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News, Science - General

Genetically-engineered babies have now been born

Human experimentation has been happening around the world for the past four decades, with research scientists actively carrying out experiments on human embryos. The stated objective, in usually something noble-sounding: to learn more about human biology, or to possibly treat some disease conditions. And while few scientists will admit to an interest in cloning people, or in actually producing genetically-altered individuals, this is the direction our society is heading. Indeed, modern society does not value unborn babies enough to protect them, and at the same time society is terribly afraid of genetic abnormalities. Under these conditions – little respect for unborn human life, and little respect for those with genetic abnormalities like Down syndrome – it would seem human cloning and gene alteration is inevitable. But it isn’t acceptable yet. That became clear when, on November 26, 2018, the scientific and medical world reacted in horror to the announcement by Dr. Jiankui He at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, that he had created modified human embryos. These embryos had been implanted in their mother, and in early November, twin baby girls had been born in China. This was a world-wide first – the first genetically-edited full-term human babies.  What happened Ever since the 1970s introduction of in vitro fertilization of human eggs with sperm outside the womb, the stage was set for scientists to experiment on such embryos. Many people, mindful of the special nature of humans at every level of development, protested against such work. Even some scientists were nervous about the implications of these experiments. However, for many, the concern was only that individuals damaged in laboratory experiments should not be allowed to develop to term. They were okay with the human experimentation – they just didn’t want these babies to be born. As a result, a general understanding was reached between ethicists and scientists, that no experiments on embryos would continue longer than 14 days – at this point these embryos were to be destroyed. The 14-day limit was chosen because it is at this point that the embryos begin to develop specialized tissues and thus becomes more obviously human (Nature July 5, 2018 p. 22). But as the experimentation has become more sophisticated, scientists have begun to promote the idea of a longer timeline for their investigations. Thus, a conference was held in May at Rice University at which 30 American scientists and ethicists discussed “whether and how to move the [14-day] boundary” (Nature July 5, 2018 p. 22). About the same time, Nature magazine published an announcement concerning such research:

“At present, many countries …prohibit culture [of human embryos] beyond 14 days, a restriction that reflects the conclusions of the 1984 UK Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilization and Embryology (also known as the Warnock Report. Whether this rule should be relaxed is currently being debated” (May 3, 2018 p. 6, emphasis mine).

Scientists are clearly seeking to relax the rules governing their studies. “Germ-line changes” Research on human embryos has continued worldwide since those early days. However, all parties once agreed that on no account should modified embryos be implanted into a mother and be allowed to develop. The reasons included society’s disapproval of experiments on people, but especially because such individuals would carry “germ-line changes.” Changes to most cells in the human body have no impact on future generations – these changes die with that individual. However, changes to the gametes (egg and sperm) are called germ-line changes because these modifications will be passed on to each subsequent generation. It is not that the scientists involved actually object to germ-line changes. The problem is that they want their results to be predictable and “safe.” Any uncertainties could lead to catastrophic results, ensuing hostile public opinion and big lawsuits. It would be far better to proceed cautiously. Thus, it is illegal in the US and many other countries to alter genes of human embryos or gametes. However, within the last decade, another new biomedical technology has appeared on the scene that has drastically streamlined gene editing in numerous organisms. The CRISPR-Cas9 technology has made gene editing much easier and much more precise.* Obviously, it was a mere matter of time before someone used this to try his hand at gene editing in human embryos. The scientific community offered no serious objections when Dr. Jiankui He of China presented an account of such work at a conference at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York during the spring of 2018. At this conference, Dr. He discussed the editing of embryos from seven couples. However, at that point, this man made no mention that any of these embryos had been implanted into their mothers. Dr. He “edits” babies to be HIV-resistant According to a Nov. 28 news item at Nature.com (David Cyranoski's "CRISPR-baby scientist fails to satisfy critics") Dr. He recruited couples in which the male was HIV positive but the female was normal. Individual sperm cells were washed to remove any viruses and the cells were injected into eggs along with CRISPR-Cas9 enzymes carrying a gene for resistance to HIV infection. A total of 30 fertilized embryos resulted of which 19 were deemed viable (able to live) and apparently healthy. These were tested for the CCR5 mutation which confers resistance to HIV infection. From one couple, two of four embryos tested positive for the mutation. One embryo carried the mutated gene on one chromosome and a normal gene on the other, while the other embryo carried the mutation on both maternal and paternal chromosomes. These embryos were implanted into the mother who successfully gave birth to twin baby girls early in November. No information was forthcoming on the fate of the other embryos, although Dr. He now says that another woman may be pregnant. The response of the scientific community has been shock and horror. But why are they so horrified? Is this not what they have been working towards? The scientific community is afraid because the risks of this procedure at this preliminary stage of research, are substantial. There are, at present, major questions as to whether the genetic modifications will actually have the desired effect. A well-known problem is that the CRISPR apparatus sometimes cuts the chromosomes at other places as well as/ or instead of the desired location. This off-target effect has been found to be a major problem in some studies. In addition, most genes are known to influence a number of seemingly unrelated traits. This phenomenon is called pleiotropic impact of one gene on other genes. These risks are particularly serious when we consider that these are germ-line changes, that will impact subsequent generations from this individual. Response The same Nov. 28 Nature.com news item declared:

“Fears are now growing in the gene-editing community that He’s actions could stall the responsible development of gene editing in babies.”

Indeed, a commentator on one website reflected that “if this experiment is unsuccessful or leads to complications later in life … [it could] set the field of gene therapy back years if not decades.” In view of these concerns, many individuals and medical and scientific institutions released statements expressing condemnation for this gene-editing work. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, declared that the NIH “does not support the use of gene-editing technologies in human embryos.” The Chinese Academy of Sciences declared that Dr. He’s work “violates internationally accepted ethical principles regulating human experimentation and human rights law." A colleague and friend of Dr. He suggested that the gene-editing work lacked prudence, that it could, unfortunately, serve to create distrust in the public. Obviously, an important concern on the part of the scientists was that the promise of this technology not be rejected by the public. Dr. David Liu of Harvard and MIT’s Broad Institute (heavily involved in CRISPR research), insisted of He’s work: “It’s an appalling example of what not to do about a promising technology that has great potential to benefit society.” Dr. George Daley, dean of Harvard Medical School, summed up the feelings of many colleagues when he said:

“It’s possible that the first instance came forward as a misstep, but that should not lead us to stick our heads in the sand and not consider [a] more responsible pathway to clinical translation.”

In other words, many scientists seek to continue to pursue the goals also sought by Dr. He, only the rest of them will proceed more slowly and carefully. Conclusion It is largely Christian objections to treating human embryos as things, rather than as persons (made in the image of God), that has led to the ethical rules that control this research. It is a vestige of our Judeo-Christian heritage which limits scientists from just doing whatever they want. They have to obtain permission from ethics committees to conduct their particular research program. Of course, Christians want to see this work made completely illegal, but if political realities make such a ban impossible, then we can still seek to restrict this work as much as possible. It is interesting that a news feature in Nature (July 5, 2018 p. 22) articulated the fascination and unease that some scientists derive from this work. Bioethicist Dr. Jennifer Johnston of the Hastings Center in upstate New York, reflected on the respect that the human embryo commands even in secular observers:

“That feeling of wonder and awe reminds us that this is the earliest version of human beings and that’s why so many people have moral misgivings …..  It reminds us that this is not just a couple of cells in a dish.”

Are there any good results from this controversy over genetically-engineered babies? Perhaps there is one. The event may cause more people to pay critical attention to the experiments that are, every day, conducted on human embryos. Let the whole world know that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, from the very first cell onward, and manipulation in laboratories should have no place in our society. For further study * For more on this topic, see: Dr. Helder’s book No Christian Silence on Science pages 32-39 for a discussion on Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (ie. CRISPR). Jennifer Doudna and Samuel Sternberg’s book  A Crack in Creation: the new power to control evolution, page 281. Dr. Helder's article, providing further background to CRISPR, Natural Firewalls in Bacteria

News

Reagan’s challenge to his dying atheist father-in-law

Earlier this year a note was discovered in Nancy Reagan’s personal effects – dated August 7, 1982 – written by Ronald Reagan to his father-in-law. What makes the 36-year-old letter special is the topic – the president of the United States was taking time on a Saturday afternoon to write to Loyal Davis, his ailing father-in-law. Reagan was concerned about his health, but even more so about his eternity – Davis was a self-declared atheist. Reagan was 71, and just 16 months removed from being shot in the chest by crazed gunman John Hinckley Jr. So maybe he understood what his father-in-law was facing, how he was being confronted with his certain mortality. From the letter it's clear that Reagan has been doing some reading about God, sharing with his father-in-law arguments that probably came from C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict. What he began with was one of his own experiences. During his first year as governor of California, Reagan developed an ulcer that gave him sharp pains, and other times only discomfort, but which never went away entirely. Then one morning, as he reached for his Maalox, he discovered he didn’t need it – he was healed. That same morning the first and second letters of the day were from people telling him that they and others were praying for Reagan. Inside of an hour, a member of his legal staff popped in “on some routine matter” and on the way out the young man shared that some of Reagan's staff would arrive early every day to pray for him. An appointment two weeks later confirmed that not only did Reagan no longer have an ulcer, but, the doctor added, “there was no indication I’d ever had one.” Reagan understood this as God answering these many prayers. But he knew his skeptical father-in-law might dismiss this as coincidence, so he presented him with more to consider.

Some seven hundred years before the birth of Christ the ancient Jewish prophets predicted the coming of a Messiah…. All in all there were a total of one hundred and twenty-three specific prophesys (sic) about his life all of which came true. Crucifixion was unknown in those times, yet it was foretold that he would be nailed to a cross of wood.* And one of the predictions was that he would be born of a Virgin.

....But Loyal, I don’t find that as great a miracle as the actual history of his life. Either he was who he said he was or he was the greatest faker & charlatan who ever lived. But would a liar & faker suffer the death he did when all he had to do to save himself was admit he’d been lying?

The miracle is that a young man of 30 yrs. without credentials as a scholar or priest began preaching on street corners. He owned nothing but the clothes on his back & he didn’t travel beyond a circle less than one hundred miles across. He did this for only 3 years and then was executed as a common criminal.

But for two thousand years he has had more impact on the world than all the teachers, scientists, emperors, generals and admirals who ever lived, all put together.

And with that, Reagan pleaded with his father-in-law to turn to God and place his trust in Jesus Christ. And there is some reason to hope that he did. Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post discovered the letter while doing research for a biography on Nancy Reagan, and, rather than simply place it back in the box, she brought it to her paper, where they published it this past month. And so it was that, some 35 years after it was written, God used this private plea to challenge the many hundreds of thousands who have now been able to read it.

* Reagan isn't quite right on this point. King David does prophecy, in Psalm 22, of Jesus' hands and feet being pierced (which points to the cross) but nowhere does it prophecy specifically that he would be nailed to a cross of wood. This is important to mention only because Christians don't want to be accused of overstating things.

Soup and Buns

Should Introverts be expected to act like Extroverts?

“You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush.” This quotation from a tongue-in-cheek article by Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic Monthly summed up his premise that Extroverts do not understand or fully appreciate Introverts. Although I knew that I was an Extrovert, I found the actual definitions a bit surprising. Tiring… or energizing? Introverts are people who “find other people tiring,” who need to re-charge after a certain amount of socializing. They mull things over inside their brains and then talk about them. Being alone with their thoughts is as “restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.” One suggested motto for them is, “I’m okay, you’re okay – in small doses.” Rauch’s own formula is that he needs “two hours alone for every hour of socializing.” A Google search estimates that about 25% of people are truly Introverts, but in the “gifted” community they are a majority. Extroverts are “energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone.” They figure things out by discussing them with other people, and think by talking. They tend to dominate social settings with their “endless appetite for talk and attention.” Understanding is a one-way street Society in general views Extrovert behavior as more desirable, and this can sometimes be taken to a fault when Introvert behavior is criticized or not appreciated for its strengths. For instance, an Extrovert might be described as outgoing, happy, bighearted, vibrant, warm, and as a confident leader who is “a real people person.” Introverts are often described as loners, reserved, guarded, and taciturn (inclined to silence; reserved in speech; reluctant to join in conversation). It is as though an individual’s worth is determined only by their observable interactions in a group. Rauch suggests that Introverts more often understand Extroverts because the latter put all of their thoughts and feelings out on the table. His concern as an Introvert, is that:

Extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through…. Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion.”

I wonder if any other Extroverts find themselves cringing and remembering times when they too felt offended because someone didn’t want their company. Other differences Extroverts tend to think that a lull in conversation is a bad thing, and they can feed off of small talk or deep conversation and enjoy large groups. Introverts need more time to think through what they will say and tend to dislike small talk while enjoying more meaningful discussion, especially in a more private setting. Extroverts feel a need to “draw out” the Introverts and get them to participate, because to them participation is essential. Since they cannot imagine that a person might enjoy sitting quietly off to the side, they take on the role of encourager. Unfortunately, it often comes across to the Introvert as controller instead. Smiley face :) Expectations exist regarding facial expressions too. Smiles are expected as part of good manners, so we give them whether we feel like it or not. Often if a person’s face goes to its default serious expression, people jump to the conclusion that he is upset or depressed, whereas he might just be pondering a weighty subject or listening to conversations around him. Rauch suggests that Introverts may be less smiley, but not necessarily less joyful. The differences are something to be considered in regards to church and family activities. As one Introvert explained to me, “At Ladies’ Bible Study, I often start formulating an answer to a question, but by the time I figure out what I want to say they have all gone on to a new subject or maybe even several subjects, so I rarely get to say anything.” Perhaps this is why some people feel more at home studying the Bible and praying with only a few friends. I wonder if our quick-sound-bite culture has lured us away from valuing long pauses with time to reflect? I’ve read that in some Japanese company meetings, they present the information and then sit in silence for a long time while everyone just thinks. What an Introverted thing to do! My friend went on to say, “The same thing happens when our entire family is together.” Some family members would prefer more two-on-two social activities and fewer or less lengthy whole group situations. It is possible to consider both the Extrovert’s and the Introvert’s preferences. Conclusion God tells us to love one another, and the more we understand one another, the more we will know how to keep this commandment. We may have lived our entire life thus far “not knowing what we didn’t know.” But now, we know.

This article first appeared in the May 2012 issue. Sharon L. Bratcher’s “Soup and Buns” book includes 45 of her RP articles. For information contact sharoncopy@gmail.com.

Pro-life - Abortion

People with Down Syndrome in “civilized” Denmark almost all exterminated

Here’s one of those moral dilemmas. There are three people in a room. They all have the same medical condition and are in fact the last people alive who have it. It is by no means life-threatening, nor is it contagious, and its main symptoms are physical growth delays and varying degrees of intellectual disability. There is, however, currently no cure for it. Someone enters the room and tells you that they have found a cure, which they are going to give you. They hand you a gun. All you have to do, they tell you, is pull the trigger three times and you will have completely eradicated the condition from planet Earth. What would you do? Not hard, is it? Yet imagine someone carrying out the killing and then triumphantly proclaiming that they had indeed eradicated the condition. You’d be appalled at the Hitlerian cruelty. Appalled at the callous disregard for a fellow creature made in the Imago Dei. But perhaps even more than that, you’d surely be sick to the stomach to hear them acting like they had found a cure, rather than having simply killed three human beings to achieve their ends. You don’t cure disease by killing people, do you? Apparently you do. A few years back Iceland became the first “civilized Western” country to become a Down Syndrome-free zone, and Denmark is close to becoming the second. Back in 2015, CPH Post (formerly The Copenhagen Post), Denmark’s only English-language newspaper, ran a piece with the headline:

“Down Syndrome heading for extinction in Denmark.”

This must rank as one of the most misleading headlines in history. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that Denmark’s doctors had found a cure for Down Syndrome. Except they haven’t. What they have in fact done is not made Down Syndrome almost extinct, but rather people with Down Syndrome. The headline should have read: “People with Down Syndrome heading for extinction in Denmark.” Or more accurate still: "People with Down Syndrome heading for extermination in Denmark." Doesn’t sound quite as medical, does it, unless you mean in the Josef Mengele sense of the word! Yet this drive to eradicate Down Syndrome by eradicating people with Down Syndrome is apparently going down rather well in Denmark. According to the article, 98% of pregnant women who were revealed to be carrying an unborn child with Down Syndrome had him or her aborted, and 60% of Danes see it as a “positive development” that there are considerably fewer Down Syndrome children being born. Positive development? Ridding Denmark of Down Syndrome by curing it might be considered a positive development. But ridding Denmark of Down Syndrome by killing those with the condition? That’s a positive development??? Here’s what Britain’s biggest funder of abortions, the NHS, says about people with Down Syndrome:

“People with Down syndrome can have a good quality of life. With support from their family and others, many people are able to get jobs and live fairly independently.”

So 60% of Danes believe that the eradication from their country of “people who can have a good quality of life…can get jobs and live fairly independently” by killing them is a good thing? Have they ever seen the joy Down Syndrome people bring to those around them? Do they care? Have they any heart? Not so long ago, Down Syndrome could not be detected in the womb. Now that it can, 98% of Down Syndrome children are aborted in Denmark, over 90% in Britain, and – most shockingly – every single Down Syndrome child in Iceland. The real test of the character of any civilization is how it treats its weakest and most helpless members. If it loves them and seeks to help them, it should be praised. If it seeks cures to treat their conditions, great. But if it seeks to extinguish the people who have the condition from its midst, and then pats itself on the back at having eradicated the condition, what grounds do we have for calling it civilized?

Rob Slane is the author of “A Christian & an Unbeliever Discuss: Life, the Universe & Everything” which is available at Amazon.ca here and Amazon.com here. He lives in Wiltshire, and definitely not Wales.

Assorted

Election

Nobody would tell who had written the naughty word
inside the door of the boys’ toilet.

The six girls in our one-room country school
were dismissed, and the five boys –
two older and two younger than I,
and I in fifth grade – were left behind.

“Write on a piece of paper,” the teacher said,
“the name of the person you think did it,
put the paper on your inkwell,
and put your head down on your desk.”

Teacher’s footsteps from desk to desk,
the unfolding of paper,
and afterwards:
“Sietze,
you will stay to write five-hundred times
‘I will be pure in thought, word, and deed.'”

Elected but not guilty,
I ran home, the copying done,
and cried in outrage.

“But who,” said Dad, “put the tiddlywinks
in the collection plate on Sunday?
The deacons found them
and they’re missing from your set.”

So much for outraged innocence.

“Poor teacher,” said Dad,
“what can she do with lying
foulmouthed boys?
No wonder she makes mistakes.”

So much for my mistrial.

“And now you know,” Dad said,
“a very little bit about how Jesus felt
being punished for sins he didn’t do.”

So much for self-pity.

Dad gave me the tiddlywinks from his overall pocket:
“I’ll see the teacher, though.
Whoever did it shouldn’t get away with it.”

Next day my friend Ted was washing the toilet wall.

“Hey, how did your dad know I did it?”

To this day
I do not know how he knew.

 

From Sietze’s Buning’s “Style and Class,” copyright the Middleburg Press, and reprinted here with their gracious permission.


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