ass) and “hybrid” bass.

As the genetic structure and its relationship to characteristics in the offspring became better understood, direct manipulation of the genes themselves became a theoretical possibility. Desired changes could be made more selectively and specifically.

Even though complex information is stored in genes, they are formed from a simple alphabet. The four basic chemicals (“letters”) of this alphabet are adenine, guanine, thymine, and cytosine (nucleic acid bases). They are designated by geneticists by their initials: A, G, T, and C. Together with other chemicals (deoxyribose and phosphate) they form the basic unit of the gene structure, the nucleotide. These units are then connected to each other by a variety of chemical bonds into long chains, some with thousands of sequences, called chromosomes. All the chromosomes are then contained within the nucleus of the cell. The aggregate complexity of the chromosomes is awesome. A single strand of DNA inside a human cell contains the information of one billion bits of computer memory (500 pages of double-spaced typewritten pages).3 The translation of this information into technical language written in English would require 1000 volumes of fine print, single-spaced (if we understood all that it says).4 The DNA found in the chromosomes of a single human cell, that itself measures only a few thousandths of an inch in diameter, when stretched end-to-end and not in its coiled structure, would extend over a yard in length!5

When a sperm enters an egg, each contributes one-half of its chromosomes. The zygote, hen is formed with paired chromosomes from each parent and contains all the information needed to produce the physical characteristics of the future adult.

The first divisions of the zygote produce individual cells, blastomeres. These cells have unique characteristics:6

  • One or more blastomeres can be removed from the aggregates, and the remainder can produce a whole organism.
  • Individual blastomeres can develop into a whole organism.
  • Cellular aggregates derived from two or more zygotes and combined into one larger mass, can develop into one organism. Even aggregates of different species may combine to develop into one organism.

These studies have not been confirmed in man, but identical human twins become separate individuals well after the first division of the zygote This event is evidence that the same characteristics of blastomeres are true in man. After the eight-celled stage of the cells of the embryo begin to differentiate and lose their capability to produce a whole organism. (Non-identical or fraternal twins are caused by the fertilization of two eggs by different sperm.)

These characteristics of the blastomeres are evidence that other parts of the nucleus, as well as the chromosomes, carry instructions for the development of the organism. This transfer of additional information is rarely discussed in relation to genetic engineering, but it exerts considerable influence on cellular characteristics. (In the next chapter we will discuss this non-nuclear mechanism at some length to explore the limits of our knowledge of man’s composition.)

Since the nucleotides form specific sequence, certain chemicals (restriction endonucleases) can be used to break their long chains at precise locations. Then, the severed DNA can be “recombined” with the DNA sequence that contains the desired changes. Thus, recombinant DNA (rDNA) is the name given this procedure. The newest and most promising technology in this area is the use of viruses (more accurately, “retroviruses”) to direct this substitution of DNA sequences.7 In this way the desired instructions can be written directly into the nucleus of the cell. Retroviruses have been used to “design” bacteria to produce human insulin and growth hormone, substances that had been costly to produce and then only in small amounts. Retroviruses have also been used to “engineer” a type of bacteria that is designed to “eat” (more accurately, to digest into harmless chemicals) oil slicks that occur from tanker spills. Thus genetic engineering does not pertain to humans alone but has a wide variety of actual, as well as potential, uses.

Changes in multi-celled organisms may be made in three ways. First, non-germ (somatic) cells may be “engineered” without affecting the remainder of the organism. For example, a defect in diabetes (mellitus) is a failure of the pancreas to produce enough insulin to metabolize glucose within the body. With recombinant DNA (theoretically; it has not yet been done) the pancreatic cells could be altered to correct this defect without affecting the cells of other organs. Second, the DNA of the zygote could be altered and, since all cells are derived from this one cell, all cells of the body would have this change. For example, a propensity to one type of diabetes (mellitus) is inherited through the chromosomes of the parents. If this defect were corrected in the zygote, then neither the person nor his offspring would develop diabetes. Third, genetic changes could be made in the sperm or eggs of the adults (germ line) so that their children would have normal genes. This procedure is called “negative” eugenics because the defect would eventually be eliminated from the human race. With this inheritable type of diabetes, the parent’s (only one might be affected) or parents’ germ cells could be changed so that their child would have the normal genes to produce insulin. Each method raises its own ethical issues.

Defining an Ethical Approach

Dr. French Anderson, Chief of Laboratory of Molecular Hematology of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, approaches the ethics of human gene therapy according to four levels: 1) somatic cell therapy that corrects a genetic defect in the body’s cells, 2) germ line therapy that corrects the defect in the reproductive cells of one or both parents, 3) enhancement therapy that would augment a normal characteristic, such as additional growth hormone to develop a taller and more muscular person, 4) eugenic therapy that would improve complex human characteristics, such as personality, intelligence, character, and the formation of body organs.8

These distinctions are made on the basis of current and future development of technology from the simplest (correction of somatic cells) to the most complex (eugenics). The categories are useful because changes in somatic cells only affect the one individual, but changes in somatic cells will affect all subsequent offspring. Enhancement and eugenics, however, are artificially separated because both involve a change in the offspring supposedly for the better. It is impossible to separate changes in a body from the person who occupies it! For example, a child engineered to make extra growth hormone to become a super-athlete may not like sports and decides to become an artist instead.

A distortion between monogenic and polygenic traits must also be made. Monogenic traits are those determined primarily (or entirely) by one site on one chromosome. Polygenic traits are those determined by more than one site (and possibly on more than one chromosome). Most traits that have actually been identified (that is, those that have been “mapped”) are monogenic. Much less is known about the specific sites of polygenic traits. Obviously, polygenic traits would be considerably more difficult to correct. Thus, it would seem that there should be considerable success with the correction of monogenic traits before the correction of polygenic traits is attempted.

The most important categories for ethical discussion are the correction of a clearly defined disease or defect (gene surgery) and the “improvement” of “normal” physical or mental characteristics of a person (eugenics) regardless of whether they involve somatic or germ cells. These categories may in some cases be difficult to separate. For example, an offspring expected to be quite short might be programmed to increase his production of growth hormone. The extra height, however, is not necessary for that person to achieve those successes that are most important for life: his vocation and his relationships to God, to his family and to others in society.

Assumptions of Genetic Engineering

Many scientists who advocate and do research in genetic engineering make certain assumptions that may not be readily apparent. First, they assume that man is an evolved animal who is composed only of biochemicals. That is, man has no component other than his body. But the Bible teaches that man has a soul or spirit, as well as a physical body.9 Moreover, he is made in the image of God who is pure Spirit without a body. Thus, the erroneous assumption of scientists who disregard biblical data is that all man’s problems are physical; they ignore the moral/spiritual. Carried to its logical extreme, they must assume that there is virtually no problem that mankind faces that could not be addressed by genetic engineering!

Second, abortion is likely to be a routine part of the protocol for genetic engineering. We have seen how abortion is already routine in many reproductive procedures. In fact, this “escape valve” is probably one reason that scientists are not more worried about “monsters” that might be produced through mistakes. Aberrations could simply be aborted and the process repeated until successful.

The technology for genetic screening is already possible. By amniocentesis a needle is inserted into the amniotic sac (the bag of waters that an unborn baby lives in) and cells removed from the fluid for examination. By chorionic villous sampling a piece of the placenta (the organ that connects the baby to its mother and allows nutrients to pass through to it, called the afterbirth) can be removed for examination.

Third, the embryo is not considered to be a person according to commonly accepted criteria for “personhood.” Thus, experimentation on the embryo is possible with no expectation that it will be allowed to grow beyond the time that is used for experimentation. “Psychic (meaning certain brain functions) personhood is a rationally defensible boundary for invasive research involving human embryos and fetuses.”10 This assumption is a vital part of planned research because the necessary information for genetic engineering will be learned only by experimentation on embryos. Currently, experimentation is limited to the first two weeks of embryonic development, but who will monitor experimenters to see that this period is not extended? Who can guarantee that it will not be extended beyond two weeks when more knowledge is “needed?” It seems, then, that “personhood” is more a term of convenience for researchers than an identity that will guarantee protection under state or federal laws!

State of the Art: Moral and Experimental

The state of the art is best presented according to Dr. Anderson’s categories. Possibly, by the time that this book is published, the first human experiments on somatic cells will have taken place.11 As currently planned, these experiments are conservative and within moral bounds. They involve the extraction of bone marrow from severely debilitated patients with neurological problems, the insertion of the correct gene sequence in vitro, and the re-insertion of the marrow cells back into the patient.12 These patients are so severely debilitated that it would be difficult to make conditions worse. The worst result would be death, although that is not likely. If these experiments are successful, then the door would be opened to correct other genetic defects in a similar manner. All future work has been prohibited until these initial attempts have been successful (see following).

In Anderson’s second category “… gene therapy of germ line cells, would require a major advance in our present state of knowledge.”13 His conditions are interesting and pertinent.14 1) “There should be considerable previous experience with somatic cell gene therapy that clearly establishes the effectiveness and safety of treatment of somatic cells.” 2) “There should be adequate animal studies that establish the reproducibility, reliability, and safety of germ line therapy… 3) There should be public awareness and approval of the procedure…” Currently, his conditions are reflected in the proposed guidelines of the National Institutes of Health. That is “The Recombinant Advisory Committee will not at present entertain proposals for germ line alterations…”15

In his third category Dr. Anderson states, “Except under specific circumstances… genetic engineering should not be used for enhancement purposes.”16 These circumstances do not include engineering to satisfy “personal desires,” such as increased growth hormone to make larger athletes for sports, but only for the purpose of “preventive medicine.” For example, blood cholesterol could be lowered in otherwise “normal” individuals. The water muddies at this point, because the modern medical ethic is so materialistic in its orientation. Since every person has several such “problems,” this exception could be “the thin edge of the wedge” to allow for reasons that are only eugenic.

Finally, the science for eugenic alterations simply does not now exist. Many years will be required to develop the techniques to produce such changes.17 Dr. Anderson does not think that we should “meddle in areas were we are so ignorant.”18 I agree. We may, however, see that others are not so reluctant.

The Image of God and “Kinds”

Timothy was an FLK (“funny looking kid”19 ) in the newborn nursery. He had three extra digits, a cleft palate, and a family history of retardation with early death. Eventually, he was diagnosed to have Trisomy 13.20 By three years of age Timothy had been seen by numerous specialists in three cities and had had surgery for his cleft palate. Throughout his life he cried almost constantly. His parents had financial difficulties because of his medical bills and the extra time that they found necessary to give to him. The stress that his condition placed upon the family is evident in the fact that his mother became depressed and attempted suicide shortly after he was born. Both parents are Christians. They have one older, unaffected child.

Such children are cited as reasons for the mindset that would declare only those who are (more or less) without obvious defects to be persons. My contention, however, is that even someone like Timothy is no less created in the image of God and has the right to all the moral, legal, and social considerations of any human being.

At first glance the image of God in man would seem to have little relevance to a discussion of genetic engineering. Admittedly, its application is somewhat circuitous. It is important, however, to establish that man is a unique creation. That he is “one of a kind” is a fact that must be valued highly and he must be treated in a manner consistent with the place that God has given him. There are scientists who suggest applications for genetic engineering that violate this position and their suggestions should therefore be prohibited.

Conservative Christians (at least those who are biblically consistent) believe individual human life begins at conception. That is, a person is formed when an egg and a sperm unite.21 Biblically, three exceptions to this definition would have to be made. Adam and Eve were not the result of the union of a sperm and egg (Gen. 2:7, 21-25) and neither was Jesus Christ (Mt. 1:18-25; Lk. 1:26-38). Another definition excluding these exceptions is that human beings are Adam and all his descendants.

Still another unique characteristic that may be used to define human beings is their creation in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). As we will see, this image is present in the fertilized egg, the embryo and the fetus. What constitutes the image is not entirely agreed upon by our best theologians, but there is considerable agreement in certain areas.

Because a discussion on the image of God can be complex, I will begin with four assumptions that should help us to simplify those matters that concern us here. (Those who would want to pursue the full argument should consult my references.22 ) 1) The image of God is still present in man after the sin of Adam and Eve, even though it is markedly distorted. 2) “Likeness” and “image” are synonyms, even though some Christians have tried to show that these words have different meanings. 3) Man is dichotomous, that is, he has two components, a body and a soul. I am quite familiar with the trichotomous view of body, soul, and spirit, but I am convinced of the dichotomous view from an extensive review of the subject. Within this view, soul and spirit refer the same non-material component according to its relationship to the body.23 4) The Reformed view of the image of God is most biblical, differing substantially from the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Arminian views.24

The image of God consists of man’s righteousness, his mind (intellect and will), his assigned dominion over the animals and the earth, his “in-created” (Kuyper’s term) knowledge, and possibly, his ability to communicate and have fellowship with others and with God. There is room for disagreement here, but these characteristics seem to be those that are unique for man in comparison with the remainder of God’s creations.

Man’s body is generally considered not to be that image because God is totally spirit without physical form or substance. Dr. John Murray clarifies this perspective when he says that so far as the soul is united to the body, the body can be considered to be one dimension of the image of God. Thus, the position of some pro-life Christians that forty-six chromosomes define a human is wrong. Some animals have forty-six chromosomes and some humans have more, or less than forty-six.25 The true pro-life position, instead, is that human life depends upon the presence of the soul from the time of conception.26

When Adam and Eve sinned, they lost the perfect righteousness (sinlessness) which God had initially endowed to the human race. In His marvelous grace, however, He sent His Son as a sacrifice that we may be “re-created” into that righteousness. Christians are familiar with this re-creation or being “born-again.” (The most accurate term is regeneration.) Few, however, may be aware that this re-creation may take place even before birth and, presumably, at conception as well.27 Dr. Kuyper goes into some detail in his argument that regeneration may occur prior to birth. We should not be too surprised at this. Many Christians believe that their children who die before birth are nevertheless saved. Kuyper argues that if regeneration is a prerequisite for salvation, then these unborn children must be regenerated. Another argument comes from the biblical examples of God’s work in individuals prior to their birth (Lk. 1:44; Jer. 1:5).

Dominion is one aspect of the image of God, even though unregenerate man, as he goes about his tasks, is no longer conscious of subservience to His creator and to His laws. This assignment, however, pertains to the adult more than to the unborn child, so we need not discuss it further here.

Our main focus is the image of God as it is reflected in the mind and “in-created” knowledge. My five theologians of reference (Louis Berkhof, Abraham Kuyper, John Murray, John Calvin, and Gordon Clark) agree that these characteristics are functions of the soul or spirit. Since we have established that unborn children have a soul, then we would expect them to have at least some evidence of mind and knowledge. My task here, then, is to demonstrate that unborn children have this aspect of the image of God. My evidence is from the Bible and then from observed studies of the characteristics of the newborn.

From the Bible we have the example where John the Baptist “leaped for joy” within his mother’s womb at the arrival of Jesus who was also within His mother’s womb (Lk. 1:44). At this moment John was six months post-conception. For Bible-believers this passage clearly communicates a reasoning process. Somehow, John knew that Jesus had appeared and he responded to the presence of his Lord with a leap of joy.

Jeremiah is another example:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

And before you were born I consecrated you;

I have appointed you a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5)

At first what God is doing may not be apparent. Notice that he is “programming” Jeremiah to become the person that He has planned for him to be. To be able to understand and proclaim god’s Word, the prophet must have certain intellectual abilities. Fashioning of Jeremiah in this way is at least part of what this passage means. It is God’s “in-created” knowledge (see above) of Jeremiah to perform the tasks that God has planned for him. As an unborn child, he could not have developed in this way without the presence of his mind.

From observed studies we have examples that the newborn already “knows” a great deal.28 As early as 42 minutes, a baby may be able to distinguish between vision and muscular action. At two weeks, an infant knows to avoid an object that is going to hit him. As a child learns to communicate, he distinguishes those sounds that convey language, (the human voice) from those that do not, (the sounds of a refrigerator). Further, there is considerable evidence that the ability to learn language is an inborn, not learned ability.29

We also have evidence from studies of unborn children. Brian activity, an indirect measurement of mental activity, can be measured electrically (by an EEG or electroencephalogram) as early as 45 days. They can squint, swallow, and move the tongue by 9-10 weeks. By 12-13 weeks they can suck the thumb and recoil from pain. (The can even try to escape from pain as gruesomely displayed in “The Silent Scream.”) While these activities are little more than animal instinct, they are the early parameters of the future minds of persons.

Another characteristic of the image of God, not discussed by the theologians cited, is communication or fellowship. Communication is an important dynamic among the Persons of the Trinity, first in eternity and then in time, when the Son was Incarnate. The Lord’s Supper is also known as Communion (a communication between God and man). The Greek word, koinonia, used to designate this sacrament, is also used to designate fellowship among believers, demonstrating the similar nature of the two activities.

Communication (as fellowship) involving the verbal dimension distinguishes man from the animals. They are not able to communicate to the degree that man may communicate with others and with God. This process depends upon the message sent from a rational mind to its reception in the rational mind of another in the form of a rational communication. That communication can occur in children and adults is easily understood, but its application in the embryo, fetus, and infant seems to be limited, if it can be applied at all. Thus, we would have to conclude that the image of God in these states would be their potential to develop rational though and communication.

Thus the image of God as a profile of characteristics unique to man establishes that he is “one of a kind.” As such, he cannot be mixed with other “kinds.” He is the whole entity that comes into existence with the union of a sperm and egg. He is composed of a physical (body) and non-physical (soul or spirit) regardless of the presence of defects or their severity (man’s greatest defect is spiritual, caused by Adam’s disobedience).

The argument sometimes put forward that the conceptus, the embryo and the fetus, does not have a soul is specious. To select any time other than conception for the entrance of the soul is completely arbitrary because there are no parameters by which the presence of the soul can be detected.30 The same problem exists at the other end of life if one seeks to define death as the time that the soul departs the body.31

As “one of a kind,” man is not to be combined with other “kinds.” God created every kind to procreate after its own kind (Gen. 1:11, 12, 21, 24, 25) and He specifically prohibits the mixing of kinds (Lev. 19:19, Dt. 22:9)

The problem arises with the fact that a satisfactory classification of “kinds” has not been developed.32 The most universal classification, as defined by Linnaeus, classifies all living things by kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species, and variety. This system, however, does not correspond to the biblical categories of “kinds” (e.g. Gen. 6:19-20; Lev. 11:1-47).33 It has also been found to be inadequate apart from Biblical considerations.34 Thus, God’s prohibition against the mixing of “kinds” has some practical limit to its application. Still, Christians’ approval of genetic “cross-breeding” and the development of hybrids must not be automatic. That He has established some limits is clear.35

One modification of this principle should be made. God’s prohibition on the whole does not apply to its parts. On this basis genetic sequences could be taken from animals and inserted into human genes as parts, rather than wholes. Many gene sequences in animals are identical in their structure and function to those in humans. If either were examined apart from the whole genetic structure in vivo, no differences could be detected. Thus, parts are distinct from the identity of the whole because the whole would differ at many sites.36 This failure to distinguish between the characteristics of a whole and its individual parts is called Fallacy of Division, an informal fallacy in logic.37

Thus, the substitution of a normal gene sequence from an animal for the abnormal gene sequence in a human would not be the mixing of kinds –as transplantation of organs is not a mixing of kinds. Brain transplantation may be an exception because the brain (physical) has a unique and intimate relationship to the mind (spirit).38 The union of a sperm (or egg) from a human with the egg (or sperm) from an animal, however, for whatever reason, is biblically prohibited because each represents a “whole” of its kinds.

The use of retroviruses as agents to splice genes would not seem to violate this mixing of kinds, either. We have seen that viruses are probably a unit of life, as unicellular plants and animals are. Thus, their incorporation into human genes is not a mixing of wholes but the addition of a part (the virus) to a whole (the DNA).

Clearly, man is unique among all other living things because he is descended from Adam and is created in the image of God, and therefore, a “kind.” Union with any other living “kind” would be a violation of God’s natural law that creatures procreate after their “kind.”


The term “eugenics” dates back to 1883 when it was applied to the hope that the human race could be improved by allowing the brighter and more productive members to have children and by restricting the “misfits” from having any children at all. As we have seen (Chapter 1), many laws were passed (that remain on the books today) in the attempt to carry out the restrictive aspect. These “designers of the human race” had to become more subtle in their approach after Hitler’s program of undisguised eugenics.39 Today the phrase “quality of life” is substituted for “eugenics” and genetic engineering has become the vehicle by which this improvement of the human race is to take place. It promises such planners greater and more specific design than earlier advocates could have dreamed. WE must not let them blind us to the past. It is possible that the atrocities of the past could pale before those of the future, all in the name of “improving the human race.”

There are two basic questions to consider concerning eugenics. What is the biblical morality of the process itself, and what is the motive of those who advocate it?

Programming Morality. The morality of eugenics is determined by the characteristics that are sought in the offspring. The most desirable goal for those who advocate changes seems to be an increase in intelligence. Dr. Joseph Fletcher has said that, “…quality control in birth technology should select for intelligence, on the ground that control is human and rational, and is therefore, to be espoused.”40 Most notorious is the sperm bank that carries only the sperm of geniuses and Nobel Prize winners. Of course, that bank is concerned with intact sperm rather than the genetic manipulation of the sperm or egg, but the intent is the same.

The moral issue is whether greater intelligence per se will benefit the human race. Certainly, greater intelligence will produce greater technology. The problem, however, is how to use that technology. Alfred Nobel invented dynamite to move through earth and rocks much faster than men and machines previously could. Immediately, however, dynamite was used in bomb to destroy other men and their property. Greater morality is the greatest need for mankind; not greater technology. The morality of the users, not intelligence, determines the great usefulness or destructiveness of technology.

For example, we can look at the “intelligence” of two Nobel Prize winners. In 1974 Sir Francis Crick worked out the double-helix arrangement of DNA. His plans included that “… no newborn infant should be declared human until it has passed certain tests regarding its genetic endowment… and if it fails these tests, it forfeits the right to live.”41 Linus Pauling, a Nobel Prize Winner, has suggested that every young person have a tattoo on his forehead that represents his genotype:

“If this were done, two young people carrying the same seriously defective gene in single dose would recognize the situation at first sight, and would refrain from falling in love with one another.”

Such extreme views clearly reveal that greater intelligence does not automatically produce better morality. The very people whose work makes genetic engineering possible cast serious doubts about whether it should be done. Their plans do not include much personal freedom. So much for the advantage of intelligence!

Such grandiose plans should not blind Christians to the plans that God has to improve the human race. That plan is found in the Great Commission. The highest goal to which man may be conformed is the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). And, God has determined how this transformation is to take place (John 3:1-8; Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 5:17). Further, His people are to develop the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), righteousness (Mt. 6:33), and gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:1-11). This program definitely does not include genetic engineering! Such spiritually determined effects cannot be produced by physical (biochemical) means.

Other changes include the elimination of all genetic causes of disease, more proficient athletes and manual workers, and various changes of character and personality. These designs are similar to those that are proposed for clones (which see).

The Motive. Advocates of plans to further eugenics through population and birth control and artificial insemination have shown that they will use any means to achieve their ends. Theirs is an attempt of a few to gain power over all. They have the mindset that “superior” persons should control others. The issue is the same as any other proposal that sets criteria for what is “good” (moral) and what is “bad” (immoral). Who decides?

Dr. Francis Schaeffer simplified the issue. He observed that such decisions can be made in one of four ways: by one person (in effect, a dictator), an elite group (who may be scientists or others of “special” intelligence), a majority of people (ruled out by the methodology itself), or biblical revelation.42

The central issue must be clear: Whenever anyone speaks of what is good or bad for an individual or society, regardless of the means, the moral values of the decision-makers will inevitably be imposed on the non-decision makers. For example, those scientists who subscribe to Humanist Manifestos I and II, if given the opportunity, would gladly attempt to program Christianity out of existence because they clearly state that Christianity is not “good” for the human race.

Goals of the eugenics movement cannot be accomplished without complete control over the sexual and procreative methods of everyone.43 Any omissions would allow the continued propagation of the very characteristics that the planners are attempting to eliminate. That is a power that no state has had in the history of the world. As the eradication of smallpox required a global effort, the eradication of “bad” genes would also. The ultimacy of this power is illustrated by a parody of God’s creation of man: “Let us make man in our image.” With genetic engineering, as with eugenics of the past and social programs of the present, some men desire to make all men in their own image. The contrast is striking: in creation man is made in the image of the perfect God; but scientific design is to make all men in the image of a sin-infested and sin-infected humanity!

To a great extent Christians and non-Christians alike associate technology and science, particularly in health and medical issues with a general intention to do “good.” The non-Christian, and even the professing Christian, however, cannot determine the good apart from a thorough knowledge of biblical revelation. Motives can be misguided by biblical ignorance: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). C.S.. Lewis has provided prophetic insight into the motives and behavior of scientists in two books, one fiction, That Hideous Strength and the other non-fiction, The Abolition of Man. We ignore his warnings to our peril.

Another presumption that may not be explicit, is clearly implicit in genetic engineering—the perfectibility of man.44 Since earliest times philosophers and others have proposed means to obtain some kind of utopia. The Christian knows this dreams is impossible because mankind remains under the curse of the sin of Adam and Eve and the ongoing maladies produced by personal sins. Their orientation to sin cannot be eradicated from the human race. Utopia for the Christian is heaven. This presently unreachable goal, however, does not preclude an increasing reformation of society through the Great Commission and an increasing obedience to the Word of God. Utopia for the unbeliever will never be realized.

This idea of perfectibility obscures the fact that we are already “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14) and only “a little lower than God Ps. 8:5a). Further obscured is the reality that without scientifically engineered physical changes, the Christian is being made into the image of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). So, biblically a balance must be maintained between the sinfulness that will always characterize humans individually and socially, the high status of man as he is created by God, the present transformation that is taking place within believers, and the future “utopia” that is our hope.

Another major fallacy of eugenics is its hypothetical product. “Improvement of the human race” has little to do with individuals. The individual is sacrificed for the whole. Individual freedoms are given up entirely. If one is fortunate, he may not be one of the sacrificial victims. Even so, the entire control of his own destiny has been taken out of his hands should he have “bad” genes.45

Central to a biblical/medical ethic is a conscious recognition and practical outworking of the “darkness” of man’s mind and intentions without regeneration and revelation. Two manifestations of this darkness are a quest for power over other men and the dream of a utopia in which peace and happiness exist for all. Eugenics is not a scientific but a religious issue, totally wedded to one’s anthropology. What man is determines how, and to what extent, he can be manipulated.


It is a matter of controversy as to whether viruses are “alive.” From current evidence, however, they do not appear to have an identity separate from the cells that they parasitize. See Watson, Recombinant DNA, 14.
Gish, Manipulating Life; Anderson, Genetic Engineering.
Sky Magazine.
Wilder-Smith, “Origin of the Genetic Code.”
Stambrook, “What the Clinician Needs to Know about DNA”
Grobstein, “The Early Development,” 229f.
Anderson, Human Gene Therapy.
Payne, Biblical/Medical Ethics, 75-79; Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 191-201.
Tauer, “Personhood,” 252.
Merz, “Stumbling Blocks,” 1825-32.
Anderson, “Prospects for Human Gene Therapy” and “Human Gene Therapy”
Anderson, Human Gene Therapy.
Ibid., 285-6.
National Institutes of Health.
Anderson, Human Gene Therapy, 287.
Ibid., 289-90.
Atkinson, “Some Theological Perspectives”: (Part I and II).
FLK, or “funny looking kid” is a common euphemism in medical practice. Often, the suspicion that a child has a genetic problem begins with the fact that their appearance is somehow different from that of other babies or children. It is not a derogatory term, but one used until a more definite label is diagnosed or he is proven to be genetically and physically normal.
Trisomies occur when Chromosome 13 fails to separate entirely during its phase of division. Thus, the child has part of an extra chromosome. This extra part usually does not survive to be born. When it is, a variety of abnormalities can be present. The most common trisomy is Down syndrome and involves Chromosome 21.
Payne, Biblical/Medical Ethics, 143-151.
Berkhof, Systematic Theology; Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit; Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion; Clark, The Biblical Doctrine of Man; Murray, The Christian View of Man.
Payne, Biblical/Medical Ethics, 75-79. The same non-material entity, when viewed in conjunction with the body is called “spirit.” Although we believe that man is dichotomous, the belief that man is trichotomous would not change the following argument except to make it more complex.
Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 202-210.
Payne, Biblical/Medical Ethics, 152, note 21.
Ibid., 144-148.
Kuyper, Work of the Holy Spirit.
Friedrich, “What Do Babies Know.”
Custance, “Who Taught Adam.”
Payne, Biblical/Medical Ethics, 148-9.
Ibid,, 197-211.
Since plants will accept grafts beyond the limits of hybridization by means of sexual propagation, biblical “kinds” may be identified with the maximum extent of sexual hybridization.
Morris, The Bible and Modern Science, 367-389.
Dillon, Ultrastructure, Macromolecules, and Evolution, 559-565.
Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, 253-262.
Iglesias, “What Kind of Being”
Copi, Introduction to Logic.
As we have stated in many places, man is a unity of body and spirit with their most intimate association that which exists between the brain (a part of the physical body) and the mind (a part of the non-material spirit). It is likely that the brain of an individual has some peculiar identity with the mind of that same person because of this intimacy. Although brain transplants are not now a possibility, we ought to begin to consider the morality or immorality of such surgery. Certainly, the brain is not just another organ like the kidney or liver.
Gish, Manipulating Life, 4-5; Sobran, “Eugenics and Euphemisms.”
Paraphrased in Jones, Brave New People, 63.
Quoted in Gish, Manipulating Life, 16.
Schaeffer, The Church at the End.
Brungs, “Human Life.”
Ramsey, Fabricating Man, 1, 90ff, 122, 131; Gish, Manipulating Life, 28; Anderson, Genetic Engineering, 37.
Ramsey, Fabricating Man, 1, 90ff, 122, 131; Gish, Manipulating Life.