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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

Music

Why so much Rap is Reformed

Evangelist Ray Comfort once said of Rap, "I love hearing it...end." He's not alone. Many Christians don’t think much of Rap, partly because as musical form it just doesn't appeal to them, but also because of its association with thugs and pimps and gangsters who seem to dominate this music form. There is a reason these slimy sorts gravitate towards Rap music: in it’s barest form Rap requires less musical ability than some other genres. You don’t need to sing, or play a musical instrument; the performer only has to rhyme in rhythm. Of course, Rap isn’t always so stripped down, and it can involve all sorts of instruments. But what sets it apart – it’s focus on the verbal over the musical – is also what makes it appealing to thugs whose creativity only extends to the many words they can rhyme with "ho". But there’s also a reason that Rap is a favorite form for many thoughtful, insightful, and very Reformed artists. It’s because this musically sparse medium gives primacy to the word. Christian pop is sometimes mocked as “7-11” music (because it's said to have the same 7 words repeated 11 times in a row) but Reformed rap is lyrically dense, and some artists have made use of this words-focus to see just how deep a song can go. For example, Reformed rapper, Shai Linne has a song titled The Hypostatic Union, about how Jesus became a man. Here’s a small excerpt:

Can you truly understand fallen man's dilemma? See, only a human can substitute for human lives But only God can take the wrath of God and survive. See the humanly unsolvable obstacle? With God all is plausible, nothing's impossible. True haters'll fight it but the story is certain Two natures united in one glorious person Jesus, the God-Man, official soul reaper The hypostatic union – it gets no deeper

Grammy winning artist Lecrae is another example of this Reformed Rap presence. In Just Like You he begins by noting in his rebellion he didn’t want to be like God, but wanted to be God – like Adam and Eve, he refused to listen, and wanted to replace God. But in this, the last verse, he tells the story of his repentance.

I wanna be like you in every way, So if I gotta die everyday Unworthy sacrifice But the least I can do is give the most of me Because being just like you is what I'm s'pose to be They said you came for the lame, I'm the lamest I made a mess, but you say you'll erase it, I'll take it They say you came for the lame, I'm the lamest I broke my life, but you say you'll replace it, I'll take it.

There’s a reason thugs like Rap. But this same words-focus is also the reason why Rap is an effective musical medium for a serious exploration of God’s greatness. Below are a few examples of just how serious, and how deep that exploration can be. Even to those who think Rap sounds like noise, there's something below that's bound to impress. Here is some of the very best of Reformed Rap. On beauty The first example here might technically be a "spoken word piece" but it is the opening track of rapper Shai Linne's album The Attributes of God (and is accompanied by music). It features his wife Blair Linne. Listen to this – really hear the words – and see if you don't tear up, even if just a bit. Beautiful indeed. https://youtu.be/1kY9In41R1A On fighting complacency In the next example, Reformed rapper Tedashii samples from a sermon by John Piper to send a message to all of us who are too comfortable with our sins. https://youtu.be/vs1Sq7M7cIU On tackling temptation Like Tedashii's Make War, 116 Clique's Temptation is "battle music" - an appeal, particularly to young men, to get serious about living their life to Christ, no matter the cost. Whether you like Rap or not, who can help but be impressed with the message being sent? https://youtu.be/4NMYhi9-tLY On standing with God when it really, really isn't popular One last example: Bizzle put out a song to respond to two Grammy-awarding winning secular rappers, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, after they released Same Love, which promoted homosexuality and gay marriage. Bizzle's song used the same backing beat as Same Love, but presented God's thoughts on sexuality. It garnered quite the heated attention! Bizzle ended up getting death threats but he didn't back down. https://youtu.be/V9KQ4_uH1RA

Human Rights, Pro-life - Abortion

Abortion supporters don't believe in equality

There are two ways society views human worth. Which leads to a better society?

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In his now famous TedTalk, author Simon Sinek unlocks the secret to how the most powerful leaders shape their messages. They start with “Why?"  "Your Why", says Simon, “is the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do What you do." Simon illustrates with great clarity how powerful it is when leaders of any organization or movement start their message with an explanation of their purpose, their beliefs. I thought about this yesterday as I stood on the side of Main St. in Grimsby quietly participating in the Life Chain demonstration. I wondered how many of the people driving by really understood why we were there - our purpose, our belief. I wondered too if my fellow demonstrators really understood how people with opposite views on the issue of abortion can arrive hold the position they do. You can’t really take seriously the folks who drive by yelling at you and giving your kids the finger. But putting that aside for the moment, let’s be honest; demonstrations are not the most effective format for respectful and rigorous debate. They tend to polarize groups into opposing camps and do little to create empathy between people who hold different views. We’re content to consider each other crazy. However, at one point in yesterday’s hour-long demonstration a passing motorist rolled down her window and yelled to demonstrators “It’s my body, It’s my choice!” And I thought; There it is! Her “Why.” Her belief. And as horrifying as the consequences of that belief are, it struck me how perfectly logical it was that this woman might also support the idea that she has a right to end the life of another human being. There’s nothing wrong with her logic. She’s not crazy per se. She just doesn’t believe that the human growing inside her is...well, human. And that is precisely where we differ. Two views I believe that human life starts at conception. And that belief changes everything. I’m not crazy either. Far from it. Feminist author and pro-choice advocate Mary Elizabeth Williams (also a staff writer for Salon) would agree with me. In an article that Mary wrote titled “So what if abortion ends life?” she states the following:  "I know that throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life.” She goes further:

"When we on the pro-choice side get cagey around the life question, it makes us illogically contradictory....When we try to act like a pregnancy doesn’t involve human life, we wind up drawing stupid semantic lines in the sand.”

I totally agree. Which makes Mary’s following statement so confusing. She says "And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice.” How can someone believing that the fetus inside them is human still claim the right to kill it? That does sound crazy to me. 1) All life is not equal But Mary explains...

"Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always."

And there it is: Mary's “Why." Her belief. Mary believes that some humans are more important than others. She’s forced herself to believe that or else her pro-choice position would be, to use her own words, "illogically contradictory.” Mary also thinks she should be the one to decide whose lives, in particular, are more important and whose aren’t. And this why I (and many others) stand in silent demonstration at the corner of Main St. and Christie St. each year. 2) All are equal because all are made in God's image I believe that I am not my own (Nope. Not my body. Not my choice) ie: I do not belong to myself. Rather, I believe that in both life and in death I belong to my faithful saviour Jesus Christ. I belong to and submit to the one (and only) creator-God who made me and who alone determines the purpose of my life. Therefore I personally am not the ultimate authority on what I can or cannot do with my life or the life of others. I believe that all lives including the lives of those who stand in direct opposition to what I believe are equally sacred and worthy of protection. I believe that the protection of life is everyone’s responsibility and so also my responsibility. My purpose here on earth is to love God, love my fellow human beings and to serve them by putting their life and well-being ahead of my own. I and those who believe as I do are not fighting for self-importance or survival. We're fighting to outdo one another in kindness. I realize that we can’t make you believe what we believe. But surely you can see that we’re not crazy either. Which kind of society do you want? And to those of you who don’t quite know what you believe consider this: What kind of society do you wish to experience? What kind of society do you wish to build for your children? What kind of leaders will you choose to support and follow? Will you follow those who believe that some lives are more important than others (who believe that their lives are more important than yours perhaps)? Or will you choose to follow those who believe all lives are of equal value, and who believe that leaders should put others ahead of themselves? Simon "Start-with-why" Sinek has another book out which may help you decide. It’s called Leaders Eat Last. This choice is indeed yours. I’m praying that you’ll choose wisely.

This article was first published in October 2016. Jason Bouwman is a graphic designer and author of the utterly unique book "Still Thinking" which we review right here.

Daily devotional

Thursday January 31 – The feast of booths

On the fifteenth day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation. – Numbers 29:12 Scripture reading: Numbers 29:12-38 We end the devotions of this month with the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles. In chapter 29, we find instructions for several feasts. Redemption is a joyful reality. These feasts were a way to remember the work of God in the past. The Feast of Booths was one of the most joyful feasts. Israel celebrated the care of the LORD when He led them through the wilderness. As we read in Deuteronomy 29:5, no piece of garment wore out, no shoes needed to be replaced. The LORD provided food and drink. God will provide; He daily bears us up (Psalm 68:19). We need to know this too as we travel on. The Feast of Booths is marked by many sacrifices, indicating the thankfulness of the people. Each sacrifice came at a cost. But there is more. Throughout the feast, blood had to flow. The LORD reminds His people that His care for them is the result of redemption. This is emphasized also by the fact that this feast was a week after the Day of Atonement. God’s care is a result of the shedding of blood. Our food and drink, all material possessions, are gifts of God. We receive them not because we deserve them or earn them, but only out of grace. A child’s prayer sums it up so well: “Lord, bless this food and drink, for Jesus sake.” We are on the way to the eternal rest. Let us travel in joy, in confidence and in obedience. Suggestions for prayer Thank the Lord for His provisions. Pray that we may remain focussed on Him in our traveling.

 This daily devotional is available in a print edition you can buy at Nearer to God Devotional. Rev. Douwe G. J. Agema is currently minister of Living Word Canadian Reformed Church in Guelph and also teaches several courses at Covenant Canadian Reformed Teachers’ College

AA
Parenting
Tagged: featured, forgiveness, Jay Younts, repentance

Ignore your inner defense attorney!

My friend Paul Tripp writes that becoming our own defense attorney is a dangerous and destructive practice.  In less formal language Paul is warning about becoming an excuse maker.  These are the words of a defense attorney in action:

• “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be angry.”
• “I guess I’m just tired.”
• “He was mean to me.”
• “If you were just a little nicer, it would be a lot easier.”
• “Being inside because of the weather makes me cranky.”
• “It wasn’t my fault, I’m just not feeling well.”

Whether these words come from you or your children they are the words of excuse making, defending ourselves from our own shortcomings and sins.

Excuse making keeps us from trusting God, erodes relationships and weakens our character and faith. The default mode for the excuse maker is to shift blame instead of looking to God in repentance. Excuse making is evidence of regret over sins. Excuse making is a way to conceal sin. The Holy Spirit warns against concealing sin in Proverbs 28:13:

He who conceals his sins does not prosper,
but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

Here is alternate translation from respected commentator and scholar Bruce Waltke:

The one who conceals his transgressions will not succeed
but the one who confesses and abandons them will obtain mercy.

The message is clear and profound: Repentance brings hope. Excuses result in frustration and blame-shifting. The flesh acts as our defense attorney by continually offering a stream of excuses so that we can avoid addressing and confessing our sin. This leads to disaster. Waltke makes this insightful observation about concealing sin:

People may smash their consciences to avoid humbling themselves, but they cannot avoid the reality that God knows and will punish sin. How much better to give him glory by acknowledging this and to experience his mercy.

Concealing sins — making excuses — destroys trust in God. But repentance yields mercy and the blessing of God. There is no freedom in making excuses, only regret and frustration. However, if repentance is your first response you can be confident of God’s mercy. You don’t have to look for an excuse. You know that your are forgiven and can trust God for help to change. Repentance is the path of freedom.

Here is a definition of repentance you can teach your children: “changing my mind and turning around to do the right thing.”

Here is a prayer for repentance that will be a blessing to you and your children:

God, thank you for making repentance possible by sending Jesus to live and die in my place. Thank you that my sin doesn’t separate me from your love. But still, sometimes it is hard to repent, especially when I am stubborn and angry and I just want my own way. Please give me a repentant heart and help me to love you more. In Jesus name, Amen.

Don’t listen to your inner defense attorney! Embrace repentance.

Jay Younts is the author of “Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children” and “Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage.” He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared.


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