Reasons to Believe

To Clone or Not to Clone?

A cloud of moral confusion seems to surround recent advances in cloning research. When British zoologists announced Dolly the sheep, the first mammal successfully cloned from an adult cell, my phone became extra busy. Secular media spokesmen wanted my comments on this development, which they assumed Christians would view as evil, perhaps on a par with abortion and euthanasia. They made clear their expectation that I, as an evangelical scientist, would oppose any and all cloning experiments.

I believe their expectation--and that expressed by many who called in to talk shows--is based on some misconceptions. And these I would like to dispel. First let me put Dolly in perspective. She was not the first mammal ever cloned in a lab. Many others, including resus monkeys, have been cloned from one, two, and four-celled embryos. Dolly was simply the first mammal cloned from adult cells, a more difficult achievement scientifically than embryonic cloning (Dolly was the first success in 277 attempts), but with the advantage of more predictable results: We can see an adult's physical characteristics.

Like any tool humans develop, cloning can be used for good or for evil. Dynamite was invented to help build railroads, but some use it to blow up their enemies. Knives are used every day to save lives as well as to take them. The tool is neutral, but man's use of it is not.

The caution most of us feel about cloning arises from the time lag between its availability for use and the establishment of moral/ethical standards by which its use will be guided. Our society's track record in setting and enforcing biblical standards gives us reason for concern.

It may be helpful to consider that God invented cloning. He designed biological reproduction, and He made identical twins possible. And while such twins have virtually identical bodies, they are not identical in every respect. In the case of mammals, they do not have identical personalities. In the case of humans, each twin has his or her own distinct intellectual, emotional, psychological, and spiritual life.

While God has granted His creatures their part in physical procreation, He alone creates the spirit of a human being. Regardless of how we choose to bring a child into the world, God, at or near the moment of conception, places a spirit in the body. This is what makes abortion wrong. We are terminating the God-ordained earthly journey of a newly formed spiritual being.

Some decisions about the uses of cloning will be easy; others will be difficult, and we'll need to call upon God for direction. One tough dilemma has already been addressed in the British journal, Nature. A molecular biologist published his opinion that the parents of a fatally injured child should be allowed the option of a clone from viable cells still recoverable from their dying child's body! Whether or not such an option should be offered is a complicated issue, to say the least. But even if this option were allowed, it would not give back the lost child. The parents would (if such cloning were successful) receive a completely different child in a body nearly identical to that of the child they lost. These facts demand careful consideration.

The simpler moral questions, at least for Christians, would be those about human cloning "to develop a master race" or to produce organs for transplant purposes. We have clear biblical mandates against such applications. However, cloning animals for medicines, organs, and body parts to benefit ill or injured humans is a different matter. We would need to follow God's directives for humane treatment of animals, but this type of cloning may be possible without violating His commands.

Cloning animals that produce healthier milk or meat or superior wool would simply refine what Jacob started nearly 4,000 years ago. However, caution and careful management are required if cloning were allowed to diminish or eliminate genetic diversity, we could be setting ourselves up for agricultural and ecological disasters. More than ever, we need humility and wisdom from God to manage the capabilities He is allowing us to grasp. May we avail ourselves of His moral resources. May we Christians obey His command to pray for those in influential, decision-making positions.

References:

1. Ian Witmut, et al, "Viable offspring Derived From Fetal and Adult Mammalian Cells," Nature, 385 (1997), pp. 810-813.
2. Elizabeth Pennisi and Nigel Williams, "Will Dolly send in the Clones?" Science, 275 (1997), pp. 1415-1416.
3. 1 Corinthians 15:35-54, The Holy Bible, New International Version.
4. Psalms 139:1346, 51:5, The Holy Bible, New International Version.
5. Mike Fainzilber, "Advantage of Knowing Nature's Secrets," Nature, 386 (1997), p. 431.
6. Genesis 30:3143, The Holy Bible, New International version.

Subjects: Human Origins and the Bible, Image of God, Stem Cells/Cloning

Dr. Hugh Ross

Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach people for Christ. Read more about Dr. Hugh Ross.