Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Seeing These Calamities to Their End

January 21st was National Sanctity of Human Life Day. On this day, 34 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion for any reason. Our guest blogger this week is Murray Vasser, President of Cedarville Students for Life.

In 1783 the slave trade dominated the world’s economy and was deeply entrenched in a morally oblivious society. No one suspected that one of the most influential lobbying powers in Britain was about to be overthrown by a twenty-five-year-old divinity student. As part of an academic literary competition, Thomas Clarkson wrote an essay on the slave trade. As he studied slavery, he became consumed with the horror of it: "In the night I had little rest. I sometimes never closed my eye-lids for grief." On his way to London, this struggle reached a climax: "I sat down disconsolate on the turf by the roadside and held my horse. Here a thought came into my mind, that if the contents of the Essay were true it was time some person should see these calamities to their end."

With that resolution, Clarkson and a small group of friends started a movement that changed the world. By distributing pamphlets, signing petitions, and lobbying Parliament, they awoke a nation’s conscience. In 1807 the slave trade was abolished.

Today we live in a society where 1 out of 4 pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion, resulting in more American deaths each year than in all past military conflicts combined. Cedarville Students for Life is an organization committed to "seeing these calamities to their end." Join us on Thursday, February 1st @ 7:00 in ENS 245 to hear Mrs. Paula Westwood, director of Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati. She will be speaking on student activism.

If you wish to join Students for Life, or would like more information, the E-mail address is: studentsforlife@cedarville.edu

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

An Advance in Stem Cell Research

Good news from the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. As lead researcher Dr. Anthony Atala has just reported in the journal Nature Biotechnology, human stem cells can be found in the amniotic fluid.

Stem cells are the "starter" cells that may become various mature cells of the body. Such cells from early embryos are often called "pluripotent" cells, because each one can grow into a variety of adult tissues. Perhaps some day such cells could be used to cure a variety of human illnesses, but harvesting the cells is a real problem, since it requires the destruction of embryos, a violation of the sanctity of human life.

Now comes news that stem cells nearly as powerful as embryonic ones can be found in amniotic fluid. This is the liquid cushion that surrounds babies in the womb. Dr. Atala and his colleagues have used them to make muscle, bone, fat, blood vessels, nerves, and liver cells in the laboratory. Claims Dr. Atala: "I feel these cells are pluripotent like human embryonic stem cells."

If this research works out, and Dr. Atala cautions that any clinical applications lie several years in the future, it will make the destruction of human embryos unnecessary. Imagine, men and women of good faith, both liberals and conservatives, could agree to work together on this one, since this type of stem cell research is ethically completely acceptable.

Will this news make a difference in the divisive debate in Congress? Don’t hold your breath. Already, the House of Representatives has voted to overturn President Bush’s ban on public funding of destructive embryo research, with the Senate due to take up the measure soon.

Reuters News Report

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Language of God

I have always thought that Dr. Francis Collins is a pretty cool guy. When I first met him in 1992, I was impressed by his engaging personality, his love of playing the guitar and riding motorcycles, and his unabashed Christian faith.

Dr. Collins is the head of the National Human Genome Research Institute, and directs the Human Genome Project, the $3 billion project to define the DNA sequence of human beings. The first 'rough draft' was completed in June, 2000, with the essentially complete sequence revealed in April, 2003.

A geneticist and physician, but also an evangelical Christian, Dr. Collins uses these various perspectives to harmonize science and faith in his best-selling book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press). He refers to the genetic code as "God's Instruction Book," and attests to the creativity and beauty inherent in this most basic blueprint of our biological nature.

After sharing his personal journey into faith, Collins makes a compelling case for his committment to theistic evolution. He criticizes Young-Earth Creationism (YEC) for "ignoring" clear scientific evidence for evolution, and takes Intelligent Design to task for not being "scientific enough."

Now I do not agree with Francis Collins here. I think he is much too hard on YEC, and too dismissive of Intelligent Design. It seems reasonable that our Creator would allow us to see the evidence of His handiwork in the creation around us.

Yet I appreciate Collins' love of God, and his willingness to see that human beings are more than their genes:

[The] DNA sequence alone . . . will never explain certain special human attributes, such as the knowledge of the Moral Law and the universal search for God (p. 140).
This common knowledge of God's Moral Law is why we have such broad agreement on ethical basics across many cultures and worldviews. And the yearning after God can never be ascribed to natural selection and the survival of the fittest.

So read The Language of God with thoughtful care. Despite my disagreements with his evolutionary viewpoint, Francis Collins demonstrates that science and faith are not incompatible. I would be glad to have coffee with him and talk about the things of the Lord. Maybe sometime he'll even give me a ride on his motorcycle.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Year in Review

As we enter the new year, a look back at 2006 may give us perspective. Unfortunately, this has not been a particularly good year for the notion that human beings have inherent value. In fact, human personhood as a concept took a downward turn, replaced by a disturbing 'end justifies the means' mentality. A few examples may serve to illustrate.

The beginning of 2006 saw the public discrediting of Hwang Woo-suk, the stem-cell researcher and media darling. In 2005 he became famous as the first to clone a human embryo to produce stem cells, with their supposed promise of curing a variety of human ailments. When it turned out that Hwang had largely fabricated his results, he was fired, and he now faces a variety of criminal charges.

Yet according to Fortune Magazine, "far from discrediting the field of stem-cell research, the scandal has juiced up the race for cloning patents . . ." In California, and most recently in Missouri, stem cell research has received legal protections and large infusions of public money. Much of the excitement about embryo-destructive research is based on hype and misinformation.

In other news from 2006, the recent approval of over-the-counter sales of Plan B, the so-called "morning-after pill," ignores the real possibility that this so-called pregnancy preventative may sometimes cause an early abortion. See my earlier post on this. I have also discussed both of the above stories in recent editions of the CedarEthics Podcast.

Finally, November 8th saw oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in two cases involving the federal ban on partial-birth abortion. Three lower courts have decided that the law does not pass constitutional muster. Partial-birth abortion, morally indistinguishable from outright infanticide, will be the most important issue of the new year, with a court decision due next summer (news article).

In the past year, a vague notion of human dignity was often trumped by utilitarian considerations, making it easy to sacrifice less visible human lives for the "greater good." May God help us in 2007 to reverse this trend.