Genetically modified babies - immoral?

Is it biblical to allow humans to create babies with genes that have no diseases, high IQ, etc?

Wouldn’t they still have souls, regardless of the amount of genetic manipulation?

And in like 50 thousand years, humans could look completely different from what we look like now, but they would still have souls. Correct?

Those are tough issues when we look at the ethics of genetic manipulation. The soul issue I will leave up to God, as it gets too complex, once you consider identical twins and triplets, as well as chimeras. I think we would conclude that the soul is not in the DNA. This dovetails nicely with the genetic vs genealogical Adam discussed on another thread.
To have the ability to cure or arrest genetic disease is pretty awesome, and having had few patients die with cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s, and other diseases that might be curable by genetic means I look forward to that possibility. I rather doubt that we will ever mess with how people look, and the population is just to large and fluid to think that genetic manipulation will make a population wide change, but for some individuals, it will be life changing.
(People are crazy though, and I guess some Trekkie couple somewhere will want a baby who looks Klingon.)

CT had a great article a few months back on this issue. I tried to get some people to discuss it with me, but there were no takers.

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Enjoyed the article, thanks for sharing. It speaks to the difference between enhancement and therapy. I would agree with the author that moving forward does not impair our view of a Creator.
In any case, I have to admit I am troubled by such things as putting human genes in pigs, to grow compatable organ replacements etc. That is just creepy on some level. So, where is the dividing line?

Interesting questions. In some sense I wonder if this discussion is related to what it really means to be created in the Image of God. In light of John Walton’s idea and several articles on this website, it is not so much our abilities or physical appearance but instead it is a divine purpose given to us by our Creator. In that sense, ‘homo sapiens’ have a specific purpose, but this does not disallow for there to be such a divine purpose for past homo species (i.e. God could have had a unique purpose similar to homo sapiens with Neanderthals but we do not have any written record of that) nor for any future ‘species’ of the genus ‘homo.’

People are going to do it regardless of whether or not Christians approve. And if they are successful then what? I can see large masses of Christian shunning such genetically modified people in the same way they shun homosexuals or other people groups. All in the name of a particular interpretation of Scripture? Maybe I’m off here, but excellent questions!

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I like how the consulted pastors brought it back to a question to the effect: “how will this influence us to view others?” or “will this cause us to dehumanize others in any way?”

In one sense this has already been an age-old problem. People (especially women) have been objectified all through history. So there is nothing new about this or that industry contributing to our dehumanization of each other. To get people to even be asking this question at all on the front side of the innovation is probably a victory of some sort.

So I’m struggling with whether or not this genetic level raises this to some special new level --or is it just doing the same thing only a lot more obviously? As with any new technology I think the stakes (and dangers) mount ever higher.

With all due respect to George Church and his CRISPR innovation, I still imagine (from my barely knowledgeable outsider’s view) that this must still be more like a kid playing with matches in the corner rather than a master architect designing an edifice – at least with respect to the long term sociological effects involved should this ever get off the ground in any economically accessible way (another milestone that I’ll only believe if it actually happens. --it could be like controlled fusion: always about 30 years away into perpetuity). But I do really respect Dr. Church for going outside his narrow academic community and into wider community exposure to consult about the ethics and ramifications involved. If all innovators showed as much reflection the world may well have been a much better place even now already.


Jennifer Doudna has also been quite vocal about reining in the science until questions about ethical use of CRISPR have been adequately considered. There is tremendous potential for positive and negative use of the technology. Unfortunately not all parts of the globe are as hesitant about proceeding without careful consideration.

Then more power to her as well! The more contemplative ones we have the better off we all will be. Somebody said in a blog article here recently words to the effect: ‘you are either contemplative or exploitive’. Those words capture an important truth, I believe.

The unfortunate and undeniable fact that so many in our world default to the latter category is what makes any introduction of any new innovation such a seriously questionable prospect to begin with. Some want us to blindly rejoice at any and every bit of new knowledge. And we can at one level by ignoring its effect on the world. But, did we really think that nuclear weapons, for example, will always remain exclusively under the watchful provenance of the “careful” or the “moral high grounders” --if some nations can flatter themselves with those descriptions? I don’t consider myself a doomsday purveyor or one of the “preppers” who excuse themselves from any obligation to invest any hope in community or others beyond themselves. But I am a realist and that can often seem depressing enough in its own right. It all serves as yet another reminder to me where only enduring hope for our communities really lies – not with science, not with wealth or weapons, but in the person of Christ.


Many here will know how much I like listening to Bishop Robert Barron, and in fact here is yet another youtube video of his in which he reviews the movie: Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And his appraisal directly addresses the heart of this topic and I offer this here to see if others resonate with Barron here as well. And this particular review also addresses @Mike_Gantt’s challenges in another thread about how to understand the creation passages in Genesis. This seems applicable at so many levels.

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The clip certainly resonates with me. Clinging to methodological naturalism is one thing, declaring freedom from God’s moral restraints is quite another. The former choice is questionable, the latter is unquestionably disastrous.

We indulge in genetic manipulation all the time albeit often unconsciously. For example, the spouse you choose affects the genetic makeup of your children. Whether you choose to have children in the face of a genetic disorder or whether you opt to use surrogate eggs or sperm is likewise a form of genetic manipulation.

With regard to using modern tools of molecular biology, my main concerns would be the ethics issues of the manipulation itself (i.e. whether the procedures involve great pain or death), a cost / benefit analyses (e.g. probability of risks to the child or the parents and the cost vs. benefits to society), and, perhaps more nebulously, what the common morality of the community accepts.

One major form of genotypic manipulation that is occurring in parts of the world is selecting the sex of the child. Historically, this has been done after birth through abandonment. More recently, it’s been implemented via abortion. However, technology exists to select sex prior to fertilization. The prior two methods run afoul of many religious, moral and ethical proscriptions but it’s not clear whether the last option is necessarily ‘wrong’. In many cultures / countries with extreme preferences for male children, this leads to a skewed sex ratio that can significantly disrupt the society as a whole (Personally, I’d think the societies that favor one sex over another have fundamental issues bear addressing, but historically, that’s a rather ‘new’ view).

But what would you say to a couple that has 3-4 children of one sex but would like to have one child of the opposite sex? It may be possible to filter for sperm of the desired sex. If the intent is not to intrinsically favor one sex over another but to simply aim for some sense of family ‘balance’, is that too much to ask?

That sounds innocent enough. But I suggest that this might be like a gun enthusiast showing all his kids where he keeps the keys to his guns and ammo closet after one or two of the older kids promise him they will only ever mess around with the BB guns and will leave all the other more dangerous stuff alone. There is no separating this out to keep the safer stuff in its own closet and the more dangerous stuff in a different one yet. There is only one giant closet and the keys are to all of it. How does the innocent “all we wanted is just one boy” keep from slipping deeper into further preferences for more “balance” which will inevitably show its unfortunate skew in population wide statistics? Will the families with two or three boys also decide at the same rate that they’d really like to have a girl now?

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It’s going to cause problems, no matter how it is implemented, because of sexism. It was estimated in 2011 that there were 160 million girls missing worldwide because of sex selective abortions.


I’m definitely aware of sex selective abortions and female infanticide. The latter has persisted over hundreds of years in some cultures. This is a real problem and agree this is a bad thing.

I am asking if there are situations where sex selection techniques that occur prior to fertilization would be ethically permissible. For instance, I know of a case of a family with four boys that very much wanted to have a girl but stopped having more kids because of the odds of having another boy (50%). In fact, the reason why they had more than two children was in hope of having a girl. They don’t love their boys any more or less but they would really have liked to have had at least one girl. Let’s set aside traditional issues of sexism that lead to favoring boys over girls and assess a generic case: In a family with N + 1 kids of one sex (N >= 0), is it wrong to attempt to have a child of the opposite sex? Assume this technique does not involve abortion or infanticide: Selection is made before fertilization.

If one believes this situation is unacceptable, how does this contrast ethically/morally with couples that persist in having children until they have a child of the sex they want? Would the choice of ethical axioms in these cases extend to the selection of children in adoptions?

Related discussion:
Mervin, I think ‘slippery slope’-like arguments in ethics can be valid if supported by good justification – Of course, then they’re no longer ‘slippery slopes’ but real issues. I think the potential for abuses should be considered in any medical technique but I don’t know if that should necessarily rule out application in all cases. For example, we routinely allow things that have great potential for abuse by tightly regulating and safeguarding against such cases. For example, because of scarcity, organ transplant cases are strictly managed by review boards in many countries.

Techniques that enrich for sex selection prior to fertilization are already available in the world. Within a particular country e.g. the USA, should the practice be banned outright or are there cases where highly regulated access might be permissible?

I don’t think there is anything wrong with this on the level of the family, and it is entirely understandable. I just think it gets really tricky when governments are in the position of legislating how ethical is ethical. So when one family has two girls and wants a boy, maybe that is fine. But if society-wide, there are plenty of families that are happy with three boys and would not opt to sex-select to have a fourth girl, it won’t take long for things to go off balance. At some point the society will have to address the lack of females. I don’t think the capacity for sex-selection is in itself the problem. But it is a tool that will be co-opted to serve unjust systems. I guess ultimately it is the injustice that needs to be addressed, not the tool.

I think there is a similar problem with screening for genetic diseases or disorders. On the face of it, this is a good and useful tool. But at a societal level, would it lead to more discrimination and isolation of those with Down’s syndrome or other genetic issues and people would come to think of them as a mistake that care should have been taken to “weed out” before pregnancy?

Of course I agree, all the selection technology that happens prior to pregnancy is a step forward from abortion and infanticide.

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