We human beings have always played around with our nature. But there is a point where the playing goes too far.
We like to alter our physical bodies, whether to make ourselves more attractive (hair color, Botox, body building) or to express our uniqueness and personal sense of beauty (tattoos, nose rings, beards and mustaches).
We like to alter our abilities, too. A huge number of Americans are taking supplement pills in the hopes of improving their mental capacity, creativity, and focus. There are plenty of phone apps that claim to offer similar results.
Playing around with the core nature of human beings, however, can be disastrous.
The biohacking phenomenon
In a recent article in American Thinker, I discussed the new phenomenon of “biohackers” – people who use their skills in science, business, and internet marketing to recklessly experiment with human brains and genetics. That article had a political angle, but the issue of biohacking has profound implications for all of us.
Most importantly, biohacking raises very serious spiritual concerns for Christians.
From the article:
Josiah Zayner, owner of a biotech firm he runs out of his garage, found out in May that he is under investigation for practicing medicine without a license. Zayner gained the attention of a host of adoring fans as well as the ire of government regulators by publicly injecting himself with a gene editing solution and performing a fecal transplant on himself. The grounds for the investigation, however, seem shaky since Zayner performed the procedures on himself.
Such biohackers form a growing movement of hundreds of entrepreneurs and daredevils who justify their work with appeals to treasured American values. Zayner sees himself as a rebel against a bureaucratic government that “refuses to allow people access to cutting edge treatments or in some cases even basic healthcare, yet I am the one threatened with jail.” Biohacker David Ishee also reflects the suspicions of many innovative genetic researchers regarding an aggressive new stance by the FDA: “It’s regulation to control who can use these new technologies and how much money they need to have to use them, not regulation to mitigate any risks.”
It is a big deal when the FDA starts going after biohackers for criminal activity. The FDA has not always been the best champion of ethical and moral concerns about drugs and medical procedures (as, for example, with the RU-486 abortion pill), so it takes a lot to provoke them.
Messing with our brains
Biohackers do not just mess with genetic engineering. They are also attempting to alter the neurochemistry of human brains. For pretty frivolous reasons, there are people walking around with electronic chips embedded in their hands. As described in a Vox article:
If you scan it using an NFC reader/writer (included in many Android phones, and purchasable for computer) you can store information in it, or read off its existing contents. If you have an Android, you can use it in lieu of a PIN or pattern to unlock your phone. If your office requires key fobs, you can register the identifying information in the chip with your building staff and just wave your hand in the elevator, saving you the trouble of pulling out your fob (I’ll have to talk to Vox’s building staff about this when I get back to DC). One chip recipient named Drew Andresen even rigged his car so that he can unlock it and start the engine with the chip in his hand.
Cool. Or is it?
In a society where human beings are routinely discarded or demeaned – through abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, gender-bending appearance and surgery, sexual adventurism, domestic and child abuse, sex trafficking, forced labor, and a host of other practices – it becomes very easy to justify a casual attitude toward playing around with human nature.
In our society where human dignity struggles for recognition, every action, however small, that fails to appreciate human beings as treasured children of God matters. That is because every such action reinforces the attitudes and ideology that justify the more serious violations of human dignity. Even mutilating one’s body with tattoos, just for fun and personal expression, has a ripple effect that shouts loud and clear that God’s creation of human bodies is only the raw material for human purposes.
Those purposes rarely have anything to do with being holy.
Sometimes the recklessness of playing around with human nature can have severe consequences. Here is more from my American Thinker article:
Established scientists and research associations, however, express horror over the species-wide consequences of the worst of the rogue experiments. Genetic engineering is a rapidly growing and still uncertain science, and DNA edits that are inherited by future generations could hold some nasty, unexpected surprises. When Chinese researcher He Jiankui announced in late 2018 that he had not only edited the genes of twin embryos but then guided them to birth – an experiment that was risky and violated an array of ethical research guidelines – the condemnations by the international community of scientists were swift and harsh.
Scientific associations claim to be running to the rescue of a society threatened by premature genetic engineering experiments. A coalition of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, U.S. National Academy of Medicine, and U.K. Royal Society, with input from dozens of other associations, say they are developing an authoritative set of ethical criteria and standards for research into genetic engineering on human embryos. They follow the World Health Organization, which formed an expert panel on human genome editing in March that recommended all related experiments be entered into an international registry. International regulation of both the practices and ethics of researchers seems to be the order of the day.
The problem is that the scientific associations are not even considering the kinds of ethical concerns Christians might have about such experiments.
The ethical considerations of faith
What about the thousands of human embryos that are killed in research to develop scientifically-risky genetic engineering therapies? What kind of spiritual identity will a genetically engineered person, unsure of whether they are a divinely created child of God or a product of their parents’ ambitions, live with? What will government, the military, and elites in society do with such new technological capabilities?
Faithfully religious scientists, academics, theologians, and philosophers are simply excluded from the “ethics” deliberations of the international science associations:
Religious and other critics of the new genetic engineering technologies will likely experience a barrage of dismissive, ideological taunts. Disability rights activist George Estreich recorded such labels as “fearful, uninformed, paranoid, Luddite, vociferous, loud, anti-science, anti-technology” in his book Fables and Futures. Even when Russian scientist Denis Rebrikov announced last month that he fully intended to bring more genetically engineered embryos to birth, there was no response in the media to his harshly anti-religious rhetoric. He said in an interview with Science, “these people who are opposed want to have all these things in their children but only by ‘divine providence,’ not by science. They are liars or stupid.”
The Christian perspective regarding biohacking and the many new technologies – in genetics, medicine, reproductive assistance, robotics, artificial intelligence, and internet-based social media – will not have a voice in the development and use of these technologies unless Christians, and especially Catholics, speak up.
Evangelizing requires having a voice. We need to speak loudly and clearly to a society that is rapidly becoming more confused by the myriad voices of advanced technology.