Friday, April 27. 2012
More and more I am seeing the assertion that transhumanism and Christianity are not only compatible, but that Christians can and should be transhumanist. Transhumanists know that to bring about their technological utopia, they need to convert the one group that has a real foundation with which to resist the transhumanist future: Christians. In fact, transhumanist Eric Steinhart wrote the following in the Journal of Evolution and Technology:
But transhumanism cannot avoid a fateful engagement with Christianity. Christian institutions may support or oppose transhumanism. Since Christianity is an extremely powerful cultural force in the West, it is imperative for transhumanism to engage it carefully.Steinhart comes armed with Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's book The Phenomenon of Man as a way for transhumanists to convince Christians we are all on the same team. With prophetic vision, the Holy Office issued a warning against the writings of Teilhard de Chardin in both 1962 and again in 1981 asking "Religious institutes, rectors of seminaries and presidents of universities, effectively to protect the minds, particularly of the youth, against the dangers presented by the works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and of his followers."
Now a Presbyterian minister and professor at Columbia Theological Seminary is telling Christians that transhumanism is "inevitable." David Yonke writes in the Toledo Blade:
Welcome to the posthuman world. Everyone is smart, tall, good looking, free from disease, and, some predict, will live forever.Douglas is a bit ambiguous, but he encourages Christians to "Believe in a better future because God is doing something." I take that to mean that we are to embrace the changes that transhumaism will bring because it is the work of God. (Douglas also references Teilhard de Chardin's writings against which we have been warned.)
But let us look at the transhumanist future so eloquently reiterated by Yonke: everyone is smart, tall, beautiful, disease-free and will live forever. It this transhumanist desire to live forever that lets me know that this movement is not of God.
Living forever in this world means forsaking the most important part of Christianity: the eternal life with God in Heaven purchased by the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus Christ. What better way for Satan to deny us this gift than to convince mankind we should live forever here in this flawed existence? That way we may never receive what God has lovingly provided for us, a place in His house for eternity.
But what about the rest of it? The "everyone is smart, tall, beautiful and disease-free" part? Well, the transhumanist really cannot ensure those traits will be available to everyone. Really how could that be? With billions of humans living hand to mouth, some without clean water, electricity or plumbing, how will we enhance everyone to be smart, tall, beautiful and disease-free?
The truth is that the smart, tall, beautiful and disease-free life will be for those who have access and can afford the technology, creating a two-tiered society where the enhanced will rule over the unenhanced. This will further divide the haves from the have-nots and breed discord and injustice. Two realities we Christians are supposed to work against.
The Catholic Church is very aware of this disparity that will come from going beyond using technologies like genetic engineering to heal and using them to enhance humanity beyond what can be accomplished by nature. Dignitas Personae states:
Some have imagined the possibility of using techniques of genetic engineering to introduce alterations with the presumed aim of improving and strengthening the gene pool. Some of these proposals exhibit a certain dissatisfaction or even rejection of the value of the human being as a finite creature and person. Apart from technical difficulties and the real and potential risks involved, such manipulation would promote a eugenic mentality and would lead to indirect social stigma with regard to people who lack certain qualities, while privileging qualities that happen to be appreciated by a certain culture or society; such qualities do not constitute what is specifically human. This would be in contrast with the fundamental truth of the equality of all human beings which is expressed in the principle of justice, the violation of which, in the long run, would harm peaceful coexistence among individuals.It is not the fact that transhumanists are trying to sell their wares to Christians that bothers me. It is the fact that I don't think Christians are well-versed enough in their own faith to realize they are being sold ocean-front property in Montana. I get as much resistance to my writings on enhancement and transhumanism from fellow Christians as I do from transhumanists. I have been called anti-American and anti-military for pointing out the dangerous transhumanist messages in Captain America. I have been told that there would be nothing wrong with genetically enhancing a soldier's eyes to have night vision because it would help our military. (Talk about reducing a person to a means-to-an-end. Don't violate a soldier's bodily integrity for the rest of his life so you can feel safer. Give him a pair of awesome night-vision goggles that he can take off at the end of the day and at the end of his career.)
I am not the only one who sees the incompatibility between Christianity and transhumanism. Wesley J. Smith, a much better mind that I, recently said it best. Smith wrote:
Christians certainly believe that they will indeed become a new (“glorified”) being–but not “post human,” and certainly not through human efforts. And Rev. Douglas also seems to embrace a trend I see growing within some Christian circles, which expediently conflates what I want with that which supposedly God wants for me.
Tuesday, April 24. 2012
This is not news to readers of this blog, but here is another study that shows a significant increase in the risk of birth defects for children conceived with IVF. From MSNBC:
Babies conceived through certain fertility treatment techniques are about one-third more likely to have a birth defect than babies conceived without any extra help from technology, according to a review of several dozen studies....And yet those of us who mention this little factoid when talking about IVF are labeled as judgmental and mean-spirited. We are told that we cannot possibly comment on IVF unless we have experienced infertility.
The way to treat infertility is not to create life in a dish with greater risk of harm to the child. It is to treat the underlying cause of infertility and then let conception take place naturally, where it was intended...in the womb. For information about alternatives to IVF for infertility visit NaProTechnology.com.
Many countries around the world have banned sex selection. They have banned the abortion of a fetus biased on gender and/or they have banned the practice of using IVF and then preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to determine the sex of embryos. Often the only exception is for sex-linked genetic disorders. These countries have said loud and clear that choosing which children get to live and which ones are slated to die based simply on their gender is a evil their society will not tolerate. According to the Center for Genetics and Society's BioPolicyWiki page, the following countries have banned sex selection, either for non-medical reasons or altogether:
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Russia, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, and Vietnam.You won't find the United States on that list. Why? Likely because we have mythical "reproductive rights" that ensure we can abort any fetus or toss out any IVF embryo for any reason. Only a handful of states have laws on the books that outlaw sex selective abortion.
There is proposed federal legislation that would bring the whole United States at least partly in line with other nations around the world. It is called the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act and it has been reintroduced recently to the U.S. Congress by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ). The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, called PRENDA for short, would punish medical providers that perform abortions or accept funds for abortions when the reason for the abortion is the gender or race of the fetus. Unfortunately, it leaves sex selection through IVF and PGD untouched.
Of course feminists everywhere must be cheering this legislation because the majority of victims of sex selection around the world are girls. But the pro-abortion feminists are not. In the pro-abortion mind, "reproductive rights" trump every other right, even the right to life of other females. They prefer legislation that protects "choice" instead of legislation that protects actual women in the womb.
Just like pro-aborts justify ending life in the womb by pretending there is no life in the womb, those opposed to PRENDA just pretend that sex selection in the United States does not exist. One writer at Jezebel called sex selection in the U.S. "a problem rampant only in its rampant nonexistence." Nancy Northup, President of Center for Reproductive Rights, called PRENDA a "trumped up bill for a trumped up problem."
And yet there is evidence that sex selection is alive and well in the United States. Exhibit A: a study done by Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund, of UC Berkeley that looked at U.S. 2000 Census data. They found that among U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean, and Asian Indian parents there is a male bias especially in third children. They report, "If there was no previous son, sons outnumbered daughters by 50%." And they concluded, "We interpret the found deviation in favor of sons to be evidence of sex selection, most likely at the prenatal stage."
Exhibit B: A study of 2 abortion clinics in the San Francisco Bay area that service a high South Asian immigrant population found shocking evidence of sex selection. Forbes reported that not only did 89% of pregnant women who were carrying girls abort their child during the study period, but there was evidence of coercion, sometimes violent, by husbands and in-laws to do so.
Exhibit C: Advertisements for sex selection services in the Canadian press, where such services are illegal, by United States doctors. The Washington Center for Reproductive Medicine in Bellevue, Washington has been placing ads saying they can provide Canadians "the family they want, boy or girl." The advertisements have caused concern because of recent study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showing that South Korean and Indian-born women who have immigrated to Canada have an unnaturally high proportion of boys as second and third children.
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
Wednesday, April 18. 2012
Blogging over at Creative Minority Report, I have recounted my very tragic and very funny experience with Post Traumatic Confession Disorder (I think it's actually a thing):
I am a cradle Catholic, but my family was not very good about going to confession regularly. It is possible that because my parish priest growing up was beyond liberal, my parents wanted me nowhere near him. Maybe my liberal parish didn't offer confession regularly. (The attached school made us say, "In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier" when we made the Sign of the Cross because it was "less masculine" so really anything is possible.) Never-the-less, the habit of going to confession often was not one I learned at home.
One fateful day in my freshman year of college at a big Jesuit university I decided that I was going to become a regular at confession. I marched with faith-filled purpose into the church which had the old fashioned confessionals: three wooden boxes, the priest in the middle, flanked by two penitents. I waited my turned and then enter the confessional on the right.
Fr. P was the confessor that day. I did not know it at the time but Fr. P was an old-school Jesuit. And I mean very, very old. I am sure Fr. P has long since joined Christ in Heaven.
I confessed my sins which I thought were pretty run of the mill for an innocent eighteen year-old Catholic girl newly entering the big bad world. Nothing serious. At least that was what I thought.
Fr. P fervently responded with these exact words (I could not possibly forget them,) "Young lady, you are no better than a barnyard animal! You are on an iceberg bound for HELL!"
As he continued on about the blackness of my soul, I thought, "Barnyard animal? Bound for Hell? My transgressions must have been much worse than I realized." Waves of guilt and shame washed over me, pounding my conscience into tiny grains of sand.
At which point, I passed out.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Tuesday, April 17. 2012
A recent case in a Pennsylvania court held the lives of thirteen little human embryos in its hand. After she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Andrea Lynn Reiss and her husband Bret Howard Reber underwent IVF. The doctors told Ms. Reiss that she would be unfertile after the cancer treatment and so they wanted insurance against future infertility and they created 13 embryos and froze them.
Ms. Reiss completed her treatment but Mr. Reber filed for divorce. Ms. Reiss, claiming she was now infertile, wanted custody of the embryos. Mr. Reber wanted them destroyed.
The court decided for Ms. Reiss and gave her custody of the embryos saying, according to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, that:
"Because Wife cannot achieve genetic parenthood otherwise, we conclude that Wife's interest in biological procreation through the use of these pre-embryos outweighs Husband's professed interest against procreation."
This decision is a departure from court cases in other states where the courts have decided the other way. A court in Tennessee said that unwanted parenthood would be the greater burden and ordered the embryos destroyed. Another court in Massachusetts said it "would not enforce an agreement that would compel one donor to become a parent against his or her will."
Friday, April 13. 2012
If you have been reading this blog for any length of time you know that I despise genetic determinism. What exactly is genetic determinism? It is the unfortunate belief that we are no more than what is coded in our genes and that we can be evaluated as individuals accordingly.
I despise genetic determinism not simply because it reduces the dignity of a human person down to a sequence of nucleotides, but also because it is wrong scientifically. In reality, very few traits or diseases can be directly linked to a single gene variant or mutation. Some diseases are definitively linked to a specific problem in a gene or genes, examples would be Tay-Sachs, Sickle Cell Anemia, Cystic Fibrosis and Huntington's. But the truth is that for most other diseases, it is just not that simple. Environment has as much or more to do with disease onset and progression as does genetics.
In fact, a recent study done by researchers at Johns Hopkins showed that genetic testing for disease is really not that predictive. They looked at occurrence of disease in identical twins and found that genetics were not a good predictor of who will suffer from what disease. From The Atlantic":
The just-published study examines how often identical twins get the same diseases. Reviewing records of 53,666 identical twins in the United States, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Norway, researchers tabulated how well genes predict the chance of getting a disease. The answer is that they really can't. Predictions based on genes turned out to be very close to useless. As Gina Kolata summed up in The New York Times: "While sequencing the entire DNA of individuals is proving fantastically useful in understanding diseases and finding new treatments, it is not a method that will, for the most part, predict a person's medical future."And yet, at the same time utilitarian ethicists are continuing to push the idea that parents have the obligation to use IVF and preimplanatation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to have healthier children. In PGD, a single cell is taken from the early embryo and is tested for as many as 6000 different genetic variations. The embryos that make the genetic cut get a chance at being transferred to their mother's womb. The others are discarded, donated to research or put in the deep freeze.
BioEdge reports that a new paper in the American Journal of Bioethics argues that parents are not just encouraged, but should be OBLIGED to use PGD to have "healthier" children. The title of the paper is "The Case for a Parental Duty to Use Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis for Medical Benefit" and here is the abstract:
This article explores the possibility that there is a parental duty to use preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) for the medical benefit of future children. Using one genetic disorder as a paradigmatic example, we find that such a duty can be supported in some situations on both ethical and legal grounds. Our analysis shows that an ethical case in favor of this position can be made when potential parents are aware that a possible future child is at substantial risk of inheriting a serious genetic condition. We further argue that a legal case for a duty to use PGD for medical benefit can be made in situations in which potential parents have chosen to conceive through in vitro fertilization and know that any children conceived are at substantial risk of having a serious genetic condition.They argue there is a LEGAL obligation for parents who know they carry a serious genetic mutation to use PGD. Right now these ethicists argue an obligation to use PGD for a serious genetic condition, but as another utilitarian ethicist, Julian Savulescu, has already argued, some ethicists believe parents use of PGD should go beyond disease traits and be expanded to personality traits like intelligence as well.
Now realize that PGD chooses which children get to live based simply on their genetics. A criteria that the researchers at Johns Hopkins decided is not very predictive in disease. Which means genetics is not likely predictive in other personality traits like intelligence either. Environment is important in shaping a person both medically and socially.
But the IVF embryo has yet to experience much environment. It seems the utilitarian ethicist really doesn't care. They want a nice neat genetic package with which they can arrange humanity into little boxes labeled "fit" and "unfit." I think there was a pernicious movement of the early 20th century (starts with an E and ends in UGENICS) that did the same. Remember where that lead.
As The Atlantic points out:
We could clone Einstein and we really don't know if he's going to turn out to be an Einstein.
Tuesday, April 10. 2012
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disease caused by mutations in a gene called the CFTR gene. If a person has a mutation in both copies of their CFTR gene (one mutation inherited from their father, one from their mother) then the CFTR protein that they produce does not function properly. Without a functioning CFTR protein, the patient produces abnormally thick mucus that collects in the lungs and pancreas causing serious breathing and digestive problems. The average life span for someone with CF is about 30 years with some living into their 40s and beyond.
CF is a common genetic disease. It is estimated that 1 in 29 Caucasians carry a mutation in one of their two copies of the CFTR gene. Those that have only one CF mutation do not suffer from CF but are called carriers because they can pass this gene onto their children. There are over 1500 documented mutations in the CFTR gene and counting. Approximately 30,000 Americans, both adults and children, inherited a CF mutation from both of their parents and suffer with CF symptoms.
Thanks to induced pluripotent stem cell technology, there is hope for those that suffer with CF. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are mature cells, like skin cells, that have been reprogrammed back to an embryonic-like state. They are an ethical alternative to cloning or destroying IVF embryos for pluripotent stem cells. Pluripotent stem cells are cells that can become most or all of the 200 cell types in the body.
IPSCs have been a tremendous boon for researchers that want to study diseases like CF. Scientists are able to take a skin cell from a patient with a disease, reprogram it back to a pluripotent state, and then get those embryonic-like pluripotent stem cells to grow into whatever tissue they want to study. These iPSCs are grown and maintained in the lab and have the genetic make-up of the patient.
Before iPSC technology, scientists had a hard time growing lung tissue in the lab and so had a hard time studying possible therapies for CF. Now using iPSC technology, researchers in Boston were able to take a skin cell from someone with CF, make induced pluripotent stem cells and then grow those into lung tissue. This lung tissue has the most common CF mutation, delta F508. Scientists are hopeful that now they have lung tissue with the most common CF mutation, they will be able to test new drugs on those cells to see which would be the most promising to treat CF.
Continue Reading at LifeNews.com >>
Monday, April 9. 2012
Nadya Suleman, better known as Octomom, admits that she was not in the right state of mind when she, single and mother of 6 children already, underwent more IVF to have 8 more children. From the NYDaily News:
Nadya Suleman will do anything for her octuplets, but now she admits it was a mistake to have them.
Nadya, dear, you are not alone.
(Page 1 of 1, totaling 8 entries)
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