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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

Family, Movie Reviews

The Wild Brothers: 8-episode DVD series (+ free vlog series)

Reality / Documentary Each episode is 28-30 min / 2015-2016 Rating: 7/10 Everyone in our family enjoyed this DVD series, from our 2-year-old all the way up to mom and dad. At series start, the Wild family lives in the deep jungles of Papua, Indonesia, where dad is a missionary to the Wanu tribe. The four Wild brothers are the sort of boys who collect pets in their pockets, and who love to explore the jungle with a butterfly net in one hand and a slingshot in the other. In their first adventure, titled Welcome to our World, we get introduced to the family, and the boys introduce us to God’s creation. We go hunting with them, we’re introduced to their best friend, a native Indonesian child named Pu, and we get to watch their facial expressions as Pu introduces them to a local delicacy, raw echidna brain. A fun extra is the boys skinning a ten-foot python that even after it has been dead for an hour is still moving! The second in the series, called Jewels of the Jungle, follows the family as they go butterfly and moth-hunting. Our girls wanted to buy butterfly nets of their own after that one. Then in the third, Paradise Lost, the family is on vacation with another missionary couple, the Browns, and their three girls. My own girls love this series even though it is all about boys, but I think they appreciated how the girl-to-boy ratio was upped for this adventure. The two families head from the inland missions to on the coast of a beautiful island. From this home base they head out each day to explore reefs and bays and check out sea turtles, manta rays, and sea snakes and so many gorgeous fish. Some misadventures also occur, some painful, like mom getting stung by a jellyfish, and some hilarious, like the boys contending with a large snake (8-12 feet long) that decided to take up residence in their cabin roof. As they do in each episode, the boys bring a solid Christian perspective to their exploration: when they come across an old bone deposit – a burial grounds where skulls are haphazardly stacked by each other – they take the opportunity to talk about how despite the beauty of this world, it is still fallen, and waiting for restoration. There are five other episodes, and each is just as interesting as the next. The only disappointment is maybe in the way the series concludes. In the last two episodes they are make preparations to sail across the ocean in a giant canoe. It is fascinating, as they carve the boat out with local help, and point out parallels to what Noah had to do. But because this is real life, and because in real life sometimes plans get upended, the finale doesn't end on the triumphant note we might have wished for. Cautions There are no cautions to note. While it isn’t clear what denominational background the family is from, the Christian reflections the boys and their parents share with viewers are thoughtful and solid. In one episode a brief shot of some human skulls is seen, and an encounter with a snake in the extra features of one episode was just a tiny bit scary for my little ones. That said, my girls, at the time 2 though 6, enjoyed this immensely – that little bit of tension didn't scare them away! Conclusion The Wild Brothers are very adventurous boys, the sort who play with bugs, and even eat the odd one now and again...at least when they are properly cooked! And they are very godly boys too, very aware of how God makes Himself evident in the creation all around us. And while they are boys, this was exciting for me girls too – I don't know that they fully appreciate bugs yet, but this did move them in that direction. I'd recommend this as great viewing for families with young kids from 10 and under. Mom and dad will enjoy it too, but there might not be enough action for the teenagers. You can buy the series on DVD or via download at AnswersInGenesis.org and as DVDs at Amazon. The trailer below is for the first episode, Welcome to our World. Addendum: free vlog series The Wild Brothers also now have a free vlog series, called "Highlands to Island" that you can find here. While you should watch the first episode, my daughters and I found the later episodes, from maybe 8 onward (there are 30 so far) more interesting than the first few. The vlog isn't quite the DVD series, but until new DVDs come out, this sure is a nice way to reconnect with this wonderful missionary family. https://assets.answersingenesis.org/vid/prod/etc/trailer/30-9-507_wild-brothers-1-trailer.mp4

Parenting

Gentleness: a gift to your family

Do you want your children to see you as someone they can trust? Do you want your spouse to take comfort in just being with you? Are you easy to talk to? Is your family hesitant to talk to you when they are hurting? If someone in your family messes up or is in trouble are you the person that helps him feel secure and safe, the person that she knows will help make things right? You want to be able to answer yes to these questions. In fact, you sometimes get angry and hurt when those close to you don’t seek your help. Ironic, isn’t it? Here is a biblical quality that can help you become the go-to person for those whom you love. That quality is gentleness. Gentleness requires great courage. It is not for the faint of heart. Gentleness is the opposite of weakness. Gentleness is part of the Spirit’s fruit. Gentleness is the exercise of the Spirit’s power. Your anger is the exercise of your own self-centeredness. Gentleness defined: Gentleness uses only the strength or force that is necessary for any given situation. Gentleness is showing Christ to those you love. God wants you to associate gentleness with power not weakness. Why? Because Christ is gentle. If you want to be Christ-like ask him for the strength to follow his example. Christ does not treat you as your sins deserve. Ask him for the power to love your family as he loves you. Ask him to help you say and mean these words:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

What would your family think if you said these words to them? Give your family the Spirit’s powerful gift of gentleness.

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.

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Brain, Heart, World – a fantastic, free, 3-part documentary on pornography's harmful impact

Documentary 90 minutes / 2019 RATING: 8/10 Fight the New Drug is an anti-poverty group that's come up with an impressive 3-part documentary called Brain, Heart, World about what pornography consumption does to your brain, what it does to your relationships, and what it does to the world. Each part is half an hour, and while you do have to give them your email address, it's well worth doing (and they won't spam you). They've packaged up important psychological insights with compelling personal accounts, making this must-see TV. Maybe what's most impressive is that they're having a very open conversation about pornography, even as they keep that conversation very PG-rated...at least for the first two episodes. With Episode 3, The World, since it is tackling sexual trafficking via first-hand accounts, there was really no way to keep it from being PG-13-ish. That said, this is as careful and delicate a presentation on this topic as I've seen. (Parents, if you're considering sharing and discussing this with your kids do be sure to preview it). This is an eye-opening presentation, but it is an entirely secular one. Fight the New Drug is "a non-religious and non-legislative organization" that teaches about the harmful effects of pornography "using only science, facts, and personal accounts." That means they operate from a materialist worldview that ignores the spiritual, and seemingly denies it. They don't speak to the repentance Jesus offers and in passing ways even minimize the need for it – at one point a girl says: "I realized it wasn't me that was bad; it was the porn that was bad." She gets close to the truth here, even as she completely misses it: the porn is irredeemable, but she isn't. Another example: in the Heart episode they share that researchers have found relationships the key to happiness such that "happiness is love." Now, understanding as we do, that relationship with God is the key to everlasting happiness, we might be tempted to say that here again they got it almost right. But seeing as they aren't actually pointing us to God, they also got it awfully wrong. In this way the series shortcomings are enormous; we can't fix a sin problem like lust and adultery without acknowledging it as a sin problem. That said, Christians can benefit enormously from watching series, because the series' shortcomings are the sort that we can fix with what God teaches us, and its strengths and insights can be a help when stacked on top of God's firm foundation. You can watch the series trailer below, and access the series itself here.

AA
News
Tagged: featured, origins, Saturday selections

Saturday Selections – July 27, 2019

Seal bearing name that appears in the Bible was discovered (3 min)

It’s tiny, but it’s big – this recent archeological find is a seal is from the same time period as its namesake and includes a title that would likely match as well.

How Matthew Vines turned “you will know them by their fruits” into a justification for homosexuality 

When Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian came out in 2014, it didn’t seem all that significant – the arguments weren’t too different from any liberal Christian text: we need to radically revise what the Church has always agreed on, in this case, homosexuality. But the book has had a big impact in evangelical circles – in circles where folks say they take the Bible as authoritative – convincing many to completely flip their position. So it’s worth looking at one of the key arguments in the book, where Vines appeals to what Jesus said in Matt. 7:15-20 about trees bearing bad and good fruit.

How kids change dad

Science is discovering that after a man has children, his body and brain changes in very different ways than his wife’s, which underscores how God really did make us male and female (Gen. 1:27). So, “as Ryan Anderson is fond of saying, there is no such thing as ‘parenting.’ There’s only mothering and fathering.”

Defy culture: invite them to your wedding

Have you thought about how many of your non-Christian friends, neighbors, co-workers and relatives you can invite to your wedding? Weddings are an opportunity to glorify God and evangelize by reflecting the coming marriage feast.

Why it’s important to read to our kids

Reading with your children regularly sets up an opportunity for cuddling and, equally important, conversations.

Chemist’s challenge: “Show Me the Chemistry” of the origins of life. “It’s Not There.” (50 min)

How did life first come to be? The impression is often given that Darwin answered this question, but he hardly touched it, only offering that it must have happened somehow in “some warm little pond” that had all the right compounds readily available. But there is no evidence for the spontaneous generation that Darwin’s theory needs to start things off. As James Tours shows in this, brilliant, often hilarious, and frequently complicated (don’t fret if you don’t get it all) lecture, what Darwin thought could happen by chance can’t even be planned by the most brilliant scientists, with the most fantastic equipment. This hour-long lecture isn’t for everyone, but if this is an area of interest, or if you know an arrogant evolutionist or two, then this will be a treat and an encouragement.

Presenter James Tours follows the typical Intelligent Design approach of keeping God out of the conversation, and instead adopts the secularist’s own worldview (“Science is god”) to blow it up (“but your god can’t explain the origin of life”).

The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t take us past the point where we kill their god. Our purpose on Earth isn’t to rob false god’s of their glory, but rather to give glory to the one true God…and we can’t do that if we won’t say His Name. That said, James Tour is very clear where he is coming from, and points listeners to God in an indirect way.


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