September 13, 1998

HEADLESS HUMANS

“‘In the pride of your heart you say, “I am a god…” But you are a man and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god.'” Ezekiel 28:2

Are you afraid of mice? You should be. Some people scream and jump on a chair the moment they see a tiny mouse scampering across the floor. I’m not scared of mice like that, but I am afraid of headless mice–and you should be too.

University of Texas researchers have created mice without heads. First they found the gene that tells an embryo to produce a head; then they deleted that gene in a thousand embryos. Most of the embryos perished quickly, but four developed until birth and were born headless. With no way to breathe on their own, the baby mice died the moment they emerged from their mothers’ wombs.

Why would anyone want to create headless mice? And why be afraid of them? Researchers say they want to learn how genes determine embryo development, but the real payoff is obvious. Headless mice aren’t worth much to anyone; headless humans are another story. If scientists could produce headless humans and find a way to keep them alive by artificial life support, they’d have a source of organs ripe for harvesting and transplanting.

Molecular biologist Lee Silver of Princeton University says, “It would almost certainly be possible to produce human bodies without a forebrain. These human bodies without any semblance of consciousness would not be considered persons, and thus it would be perfectly legal to keep them ‘alive’ as a future source of organs.” Professor Silver sees “nothing wrong, philosophically or rationally,” with producing headless humans for organ harvesting.

A genetics major at a large university agrees with Silver. He writes, “The world would benefit greatly by having headless human ‘clones'” for extra body parts. The clone would be an exact genetic match, which means “each body part would be genetically matched. If a person ever needed an organ or a nerve replaced, he or she would not have to worry about the new organ or nerve being rejected by the body.” This aspiring geneticist says, “I would like living my life, knowing that if I ever needed a body part, I would have a replacement which would not be rejected.”

Such comments make me shudder. I agree with columnist Charles Krauthammer when he says, “There is no grosser corruption of biotechnology than creating a human mutant and disemboweling it at our pleasure for spare parts.”

But some people like the idea. They’re enthusiastic about the potential for headless humans, and they’re excited about a future in which genetic engineering opens up all sorts of new possibilities for humanity. Lee Silver has published a book with a revealing title: Remaking Eden. In the Bible’s account of Eden, God created humanity, male and female, in his image. In Remaking Eden, we ourselves become the creators and controllers of the new humanity. Sherry Baker, a Silver supporter, writes,

His book gives us a reasoned, optimistic look at the future of humankind. A future where men will, literally, be mothers… where two lesbians will be able to combine their bloodlines and truly have their own baby… where a woman can carry her own twin sister, her identical clone, in her own womb… a future where parents can select from an embryo pool to make sure they get the boy or girl they want, and that the child will have particular characteristics and talents… a future where embryo selection and enhancement will not only be possible but, practiced, could change the course of humankind’s evolution… splitting our descendants into two branches… one that reproduces the old fashioned way and one that can’t and isn’t interested in plain, old fashioned mating.

Silver sees no moral or legal limit on reprogenetics technologies. The only limit is whether people want it and are able to afford it. “The marketplace will be the final arbiter,” Silver declares. These technologies “allow people to reproduce in ways that they desire, in ways that were not possible before,” and also enable people to provide “children with all possible advantages.” He predicts that within the next 20 years, “parents will be able to choose which of their characteristics to pass on to their children (blue eyes for example) and which to withhold (weak chin, baldness). And by that time [Dr. Silver continues] we will advance to the next step in reprogenetics–actually adding new, synthetic genes to embryos” to enhance the likelihood of athletic and artistic abilities and other personality traits. “Parents would be able to go to a catalog and choose which of these traits to add to their children,” he says. “Furthermore, once a child is genetically enhanced, all of his or her children will also be enhanced. At each generation, new enhancements could be added, and eventually, the genetically enhanced class could actually evolve into a species that is separate from ‘natural’ human beings. I know this sounds like science fiction,” Silver adds, “but there is nothing to stop it from happening based on the science we already know!”

Silver was asked whether genetic engineering, combined with the ability to grow replacement organs, might produce a class of virtually immortal humans. Silver replied, “One should never say never! Who knows what could happen in the future? If we ever do achieve the technology for immortality, I only hope that we will have solved the world population problem to let us all live comfortably. I really think there may be no limits–we really do understand ourselves in a very sophisticated way!”

Now remember, the person saying these things isn’t a fantasy writer. He’s not a crackpot in some far-out cult. He’s a veteran researcher in a world-famous university. And he really seems to think there are no ultimate limits, nothing to prevent human beings from remaking Eden and taking over the powers of the Creator himself. The Bible says only God knows all things, and much of his knowledge is not available to humanity; Silver says, “I refuse to believe that knowledge exists that is beyond our reach.” The Bible says that God alone is eternal, and that we can live forever only through the resurrection power of Jesus; Silver thinks we may yet achieve immortality through technology. The Bible sets limits on what is morally permissible; Silver thinks the only limit is the marketplace. He thinks it’s fine to redefine sexuality and reproduction, to design babies from catalogs to have exactly the features want them to have, and to create headless humans and then dismember them for spare parts. The only limit is what we decide, not what God says.

What’s going on here? Here’s the main problem. Whether or not scientists eventually produce headless humans, a lot of humans are already headless, including some scientists. Such people aren’t genetic mutants with no brain; they’re headless in another sense. They’re separated from the rightful Head of humanity, Jesus Christ. The Bible says God “appointed him to be head over everything” (Ephesians 1:22). But many of us cut ourselves off from Christ our Head. We accept no authority above us and make ourselves our own supreme authority. We think we have the ability to know everything, the right to do anything, and the freedom to make of ourselves whatever we decide.

Unattached to Jesus, we humans are headless. And we will remain headless until we honor Christ as our Head and recognize that the wisdom and the power to rule all things and the right to run our lives belong to God, and God alone.

The Lord is the rightful Head of all things, but too many of us live without him. We are headless humans, separated from God. We try to put ourselves in God’s place. This is nothing new. Way back in the garden of Eden, when Satan slithered up to Eve and urged her to do what God had forbidden, the serpent said, “You will be like God.” Adam and Eve believed Satan’s lie and did what God had told them not to do. Did they become like God? No, they became more like Satan. Did they remake Eden better than God had made it? No, they wrecked it and ruined themselves.

In light of what happened in back in Eden, it’s ironic that Lee Silver called his book about genetic manipulation Remaking Eden. Still today people are falling for Satan’s lie that they may cross any boundary, transcend their limits, and be like God: redesigning humanity, remaking Eden, and producing a paradise better than anything we could have on God’s terms.

There are many complex ethical questions raised by genetic engineering and reproductive technologies, and it’s not always easy to know the answers. But all too often, we’re not even asking the questions about what’s right or wrong. The only questions we ask are what is scientifically possible or economically feasible, not what is morally permissible. Nothing can interfere with “scientific progress” or “individual rights.”

The deepest evil in all this isn’t a particular monstrosity like cloning headless humans or helping lesbians to mix their genes and have a baby together or picking a baby’s traits from a catalog. These are ghastly goals for anyone to have, but they are just symptoms of a deeper problem. The fundamental problem is the underlying assumption that we can ignore God, rewrite morality, redefine the created order, manipulate nature any way we want, and do whatever we as individuals feel like doing. The problem is pride. We are headless humans, rejecting our divine Head, thinking we can take over from God.

This proud effort to replace God was the essence of Satan’s rebellion against the Almighty, and it lies at the heart of human sin as well. We recognize no divine Head; we answer to no one but ourselves. We count on our own know-how and power to handle anything that comes along. This tendency is especially strong in civilizations where people have enjoyed major advances in learning and technical know-how and economic prosperity. We see it in our own society, and when we look back through history, we see it in other sophisticated, wealthy societies as well.

In the Bible book of Ezekiel the Lord confronted the city-state of Tyre. Tyre was located about 100 miles northwest of Jerusalem. It was a center for shipping and international trade, with access to inventions and luxuries from all over. The people of Tyre were educated, skilled in business, prosperous, and proud. Tyre had such a thriving economy that the people thought they’d always be wealthy, and such a strategic position that they thought Tyre could never be conquered.

But God was tired of Tyre. In Ezekiel 27 the Lord pictured Tyre as a ship: splendid, strong, well built, manned by experts, loaded with luxury and goods of every sort–but doomed to sink. Tyre was like the Titanic. People marveled at its luxury and technology and bragged, “Even God couldn’t sink this ship.” But God said to titanic Tyre, “Your wealth, merchandise and wares, your mariners, seamen and shipwrights, your merchants and all your soldiers, and everyone else on board will sink into the heart of the sea on the day of your shipwreck” (Ezekiel 27:27).

God also had a message especially for the king of Tyre. In Ezekiel 28 God told this arrogant ruler,

“In the pride of your heart you say, ‘I am a god…’ But you are a man and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god… Is no secret hidden from you? By your wisdom and understanding you have gained wealth for yourself… By your great skill in trading you have increased your wealth, and because of your wealth your heart has grown proud” (Ezekiel 28:2-5).

With technology, trade, transportation, and tentacles controlling financial interests in many countries, Tyre was a lot like a modern multi-national, multi-billion dollar corporation. It took quite a man to run the whole thing, a man as talented as a god–at least that’s what the king of Tyre thought. He was a headless human: he didn’t honor the Lord as his head but admired his own wisdom and accomplishments. God, however, was not impressed. He told the king that because he thought himself as wise as a god, he would be destroyed: “You will be but a man, not a god, in the hands of those who slay you” (Ezekiel 28:9-10).

Did God enjoy sinking Tyre or destroying its brilliant king? No, God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone” (Ezekiel 18:32). His final words about Tyre and its king are a lament. Tyre had so much talent, expertise, beauty, and riches, so many of God’s good gifts, that it was a tragedy for them to be destroyed. God pictures Tyre in terms of the lovely garden of Eden, and the king of Tyre in terms of a perfect angel, a mighty guardian cherub. But the king became proud like an angel trying to be God, like Satan himself; and like a fallen angel, he had to be thrown down and judged for his pride. The city, like Adam and Eve in Eden, wanted to be like God, and so Tyre had to die. The ruin of such a grand civilization and such a brilliant ruler was tragic, but they had to be judged for their pride and evil (Ezekiel 28:11-19).

We too have a civilization that is marvelous in many ways. We live in the most technically advanced, prosperous society in history. We’ve accomplished things and produced marvels that previous generations couldn’t even have imagined. Wouldn’t it be a shame for us to ruin all that and bring God’s judgment on ourselves through our pride and disobedience? It would be as tragic as the destruction of Tyre.

In fact, it would be even more tragic, and the judgment even more terrible, in light of the fact that we have easy access to the full truth of Jesus in the Bible. Tyre existed centuries before Jesus came, with far less of God’s revelation available. We, on the other hand, have the opportunity to learn all about Jesus: his teachings, his perfect life, his astonishing miracles, his death to pay for our sins, his resurrection, his headship over all things. If, despite all that, we still reject him, then what? “I tell you,” warns Jesus, “it will be more bearable for Tyre … on the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:22).

The message in Ezekiel of judgment on Tyre wasn’t for Tyre only. It’s a warning to us all, especially to those of us who have been blessed with learning and technology and wealth. It’s a warning to all who ignore God and are tempted to assume man is the measure of all things and the master of all things. If you live as a headless human with no connection to Jesus and no sense of needing him, you fit God’s description of the king of Tyre: “‘In the pride of your heart you say, “I am a god…” But you are a man and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god.'”

When we think we’re as wise as God, we see no need to think about God at all. The Bible says, “In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God” (Psalm 10:4). Does God want us to clone headless human mutants? Does God want us to find ways for men to be mothers or for lesbians to reproduce with each other or for a woman to carry a clone of herself in her own womb? Why ask what God wants? “The marketplace will be the final arbiter,” says Lee Silver.

Besides, he says, “The ethical issues that most bioethicists focus on are phony. They are worried about scientists messing in God’s domain or with mother nature, but every time you take an aspirin or you give your child a vaccine, you are messing with mother nature. I don’t think any bioethicist would withhold polio vaccine from their children, so they are hypocritical when the criticize new reprogenetic technologies.” Apparently, Silver sees no difference between relieving a headache and cloning yourself, between vaccinating a child and slicing up mutant humans for spare parts, between nurturing a child and treating children as commodities in catalogs. He see no distinction between having some influence over nature and trying to be the absolute lords of nature.

According to the Bible, God created humanity with a right and responsibility to rule certain aspects of creation, but that doesn’t make us absolute monarchs responsible to no one but ourselves. We’re not headless humans operating on our own; we’re stewards of God under our Head, Jesus Christ. God tells us to take care of creation and subdue it, but we must do that within the limits of God has set, according to his creation order and within the boundaries of his commands. We must tread very carefully when we artificially mix the genetic material of species that God created distinct, or when we blur his created distinction between male and female, or when we bypass his design for human reproduction, or when we treat children as property.

Beware of playing God. Cloning advocate Richard Seed says, “God made man in his own image and His plan for humankind is that we should become one with God… Cloning is a significant step in the right direction.” Is that so? God says, “You are a man and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god.”

Unless God has mercy on us and humbles us and unites us with our rightful head, Jesus, our arrogance is sure to bring God’s judgment upon us. We may manage to grab a few God-like powers, but our character is so far from being God-like that the more power we seize, the greater our danger becomes. Part of that judgment may come in the form of our own runaway powers turning on us and destroying us, the way the fictional Dr. Frankenstein’s monster destroyed him.

Our nuclear technology enables us to blow up everybody on the planet. Our obstetric technology enables us to abort our own children by the millions. Soon our genetic technology may enable us to clone ourselves or build headless humans for replacement parts. Now that we have the power to blow ourselves up, we’d like the power to make ourselves immortal. But then what? In the unlikely event that sinful humans did somehow come up with a technique for making ourselves immortal, the result would be not paradise but hell. After all, hell is by definition the place where the immoral becomes immortal. Hell is the place where people who want to live forever without God get their wish.

God is God; we’re not. The sooner we recognize that, the better. The only way to live forever in joy is through receiving eternal life from Jesus Christ our Head.

Meanwhile, let’s not think that the only headless humans, the only people who act as though they’re God, are the king of Tyre or some arrogant genetic researchers. A headless human is anyone who lives in pride. It’s anyone who ignores God’s way and sings with Frank Sinatra, “I did it my way.” To see a headless human, you may need to look no further than the nearest mirror. When you look in the mirror, you’ll see a face, but does that person you see have a Head? Is that person in the mirror connected to the Lord Jesus Christ and under his headship? Don’t be a headless human. Call on Jesus today.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.