America’s Moral Crisis concerning Genetics:
A Historical Perspective
By Ryan C. MacPherson, Ph.D.
Bethany Series in Scholarship, Bethany Lutheran College, Mankato, MN, October 23, 2003
Introduction to the “Moral Crisis”:
Public confusion about: “What are the most basic moral principles that would guide public policy and individual choice concerning the use of genetic interventions in a just and humane society?”
Four Key Historical Developments Leading to the Moral Crisis:
1. Mechanistic Biology
a. Descartes, Treatise on Man (1662)
b. Modern Reductionism of Biology and Medicine to Chemistry and Physics
c. Implications: Soul is separated from the body; humans are physical objects, not persons.
2. Evolutionary Biology
a. Darwin, Origin of Species (1859) and Descent of Man (1872)
b. Implication: Humans are animals and have no soul.
c. Theistic, Agnostic, and Atheistic Evolutionism
d. Implication: Humans are capable of guiding their own progressive evolution.
a. Galton, Hereditary Genius (1869)
b. Population planning: U.S. Laws; Nazi Regime
c. Implications: Racist and other group-based assumptions guide government-mandated attempts to foster evolutionary progress.
d. Post-War Individualism
e. Implications: Personal preferences guide individual attempts to foster biological progress for oneself and one’s family.
4. Linguistic Revolution
a. Genetic Revolution
b. Cold War and Computer Revolution
c. Implication: Humans are “things” to be “decoded,” “reprogrammed,” etc.
1. An Idea: A public notion of “human dignity” that fits with God’s gift of natural law and is made whole by the Church’s proclamation of redemption and Christian vocation.
2. A Pattern of Behavior: Life-long, interdisciplinary learning and service to our neighbors, including a promotion and defense of human dignity when researching and applying genetic science.
Resources for Further Inquiry and Education:
- Bioethics.Net (www.bioethics.net)
- Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity (www.cbhd.org)
- Christian Life Resources (www.christianliferesources.org)