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.

3.    Eugenics
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.

Closing Recommendations:

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:


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