Editorial (Fall-Winter 2021)

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The issue before you contains three articlesthat explore the implications of man’s creation with a specific purpose, as theimagoDei of creation. Whether it be our basic neuroanatomy and how thisreality affects moral formation, our creation as an embodied creature inrelationship with neighbor and how this informs our decisions regardingtechnological advancements, or how our creation in the image of God shoulddetermine our decisions regarding genetic enhancement, each of these presupposethat the physical creation of humankind was purposeful and it is therefore ourprerogative to seek to live out that purpose in our physical lives. This is afitting connection in relation to Bryan Just’s summarization of CBHD’s 2021annual conference Bioethics and the Body,in which scholars from across the United States gathered online to explore howwe “view, interact with, manipulate, and analyze our physical bodies.”

Starting from an understanding of basicneuroscience, Tamim Khaliqi pens an analysis of moral formation, exploring waysin which the body is designed for religious life. While some Christians fearreductionistic conclusions from the scientific explanation of humanconsciousness, Khaliqi suggests that a scientifically informed theological andphilosophical explanation of the human person is necessary for an understandingof how “things are supposed to be” based on God’s creation of mankind in hisimage. Thus, he sets out to examine some of the biological processes that areinvolved in moral formation. Starting with an explanation of how God created athalamocortical meshwork of specialty areas in the brain, Khaliqi suggests thatthese pathways establish subconscious avenues of thought and behavior until adefinitive choice is necessary outside of such automation. This is where theneuroplasticity of the brain steps in such that remodeling of the brain canoccur through a shift in external stimuli, including the acquisition ofknowledge. Through continued practice, such neural shifts can become automatedprocesses.

With this established, Kahliqi explicates amodel for transferring facts to moral formation with a determinative process.Emotions, he states, create perceptual categories dispersed across neuralgroups. Learning happens through rehearsal as neural synapses between suchgroups become automated, and both vice and virtue develop as the pursuit of aparticular end becomes habit. Once such learning occurs, knowledge is retainedfirst as the mere organization of concepts (low-grade knowledge) and caneventually develop into the synthesis of such concepts for the use ofevaluating new situations (high-grade knowledge). Continual use of high-gradeknowledge leads to the ability to initiate complex, big picture application ofsuch information (understanding), which leads finally to wisdom. Wisdom is thecapacity to comprehend the whole of reality.

Using this developmental framework, Khaliqiutilizes Exemplar Moral Theory (EMT), a subdivision of virtue ethics, topropose a process to moral formation. In EMT, once a person attains ahigh-level understanding of the character of an admirable exemplar, admirationbecomes the emotion by which the habitual process of emulation leads to wisdom.Thus, virtuous emotions, motives and actions stem from an inborn grasp of themanner in which one should be in relation to the world—wisdom.

Adding reflection on technology to ourconsiderations of the nature of self and others, Savannah Anne Carman writes onthe effects of an industrialized society, exploring the topic through the lensof Ivan Illich and his theory regarding conviviality. Conviviality, or the capacityfor relationship between self and others, for Illich is actualized throughpersonal freedom expressed within willful interdependence. Thus, Illich calls fora return to the task of provision, whether it be through psychologically orphysically oriented engagement, as a responsibility of mankind, a manifestationof neighborliness through natural human capacities. Based on the work ofIllich, Carman argues for the pursuit of a postindustrial balance that must beascertained based on the answer provided to three key questions:

  1. What is man made for?
  2. What is man capable of?
  3. How should man relate to oneanother?

To the first question, Carman asserts thatmankind is made for an embodied relationship with God, neighbor, and nature.Thus, we must temper our pursuit of technological advancement so as to protectfrom turning man into a mere means to the end of the next innovation,relearning dependence on one another rather than on machines or “experts” as“energy slaves.” Regarding the capabilities of man, the author suggests that wemust reframe our understanding of power, seeing it as a means to the end of atheologically anchored anthropology of virtuous relationships. As it pertainsto the final question, Carman opines that mere tools are not the problem, but ratherman becoming part of the machine. Thus, those tools and systems that encourageinterdependence are to be favored in a convivial society. As a final word ofexhortation, she commends the reader to reflect upon the consequences ofindustrialism and avoid the pitfalls of desensitization and apathy.

Progressing to even more embodiedtechnological advancements, Isabel Woodruff evaluates genetic enhancementthrough the lens of both scholarly perspectives and thecreation-fall-redemption narrative. Creating a distinction between somatic genetherapy and genetic enhancement, Woodruff notes that while somatic gene therapyseeks to use genetic engineering to cure genetic diseases, genetic enhancementseeks to abnormally alter DNA with a transhumanist agenda, an act that could causemodifications for future generations. Thus, the author first evaluates geneticenhancement through the scholarly perspectives of Julian Savulescu, John Harris,and Brent Waters.

Savulescu, she states, advocates for geneticenhancement under the assumption that mankind possesses a moral obligation topromote such traits as fairness, empathy, and the betterment of physical andcognitive capacities for the coming generations. Such improvements must bepermanent and transferable for Savulescu, not merely providing a temporaryenhancement for any given immediate generation. He further states that geneticenhancement provides increased autonomy for the individual if cognitiveenhancement activates critical capacities necessary for autonomous decision-making.However, Woodruff challenges each of these assumptions in turn, first by statingthat quality of life cannot be determined by universal standards and second byarguing that embryonic genetic enhancement defaces autonomy by choosing acertain kind of future for a person before an individual choice can be made.

Turning to John Harris, another geneticenhancement advocate, Woodruff states that his underlying assumption is thateveryone enjoys the benefits of enhancement on an everyday basis (e.g., throughnatural brain development or medical treatment) and therefore no one wouldtruly deny the goodness of enhancement itself. He sees it as odd that humanitywould fear genetic enhancements. He further equates the risks involved ingenetic enhancement to those incorporated in such everyday activities as eatingfatty foods or vaccinations and asserts that what is natural should not alwaysbe valued over what is unnatural. Woodruff contests his claims by raising keypoints that Harris neglects, including equity in genetic enhancementdistribution; the potential ramifications of genetic enhancement as greaterthan such things as eating fatty foods; and the necessity for moral evaluationin both what is natural and unnatural, rather than creating a mere bifurcationbetween the two.

The final scholar under consideration in thearticle, Brent Waters, explores genetic enhancement through a Christianevaluative lens based in the incarnation and resurrection. Since God became manin the flesh, the human body is of great importance, and since Jesus rose fromthe dead as human, the Father vindicates the Son’s humanity. This vindicationof the human body extends to all elements of creation, establishing a createdorder that becomes determinative of certain moral structures, including creaturelyfinitude. Such creation-based moral structures are what afford sublimity tohuman existence, and yet are what proponents of genetic enhancement seek toeliminate. Therefore, Waters asserts that genetic enhancement is an area inwhich the Christian must refuse to participate.

Woodruff ends her analysis with a briefexploration of how the creation-fall-redemption narrative can inform ourdecisions regarding genetic engineering. She argues that humanity cannot bedefined in reductionistic terms due to our creation in the image of God.Furthermore, the reality of the fall reveals that we will never reach thatstate of perfection genetic enhancement advocates seek to obtain; that is,until that point of final redemption at the end and beginning of all things, aredemption that only God can usher in.

As we continue our pursuit of extending thereach of Dignitas through our now open access format, we hope theresearch presented here will continue to spark important discussion andresearch regarding the implications of our creation as the imago Dei. Ifyou would like to contribute to that discussion, or any others related to thefield of Christian bioethics, we welcome potential contributions.