A Christian Perspective on Transhumanism – Classic

In this classic episode, Drs. Darrell Bock and Fazale “Fuz” Rana discuss artificial intelligence, focusing on transhumanism and how science is a bridge to the gospel.

About The Table Podcast

The Table is a weekly podcast on topics related to God, Christianity, and cultural engagement brought to you by the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. The show features interviews with guests who are experts on the chosen topic, and each episode is hosted by a member of The Hendricks Center’s team.

Timecodes
02:33
How Rana converted from Islam to Christianity
04:57
Transhumanism defined
07:55
Balanced approach to transhumanism
11:37
Robotic prosthetic limbs, brain computer interface and artificial skin
16:00
Neuroethics defined
17:43
AI and immortality
23:36
Advances in anti-aging technology
28:17
Neuroethics and philosophy
31:31
What it means to be human
34:56
Ethical questions about COVID vaccines
42:12
Embryos as source of stem cells
45:56
Developing a Christian perspective of transhumanism
Resources

Apologetics organization, Reasons to Believe

Book by Fazale R. Rana with Kenneth R. Samples, Humans 2.0:  Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Perspectives on Transhumanism

Book by J. B. S. Haldane, Daedalus, or, Science and the Future

Book by Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Book by Brent Waters, This Mortal Flesh

Pontifical Academy for Life

Transcript

Darrell Bock:
On The Table, we discuss issues of God and culture. I'm Darrell Bock, Executive Director for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. And our topic today is a book entitled Humans 2.0, which I guess the question would be: does 1.0, go back to Adam and Eve? Where do we start with 1.0? But anyway, first, is it Fuz Rana? Am I going to pronounce that right?

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Yes. That's right, Fuz Rana.

Darrell Bock:
Sometimes I have to guess at the last name. So that's great. He's Vice President of Research and Apologetics at Reasons To Believe. He's located in Southern California. He's with us by Zoom today. And Fuz is one of two authors of a book, a major author in fact, of Humans 2.0: Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Perspectives on Transhumanism. I guess, well, let me ask you the first question, which is tell us a little bit about yourself, reasons to believe, and how did a nice guy like you get into a gig like this?

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Well, I like to think it's God's calling. No, I'm a biochemist by training and after finishing up my education, I worked for a number of years in research and development. But it was really science and particularly the elegant designs of biochemical systems that convinced me there was a Creator when I was a graduate student, and that long story short led to my conversion to Christianity. And over the years, I have always had interest in science, faith issues. An opportunity opened up, oh, well, over 20 years ago now to join Reasons to Believe on a full-time basis. And so I jumped at that opportunity.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Our organization is about how to integrate science with the Christian faith with an eye towards developing apologetic materials that the church can use. And then really trying to encourage people to use those materials really for service of evangelism. So we consider ourselves to be an evangelistic organization more so than anything else where we see science as a powerful bridge to the gospel.

Darrell Bock:
Very interesting. So if I'm listening to your story carefully, you came to the Lord in the midst of college or graduate school? In other words, down the road, you didn't grow up in a Christian home?

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
No, I didn't at all. In fact, I have an unusual name and an Islamic name. My father was a Muslim. And so I grew up in a home where Islam was the primary faith that was expressed, and even seriously dabbled in Islam in my teenage years before I just kind of walked away from it. And really embraced more of a position of agnosticism than anything else.

Darrell Bock:
So your work, I guess it's the intricacy of, for lack of a better description, biological design and those kinds of things that opened up the door for you to see God's handiwork and then go from there?

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Yeah, that's exactly right. Biochemical systems are so elegant and sophisticated, there's an ingenuity to them. And that really begs the question, how did these systems come about? And as a graduate student, I was exploring chemical evolutionary models for the origin of biochemistry, and really felt like none of those was adequate. And the only thing left was really... there was a mind that somehow must have produced life, and that then led to questions like, well, who is this mind? And do I relate to that mind at all? There was a pastor who introduced me to the Christian faith by challenging me to read the Bible. I'd never had seriously read the Bible until that point in time until he issued that challenge. And it was the Sermon on the Mount that convinced me that Jesus's identity, that Jesus was who Christians claimed him to be.

Darrell Bock:
That's fascinating because the Sermon on the Mount was actually very also responsible for my own coming to the Lord, the end of it, it made it clear that Jesus wasn't just a religious gripe, but that you had to deal with him. So, interesting. Well, let me ask you for another explanation. You can take this anyway you want to go with it. Whether you want to go through the Humans 2.0 portal, or you want to go through the transhumanism portal. Either one of those, what in the world are you trying to raise by this topic?

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Well, what we're trying to do in the book is really begin to engage in a serious way from a Christian worldview perspective, an idea known as transhumanism. And in my experience, very few people have actually heard of transhumanism, but they're far more familiar with the ideas behind transhumanism than they might think. In a nutshell, transhumanism is this idea that we have a moral obligation. I just want to pause there for a minute because those are strong words. But transhumanists feel that as humanity, we have a moral obligation to use science and technology to modify our biological makeup as human beings, really in a sense taking control of our own evolution, and in doing so, correct the flaws that are part of our anatomical design and enhance our capabilities beyond our natural biological limits, making us more intelligent, stronger, more psychologically well adjusted.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
The reason why transhumanists see this as an imperative is because they feel like there is pain and suffering that arises out of our limitations. And they ultimately see our fate as human beings, which is our own personal death, as well as the eminent extinction of the human species, as an intolerable. And so they see science and technology as the way to overcome our greatest biological limitation, namely our own mortality. They see our destiny as a human species in what science and technology can deliver. So it's an idea that I think is going to be the most influential idea in the next several decades, and will really shape the world that we live in, particularly as our world becomes more and more secular.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
People are going to turn to science and technology as a source of salvation. So it's an idea that again, is kind of the fodder for science fiction, but it's becoming a reality before our very eyes, because of advances in biotechnology and bioengineering.

Darrell Bock:
So that means, I listened to that and I go, well, atually haven't we been on this road for a little bit of time anyway? When we think about the way in which medicine functions in our lives and the way in which it helps us with disease and that kind of thing, we're sort of on that highway a little bit, aren't we? But this is taking it and, having a little fun here, putting it on steroids in a sense, right, and going the step beyond? Oh, let me just introduce the three areas that you discuss in setting up the next question.

Darrell Bock:
The three approaches that you discuss are genetics, bionics, and anti-aging, at least that's the way I've categorized them very much as a lay person in this. And so part of what I find fascinating in your book is what I will call the balance of it, which is: you've got a very good balance between distinguishing that which is helpful and which does serve humanity well, from that which I need to be concerned about in this movement. So, help us in general with kind of that space, because like I said, in one sense we're on this highway already. We don't just let disease run its course. We try and fight it, that kind of thing. So help us with that space a little bit?

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Yeah. Well, in many respects as you're rightly pointing out Darrell, as human beings, we rely on technology, and we depend upon science to discover things about the world that we can then apply in the form of technology with the idea of making our lives easier, and better improving the quality of our lives. We intervene when we can to mitigate human pain and suffering that arises through diseases and through injury. We want to see human beings flourish. And so technology is a very powerful tool towards this end. While we've always been able to use technology really in many respects to augment our biological capabilities, there's a difference between getting in a car to... or getting in an airplane to facilitate the rapid travel from one location to another, versus literally modifying our biological makeup to the point where we potentially might even alter our very nature as human beings in order to achieve a greater quote on quote "quality of life."

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
So this is really where transhumanism I think is distinguishes itself, is none of these technologies fundamentally alter our biology. But with transhumanism, that's what you really are looking at hence the idea of transhumanism or Humans 2.0. Transhumanists really want to reinvent humanity, kind of ushering in what you might call a post-human future, and this idea has been around for a long time. It goes back to the days of J. B. S . Haldane, and his book Daedalus, which was the inspiration for Huxley's book, A Brave New World. But nobody really took the idea seriously in an academic sense.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
It was the fodder for science fiction, but suddenly we've got these technologies like gene editing with the CRISPR [CRISPR/Cas9] editing technology, or brain computer interfaces, or we're seeing remarkable advances in anti-aging technology that suddenly give transhumanists the tools they need to essentially execute their agenda. And to me, I think their ideas are going to be very appealing to many people, because while somebody may be hesitant to sign on the dotted line saying, "I am a card carrying transhumanist," they are going to be very much enamored with the prospects of becoming stronger, more intelligent, living longer through the use of technology, and increasingly are going to be willing to subject themselves to modifications, technological modifications of their biology, to achieve these very things. What's so complex about this issue is it's hard just to simply condemn what transhumanists are trying to achieve, because this technology can be used for so much good, particularly in biomedicine.

Darrell Bock:
So I'm hearing two things that kind of are colliding, which is not unusual when we live in a fallen world. On the one hand, I hear there's a creativity that is a part of this about design and about managing, what I call managing the garden well, our stewardship, which is built into the way we're made in the image of God. So that part of it is a check if you will. But I'm also hearing that, that ability to kind of alter who we are made in the image of God also exists. And so it's kind of figuring out where the line is between those two things. Am I characterizing that correctly?

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Yes, you are. Let's just talk, use a concrete example just to kind of flush this out a little bit. Let's say somebody has suffered a serious injury and they've lost a limb, right? And so we now have the capability of building these very sophisticated prosthetic robotic limbs. And with something called a brain computer interface, which is an electronic device that you can essentially implant in the brain. You can teach patients through that interface to learn how to use the electrical activity in their brain to direct the movement of a robotic prosthetic limb, to the point where they even develop a sense of ownership of the limb. And you could equip that limb with what's called artificial skin that can pick up activity in the environment, the heat, it can sense pressure, can sense cold, and send electrical signals to the brain that our brain learns to interpret as sensations about the environment.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
And so this could revolutionize how we treat people that have been injured and have lost the use of a limb. Suddenly, it could revolutionize their lives. So who isn't excited about these kinds of prospects? But on the other hand, if we could do that, then what's to keep me if I was a pro athlete from intentionally amputating my legs to get these bionic legs that are going to make me stronger, and be able to run faster, right? Or would it be okay for somebody to undergo that operation, if that allows them to do some kind of labor. Some kind of job where super strength would actually be required,? You're kind of are in this gray zone , right, of is this really okay? Is this not okay? At what point can we make these modifications without really losing our identity as human beings?

Darrell Bock:
Yeah. And an example that I thought caught my attention, at least one of them. There are several of the book, is the case of someone who's a quadriplegic. Again, very similar technology I take it that even their thoughts and expressions are capable of allowing them to move, or perhaps even allowing them, if they can't speak, even utter and communicate with people in a way that was not even considered possible before. I'm thinking, "Whoa, that that would be something." I could see someone coming along and saying, "That's enhancing their humanity. That is giving them the ability to communicate and interact with the environment around them in a way that they currently struggled to do." That kind of thing.

Darrell Bock:
Then there are other moves that are made that are more technical. You make a distinction in here that maybe helps us with this. And that is you talk about, I think therapeutic enhancements and then other kinds of enhancements. I can't remember off the top of my head the title you give to the second category, but you say something that's therapeutic that's kind of restorative, for lack of a better perhaps synonym. That's one thing, but when you go to an enhancement level or an alteration level, then that's raising other sets of concerns.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Yes. Yeah. And even when you start talking about even therapeutic uses, there's all kinds of ethical issues that are emerging. Like, with brain computer interfaces, there's a new area in ethics called "neuroethics" now, where people are really asking questions because there's a collaboration being formed between the human patient and the brain computer interface to direct the activity of electronic devices and machine hardware: Who is actually the autonomous agent here? Is it the patient? Is it the brain computer interface? Is it a combination of the two? And would that patient have actually intended to carry out that action if it wasn't for the brain computer interface, the influence of that brain computer interface? So you start getting into some really sticky, ethical issues just simply even in terms of therapeutics.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
But now when you start talking about using this technology for other purposes to enhance our intellectual capabilities, that really begins to open up a whole nother set of ethical questions that are not only ethical, but also theological in nature too. For example, recently Elon Musk has formed a company called Neuralink. He's trying to develop the next generation of brain computer interfaces, and commercialize them. And so he sees these as not only having biomedical utility, but the next interface between the human user and electronic devices. So, instead of Siri or Alexa, you just now have a brain computer interface implanted in your brain that you use to control all the smart devices-

Darrell Bock:
You don't have to talk to Alexa, you can just think about it.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
That's exactly right, but interestingly enough, Elon Musk's ultimate motivation behind this, which he sees as an imperative, is he's afraid of the coming AI revolution. He's afraid of artificial intelligence. And could we actually create an autonomous AI system that would then jeopardize humanity? He argues that unless we're able to use these interfaces to augment our intellectual capability, by marrying the human brain with a computer hardware and software, we would have no chance against AI systems. This is the only way we're going to be able to compete with them. He sees this as absolutely necessary for our survival as a species. And yet this same kind of technology also inspires people that kind of hold to the Ray Kurzweil view of maybe one day we could upload our minds, or our essence, into machine hardware, and suddenly we have a new type of, we have a type of an immortality, where we separate our mind from our failing biological encasement or our vessels.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Now there's a whole bunch of worldview and philosophical ideas embedded within that vision about the nature of humanity and the nature of the brain and the mind, but these kinds of advances that really inspire people to think that this might be possible one day. As a result, this becomes, again, a very appealing gospel of sorts to people, "I'm not going to trust in the person of Christ. I'll trust in what technology can deliver. "

Darrell Bock:
Okay. So let's put some of these pieces together. So we've got the genetics, the bionics, and the anti-aging. My understanding is another way to this kind of "immortality," if I'll put it that way, that pushes into the transhuman space is the way in which our understanding of genetics is changing, becoming more precise, the ability to work on and, or reproduce and, or change, or alter our genetics, so that certain things don't happen again. Just thinking about this positively for a second, I'm speaking as layman, "If we can isolate that part of a genetic code that triggers a disease, and we are able to, I'll just use an image, do "surgery" on that piece of material so that it won't trigger, so that I don't have the disease."

Darrell Bock:
Your initial gut reaction is, "That's a good thing. That's positive if we could wipe out disease that way." But if I alter it in such a way that I become a different kind of person in the process, at a more significant level, which I take it as conceivable, then that's a different conversation. Have I mapped that territory out nicely enough?

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
You sure have. Yeah. And that's because the power of CRISPR gene editing is mind boggling. There's still some technical issues that need to be addressed, significant technical issues that need to be addressed before this really is going to move into a clinical setting. But literally it could revolutionize medicine. There are thousands and thousands of genetic disorders that many of them rare where there's no treatment for whatsoever. There's no way to manage these diseases successfully. And if you could go in and replace a defective gene that's causing that genetic disorder with a healthy version of that gene, you could mitigate the symptoms of the disease. And so this is really, really very exciting, but that same technology could again be used to create designer babies if you apply it at the embryo level, or it could be used to to modify human beings beyond our natural biological limits.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
This is a reality that's in front of us, and what's alarming to me as a biochemist is CRISPR gene editing is so inexpensive and so easy to use that it literally has spawned something known as a "biology DIY movement," a biology do it yourself movement, where there are people that are now arguing that this type of technology should not be in the hands of the scientific and medical elites, but rather it should be democratized. Everybody should be able to have access to the technology, and we should have the right to modify our bodies any way that we deem acceptable. And because of the inexpense and the ease of use, this is a reality that's really upon us.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
You can actually go on Amazon and buy a CRISPR gene editing kit for under $200. Now, it's a relatively harmless little science experiment, but if you have Amazon Prime, in the next day or two, you could be doing gene editing experiments on your kitchen counter. And yet if you ramp up the price into the $5,000 range, you can get kits that really allow you to do some rather sophisticated gene editing. The cat is out of the bag, so to speak when it comes to this kind of technology.

Darrell Bock:
Well, the challenge of that of course is immense. We've talked about genetics a little bit, we've talked about bionics. Let's talk about anti-aging. What's going on in that sphere?

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Yeah. Here again, we're seeing another revolution that's happening within medicine where increasingly a growing number of biogerontologist and medical professionals are beginning to view aging as a disease. Instead of viewing aging as just part of our natural life processes, they actually view aging as a disease. And if it's a disease, than it means it's something that we can treat, something that we can cure. And so a growing number of, again, medical professionals are looking at ways to not only arrest the aging process, but actually reverse the aging process. There are highly credible scientists that are advancing these different ideas on how we might actually be able to go about doing something like that. And people like Aubrey de Grey, which some of your listeners may have heard of, is one of the leading pioneers in this area, who has produced this multi-pronged approach for how to bring about the end of the aging process.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
But just in the last year or so, there have been two separate scientific studies that have been published in highly reputable journals, where researchers have shown that through two different types of regimes, they can actually reverse the aging process in test subjects. One study involved hyperbaric oxygen treatments, and another involved treatments with growth hormone. And after the administering these treatments over the course of a year, the test subjects actually had a biological age that was less --two years less-- than their chronological age. There are certain biomarkers that will correlate with age, and those markers actually indicated that the test subjects became "younger," biologically speaking, through these treatments, as opposed to actually aging in a way that was commensurate with their chronological age.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
And so this is just the beginnings of really some potential revolutions in medicine. And many people see aging as, if not a disease, as being the primary causative factor for things like cancers and cardiovascular disease, diabetes. The number one risk factor in some of these diseases that plague many of us is actually our age. So the idea is if we can make ourselves younger, or prevent aging from happening at such a rapid rate, we could literally transform medicine where these kinds of diseases would be something that would be rather rare as opposed to being commonplace. So it's a revolution that's happening in medicine with these advancing technologies.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
I'm sure you're familiar with Brent Waters. He's written a wonderful book that I would highly commend to your listeners called, This Mortal Flesh. It's a little bit dated now, but his insight is really very powerful. But he expresses in the book concern that medicine is actually becoming a discipline that's no longer going to be focused on treating people who suffer from diseases. It's going to become more and more an area of work where the goal would be life extension, and human enhancement. These advances in anti-aging are really a harbinger for the type of thing that Brent Waters was expressing concern about.

Darrell Bock:
Well, I can see the commercial around the corner that as you turned 60, the hope is you really can't go back to being 29. I imagined some people would be attracted to that possibility. So I can see the nature of it. So let's shift gears a little bit. That's kind of the lay of the land and what's going on here. Why is this ethically so challenging? Other than the seeming attraction of it on the surface, the fact that it emerges out of a context, which is largely secular. And so where else are you going to go, if that's your world view. That kind of thing. What are the specific kinds of ethical challenges you see this area producing for Christians? And then we'll follow up with a discussion of, so how should Christians think about this?

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Yeah. Well, there's a myriad of ethical problems that start to arise. Some of them are universal across these three technologies. Others are distinct to each individual technology, but I categorize them in broad terms. There's always concerns about justice and equitable access to technologies, particularly if these technologies can be used for enhancement purposes, because if you have the wherewithal to become enhanced, and that creates an advantage for you, socially and economically, then that obviously can create a tiered society where there are the haves and the have-nots, even worse than what we see in today's world. That's one concern.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
The other concern is loss of human identity, and exploitation of human beings. Some of the technologies, particularly the technologies that involve gene editing, require if we're going to use them, to apply them at the embryo stage. Then that in and of itself opens up all kinds of pro-life issues. But if you apply them at the embryo stage, you're going to have to have a source of eggs, for example, human eggs, and that opens up the possibility of exploiting against socioeconomically disadvantaged women, and things like that, not to mention the destruction of human embryos. Or if you're looking at an anti-aging technology that involves embryonic stem cells, again, all kinds of pro-life issues emerge.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
There's issues with loss of autonomy, and loss of freedom. There's even issues that relate to generational relationships, where if we have a world where suddenly people can live for hundreds of years, that dramatically changes the way future generations look at the current generation. Where both generations now represent threats to one another as opposed to the current generation actually serving the future generation, which is currently the way our societies are structured. So that means the ethical issues are legion. What is of concern to me is most of the ethical deliberations I see are from a secular perspective. It's secular bioethics, which is rooted in consequentialism and utilitarianism. It becomes evident very quickly that those approaches to these kinds of ethical problems really fall short in terms of simultaneously encouraging the development of these very powerful technologies to ensure that they're used for good, while at the same time, protecting those people that are vulnerable, those people that are marginalized in our world today.

Darrell Bock:
So, just thinking about this, and this is a philosophical theological question. One of the things that secularism does is it tends to view the world very materially, and almost exclusively material, so material categories. The way I guess I explained this is it's hard to deal with the soul if you don't think a soul exists. So those are the concerns, the theological concerns that kind of overlap with the philosophical elements of what we're talking about here, and where the worldviews to some degree collide, because there's only one set of concerns that some people are worried about. There's the nature of thinking through what a human being is beyond the material that theologians are concerned about. And those two things are colliding.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Yeah. That's a great way to think about this. That it really is a collision of worldviews in many respects, but what I see as potentially kind of common ground, are the concern that people in our culture have today with with issues of social justice, and that is a loaded term, I understand. But we all are concerned about fairness and about inequality and making sure that there's genuine justice in the world, which is a wonderful thing, regardless of how you attach political ideas and other ideas to it. Inherently, we all want a sense of justice. This is where I think the Christian worldview can gain I think a foothold within these deliberations within our culture, because as Christians, we are concerned about the dignity, and the sanctity of every human being. Every human being has life, every human being has worth.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
We want to make sure that everybody has access to these technologies. We want to make sure that nobody is exploited in the process of developing these technologies. Because with consequentialism or utilitarianism, you could make a case that it's okay for a single woman to be exploited for her eggs if that leads to several hundred individuals being able to have children that are free from disease, and maybe even are able to contribute to society at a very high level, because they have certain enhancements that are deemed valuable by our society. So in a utilitarian sense, that scenario could be deemed to be acceptable. And you could justify it by saying, "Well, we're paying this woman money, or we're providing some benefit to her for this." Whereas from a Christian worldview perspective, we would see this as being horrifically exploitive. I think that, again provides us with a pathway to, I think give the Christian worldview a hearing in these conversations.

Darrell Bock:
Yeah. The whole area seems to me to be extremely challenging. Let me talk about a couple of areas that touch on kind of what we've been through recently that are kind of the early stages of this. I know that there's a lot of discussion. I almost hesitate to bring this up. I know there's been a lot of discussion about the way in which the vaccines that deal with COVID have been either produced, or tested, to see their viability because they do get into this genetic space. I'm assuming as a biochemist, you're familiar with this.

Darrell Bock:
So help us think through that space a little bit, because my understanding is the various vaccines were produced slightly differently, and have slightly different levels of involvement with those kinds of concerns. Am I right to see these as kind of early examples of the type of dilemmas that we find ourselves in?

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Yes. Very much so because with the Pfizer-BioNTech, and the Moderna vaccines, which were messenger RNA vaccines, are the development of those vaccines and the production does not require human cells of any sort. Human cells were used for confirmatory testing for a limited number of experiments to make sure the vaccines did what they were supposed to do when they entered into human cells.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
The AstraZeneca and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines are called adenovirus vector vaccines. These required the use of human cells to develop. The human cells were used for confirmatory testing, and human cells were also used for, will have to be used for their production. The problem is that the human cells that were used are a particular cell line called HEK293, which essentially means that these were derived from a human embryo, or a human fetus, the kidney cells of a human fetus. So it's human embryo kidney cells. HEK, that's what the letters stand for.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
These fetal cells were harvested by a researcher, I think in Sweden, after an elective abortion took place and according to the claims, this abortion was completely disconnected from the act of harvesting the fetal cells. It was an elective abortion that was intended to terminate the pregnancy, after the fact these researchers came in and harvested cells, and then created the cell line that is now an immortal cell line that can be perpetrated forever, and has existed for 50 years. Researchers are using cells, and the production, the biotech companies, are using cells that were derived from a singular abortion again, 50 years ago, but they still are cells that were derived from an abortion.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
So we're not going to require the ongoing use of fetal cells for the production of these vaccines, but it is again, making use of cells that were derived from a fetus. You really are in this very complex ethical arena, as somebody who holds to a pro-life position, particularly is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine acceptable or not from an ethical standpoint? There's very interesting deliberations that happened from both perspectives.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
The way I think about it is, Look, I don't know that by taking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or refusing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, I'm encouraging, or I'm preventing an abortion from taking place, because it's already happened. It's after the fact. But I think this is a wonderful opportunity, if nothing else to talk about what I see to be the evils of abortion. But it's a complex issue where I can see people who are pro-life taking very different perspectives based on how you deliberate through this ethical quagmire. It's a very complex issue.

Darrell Bock:
Yeah. I've hard people distinguish between the two types and saying they're ethically comfortable with one, but not quite so ethically comfortable with the other, because of the nature of the involvement.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Yeah. I'm kind of in that camp too. If I have my choice, I would prefer either the Pfizer-BioNTech, or the Moderna as opposed to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But the fact of the matter is by refusing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, I'm not preventing an abortion from happening.

Darrell Bock:
Right. It's a fait accompli already. Yeah. The question is whether openness to that would encourage the continuance of that kind of use. That's the ethical conversation.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
I'm a biochemist. I'm not a bioethicists obviously, but I have read both Protestant as well as Catholic bioethicists, who are pro-life. And there seems to be kind of a consensus emerging in the sense that, "Look, this was an act that it's very far removed from the actual administering of the vaccine." And you're looking at really secondary, tertiary, and quaternary acts after the original act, which was every body would agree as immoral, at least as a pro-life person. They would justify the vaccines, or having people take the vaccines, under those circumstances. But I really like how the Pontifical Academy for Life has issued a challenge to the biotech industry saying, "You really need to develop a different source of human cells other than from abortions," where again, you have this ethical quagmire surrounding the vaccine.

Darrell Bock:
Am I right that in the book you discuss the possibility of developing, again, I'm going to be in lay terms, cell basis or something to deal with living cells and living people, as opposed to those that involve fetuses? I guess the back side question to that is what makes a fetus a particularly good candidate for this kind of work, as opposed to a living cell?

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Yeah. Well when these cell lines were developed, which was in the 1970s, you really took to develop a cell line that would be immortal. Most cells will reproduce only a limited number of times, and then the cells will no longer reproduce. What researchers do as they did at that time is they would go to fetal tissue, because those cells are not been fully developed. They're still in the process of development, so the cells are in kind of a more generalized state-

Darrell Bock:
No. Potential stage and could go in a variety of directions, right?

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Exactly. Right. Then they could take those cells and then they would have them manipulate them to immortalize them. There's a number of techniques they use to immortalize the cells. Once they've done that, it's a human cell, but it's unlike anything that would exist in nature. That's what they end up creating the cell lines with. In more recent years, people have been looking to embryos as a source of stem cells, very much like these researchers went to the fetus. Where they're looking at, again, getting cells at the embryo stage, which again, allow them to develop a whole different type of different type of human cells that they can manipulate in the laboratory.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Excitingly, there's some advances, like we now are discovering that there can be adult stem cells that can be used as opposed to fetal cells. So you can have an adult give us a tissue sample, and those cells can be converted into cell lines that might even be able to be transformed to have the properties of being immortal. We've discovered something called induced pluripotent stem cells, which behave like embryo cells, but are transformed from adult cells. So these are some exciting advances that kind of mitigate the need for relying on embryos. This is a beautiful example of really what I think the Pontifical Academy of Life is calling for is these kinds of advances.

Darrell Bock:
So that means that as a wonderful example of the dilemma that we have. It's conceivable that, in the near future, these kinds of moves won't be dependent on fetal tissue and tissues associated with abortions. But actually will be able to be drawn and harvested, if you want to use that word, from living people just like we do blood transfusions, if I can make an analogy. In that way, some of the ethical dilemmas that we started off with get taken care of because of the advancements that take place.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Yeah, that's exactly right. But this is all the more reason why I think it's important for people that are pro-life to really apply pressure. And with these vaccines, there's a pragmatism that has to creep in, and you hate to use the word pragmatism when you talk about ethics. Again the vaccines are highly controversial, but if we are to achieve herd immunity, people are going to have to be vaccinated. Once we achieve herd immunity, there's a whole lot of human pain and suffering and death that is going to be, that's going to come to an end, if we can attain, again, herd immunity, because there has been a huge toll on people all over the world in terms of their health, in terms of losing lives, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
And so bringing the pandemic to an end through vaccination is also, one could view, as being kind of a pro-life outcome or a pro-life objective. Again, the Pontifical Academy and other Protestant bioethicists have pointed out that again, by refusing the vaccine, we were actually endangering the lives of other people. And so that also has to be factored into the deliberation as well.

Darrell Bock:
Well, that's kind of a wonderful current sample of the nature of the problem of what it is that we're talking about, and contemplating here. I find this to be a very fascinating discussion. Like I say, most Christians, they may have heard about it, but they probably heard about it through the science fiction lands, as opposed to through the actual conversation of kind of where we stand. So what would be your advice to Christians thinking about this area in terms of what's involved? I'm just a little theologian tucked away over here, and then we've got housewives and people who work in the business world who think about this and say, "I think I'll just leave that to the scientist, or I won't think about it, or they'll take the "gone with the wind" approach: I'll think about that tomorrow." What advice would you give?

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Well, I think transhumanism is going to be one of the most influential ideas in the next several decades that we will be confronted with. This idea is going to bring with it a whole host of issues that we will have to be concerned with as Christians, because they will impact each of our lives. We will have to make decisions for our sake, and for the sake of our children and grandchildren about how this technology is going to be deployed, and how it's going to be used. And as Christians, I think we really want to make sure that we have the credibility, so that the Christian worldview has a place in these conversations. There is power to the Christian worldview, I think in terms of ethical deliberations that I think is unmatched, when you look at secular systems of ethics.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
I think as Christians, we want to shape our culture and we want to shape our culture, so that we promote the human flourishing and we mitigate pain and suffering. But also this issue of transhumanism at the end of the day is opening up a need that every human being has for hope, purpose and destiny. That it's that people recognize that death is the enemy. They're seeking after salvation through science and technology. But this is a wonderful opportunity, I think for the gospel to be relevant in a brand new and fresh way. That people that are seeking salvation through science and technology are opening themselves up to what the gospel offers. I think this also makes Christianity relevant in a surprising way in the years to come I think.

Darrell Bock:
Yeah. I think there's an element of, what we call it human self-understanding, and human identity that's wrapped up in this conversation. And if you have a view that basically says we're a collection of chemical combinations, I'm going to characterize a little bit. That's all we are, versus, No, there's something really purposeful about the way in which we're designed and made for pretty fundamental discussion.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
It is. It is. I work for an organization where, so oftentimes people use science as a way to erect a barrier between them, and in the Christian faith. What I see with transhumanism is actually people are using science to lay bare the most profound and deepest need that every human being has, which again, is a sense of hope and purpose and destiny. People are going to seek after that in some place or other. As they're seeking, this is again, a golden opportunity for us to articulate the gospel, because the gospel will not disappoint in the way that ultimately science and technology will disappoint.

Darrell Bock:
And the interesting thing of course, is at the end, this is an irony, I guess, Christianity does offer a form of immortality. So you can work at it. You can do it the old fashioned way by a lot of hard work, or you can embrace it by grace, and get in touch with the Creator God.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Yeah. Well, Christianity is the ultimate expression of transhumanism, isn't it?

Darrell Bock:
Yeah. So why short circuit it, right? Anyway, well, this has been fabulous. I really do appreciate your willingness to discuss this with us and take the time to do it with us, and very, very enlightening. I'm sure it's the first of several conversations we'll have. Actually, I was thinking about this as reading the book. I said, "We actually could spend literally a podcast on each one of these subgroupings: the genetics, the bionics, and the anti-aging." What I love about your book is you kind of come with a surgeon general's warning at the start that says, "If you don't want to go through all the blood and guts of what each of these three things are, just jump to this chapter." Unfortunately, I'm one of these people who doesn't believe in jumping.

Darrell Bock:
So, I waded through all of it, some of which I got, some of which I didn't, but I certainly got the big picture. What a challenge this is and what a service you've done to the church to help open it up to people and put it to the level in which they can understand, not only what's going on, but also the issues that are tied up with it. So thank you very much for being with us today.

Dr. Fazale "Fuz" Rana:
Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure and an honor.

Darrell Bock:
We thank you for joining us on the table. We hope you'll join us again soon. If you get a chance, and hear this through a subscription service, please leave a review of what you've appreciated about this. This helps us in terms of our own circulation. And if you're interested in subscribing, you can subscribe through the URL dts.edu/tablepodcast. That'll certainly put you in a position where you can subscribe, and get these automatically each week. We thank you for joining us at The Table, and hope you'll join us again soon.

Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock has earned recognition as a Humboldt Scholar (Tübingen University in Germany), is the author of over 40 books, including well-regarded commentaries on Luke and Acts and studies of the historical Jesus, and work in cultural engagement as host of the seminary's Table Podcasts. He was president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) for 2000–2001, writes for the Christianity Today's Places and Space series, and serves on the boards of Wheaton College, Chosen People Ministries, the Institute for Global Engagement, and Christians in Public Service (CIPS). His articles appear in leading publications. He is often an expert for the media on NT issues. Dr. Bock has been a New York Times best-selling author in nonfiction and is elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Dallas. When traveling overseas, he will tune into the current game involving his favorite teams from Houston—live—even in the wee hours of the morning. Married for over 40 years to Sally, he is a proud father of two daughters and a son and is also a grandfather.
Fazale Rana
Dr. Fazale Rana, PhD (Ohio University), Vice President of Research and Apologetics at Reasons to Believe, became a Christian as a graduate student studying biochemistry. The cell’s complexity, elegance, and sophistication coupled with the inadequacy of evolutionary scenarios to account for life’s origin compelled him to conclude that life must stem from a Creator. Reading through the Sermon on the Mount convinced Him that Jesus was who Christians claimed Him to be:  Lord and Savior. Still, evangelism wasn’t important to him – until his father died. His death helped him to appreciate how vital evangelism is. It was at that point he dedicated himself to Christian apologetics and the use of science as a tool to build bridges with nonbelievers. In 1999, he left his position in R&D at a Fortune 500 company to join Reasons to Believe because he felt that the most important thing he could do as a scientist is to communicate to skeptics and believers alike the powerful scientific evidence – evidence that is being uncovered day after day – for God’s existence and the reliability of Scripture.
Contributors
Darrell L. Bock
Fazale Rana
Details
August 30, 2022
genetics
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