Sociobiologists explain the emergence and survival of the family in terms of evolutionary development and the need for a stable breeding unit. Given the present stage of human development, the family is passing as a necessity and contemporary persons are redefining relationships to serve other, more individualized needs.
Modernity, with its focus on autonomous individualism and liberation from traditional structures, represents a threatening environment for the family unit. The sexual revolution has severed the link between sexual fidelity and marital integrity. Modern contraceptives have allowed unlimited sex without procreative consequences, and the family has been dethroned from its exalted status and stripped of its functions.
Modern feminism has targeted the family as a domestic prison from which women should make a clean escape, and motherhood as a biological imposition. The homosexual movement has sought to redefine the family by demanding acceptance and recognition of same-sex partnerships, and both male and female same-sex couples claim the right to children, if not progeny.
Increasing numbers of unmarried women now become pregnant through donor insemination or other reproductive technologies, and lesbian groups have even established fertilization centers and support groups. Clearly, the traditional heterosexual nuclear family is no longer considered the only culturally-approved unit of human reproduction.
The possibility of human cloning allows for the final emancipation of human reproduction from the marital relationship. Indeed, cloning would allow for the emancipation of human reproduction from anyrelationship.
Though cloning removes the need for either sperm or egg, no “parent” is necessary. At this point, however, a womb is still necessary for implantation and gestation. Put bluntly, women would be needed as available wombs, if not as biological mothers. Cell biologist Ursula Goodenough of Washington University stated the obvious corollary; “there’d be no need for men.”
Modernity’s assault on the family would thus be complete with the development of cloning. Already stripped of its social functions, the family would now be rendered biologically unnecessary, if not irrelevant. Final liberation from the family and the conjugal bond would be achieved.
Modern secularism may celebrate this emancipation as human progress as the species leaves the vestiges of the pre-modern era behind. But the Christian worldview is the refutation of the secular illusion. Based upon biblical revelation, the family is not an accidental by-product of social evolution nor merely the convenient boundary for socially sanctioned sexual relationships. According to Scripture, the family is God’s gracious gift for our protection, our sexual integrity, and our enjoyment.
The conjugal bond is not a biological trap from which we should seek escape. The marital relationship is the only divinely sanctioned locus of human sexuality, and the bearing of children. The blessing of children is the intended result of the marital bond and the conjugal act.
Surrogate motherhood, artificial insemination, and in vitro fertilization already separate fertility and child-bearing from the conjugal act, and, in many cases, from the marital relationship. This is a separation of great moral consequence. As Gilbert Meilaender has commented, “In our world there are countless ways to ‘have’ a child, but the fact that the end ‘product’ is the same does not mean that we have done the same thing.”
Moral philosophers such as Leon Kass and Oliver O’Donovan have noted that our language betrays a shift in consciousness. O’Donovan, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University, reminds us that the Nicene Creed affirms that Jesus Christ, the only Son of the Father was, from eternity, “begotten not made.” We, as human beings, are not in a position to “make” other humans, but only to beget them by God’s intended design. As O’Donovan notes, “We have to consider the nature of this human ‘begetting’ in a culture which has been overwhelmed by ‘making’–that is to say, in a technological culture.”
The shift from ‘begetting’ to ‘making’ noted by O’Donovan reflects the technological worldview of the age. A similar pattern is noted by Leon Kass of the University of Chicago, who traces the shift from procreation to reproduction. Procreation, asserts Kass, reflects the acknowledgment of a Creator and the generative act of creation. Reproduction, on the other hand is a “metaphor of the factory.”
The factory is precisely the image Huxley presented as the reproductive future–and this factory (or laboratory) is the explicit rejection of the marital relationship, the integrity of the family, and our identity as the creature rather than the Creator.
Human cloning, along with other genetic technologies, represents the over-reaching of the creature. No longer satisfied with our creaturely status, we will become our own creators–masters of our species and all others. As John Robertson admits, some now seek to take responsibility for a revolutionary transition in human nature in order to become “creators of ourselves.”
As early as 1968, a report of the National Academy of Sciences declared that the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions would now be followed by the power of modern man to “guide his own evolution.” Carl Sagan claimed that such a threshold had already been crossed and “We are the first species to have taken evolution into our own hands.”
The worldview of secular naturalism leads inevitably to such a conclusion. Mainstream evolutionary scientists argue against any design in the universe and any special value to human beings, other than the evolutionary development of consciousness. Given such a worldview, which denies both Creator and creation, the aspiration to become masters of our own destiny is natural and rational. If we are not created in the image of God, then we will be our own gods. If there is no divine Creator, the Maker of heaven and earth, then we will have to take creation into our own hands.
With moral foresight, the late Paul Ramsey saw the emergence of “fabricated man” through genetic manipulation and control. Ramsey recognized the attractiveness of human fabrication to the secular mind. Given the inherent hubris of secular culture, the temptation is almost impossible to resist.
The eugenic temptation is so powerful that only the Christian worldview can restrain it. Scripture alone reveals our creaturely identity, our sinfulness, and the limits of our authority and responsibility. We are not the Creator, and the responsibility to assume control of the universe is not ours. God the Creator rules over all and has revealed his intention for us in laws and commandments which demand our obedience, and limitations which demand our respect. We are not to play God. As Ramsey argues: “We ought rather to live with charity amid the limits of a biological and historical existence which God created for the good and simple reason that, for all its corruption, it is now–and for the temporal future will be–the good realm in which man and his welfare are to be found and served.”
The very notion of moral limits is foreign to the secular mind. Increasingly, the worldviews of modern secularistic scientism and scriptural Christianity are understood to be incompatible and diametrically opposed. As a consequence, moral discourse on issues such as cloning is often grossly confused or totally absent.
Faced with the potential development of human cloning, the modern secular worldview develops a queasy stomach, but will never be able to establish a moral conviction. Its ad hoc morality and arbitrary judgments will never lead to a common understanding–much less to a defense of the sanctity of life.
Over twenty-five years ago, James Watson declared the likely advent of “clonal man.” Admitting that this development would be deeply upsetting to many persons, Watson raised the question, “Is this what we want?” Watson, who was the first director of the Human Genome Project and has championed the rise of genetic knowledge and technologies, ended his essay by warning that “if we do not think about it now, the possibility of our having a free choice will one day suddenly be gone.”
That day may now be very close at hand. Christians should engage this debate on biblical terms, and contend for the sanctity of all created life, as well as the distinction between the creature and the Creator. All technologies–including modern genetics–must be evaluated in terms of the biblical revelation and the totality of the Christian worldview.
The troubling tangle of ethical issues involved in genetic technologies represents an urgent challenge to the Christian Church as the people of the truth. The new technologies cannot be naively dismissed nor blissfully embraced. This generation of Christians must regain the disciplines of moral discernment and cultural engagement. The Brave New World is upon us.