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Genetic discoveries point to God, yet raise concern, Mitchell says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Scientific knowledge and remarkable discoveries in genetics point to the awesome creative power of God, a Southern Baptist medical ethicist said March 4 at the annual seminar of the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission.

At the same time, C. Ben Mitchell contended serious ethical issues are raised by the complex debates on the “new genetics.” Christians have an obligation to become engaged seriously in the discussions and develop materials from a biblical perspective “in order to inform a generation that will have to deal with these issues as no generation before them,” Mitchell said.

Speaking during a chapel service held in conjunction with the CLC seminar at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Mitchell addressed the subject “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: The Sanctity of Human Life and the Challenge of the New Genetics.” The March 3-5 seminar was hosted by Southern Seminary in celebration of the CLC’s 50th anniversary. The CLC became a funded SBC agency at the Louisville, Ky., campus in 1947.

Mitchell was appointed in February as assistant professor of Christian ethics at Southern Seminary and also serves as consultant on biomedical and life issues with the CLC.

Referring to the cloning of a sheep in Scotland and a rhesus monkey in Oregon, Mitchell told the audience, “If you didn’t already know it, you know by now, after last week, the genetic revolution is upon us.”

These developments “should not have been a surprise to us,” he said. “The question hasn’t been for the last two decades IF a mammal would be cloned, but WHEN.”

Noting that many in the scientific community promote the possibilities of the genetic revolution with rhetoric full of religious overtones, Mitchell joked, “I dare say that if we were to believe the popular scientific media, we would replace crosses on our churches with double-helixes and imprint on our money the slogan, ‘In DNA we trust,’ or sing ‘My genetic code ’tis of thee.'”

Preaching from Psalm 139, Mitchell said, “Those who would think Christianly about questions like these know where to turn for answers. We should turn to the sovereign Lord, maker of heaven and earth.”

The Psalmist’s declaration, “you knit me together in my mother’s womb,” indicates God’s “intricate design and detailed workmanship” in the creation of every human being, Mitchell said.

“Who among us does not stand in awe at the fact that within each of the trillions of cells in our bodies, there are 23 pairs of chromosomes composed of genes which contain instructions encoded in 3 billion nucleotide base pairs?” Mitchell asked.

“If you link all the information together and shove it into the nucleus of the human cell, it is, as one geneticist puts it, ‘like taking 30 miles of gold thread and stuffing it into a cherry pit.’ God did that!” he exclaimed.

“If anyone wants evidence for a supra-intelligent designer, genetics has uncovered it. The notion that this intricately complex structure and huge catalog of information emerged from some primordial ooze is simply preposterous,” Mitchell said.

“Molecular biology,” he asserted, “is not an enemy necessarily, intrinsically, but can be a friend in helping us understand just how fearfully and wonderfully made we are.”

Mitchell urged three responses Christians should give to the “new genetics.”

— Celebration. “The treatment and cure of genetically linked illnesses is a laudable goal,” Mitchell said. “We can and should support the therapeutic use of genetic technology within acceptable ethical parameters.”

The wonder of God’s creation discovered in genetics should cause Christians to learn more about genetics, he said.

“We need a well-honed and well-informed Christian worldview, a lens through which to understand the created works of God. Without that worldview, without training our young people in the sciences, without giving our young people an opportunity to fashion a worldview through which to see the sciences, they will have no alternative but to adopt the naturalistic view that pervades our culture,” Mitchell declared.

Christians should be leading the intellectual debate about genetics, he insisted, through the publishing of textbooks, curriculum and materials on the subject from a biblical world view.

— Caution. “As with every technology, genetic technology holds both promise and risk,” Mitchell noted.

“Uninformed by appropriate ethical standards and virtues, technology carries its own imperative. Watch it in the cloning debate. If it can be done, it will be done,” Mitchell warned. “If we can clone human beings, somebody is going to do it!”

He urged the audience to pray for President Clinton, who later that day issued an executive order placing a moratorium on federal funding of research into the cloning of human beings.

“The confession of the believing church is that God has made humankind in his own image, after his own likeness,” Mitchell said. “We must affirm what God has said in every area of technology.”

–Outright resistance. “There are some aspects of the new genetics we must simply reject,” Mitchell stated.

“We must resist the reductionism which collapses human beings into mere genetic information,” Mitchell said, noting, “When social engineers link up with behavioral geneticists, trouble is bound to follow.”

One such example, according to Mitchell, are persons who use genetics in order to legitimize homosexuality. Citing the apostle Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 6 that sinful behavior can be changed through Jesus Christ, Mitchell said Christians must answer “No!” to arguments that homosexuality is a matter of genetics.

“We must resist the eugenic impetus of modern genetics,” Mitchell added. “Children are to be treated as God’s creation, not be to chosen from some menu of designer characteristics. When abortion advocacy is wedded to genetics, a malevolent science results.”

Unlike those who promote abortion of children with disease, Mitchell said in spite of the “terrible disease” of depravity human beings inherited from Adam, Jesus “didn’t cast us off, he came to us in our frailty. He bore us up in his own body, DNA and all, on the tree and redeemed us by his blood.”

Mitchell implored, “As we think about the challenges of genetics in this new millennium, we must pray with the Psalmist, ‘search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.'”

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  • James A. Smith
  • James A. Smith, Sr.
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