Christian Worldview

Materialism’s Blinders

Your eyes may glaze over when you read the headlines about stem-cell research—debates over moral quandaries, federal funding, and legislative decisions about regulation. But you need to pay attention and speak up: The next debate may be about your own worth. Much of the news you read or hear about focuses on embryonic stem-cell research—heralded as “vital” to medical research. However, while much study has focused on embryo-destructive research, nothing of significance has come of it: It has not worked. Meanwhile, reports about adult stem-cell research, which does not require destroying a human embryo to extract a stem cell, are beginning to appear frequently. For example, the Los Angeles Times recently reported that treatment using umbilical and marrow cells healed one boy of a fatal skin disease—thus, the treatment’s success may move that same disease “off the incurable list” for other patients. Australian researchers have also joined in the race to advance ethical stem-cell research, producing stem cells from skin cells or adult cells, rather than from human embryos that are later destroyed. “What you then have the capacity to do with this type of cell or this technology is to make both patient-specific and disease-specific stem cell lines,” said Dr. Andrew Laslett of the Australian Stem Cell Centre. Groups in the United States, Japan, Scotland, Germany, and China are also pursuing this line of research. Carron Morrow, as I noted on “BreakPoint” last August, can testify to the efficacy of ethical stem-cell research. In critical need of a new heart, Carron agreed to an experimental study that utilized her own bone marrow from her left hip. After cultivation, 30 million stem cells were injected into the right side of her heart. After she underwent a CT scan four months later, the doctor declared her heart to be “normal.” So what’s the problem? If science is on the side of ethical research, then why are we still debating the moral problems with embryonic stem-cell research? Because it’s not about science—it’s about worldview. SCIENCE AS WORLDVIEW When scientists in Japan and Wisconsin announced a breakthrough in stem-cell research—reprogramming skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells—the news outlets expressed a hopeful end to the seemingly dreary debate. But as I said at the time, the struggle is far from over. There is a principle at stake—and advocates of embryo-destructive research don’t want to surrender it. You see, winning the embryo-research debate is not about curing disease: It is about taking the upper hand over pro-life advocates, depicting them as hard-headed and uncaring. It’s a political battle. It is also a worldview battle: pitting scientific materialism against the biblical worldview, which holds that all human life is sacred, from its earliest stages until natural death. The biblical view places restrictions on what we do to human embryos. Scientists and proponents of embryo research do not want restrictions, because they place science as the highest source of knowledge and morality. They worship, so to speak, at the altar of scientism. “Scientism” is the belief that scientific investigation is the only means of knowledge—that scientists can get answers to everything, including philosophy and morality. Moreover, it holds that humans are nothing more than a collection of cells and genetic material—material to be used for whatever scientists believe to be useful. In fact, columnist Michael Kinsley, who hopes stem cells will cure him of Parkinson’s disease, immediately jumped on the findings about skin cells being reprogrammed to act as stem cells—insisting that embryonic stem-cell research must still continue. He dismissed what he called the “intense minority who believe that a clump of a few dozen cells floating in a petri dish has the same human rights as you or I.” Never mind the fact that he also began his life as “a clump of a few dozen cells”—only he was allowed to live, while he and others believe we ought to exploit and kill other such embryos supposedly for the “greater good.” Some are more equal than others, it seems, as Orwell famously put it. “This issue will not go away,” Kinsley proclaimed. “Scientifically, it makes no sense to abandon any promising avenue just because another has opened up. . . . Every year that goes by, science opens new doors . . . ” See the emphasis? Science is the be-all, end-all. And morality and ethics must not hinder its march. It is the ultimate reductionism: Since you can know truth only through what can be determined by science, questions like love, altruism, and the like are out of bounds—they are impermissible for inquiry. So, anything in the moral realm—the “should” or “ought to” questions—as opposed to the “what is” question, which is what science measures, never enters the equation. This view of science undermines the worth and dignity of human life. It reduces us to the sum of our material parts. It takes away the soul—what distinguishes us as humans. As I wrote in How Now Shall We Live?, we have bought into the myth that science is our savior: Through our ever-advancing science and technology, we will save ourselves. We are in the third stage of geneticist H. J. Muller’s history of life: attempting to reach inside and control our own nature. And scientists believe in inevitable progress, that the change they seek is always for the better. However, such faith that we can save ourselves through science can be sustained only if we deny the human capacity for barbarism—which is hard to do with a straight face in today’s world. And that leads us to our present state: cannibalizing fellow humanity for the hoped-for—but thus far, elusive—benefit of others. This is not to withhold sympathy for Michael Kinsley and others who are looking for cures to debilitating diseases. But when they reduce the importance and dignity of the earliest stage of human life—the human embryo—they reduce their own dignity, as well. If a human embryo only has worth as it can be used for others, then what worth has a person whose dependence on others, due to illness, can be deemed a drain to society? You see where Kinsley’s calculations take us—and himself. THE ABOLITION OF MAN It is this view of science that, taken to its logical conclusion, ends up putting its proponents’ own heads on the chopping block, as it were. For if humans are just commodities, just materials, then when your usefulness is outweighed by the cost of your “upkeep,” out you go. It’s the sort of utilitarian notion that has Business Week weighing the costs of caring for premature babies. In fact, Britain offers us a view of the position in which we may place ourselves if the Church does not speak out consistently and effectively right now. In a myriad of cases, from parental rights to animal-human hybrids to birthing “savior siblings” to treat another child’s illness, humans are viewed as commodities—not individuals with inherent dignity and worth. For example, the Times of London reported that “Single women and lesbian couples won landmark parental rights . . . as MPs voted to remove the requirement that fertility clinics consider a child’s need for a father.” So much for a child’s right to have a mother and a father—it’s about the consumer’s right to have a child as she sees fit. That vote was part of the United Kingdom’s larger Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill that pro-life Britons are fighting so valiantly against, seeking to uphold the sanctity of human life. As Centurion Philip Pedley, who lives in the Cayman Islands, observed, many in Britain look enviously at the battles for life being fought here in the United States. Why? They wish they had taken these cultural issues seriously 20 to 30 years ago, Pedley says. They wish they “had had a BreakPoint informing, alerting, and inspiring” them to action. They realize the truth of that maxim attributed to Jefferson—that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. If Christians don’t speak up about these critical life issues regarding embryonic stem-cell research, abortion, and even nanotechnology, as my friend Nigel Cameron addresses in this issue of BreakPoint WorldView, who will? Much of the rest of society is going blindly along with who they think are the “all-knowing” scientists. Soon we will find ourselves in the same place as Christians in Britain, wishing we had done something sooner and finding life—even our own—at peril.


Chuck Colson


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