Cloning: A Dangerous Journey Into Uncharted Waters?

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A Dangerous Journey Into Uncharted Waters?

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It seems science fiction has a knack of becoming reality.

In 1818 Mary Shelley wrote a brooding novel about the dreadful consequences of a scientist's attempt to artificially create a human being. By trying to imitate what only God had done before—the creation of human life—this doctor brought enormous sorrow on himself and those he loved.

Her novel, Frankenstein, is actually a far cry from the Hollywood horror movie that made it famous. It is rather a warning to mankind about the dangers of delving into certain realms of science, such as attempting by artificial means to create human life. Such attempts may go beyond man's ability to control the outcome and unleash terrible effects. As in the novel, the created being can end up turning on its fallible creator.

Another science fiction novel that is slowly becoming a reality is the work by Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, written in 1932. It describes a futuristic world where all births are produced from test tubes in a factory. Thousands of containers are filled with genetic material engineered to produce preprogrammed individuals ranging from scientists to dim-witted laborers.

Their free will is limited, since they cannot choose what to become, being fit only for their preassigned tasks. In the end, this supposed dream society turns into a nightmare as well.

As 2003 began, the firm Clonaid announced it had cloned the first human being. The name of the girl, Eve, apparently was chosen to emphasize that just as God had created Eve, the first woman, so those in this group had now created a person, but according to their own design. However, since Clonaid failed to provide any verification of their claims, many have concluded that their announcement was only a publicity hoax designed to capitalize on the public's fascination with the subject.

Nonetheless, scientists in laboratories scattered around the world have been furiously racing to become the first to produce a cloned baby, and many are predicting that a cloned human being will be a reality during 2003.

To these scientists, this pursuit has become the scientific equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. They all know that fame and fortune awaits the first to achieve the feat, while hardly anyone will remember who came in second place. So the race is on to be the first to the top, and a lot of money and skills are being invested in the effort.

Man's conquest of knowledge

Over the last century man's discovery of vast realms of knowledge has been breathtaking. We have gone from the horse-drawn carriage to the automobile, from gas lamps to electric lights, from looking at the sky to flying through it, from the abacus to the computer and from harnessing animals to harnessing atomic power.

In 1997, a man-made machine named Deep Blue defeated the world's chess master, showing it could on some level outthink him (though a match earlier this year against another machine, Deep Junior, ended in a draw). We are now witnessing the converging of technologies. Man is creating smarter machines, and machines used by men are creating artificially cloned creatures—such as Dolly, the first cloned sheep, in 1996.

Sadly, it is a historical fact that all too many technologies developed by man have eventually been used not only for good, but for evil.

Gunpowder, for example, was first used by the Chinese to delight the multitudes with fireworks, but eventually it was used for evil-to more effectively kill human beings. TNT was first used in mining and road building, but was soon used to make terrible bombs. Finally came atomic power, used not only to generate electricity, but also to produce nuclear bombs, which for the last 58 years have threatened humanity with annihilation.

Opening a Pandora's box?

Now a new Pandora's box is being opened. In the famous Greek myth Pandora was sent a box by the gods—but warned never to open it. Eventually her curiosity got the best of her and, upon opening it, she loosed on the world a host of evils.

The avid pursuit of cloning by scientists—some well-intentioned, some unscrupulous—certainly looks as if it could open another Pandora's box upon the world.

Cloning may be one of the last frontiers of knowledge available to man. He has already delved into the oceans, into space and into the atom. Now he is exploring deep into the human body—the most exquisite and intricate object of God's creation. With the recent unlocking of the human genome and the possibility of creating engineered human beings through cloning, what awaits mankind as it delves into these long-hidden secrets?

"Nothing they propose will be withheld from them"

At least once before, human beings sought to climb to the loftiest heights of knowledge and defy their Creator.

From the fertile Mesopotamian plains of Babel, the Bible describes a time when men spoke a common language and quickly multiplied their technical skills-not only for good but for evil.

The Bible tells us: "Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar [modern Iraq], and they dwelt there . . . And they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.' But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, 'Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them'" (Genesis 11:1-6).

God saw that with growing technology and a common language, men would soon be entering into the realms of science that would eventually spell their undoing. So He supernaturally imposed many languages on them, and successfully divided mankind into different cultures, spreading them into diverse lands-thus slowing the pace of technology.

Now humankind again essentially has a common language and forum, given international communication in English among the world's most educated and powerful tools such as supercomputers and the Internet, by which discoveries can be relayed throughout the world in seconds.

Troubling questions and possibilities

One great question about human cloning is: As a clone's physical development would already be "mapped out" based on the life of the original person cloned, would the clone lose his ability to choose freely what to become? A similar question could be asked in regard to any child—cloned or not—who is the product of genetic manipulation.

One of God's greatest gifts to human beings is the free will to determine their own destiny. He told the ancient Israelites: "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19). Yet, with genetically engineered and cloned individuals, there is not a healthy mixing of the mother's and father's genes, but a prepackaged individual made according to the whims of some scientists.

Besides, science journals have reported significant harmful side effects to cloning. Dolly, the cloned sheep, did not acquire youthful cells, but replicated the cells of her seven-year-old mother. The sheep, which was recently put to sleep because of a lung infection, suffered from maladies such as arthritis and premature aging.

Moreover, what will happen if cloning technology falls into the hands of evil-minded dictators? Could they then protect themselves and their corrupt regimes with armies of fighting men built like Arnold Schwarzenegger and an array of scientists replicated from the cells of an Albert Einstein?

Could we see scientists curious enough to create genetically engineered creatures like something out of H.G. Wells' novel The Island of Dr. Moreau? After the cloning of the sheep Dolly, and the successful combining of genes from different plant and animal species, these prospects are no longer completely in the realm of science fiction.

The possibilities are endless-and frightening. Some have already proposed the production of cloned torsos to grow organs for transplanting. Indeed, some scientists in this field are already dreaming up anything you could imagine.

"Knowledge shall increase"

Interestingly, the Bible foretold a time when such astounding scientific leaps would come to pass. The angel Gabriel said: "At that time [the time of the end] . . . there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time . . . But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase' (Daniel 12:1, 4, emphasis added).

Yes, there would be a time of massive, worldwide rapid transportation and communication during which "knowledge shall increase." This would lead to a period in history described as "the time of the end," a time when God would be forced to intervene in world affairs and save mankind from itself.

Clearly man is building up a figurative "tower of Babel" with all his technology and scientific advances taking him into such dangerous realms as cloning. Regrettably, such new technologies rarely escape the pressures and pursuit of fame and power.

The good news beyond

Despite man's incessant curiosity and drive for fame, power, glory and wealth, God has not totally abandoned humanity to its own designs. The good news is that He is well aware of what is going on, and will not let mankind destroy itself, either through war or genetic manipulation.

The end of the book of Revelation shows that God will ultimately succeed in directing mankind to fulfill the purpose for which He created us. Yes, there will be difficult times ahead, but God has promised to take care of His own and establish His wonderful and peaceful Kingdom on this earth. One of the keys to remaining faithful at this time is to keep His commandments to the end. Christ said, "Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (Revelation 14:12).

Writing to the church in Philadelphia, Christ describes a terrifying time to come when great tribulation will come on the entire world. But He tells His faithful people: "Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth" (Revelation 3:10). (For more information, please request the free booklets The Church Jesus Built and Are We Living in the Time of the End?).

It certainly appears that man is crossing into a most dangerous realm of knowledge-the science of replicating and reengineering himself. As so many science-fiction writers -and now also leading world figures-have warned, the consequences of unleashing this knowledge are dire and unpredictable.

But we have a caring Creator watching what is happening and, as was the case when the Tower of Babel was being built, He is again observing that "nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them." Thus He will assuredly intervene again, just as He did back then. May the time for establishing His glorious Kingdom on this earth not be far off! GN