It’s Tuesday, August 8, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’re going to consider whether or not a Wisconsin company is embedding the mark of beast in its employees. We’re going to look at a major bioethical challenge coming from a new gene editing technology with the threat of designer babies, and we’re going to find out why the Communist Party in China has decided to censor Winnie the Pooh.
Wisconsin company embeds microchips in employees, raises questions about mark of the beast
A Wisconsin company known as Three Square Market that bills itself as offering what’s identified as self-service micro markets to companies around the world is now offering something to its own 85 employees. And that is an embedded microchip in their bodies, otherwise known as an RFID chip, that will allow them to more quickly sign into their company offices and their computers. But this, of course, has raised a number of questions, and it’s also garnered not just a few headlines from around the world. RFID is itself a rather controversial technology. Those initials are short for radiofrequency identification. These particular devices are increasingly found on credit cards and even in terms of consumer products and as I’ve said not without some controversy.
But that controversy seems in the past now to pale in significance with this company offering an RFID chip in the form of a capsule about the size, we are told, of a grain of rice to its employees. A spokesperson for the company said that so far about 50 of the 85 employees have come forward to have the chip embedded just under their skin. This is a very interesting story. It tells us a great deal about how technology and tracking and all kinds of devices are becoming so intertwined with our lives, but a host of ethical and moral issues, indeed a biblical issue, comes very much to mind. Peter McMullan speaking for the company said,Show Full Transcript
“The international market place is wide open and we believe that the future trajectory of total market share is going to be driven by whoever captures this arena first.”
In this context this arena means the expanding business it has foreseen of offering this kind of embedded RFID chips into corporate employees, but of course this raises the specter of an expansion of this kind of technology. How long will it be until parents are told that they should embed these RFID chips in their children in order to track them and make sure that they are safe? How long will it be until just about everyone in some context, whether it’s employment or education or otherwise, will be told that it will facilitate and become a matter of convenience if they will simply accept this embedded RFID chip.
Now one of the questions raised by even the employees in this company is whether or not it would allow the tracking of employees by means of the chip, and authorities from the company said that of course it would not do so any more than RFID chips in credit cards would allow the same because there is no GPS tracking mechanism that is involved with the technology. But of course that may come as very cold comfort a very slim comfort to people who understand that this kind of technology can quickly be expanded into other uses and many of those of course far less benign than the idea of convenience in signing into one’s computer or workplace.
If you’re a Christian familiar with the Scriptures, then no doubt another dimension of this question is coming to your mind. It’s come to the mind of others, including interestingly enough USA Today. In yesterday’s international edition of USA Today. There is a story by Holly Meyer. It asks the question, is this the mark of the beast? As she writes,
“The apocalyptic “mark of the beast” prophecy in the Bible makes some wary of a Wisconsin company’s recent decision to embed microchips into the hands of willing employees. The end times account,” she writes, “in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation warns believers about being marked on the right hand and the forehead by the Antichrist.” But she says, “inserting rice-sized microchips under the skin of Three Square Market employees does not fulfill the prophecy.”
She cites a New Testament professor at the Chicago area Wheaton College, Chris Vlachos, as saying,
“I think that this is more of a fulfillment of end times novels and movies than the Book of Revelation itself.”
Now before going further in the USA Today story, let’s turn to the Scriptures. In Revelation chapter 13, beginning in verse 11, we read,
“Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.”
The USA Today story goes back to Proffesor Vlachos who said,
“Taking the mark goes hand in hand with the conscience decision of publicly pledging ones allegiance or loyalty to the beast and worshiping his image.”
He went on to say that,
“The mark is not a random number either. It always names the Antichrist, either numerically or alphabetically.”
The professor says to his students,
“No name, no worries.”
A similar kind of assessment came in the USA Today story by Randall Balmer, chair of the religion department at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He said that many evangelicals look to that book and current events in terms of something like a parlor game. But even as Balmer seemed initially to dismiss the speculation, he went on to say that he understood why people might connect the micro-chipping and the prophecy from the book of Revelation.
“It may not be the ‘mark of the beast,’ but it certainly is a slippery slope.”
He went on to say,
“I think we should be cautious about allowing that measure of control or surveillance into our lives.”
I’ll just state at this point that I believe that that is a significant understatement. In so far as the question comes down to whether or not this particular chip inserted by a company in Wisconsin is the mark of the beast, the answer to that is almost assuredly no because this particular technology does not yet match what we read from the very text of Revelation chapter 13 in terms of the name or the number of the name, certainly not a conscientious decision to identify and pledge allegiance with the antichrist. But at the same time, there’s something truly haunting about the idea of a company embedding an RFID chip under the skin of an employee’s hand. We’re told, of course, that the company will not be able to track the employee, but we also understand just how quickly this kind of technology can go from a matter promised as a convenience to a matter coerced as an absolute necessity.
The USA Today story also cited Howard Friedman. He’s identified as an emeritus law professor at the University of Toledo. He said he doesn’t believe that this particular technology is going to end up in court in terms of lawsuits from employees. Why? Because at this point it’s voluntary. He said,
“As long as they continue to make this voluntary, there isn’t going to be much of a legal confrontation.”
That quote is actually the absolute end of the USA Today article, but it’s certainly not going to be the end of the issue or the controversy because the most pressing question that comes from this article is whether or not this is really so voluntary as it appears. And certainly, perhaps with an even longer duration of importance, the question comes down to just how long will this be voluntary. It also tells us something that this particular story landed on the front page of USA Today, the book of Revelation, the antichrist, and the beast on the front page of USA Today, even in its international edition as read here in Europe. It at least should be noted that even in this very secular culture there are those who immediately are asking the same question. Is this chip the mark of the beast? That tells us that even secular people still hear the distant hoof beats of the horsemen from the book of Revelation.
New gene-editing technology brings bioethical challenge with the threat of designer babies
Next we turn to an explosive issue in terms of human dignity and bioethics. Just at the end of July, the Associated Press reported,
“For the first time in the United States, scientists have edited the genes of human embryos, a controversial step toward someday helping babies avoid inherited diseases.”
The Associated Press report went on to say,
“The experiment was just an exercise in science — the embryos were not allowed to develop for more than a few days and were never intended to be implanted into a womb, according to MIT Technology Review, which first reported the news.”
The story from the Associated Press back at the end of July indicated that this particular research would soon be reported in an academic journal and so it has. But before turning to that report, let’s consider the fact that the AP News report simply avoided even considering the fact that here we are talking about the destruction of human embryos in biomedical research. But let’s move on to the study as it was reported just in the last few days. The most interesting coverage comes when you consider two different articles published just two days apart in the same newspaper in this case, the New York Times, by the same reporter in this case, Pam Belluck. Back in the first report, she said,
“Scientists for the first time have successfully edited genes in human embryos to repair a common and serious disease-causing mutation, producing apparently healthy embryos, according to a study.”
She went on to say,
“The research marks a major milestone and, while a long way from clinical use, it raises the prospect that gene editing may one day protect babies from a variety of hereditary conditions.”
Well at this point, the uninformed reader might simply say so good, so far. But listen to the very next paragraph,
“But the achievement is also an example of human genetic engineering, once feared and unthinkable, and is sure to renew ethical concerns that some might try to design babies with certain traits, like greater intelligence or athleticism.”
Belluck then went on to acknowledge that what we are now confronting in this new story is the potential of a very new wave of eugenics. Eugenics as you might remember was a so-called science developed mostly by liberals in the early 20th century in order to press what they saw as the goal of a society free from those who were unfit to live. Eugenics is the idea of encouraging more children from the right people and fewer children from the wrong people. This was used as you might imagine with a very clear racial and ethnic agenda back in the early decades of the 20th century and became most infamously associated with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime in Germany. Belluck acknowledged this when she wrote,
“Scientists have long feared the unforeseen medical consequences of making inherited changes to human DNA. The cultural implications may be just as disturbing: Some experts have warned that unregulated genetic engineering may lead to a new form of eugenics, in which people with means pay to have children with enhanced traits even as those with disabilities are devalued.”
But in her second article, remember it came just two days later, Belluck writes,
“Now that science is a big step closer to being able to fiddle with the genes of a human embryo, is it time to panic?”
She goes on to ask if embryo editing could in her words,
“spiral out of control, allowing parents to custom order,” a designer baby.
But even as that of course is a massive issue from a moral perspective, the bigger issue here is the fact that we are actually seeking to take the definition of human beings into our own hands. And there will be a logic here that simply cannot be contained in any laboratory nor can it be contained even with the threat of the so-called designer baby. This will bring a whole new differentiation, a whole new distinction or division amongst human beings, between those who are accepted as worthy of living and those who are not worthy of living or certainly do not have the same worth as human beings. That is what runs into a direct confrontation with the biblical worldview. That worldview insists that every single human being regardless of genetic perspective or profile is made in the image of God, and thus worthy of equal and total dignity and the sanctity of human life to be protected.
In her second article Belluck basically tried to dismiss all the valid concerns about this CRISPR technology. Going on to say, it really doesn’t mean the advent of designer babies, and after all the technology is going to be safe, and it’s going to be contained within regulations and laboratories. But of course that doesn’t mean that there’s any safety at all. And you can count on this, this will not be restricted to rules and regulations. It will not be restricted to a laboratory. This is a very real threat to human dignity, and it’s coming very quickly.
Oh, d-d-d-dear: Communist party in China censors Winnie the Pooh
Finally while we’re thinking about coercive state control, a recent article about the totalitarian regime of the Communist Party in China certainly comes to mind, and the issue isn’t silly-willy-nilly after all. London’s Financial Times, reporting from Shanghai, China, tells us,
“Winnie the Pooh has become too politically sensitive to be mentioned on Chinese social media.”
The report tells us that posts including even the name of Winnie the Pooh have been censored on a major Twitter like platform in China,
“while a collection of animated gifs featuring the bear were removed from social messaging app WeChat.”
As the report goes on to tell us, the likely origin of this particular act of censorship goes back to the fact that cartoonist had pictured President Xi of China as Winnie the Pooh, comparing them in shape and in stride. Social media users in China who attempted either to name or to use the image of Winnie the Pooh found themselves confronted with a message,
“Content is illegal.”
Well that tells you just about everything you need to know about both the repression and the insecurity of dictators of the Communist Party in China and of totalitarian regimes in general. Any regime that would censor Winnie the Pooh or for that matter even find the need to do so is a regime that doesn’t deserve respect. And for that you can simply ask Tigger.