In my recent post on the surgical rape of nature, someone in the comments asked what I thought to be a pertinent question. Why would I come out swinging at something like transgender surgeries as a “rape of nature” when in other circumstances I have shown myself to be quite open to GMOs, Frankenfoods, and such? Isn’t every form of genetic engineering a “rape of nature?” I want to say, no, not at all. But why not?
The answer is that the boundaries of natural revelation are not communicated through mere facticity. Marijuana grows naturally. In fact, the entire plant is all natural. But it is still a sin to smoke it. There are standards that God has embedded within nature, but that does not mean that we can make up any old standard provided we can point to some example of it in nature. Some animals exhibit homosexual behavior, but that does not give us the right to do the same. Some animals eat their young too. And so, if that is the case, what could it possibly mean to say that something is “unnatural”?
The category mistake reminds me of the time when Mark Twain was asked if he believed in infant baptism. “Believe in it?” he said, “why, I have seen it done.”
An essential part of natural revelation or natural law is found within us. God does not just place His letters in the natural world, He also places His literacy in our hearts. His letters are out there, His literacy is in here. When we read the natural world in perverse ways, we are therefore sinning against natural revelation. Paul is most explicit about this. God’s eternal power and Godhead is not just manifest to them, it is manifest in them (Rom. 1:19-20).
So back to the question. The issue is not the technique used. The issue is not whether or not we are working on genes, or even human genes. The issue is whether we are obeying God’s clear standards, or are disregarding them.
I have argued before that we ought not to be talking about the sanctity of human life, as though the mere fact of life brings the standard of sanctity. Rather, we should affirm the sanctity of God’s revealed will, and the resultant dignity of human life. We respect man because we adore God. We honor man because we worship God. When we go the humanist route and honor man because we honor man, we find at the end of the day that our paltry sense of honor, suspended from its own sky hook, is not all that distinct from dishonor. The entire human race is nothing more than the foam on the surface of an infinite ocean of chaos.
And so, there is no necessary problem with genetic engineering on humans. The issue is what standard you are using. Are you trying to be God’s servant or God’s rival? For example, suppose a genetic operation comes online that enabled us to undo Down’s syndrome. Would that be lawful? Certainly, in the same way that setting a broken bone is lawful. We can set a broken bone because we know what the standard is—what a healthy bone looks like, and which direction—the direction of health—we ought to be working. A doctor who sets a bone is functioning as a servant of Christ. An orthodontist who straightens teeth is doing the same thing; he is also such a servant. He is not “fighting nature.” He is exercising dominion. He is restoring nature. He is cooperating with God’s purpose for the world.
With obvious bounds, nature is supposed to become artificial. The world is going to end as a garden city, and gardens are artificial. So that is not where the problem lies. The problem is not in the hands of men—the problem is in the hearts of men.
So plastic surgery is not a sin. Restoring the visage of a car accident victim is a noble thing. Silicone breast implants are not a sin. Helping mastectomy patients is a noble thing. But when the heart of man enters with bizarre standards, those same techniques easily become agents of sin. What Michael Jackson did to his race and his face were a very sad consequence of his confusion at this just point. We do not get to manipulate the Play-Doh of our physical bodies into whatever configuration we want.
Christians have an ongoing and constant obligation to be obedient to nature, and to know what is entailed by that. We are in this flummoxed condition as the secularists insist on their absolute right to do absolutely anything precisely because we have neglected our obligation as believers to study the physical and natural world—in order to learn how to be obedient to it. And now it appears that secularists are running out our apathetic ignorance in a grand reductio ad absurdum. “How about now? I had these small deer antlers attached to my skull. Where does the Bible say I can’t?”
By the way, before concluding, I need to say it is entirely unlawful to experiment with human genetic engineering if you are working on embryos, and washing them down the sink once you have your data.
But in conclusion, there is a vast difference between obeying nature—God’s letters out there read with His literacy that He placed in your heart—and merely aping something you happened to find in nature, like the deer antlers.