Genetic engineering is perhaps at a stage in its technological development approximately equivalent to that of computers 15 years ago—that is, many of the future developments can be foreseen, but are not reality yet. It is, therefore, important to examine the risks and benefits that future developments might bring, while it still may be possible to draw back from these developments. Anderson’s Genetic Engineering is an attempt to do just that. He quotes the Journal of the American Medical Association to define his subject: “… anything having to do with the manipulation of the gametes … or the fetus, for whatever purpose, from conception other than by sexual union, to treatment of a disease in utero, to the ultimate manufacture of a human being to exact specifications.” (Actually, much of the book, and much present interest in genetic engineering, centers on genetic engineering in nonhuman organism, or manipulation of nonreproductive human cells, rather than on genetic engineering as defined.)
Genetic Engineering includes chapters as follows: artificial insemination, artificial sex selection, in-vitro fertilization, recombinant DNA research, and human cloning, each with sections on ethical and theological considerations. These, and the introductory and closing chapters, make clear that Anderson values what the Bible says and tries to apply it to the issues. He feels that artificial insemination, by husband or donor, is not biblically prohibited in all cases, that the Bible has little to say relevant to sex selection (but Anderson apparently opposes it), that in-vitro fertilization is an inappropriate technology, that some types of recombinant DNA research are acceptable, but others (creating new types of creatures, surmounting what he sees as the barriers between kinds established at Creation) are not. Anderson also rejects human cloning.
Anderson’s writing is generally clear and to the point. The book explains the techniques clearly, and the typical reader of CHRISTIANITY TODAY should have no trouble understanding it. The book is well organized, inexpensive, and thoroughly documented, and makes for a reasonably good introduction to the subject from an evangelical viewpoint. The major defect is superficiality. Too much of the documentation is from the Dallas Times-Herald—no doubt an excellent newspaper, but one not likely to be as readily available to those wishing to research further as Science, Nature, or more broadly circulated dailies, nor as authoritative. The logic is also superficial at times. Anderson invokes the slippery slope argument without really explaining clearly what a slippery slope is, or why we can’t decide to stop at some point. He has not clearly explained why transferring an insulin gene from a human to Escherichia coli is not transgressing “built-in barriers between kinds that we would do well to maintain” (p. 100), but that creating a human-primate hybrid would be. Another example of superficial logic is his statement on page 98 that ecosystems usually “bounce back” to normal, then, two paragraphs later, lamenting cases where they didn’t.
Other valuable books have been written on similar subjects. Perhaps the best, because they include some give-and-take between the authors, are Michael Hamilton’s The New Genetic and the Future of Man and part of Craig Ellison’s Modifying Man. The latter includes noted evangelical authors. Manipulating Life, by Duane Gish and Clifford Wilson, covers much the same ground as Genetic Engineering, for the same audience, and in approximately the same depth.
Genetic Engineering, by J. Kerby Anderson (Zondervan, 1982, 135 pp.; $4.95). Reviewed by Martin LaBar, visiting professor of science, Bryan College, Dayton, Tennessee.
It is important to note that this book gives excellent source material with regard to abortion in the Jewish, Greco-Roman, and early Christian worlds. This source material is valuable to anyone interested in human life and the present-day devaluation of it. For this purpose the book is most helpful, and it can be highly recommended.
However, gradually the purpose of the book unfolds itself; this becomes explicit from page 82 onwards. The purpose is to link abortion to some form of pacifism. That link is constructed around the first sentence under the subtitle, “The Ethical Context,” on page 82. This sentence reads: “The early Christian love for life and abhorrence of bloodshed both inherited from the Jews, contrasted sharply with the violence and disrespect for human life which stained the pagan culture around them.” One can be happy for the accuracy of this sentence in reference to abortion and infanticide. However, this sentence is not only linked to these but to war as well.
The book shows its weakness on this point in three ways:
1. The previous source material, which the author has presented so very well, does not substantiate this linkage.
2. Since so much is built on the abhorrence of bloodshed on the part of the Jews, it is remarkable that the most available source material, the Old Testament, is not applied. The Old Testament, under which the Jews lived before the time of the early church and through the centuries covered by this book, does not condemn all war, and it commanded capital punishment in the Jewish theocracy.
Thus, one must conclude that from the Jewish viewpoint, their abhorrence of bloodshed with respect to abortion was not linked to these other subjects.
3. The treatment of the character and practice of Christ neglects his statements about his coming judgments and specifically omits the detailed description in Revelation of what this means to his character and acts in regard to justice.
None of us wants war of any kind, but many of us feel the modern drift to pacifism of one sort or another guarantees war. Thus, from the side of hindering the probability of war, atomic or otherwise, it is unfortunate to link the clarity of what is involved concerning abortion and infanticide to the debatable premise of the book.
And from the side of abortion, it is unfortunate to link the killing of the most helpless of humanity to the attempt (in this fallen world) to do what is needed in loving our neighbors as ourselves when there is no other way to help, as was the case in the last world war against Hitler’s terrible inhumanity in Europe.
If only the author had stayed with that which is indicated in the title of the book he would have made an unusual contribution in the abortion discussion with his fine source material.
Abortion and the Early Church, by Michael J. Gorman (InterVarsity Press, 1983; $3.95). Reviewed by Francis A. Schaeffer, Chesieres, Switzerland.
R.c. sproul covers a wide range of topics in this short book, from prison reform to the failure of Marxism to deliver on its promises. Yet he manages to avoid the danger of superficiality in writing on the themes of dignity in marriage, labor and management conflicts, the discipline of children, and on other areas of life.
The theme of dignity is one that many others have written about and campaigned for in marches and protests. Sproul avoids the natural human tendency to set the dignity of one group in conflict with another group, to evaluate one class at the expense of another. He aims at reconciliation of competing
His excellent chapter on prisons provides an example. Based primarily on his association with Prison Fellowship and Charles Colson, he is familiar with the indignities imposed on an inmate, from strip searches to homosexual rape. In contrast to many advocates of prisoners’ rights, though, he does not make a scapegoat of prison guards, police, or others assigned to enforce the law. He also has a section on crime victims and their loss of dignity and the absence of restitution in the criminal justice system.
Sproul’s training as a theologian is an asset in his ability to give justice to competing cries for dignity, for he makes the fine distinctions required in theology. He makes his theological emphasis very practical, too, in combination with his excellent capability to describe the atmosphere of a prison or a factory or a locker room.
He tells the story of one of his teachers—who stands as an accurate prophet as well as an example of one who possesses the gift of developing a sense of dignity in the life of an impressionable young person. She read Sproul’s English composition to the entire junior high school class, declaring, “R. C., don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t write.”
Others have tried to prove her wrong, as he explains in a passage that any successful or unsuccessful writer will appreciate: “Do you have any idea how many people have since tried to tell me I cannot write? Who in his right mind would be foolhardy enough to risk the red pencils of the critics by putting his work into print? Can you imagine that there are people out there who make money by being professional critics? They are the people who give meaning to the word anxiety for filmmakers, playwrights and authors.”
The teacher was right.
In Search of Dignity, by R. C. Sproul (Regal, 1983, 215 pp.; $10.95). Reviewed by Russ Pulliam, editorial writer and columnist, the Indianapolis News, Indianapolis, Indiana.
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