Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tinker with Theology, Tinker with Man

"...should we suppose God to have created the nearly universal, vicious, animal-versus-animal world of nature? Indeed, were carnivorous animals originally herbivorous (as is implied in Genesis 1:28,29)? Does the Evil One and his assistants have sufficient knowledge to tinker with the DNA of God’s created order and distort nature to become 'red in tooth and claw?

"Obviously, the great theologians of the past, such as Augustine, Thomas Aquin
as, and Calvin, could not have imagined how lions, originally content to lie down with a lamb, could or should one day be restored to that state through the combined efforts of good angels and human endeavors. But, remember, if Satan has covered his tracks well, we would not expect find many thinking these thoughts. How then are we going to attempt to destroy his works? Is that a mission to be pursued? Does that represent a frontier to be crossed?"

When neoevangelical leaders began concocting new doctrines and new understandings of old doctrines, they began tinkering with theology. Ralph Winter of the Fuller School of World Mission, and highly influential in training a generation of evangelical missionaries, devoted a good deal of thought to reinventing and revising the Garden of Eden scenario in Genesis to fit a more Gnostic mold. And like his Dominionist cohorts at Fuller, especially C. Peter Wagner, Winter believed that man needed to reclaim the earth and restore it himself. A summary of Winter's aberrant theology of the evolution of man can be found at http://www.ralphwinter.org/F/view.htm?id=204&section=11∂=6 .

Of particular concern is the nature of Winter's Dominionism, which defines man's "earthly mission" as an "ally" in "destroying the works of Satan," particularly by manipulating DNA. Winter would have man "fix" the problems with DNA as part of his Dominion Mandate to restore pre-Fall paradise conditions on Earth. For example, Winter stated:

"...we do not even understand disease germs as the work of Satan (of course, Calvin did not know germs existed). As a result we are not fighting against the whole range of deadly pathogens in the Name of Christ even though the New Testament clearly states that 'the Son of God appeared for this purpose to destroy the works of Satan (I Jn 3:8).'

"Our earthly mission begins to appear more clearly as we recognize as best we can the full extent of the 'works of Satan' (shifting the blame to Satan and thus glorifying God), and as we ally ourselves with the good angels in destroying the works of Satan. 'Without God we can’t and without us He won’t.' Our mission is clarified as we learn more and more about the DNA-level mechanisms of distortion which account for most of the suffering in this world."

Dr. Francis Schaeffer devoted an entire chapter of his landmark book How Should We Then Live? (Fleming H. Revell, 1976) to the question of "Manipulation and the New Elite" (Chapter 12). His basic premise in the book was, of course, that if man tinkers with the absolutes of biblical Christianity, then moral relativity will reign, resulting in unrestrained genetic engineering. He wrote:

"Any of us would be glad for methods of genetic changes which would cure genetic disease and help individuals. However, removing these things from the uniqueness which Christianity gives to people, and from the Christian absolutes, tends to lead to an increasing loss of humanness, even in the milder forms. In the call for full genetic engineering the door is wide open for the most far-reaching manipulation...

"On every side people are taught that people are only machines, and as they are so taught their resistance to manipulation in all these ways is weakened, step by step. Modern man has no real boundary condition for what he
should do; he is left only with what he can do. ...

"All morals and law are seen as relative. Thus people gradually accept the
idea of manipulation, and a bit more gradually open themselves to accept the practice of the varying forms of manipulation." (pp. 236-7)

In other words, tinkering with theology results in tinkering with man. And Dominionist theologies contain the idea of a "New Breed." After reading Ralph Winter's papers, one begins to imagine worst-case scenarios in the Dominionist ideal of reversing the effects of man's Fall. Do these people actually believe that man can perfect himself via tinkering with his own DNA?

In the days to come, the Emergent/New Apostolic Reformation Church could very well become a predator in this arena. The issues are complex. What follows is a scholarly paper by Dr. Martin Erdmann for a European Conference for Clinical Nanomedicine scheduled for May 2008.

Applying Converging Technologies in Nanomedicine.
Taking stock of Challenges and Benefits.

Martin Erdmann

Today, diverse integrative initiatives are being played out before us on many societal levels. The concentration of forces to form larger socio-economic constellations is especially noticeable in politics and commerce. We observe similar developments even in the heterogeneous arena of technologies. The convergence of NBIC technologies and sciences (nano-, bio-, information technologies and cognitive science), which has taken on a markedly different form from previous models, opens up entirely new avenues for the “technization” of medicine.

The effective applications of new technologies awake utopian hopes of accomplishing a high level of human-machine integration. By a coordinated use of “converging technologies”, new combinations of organic and inorganic materials are becoming possible.
Nanotechnology offers the tools to manipulate matter by manufacturing and arranging molecules in such a way that specialized materials can be created “from the ground up”. Biotechnology affords a unique perspective on how nature uses information and matter to assemble molecules. Information technology allows us to develop complex and adaptive systems by taking note specifically of interactions on the atomic level, providing new insights into how abstract information can be transferred from one physical medium to another. For example, it is possible that revolutionary levels of efficiency can be reached by using bacteria to transmit information.

Materials science, therefore, will introduce methods of producing synthetic materials by entirely new ways of manipulating organic molecules. The scientific community worldwide is anticipating spectacular results from these technological breakthroughs. Of special significance have already been the tentative attempts to cross formerly impassable demarcation lines, by combining biological and inorganic materials, carbon and silicon compounds and even human and artificial intelligence.
An example of the successful implementation of converging technologies is the synthesis of a new class of “intelligent” materials which emulate the versatile functionality of living organisms, in order to control teleologically the creative interplay of information and matter and to transport and use energy in different forms.

Greatly enlarged functionality in medicine, for example, can be achieved by the development of innovative clinical diagnostics and synthetic implantations, the use of chip technology in neurosurgery, and the use of nano particles in treating cancerous cells. Clinicians in neuromedicine are highly optimistic in regard to the implementation of new diagnostic equipment and therapeutic methods. It would be tragic, however, to overlook the potential of these new technological means to affect adversely the patient’s personality by interfering with the neurological processes of the brain. To cause an irreparable identity change of a human being would be a most troubling moral issue.

Indisputably, the healthcare system is undergoing a transformation (having both desirable and alarming aspects) into an “industry of endless opportunities”. In this euphoric atmosphere of apparently unlimited human ‘doability’, it will be necessary to devote special effort to the areas of technological assessment and concomitant research. The patient’s right of self-determination competes increasingly with the social objectives of a society. The new longing to enhance the natural abilities of humans is gradually replacing the original desire to lead a normal healthy life. Is the implantation of electronic “eyes”, to increase the visible spectrum beyond that detectable by natural eyes, as ethically acceptable as the surgical correction of myopia?

These sweeping technological and scientific developments confront humankind with enormous ethical challenges. The manipulation of functional processes in different living beings, especially humans, has risen so dramatically that problematical issues are arising which need to be addressed more seriously by scientists and politicians than hitherto. They need to find solutions which further, rather than damage, the public welfare. The discussions should not only focus on the beginning or end of life, but should ideally encompass all phases and situations of a life span.

In this context, the meaning of human rights must become a major topic of debate. How substantially can we guarantee the preservation of privacy and a person’s rights to physical and emotional well-being, health and life? A clear differentiation is needed between technological procedures which, on the one hand, counteract pathological developments in the human body and, on the other, enable the radical transformation of human nature. Such technologies raise the question of where sickness and health begin and end.

An indisputable consensus among experts no longer exists concerning this issue. The once-sharp contours of a codex of medical ethics such as the “Hippocratic Oath” have already become blurred by the preferences of the “patient” and the ambitions of the medical profession. We lack fundamental ethical guidelines that sensibly distinguish the healing of disease from the manipulation of healthy organs. The moral principles of the medical profession, once generally understood and adhered to, have gradually been altered. One of the most important questions that needs to be answered anew is this: Who is laying down these guidelines when an already pliable codex of medical ethics has evaded the issue of differentiating between the categories of therapeutic procedures and manipulative enhancements? In the current situation, where nearly everything which is not harmful to others seems to be allowed, it will not be easy to identify a restrictive yet generally acceptable solution to the regulation of enhancement procedures.

Another objective that will not be achieved in the short term is the relief of financial strains on social systems — in particular the health care system.
[1] The correlation between cost and utility which arises when new technologies are being introduced is not readily ascertainable in our present state of knowledge. One consequence will be the formation of a two-tier medical system, which has been going on for some time already. The social gulf between rich and poor can only increase if the desire for physical optimization and enhancement takes precedence over the healing mandate. Physicians involved in the former will be placed on a pedestal. What the well-to-do can afford will be unavailable to the underprivileged. Worse yet, the finite resources of the medical services sector could well be offered to the highest bidder — becoming available to those willing to afford the high cost of enhancing his/her achievement potential. Conceivably, nearly every means will be sought to gain a competitive edge in the struggle for survival, as some see it. This could open the door for the exponentiation of elitist tendencies in society. The socially disadvantaged, be they in the majority or not, will feel dehumanized if they perceive themselves to be at the mercy of a superior race of human mutants!

In view of the enormous challenges accompanying the technological development of nanomedicine, it is essential to assess the course of events with a good measure of realism. Principally, however, it is important to ensure that medical ethics keep pace with the anticipated exponential improvement of the diagnostic and therapeutic means of nanomedicine — so that these developments become a step, not to the nightmare of a “brave new world”, but to a truly brighter future.

1. See vgl. Walter Baumgartner, Barbara Jäckli, Bernhard Schmithüsen, Felix Weber, Nanotechnologie in der Medizin (TA 47/2003), Bern 2003.

[Note: See also "Creatures in Pursuit of Autonomous Perfection" by Dr. Martin Erdmann. Dr. Erdmann is the author of Building the Kingdom of God on Earth: The Church's Contribution to Marshal Public Support for World Order and Peace, 1919-1945 (Wipf & Stock, 2005)]

The Truth:

"Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?" (Job 40:9)