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Human/animal hybrids?

by and

Published: 16 August 2016 (GMT+10)
dna

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in America recently announced the intention to lift a moratorium on the funding of genetic research involving inserting human genetic material into animal embryos. National Public Radio reports:

The National Institutes of Health is proposing a new policy to permit scientists to get federal money to make embryos, known as chimeras, under certain carefully monitored conditions.1

While this raises all sorts of fantastical images of half-human monstrosities, the reality is not quite like that. This does not mean the moral issues are less clear, only that we have to step through this subject carefully. As Christians we should evaluate these issues from a biblical lens. What biblical ideas should inform our thinking in this area?

The dominion mandate

The dominion mandate was God’s command to Adam and Eve to subdue and rule the earth. This is stated in Genesis 1:27–28:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Though this was later affected by the Curse (c.f. Genesis 3:14-19), the dominion mandate was never rescinded. Also, the assumption inherent in this passage was that the Mandate was given to mankind, thus the responsibility has passed on to us, the descendants of Adam and Eve. While there is some debate, it is generally agreed that it gives permission to use the rest of creation for human benefit, while also giving us the responsibility to be good stewards.

Yet, some people try to twist the scriptures, falsely claiming the Bible allows us to do whatever we please. This twisting comes in two forms. Some Christians ignore the ‘taking care of’ aspect of the Mandate. And some environmentalists try to denigrate the Bible by pointing out environmental problems caused by “Christians” and their disregard for the natural world. Both of these positions are incorrect.

Notably, the dominion mandate does not extend to other human beings, which is why we are against abortion, eugenics, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, slavery, or anything which destroys or assumes inappropriate control over another human being.

Using this simple rule helps us to think about whether a given practice is allowable or not. If creating human-animal chimeras is a right-to-life issue, we need to speak up! For instance, it is not intrinsically immoral to insert a human gene into a non-human animal, provided a human being was not destroyed or exploited in the process. In fact, this is how insulin is produced today. No longer do diabetics have to take pig insulin. Instead it is manufactured by bacteria that have the human insulin gene inserted into their genome. This is a prime example of how the Dominion Mandate works and how we have been able to use the things under our care for human benefit.

On the other hand, creating human clones will absolutely require ‘culling’ of those embryos that fail to develop properly while the techniques are being worked out. This is reprehensible and thus we stand strongly against human cloning, in principle.

What is already legally permissible

We already experiment on animals. While no one wants to bring unnecessary suffering about, these experiments help to develop new treatments that have, in turn, saved many human lives.

Also, parts from animals are already used to treat medical problems in humans. Heart valves from pigs can be transplanted into humans (these are called xenotransplants), and last longer than synthetic valves. We have no moral qualms about this. So, for instance, growing a human liver in a pig, perhaps even using the patient’s own cells to avoid organ rejection, is a difference of degree, not of kind.

Stem cell research is currently permitted in most Western countries today. However, only adult stem cell research is moral, because this does not require killing a developing human being. It should be noted that every advancement in treating diseases with stem cells to date has come from adult stem cells.

Won’t this result in human/animal hybrids?

So is it moral to create human/animal chimeras? This is a tricky question, but the answer boils down to a few simple ideas. First, will the work be done with fetal stem cells? If so, then it is not moral and should not be done.

Second, will there be any restraints on what percent human or animal the hybrids will be? We suspect that even if limits are placed they will be removed later, so this is no guarantee.2

Third—and this is the kicker—what moral guidelines are the scientists operating under? Under the atheistic, naturalistic, Darwinian mindset of the majority of scientists today, there is no God to whom we can appeal for moral guidance. There is no human soul or afterlife. There is no consciousness after death.

As the late evolutionist and atheist William Provine said:

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear, and I must say that these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposive forces of any kind, no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be completely dead. That’s just all—that’s gonna be the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.

Thus, under this mindset the experimenter can do whatever he or she likes because there is no real basis for morality. As long as an embryo cannot feel pain, they are generally not squeamish when experimenting on them. And as long as the embryo has no higher thoughts (like sadness, longing, or even revenge) they generally do not worry about it “thinking” about what is happening to it. But this is hardly a guide for the morality of science! We need an outside opinion on the matter, and the Bible gives us that.

Conclusion

Because there is no real stopping point (what is to prevent someone from seeing how far the chimera will develop?), and because this will quickly raise right-to-life questions (Is it human or not? Can we kill it whenever we like? Etc.), we think that creating human/animal chimeras is biblically not permissible. In the modern world, we can raise all sorts of moral questions that we as a global society are not able to answer, because we do not have a way to answer them. Yet the Bible gives us very good guidelines. Science should be used to glorify God, but this new branch of science is more about humans playing God.

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Further Reading

References and notes

  1. Stein, R., NIH plans to lift ban on research funds for part-human, part-animal embryos, npr.org, 4 August 2016. Return to text.
  2. Tucker, K., What’s at stake with assisted suicide, Speech at Seattle Pacific University, 12 July 1997. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments
Noeline C., New Zealand, 19 August 2016

Genesis chapter 2 says every creature will multiply after his kind.And that is the way it is.It is morally wrong to take pieces out of any kind & transplant them into another kind. The Bible states that pigs are unclean & forbids eating them,so ignorant man ignores that & puts parts of pigs into humans, there will be a backlash. Evolution allows any practice,but God will punish if we keep pushing the boundaries.

Robert Carter responds

Inserting a human insulin gene into an E. coli bacterium does not change the bacterium into another kind. Likewise, inserting the BT toxin gene into corn (maize) does not prevent corn from reproducing with other corn plants, nor does it create the ability of corn to interbreed with oaks and sycamores. Thus, to say these things are "morally wrong" is debatable, as is the dietary status of pigs in the New Testament, as is the idea that there will be individual or corporate punishment for sins, other than our generic status under the Curse, prior to the return of Christ.

Ria Z., South Africa, 18 August 2016

This sound to me the use of mixed seed against which the Bible warns us not to do?

Robert Carter responds

While creating human/animal hybrids is certainly an area of debate, the 'mixed' seeds' idea does not apply here. This comes from the Old Testament law, which most Christians today would say was made moot by the sacrifice of Christ (this is a subject too deep to get into here). In Lev 19:19, God told the Hebrews not to allow cattle to breed with other kinds, sow your field with two types of seed, or wear a garment made of two materials. Yet, I assume you wear cotton/poly blend clothing? Let's not take random statements from the Law out of context, attempt to apply them to situations for which they were not designed, or fail to realize that "whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it" (James 2:10).

Kevin H., New Zealand, 18 August 2016

I am thankful for the pig aortic heart valve I received as it means I am still alive. It would also be good if from stem cells that a kidney could be grown that would replace my failed kidney, whether in a lab or maybe a pig. I believe that they have managed to grow a kidney, but unfortunately it was only the size of a babies. I also believe that the Dutch have developed a portable kidney weighing 6 kilos that can be worn all the time. It is now being trialled on humans. It would save me having a 100 kilo machine at home and spending 6 hours each time 4 days a week on it. I am thankful for it though as without it I would not be alive today.

Gian Carlo B., Puerto Rico, 17 August 2016

Hi Robert. I read your reply. Thanks for clarifying. However I felt I still had to bring it up since this research will open a Pandora's Box (and who is to say it won't?). I understand it is to use stem cells to be able to provide spare organs or perhaps use some DNA sequences to help the human DNA, in a sense, adapt to some diseases we cannot normally cure. I understand this is a medical research and not a literal, chimeratization/hybridization transzoology/transhuman research, but you know, the history of science is a notorious narrative of competitive scientists and even to today, there is still that impulse. Some will issue this research to justify all sorts of abominations. I'm saying we need to be wise. Not saying we should cease this research, but like you conveyed in the article, be wise and discern.

Doug L., United States, 16 August 2016

This will definitely be a case of some experimenters playing God. I think the opinion of the English scientist, Arthur Jones (Fish, Fossils, and Evolution) will turn out right however. I.e. that the embryo will determine whether it's human, not the DNA. His opinion is that if you put dinosaur DNA into a chicken egg, all you'll get is some kind of mutant chicken. So if someone experiments and puts pig DNA into a human embryo you might get a very mutant human but it will be human. If he's right then, if someone puts human DNA into a pig embryo you'll get a mutant pig, not any kind of human.

And even if laws are passed against it some will secretly do it anyway and they'll have to answer to God. It all seems very reminiscent of the pre-Flood Nephilim. Some believe (and I don't have an opinion on this because the Bible isn't clear about it, at least to me) that one of the reasons God destroyed the world was to get rid of the Nephilim who they assume were angel/human hybrids.

I don't think we'll see X-Men come out of this (not hardly!) but in any case if someone successfully implants animal DNA in a human embryo, the baby will doubtlessly be either a horrible mutant or have severe medical problems. That cannot end well for that baby. But we've seen people like Mengele in Auschwitz so I expect there will be some experimenters doing the unthinkable. And they'll have to answer to God for their actions.

Gian Carlo B., Puerto Rico, 16 August 2016

I actually saw a video regarding exactly about this. And my thought is that the human/animal hybrid will likely not be as successful as a true chimera they have in mind. I mean, Isaac Asimov tried human hybrids with apes and he failed miserably, though that was just with sperms and not genetic engineering. But I think the chimera would likely not succeed. I'm not saying it is impossible, I'm saying the chimera result will be unlikely, it will just be a human with an animal DNA. It's not like the resultant offspring will have animal ears like those we see in anime and all that. We'll just have to wait and see.

As for ethics, I'm seriously getting tired when most clearly unethical experiments are justified in the name of "curing incurable diseases" or "Alzheimer disease can be cured with this". They assert all these 100% confident hypothesis right before even testing out these experiments. I'm saying I don't trust them at first hand and I'm skeptical that hybridizing humans with other animals in which they cannot naturally hybridize they think a medicine can be made by it with 100% certainty. But we'll wait and see what happens. Maybe the medicine will be a possibility, but I doubt there will be a true chimera human-cat or dog human.

Robert Carter responds

Regarding your first paragraph about the hybrid animals, please see my two comments above.

Regarding your second paragraph, I am also tired of the claims that some new and unethical research initiative might bring a medicinal benefit. If it requires selling our souls, there are some things that are simply not worth knowing.

M. N., United States, 16 August 2016

Every time I see an article regarding this "hybridization" I cannot help but think about centaurs, satyrs, chimera, etc. Were those myths or something remembered from before the flood? Nephilim were on the earth after the flood, too. Could they have used hybridization in their labs, too? Why do we think we are the smartest people in the universe by building out intelligence on minds before us? I argue that we have begun the downward slope of dumbing done!

Robert Carter responds

First, there is no hard evidence that the nephilim lived after the Flood. This is a misconception that many people have, but the Bible does not actually teach this.

Please also see my prior comment where I pointed out that the point of this research is not to produce fully-grown hybrid human-animals but to produce cell lines with mixed genomes.

King T., South Africa, 16 August 2016

Dear Lita and Robert,

Thank you for taking the time and setting out so clearly how we can give a reason for what we believe with regards to morals. The line of thought you have followed makes it so easy to understand.

Once again, may God bless the work you do and may kind souls keep supporting this very valuable website.

Philip S., United Kingdom, 16 August 2016

Pretty good - except you seem to disregard 'KINDS'?! Anything can only breed 'after its Kind' - 'there is one flesh of etc' - so I would conclude we should not mix n match bits of other mammals etc [pigs/ human livers etc] & humans, whatever the advantage to us...

But I have no doubt we will! The end is truly nigh....

Robert Carter responds

The question of whether or not we should mix 'kinds' is really a separate issue. If we can safely and ethically grow spare human parts in a pig using adult human stem cells, why not? It is not like we created a pig-human when doing so. There is definitely a problem with mixing the genomes of humans and animals (or plants, bacteria, etc.). But is there a problem in mixing oak trees and pine trees? I am not saying we should, but the Bible does not specifically say we cannot do this. Humans are special. The status of other things are a matter of debate.

anthony B., France, 16 August 2016

Where does your organisation stand on the CRISPR gene editing technique?

Robert Carter responds

We would have no problems with the use of the technology under a specific set of circumstances. First, the techniques must not destroy human lives (including embryos). And second, the techniques must not be used to create "super humans", thus the potential for modifying the human germ line is a major problem. There are other issues, but these are the 'biggies'. Truly a Brave New World of genetic modification is upon us. Sadly, human societies are more or less rudderless when trying to find moral positions to take on these subjects. Even though the technology could be used to do a lot of good, it can also be used to do a lot of bad, and so we are hesitant to support it 100%.

Anthony W., Australia, 15 August 2016

One wonders why they actually want to do this research? Where is the benefit? Or is it simply a macabre modern day 'Island of Dr Moreau' type fascination?

Robert Carter responds

There are potential medical benefits and this probably drives most of the researchers. However, there is also a bit of "because we can" thinking, which is disheartening considering the deep moral and philosophical issues involved.

There is one more thing to point out, however: the technology under discussion is not supposed to lead to hybrid animals so much as it is supposed to lead to hybrid cell lines. Yet, once that bridge is crossed, "because we can" might come into play once again.

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