For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
The November 25 issue of The New York Times included a story headlined "24 Cow Clones, All Normal, Are Reported by Scientists: A Challenge to Arguments Against Human Cloning." The 24 fine cows, according to scientists at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts, "are normal in every way."
The Times story, by veteran science writer Gina Kolata, notes that one of the reasons many scientists have opposed human cloning is the high rate of defects among clones. And indeed, she goes on to report, to produce those 24 allegedly perfect specimens, Advanced Cell Technology created no fewer than 500 clones, of which only 30 survived to birth, and of those only 24 to adulthood.
Nevertheless, the researcher who directed the project, Dr. Robert Lanza, isn't shy about the implications of his work. A proposed ban on human cloning passed the House but stalled in the Senate last summer and was put on the back burner after September 11. The 24 cows, Lanza claims, render the proposal moot. After all, such legislation was "fueled by" the "desire to portray human cloning as dangerous and irresponsible." But now, he says, "it's important to put some science in here, some reality."
Ah, Science. Ah, Reality. But wait a minute. Today Dr. Lanza is back in the Times in another story by Kolata: "Company Says It Produced Human Embryo Clones." The clones were produced in October: "Most died within a day or so," Kolata writes. "Six lasted for five days." But the announcement was made only yesterday, three days after the announcement of the "normal" cow clones. In short, it becomes clear that the story of the defect-free cows was released to pave the way for the release of today's story. (Question: Was Kolata aware of this when she wrote the story that appeared on Friday?) And Dr. Lanza's assessment of the human embryo cloning? "These are exciting preliminary results."
When your cat has kittens, the children crowd around. Looking over their shoulders, you're struck by the way each kitten in the litter is already distinct from the others. That calico one is feisty; this one, with a Siamese hue, isn't getting enough milk. One kitten seems not to be moving at all.
The funeral is held in the back yard; the grave lies beneath the branches of the plum tree. That bundle of life is gone for good.
A cat is buried; a person is buried. Is there any essential difference?
At a large state university, a professor is fired after an uproar over comments he made in class. According to his critics, he employed racist stereotypes. Across the campus, in another building, a distinguished professor of cognitive science is lecturing to a packed house. Human beings, he says, quoting Marvin Minsky, are machines made of meat. The students dutifully write that down.
"Physical composition and cultural disposition were confused in Chinese antiquity," Frank Dikotter tells us in his book The Discourse of Race in Modern China:
The border between man and animal was blurred. "The Rong are birds and beasts." This was not simply a derogatory description: it was part of a mentality that integrated the concept of civilization with the idea of humanity, picturing the alien groups living outside the pale of Chinese society as distant savages hovering on the edge of bestiality. The names of the outgroups were written in characters with an animal radical, a habit that persisted until the 1930s: the Di, a northern tribe, were thus assimilated with the dog, whereas the Man and the Min, people from the south, shared the attributes of the reptiles. The Qiang had a sheep radical.
With a daughter nearing the end of high school, you begin to receive dozens of glossy promotional brochures from colleges and universities. The pictures in one brochure look like the pictures from another. Many of the pictures are of smiling students. Whatever the text says, the pictures suggest that college is an extraordinarily harmonious place. The text says, somewhere, that this college will teach students to think for themselves, but the pictures say that all right-thinking people are pretty much agreed on the essentials.
You would never guess from these pictures that the smiling young woman with the auburn hair and the slim young man with the crooked grin, sitting next to her on the quad, see the world in very different ways. He thinks that when you die, you're dead; that's it. How did we get here? Who knows? "A glorious accident," Stephen Jay Gould calls it; let's leave it at that. Meanwhile, he has a life to live. She believes that the core of herself, her soul, will survive death to dwell with the God who created her, and us, and everything.
Like it or not, we're engaged in conflict—not necessarily a physical conflict (though it can turn physical very quickly) but rather a conflict of interpretations, a conflict of ideas, a spiritual conflict: a conflict about the nature of reality and our place in it.
John Wilson is editor of Books & Culture and editor-at-large for Christianity Today.
Copyright © 2001 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Visit Books & Culture online at BooksandCulture.com or subscribe here.
For more commentary on cloning, see today's Weblog. Also appearing on our site today:
CT Classic: Doctors Under Oath | Modern medicine has misplaced its moral compass. Can Hippocrates help?
Yahoo's full coverage has current news articles and opinion pieces on human cloning.
The House passed a bill in July banning human cloning. Not long after, a team of scientists stirred up controversy by saying they would do it anyway. Three scientists addressed a National Academies of Science conference on Aug. 7 and revealed their plans to possibly clone humans by the end of the year.
For explanations on how cloning is accomplished, see Conceiving a Clone, Science Matters, and How Cloning Works.
Christianity Today recommended against human cloning in a 1997 editorial, "Stop Cloning Around." Other recent articles on cloning include:
The New Tyranny | Biotechnology threatens to turn humanity into raw material. (Oct. 5, 2001)
Times Fifty | Can a clone be an individual? A short story. (Oct. 2, 2001)
Wanna Buy a Bioethicist? (Editorial) | Some corporations have discovered that bioethics makes good public relations. (Sept. 28, 2001)
House Backs Human Cloning Ban | Scientists say they'll go ahead anyway. (September 3, 2001)
House of Lords Legalizes Human Embryo Cloning | Religious leaders' protests go unheeded by lawmakers. (Feb. 2, 2001)
Britain Debates Cloning of Human Embryos | Scientists want steady stream of stem cells for "therapeutic" purposes. (Nov. 22, 2000)
Books & Culture Corner appears Mondays at ChristianityToday.com. Earlier Books & Culture Corners include:
"Discovering" Islam: The Intellectual Challenge | There's good reason to believe that there will be staying power to the West's belated "discovery" of Islam. (Nov. 19, 2001)
Disturbing the Peace | Is art always subversive when it's doing its job? (Nov. 12, 2001)
Play Ball | Baseball, leisure, and worship. (Nov. 2, 2001)
Is God a Body-Snatcher? | The restless intelligence of philosopher Peter van Inwagen. (Oct. 30, 2001)
"Science and the Spiritual Quest" | A place at the table for Christians, but at a price. (Oct. 22, 2001)
Beyond Belief? | Nobel Prize-winner V.S. Naipaul's accounts of Islam presuppose the superiority of modern skepticism. (Oct. 15, 2001)
Covering Islam | Getting beyond the feel-good bromides. (Oct. 8, 2001)
Christian Scholarship … For What? | Academic speakers affirm the value of beholding God's creation. (Oct. 1, 2001)
Myths of the Taliban | Misinformation and disinformation abounds. What do we know? (Sept. 24, 2001)
The Imagination of Disaster | "We thought we were invulnerable." Really? (Sept. 17, 2001)
More Sex, Fewer Children | Mixed messages on condoms, contraception, and fertility. (Sept. 10, 2001)
The Strange Case of Napoleon Beazley | The latest poster boy for death row chic. (Aug. 27, 2001)
Apocalyptic City | The dream and the nightmare of megalopolis (Aug. 20, 2001)
Megalopolis Forty Years On | The ambiguous face of the city. (Aug. 13, 2001)
The Future Is Now | You want the news? Read science fiction. (Aug. 6, 2001)
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