With the arrival of cloning, the Human Genome Project, and advances in artificial intelligence, the nature of what is means to be a person becomes increasingly urgent. All bio-ethical questions ultimately require a concept of human essence as their point of reference.
Consider the Internet egg auction in which one could place a bid on the chromosomes of eight female models. The website promoter descried the spectacle as “Darwin’s natural selection at its very best.” Now many of us might react with visceral repulsion, but nonetheless the site generated hundreds of thousands of hits within the first few days of the action.(1)
Wrote commentator Brent Waters:
“Although the auction was greeted generally with disgust, it is interesting to note the most prominent objection raised against it was that it was tantamount to consumer fraud. Successful bidders might not obtain the attractive children they were imagining. As various commentators explained, even if these eggs were joined with the ‘best’… there was no guarantee of a ‘perfect’ baby. All sorts of things could go wrong, resulting in a very disappointing child, because each roll of the genetic dice cannot be predicted in advance.”(2)
Astounding! The decision to have a child is reduced to the economic return on a bid and whether or not the child would be sufficiently attractive so as not to be a disappointment. Is there not more to being human?
Think of it in this way. If a computer could be programmed so thoroughly with the strategies involved in chess that it could defeat our brightest champion, would we then say that this computer is more human than the world’s greatest chess player? Not likely, for to do so would reduce intelligence to computational efficiency, memory, and physical components.
In contrast, personhood, according to the Christian understanding, cannot be reduced to form or function. Indeed, our identity is sacred by definition, for we have been created by God to bear God’s image. We have been endowed with a moral nature, with the capacity to give love and to understand goodness. A child, then, does not find her worth in physical beauty or mental prowess, but in reflecting the beauty of her creator. There is a transcendent value to being human, rooted in the very being of God.
As we wade our way through the morass of bio-ethics, we must not look at the face and IQ of a human, but instead, to the face and mind of God. Only then can we truly understand what it means to be human.
Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
(1) “Designer Destiny: Parenthood at the Genetic Crossroads,” Science & Spirit, (Jan/Feb 2000) by Brent Water, 12.