Westside church of Christ - Irving, Texas

What Does the Bible Say About Cloning?

by Mark Roberts

Genesis 11:1-9 records the sad story of the building of the tower of Babel. That project stands out as the first chapter in a story that continues to this day, and includes many similar kind of undertakings. As technology and ability increase so does man’s ability to do things that are ultimately not in his best interest.

Now we appear to be standing on the edge of yet another scientific marvel that causes us to wonder what will be next. On February 24, 1997 scientists at the Roslin Institute in Scotland announced they had successfully cloned a sheep.(1) Given the name Dolly she set the scientific community on its ear, clearly demonstrating that what many had said was impossible was not. As believers in the Bible we certainly don’t want to decry all technology, like those who lamely say “If God had meant man to fly He’d given him wings.” But Dolly leaves us to wonder how long till someone clones a human being, and what the ramifications of that are, and whether such is even right. It is time we asked the most important question any one can ask about Dolly, cloning, or genetic engineering: What does the Bible say about it? What does the Bible say about cloning? This article explores the answers to that question.

Let’s just begin by candidly admitting the Bible says nothing directly about cloning. Genesis 1:26-28 fairly well covers human propagation from the scriptural viewpoint, and yet says nothing of molecular biology or DNA. Neither does any other verse of scripture. So instead of looking for a direct and specific statement from the Bible (“thou shalt not clone!”) we need to open our Bible to search for principles that will help us in the maze of questions that cloning poses for us.

How It Works and What They Did

To do that we will find it helpful to understand exactly what the scientists did who cloned Dolly, and how their process worked. Scientist Ian Wilmut led a team of researchers at the Roslin Institute in Scotland to see if they could be the first to clone a mammal. What they accomplished is to make, in effect, an exact duplicate of a sheep. Dolly is a “Xerox copy” of another sheep. In reality she has no mother. She is her “mother’s” identical twin, not her mother’s daughter.

To do this they used some processes that have been known and used for years, along with some new and revolutionary ideas of their own. Actually, cloning animals has been going on for a very long time. Ranchers have used an artificial twinning procedure with cows for quite some time, and frogs were cloned with limited success in the1960’s and 70’s. What was new, novel and different was that Wilmut and his team accomplished their clone from a cell that was not a reproductive cell.

Their basic procedure was to take an egg cell, remove its nucleus (containing its DNA), and then transplant the nucleus of another cell (with its DNA) into the egg cell. The transplanted DNA came from, in Dolly’s case, a mammary cell. That egg cell, with its “borrowed” DNA, then developed naturally into an embryo, was implanted into the womb of a sheep, and Dolly was born. If that doesn’t feel “Dr. Frankenstein” enough for you, you should know that the way they got the egg to accept the new DNA was with tiny pulses of electricity! “These pulses prompted the egg to accept the new nucleus — and all the DNA it contained—as though it were its own.”(2) That egg then grew into a full blown sheep much as every other sheep develops and grows. However, the key difference was the embryo didn’t have its own DNA. It had donated DNA from another sheep. Thus Dolly is an exact genetic replica of the donor sheep.

It is important to note here that science or scientists did not create life. Some in the media frenzy that surrounded Dolly went way overboard in their statements and reporting, making it sound almost as if the Roslin team grew Dolly in a petri dish out of modeling clay and pipe cleaners. This is simply not true. They grew a sheep in a sheep just like every other sheep has ever been grown. All they did was transplant some DNA, and then use the exact natural reproductive processes that God set in place at the beginning. It was a neat and revolutionary experiment, but let’s not get carried away and give Wilmut’s group more credit than they deserve. They rode, in effect, God’s coat tails!

Why then was the Dolly experiment so remarkable and revolutionary? To answer that you have to understand a little about DNA and how it does its job. In reproductive cells all of the DNA, the cell’s blueprint and “command center,” is operative and functional. However, once a cell begins to develop, its DNA tells it what function to assume. Heart cells become cardiac tissue, skin cells become skin, etc. Once that cell becomes a certain kind of tissue (scientists call this “specializing”), its DNA shuts down everything that doesn’t pertain to that function. So if you take the DNA out of a liver cell, and force it into another cell, it ought to just turn into a liver cell. That is all the DNA in donor cell does because it has specialized. The rest of the DNA’s functions are, in effect, turned off. But Wilmut and researchers figured out how to make all of the DNA “reactivate” so that all the functions of the sheep could develop. “Wilmut discovered not so much a technical trick as a new law of nature. We now know that an adult mammalian cell can fire up all the dormant genetic instructions that shut down as it divides and specializes and ages…”(3) That had never been done before, and that is why there are now so many questions and so many possibilities in cloning.

Questions and Answers About Cloning

Let’s take a moment to answer some of the most common questions about cloning. Many want to know “Can they clone people?” Many seem to think so. A similar success in Oregon with rhesus monkeys six weeks ago seems to convince many “that there are no insurmountable biological barriers to creating multiple copies of a human being.”(4) Time reports Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, predicts a human clone in the next seven years.(5) It is important to note here that this is not entirely certain, however. Attempts to do with mice what was done with Dolly have failed. It is believed that the process does not work because mice “call” their DNA to function very early in the cell division process. Sheep do not “activate” their genes as soon as mice do. Some believe Dolly worked only because the DNA had time to “make itself at home” before it was needed to function. Humans use their DNA in the same way as mice — thus cloning may be doomed to failure forever. Yet one is reluctant to say “can’t” to a scientific community that just produced Dolly. One professor, Dr. E.A. Carlson (UCLA), even says there may be enough DNA in King Tut’s mummy to make a “new Tut”!(6)

The next question Christians always have is “Would a cloned person have a soul?” The answer is undoubtedly “yes.” James 2:26 tells us that if you are alive you have a spirit, a soul: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Just because everything begins with one cell but then yields two persons doesn’t mean one of them does not have a soul. Identical twins, nature’s version of cloning, begin from one cell: “Multiple births in human beings arise either from the simultaneous impregnation of more than one ovum or from the impregnation of a single ovum that divides into two or more parts, each of which develops into a distinct embryo.(7) Is anyone going to realistically argue that one of the twins is short a soul? Let’s tell the truth: we don’t know everything about souls, how God puts it in there, and those kind of matters. But we are sure that God does that, and takes care of it. “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

Others ask “How much alike would a clone be to its ‘clonee’?” Scientists agree that a clone would be some like his or her “clonee” but would not be absolutely identical in every way. Look at identical twins — they are not identical in every way even though their DNA is 100% identical. We need to understand that we are lot more than genes and DNA. Thomas Bouchard Jr., a leading expert on behavior in twins at the University of Minnesota, comments “From what we know, about 50 percent of a clone’s psychological traits would probably be influenced by its genetic makeup.”(8) A human clone would certainly look exactly like its “clonee” but would not necessarily act the same. Hence cloning Adolph Hitler or Saddam Hussein would not necessarily guarantee another madman. It takes more than just transferring DNA to make a Hitler. One would have to create the same social environment they grew up in. “As pundits point out, to groom another Adolph Hitler, social engineers would need to subject the clone to artistic failure, expose him to the horrors of trench warfare and have him mature in an environment uncannily like the chaos and decadence of post-World War I Germany.”(9) Interested in cloning Einstein? “A thousand track switches have to click in sequence for the child who starts out toward greatness to wind up there. If a single one clicks wrong, the high-speed rush toward a Nobel Prize can dead-end in a makeshift shack in the Montana woods [like it did with the Unabomber —MR].”(10) So even if we made a new Tut he wouldn’t be like Tut necessarily. A clone would be his or her own person, living and acting as that individual saw fit to do.

Finally, we would do well to ask “Are there legitimate uses for animal cloning?” Perhaps to the surprise of some, we have to say “yes.” We certainly don’t want to sound as if all scientists and doctors are evil. What Wilmut and his team did could have some very fine applications as long as it is restrained to the animal world. For example, if we could clone animals with some fairly high success rate than the best producing dairy cow, or woolliest sheep, could be cloned. In the lab, we could make genetic duplicates of a mouse, then not have to worry if differing test results come because the test mice are different genetically. This would speed drug testing and experimentation. It is important to realize that this is not necessarily a bad technology. Where the problems develop is when it is applied to humans.

Biblical Problems and Objections to Cloning Humans

So they did it, and truthfully, may very well be able to do a human clone. What does the Bible say about this? Is this a good thing, or another Tower of Babel? If we look carefully we will see that cloning humans is destined to be a disaster, both ethically and morally.

Our first objection is that cloning is not wise. Wisdom is knowing the end of a matter from the beginning. Proverbs 14:15 tells us “The naive believes everything, But the sensible man considers his steps.” It is sensible or prudent to think carefully about the path we are walking, and where it will lead us. Proverbs 22:3 reminds us “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, But the simple pass on and are punished.” We want to be the kind of people who are actively looking out for evil before we are involved in it so deeply that escaping it is hard and painful. In Luke 14:28ff Jesus urges this same kind of thinking when He talks about counting costs. In that context He is urging us to count the cost of serving Him, but the principle applies to all of life: we should count the cost before we do something, before we embark on a project.

Let’s think about nuclear weapons as an example of wisdom and counting costs. After using the atomic bomb in 1945 to end the war America let it be known that it was an atomic superpower. We had these weapons, and fully intended to keep developing them. But did anybody think about the cost of this decision? Did anyone imagine what would happen next? Almost immediately we found ourselves caught up in a massive and dangerous arms race because if we had the bomb the Russians felt compelled to have one too, and then we needed a bigger bomb, and then the Russians wanted a bomb bigger than our latest bomb and so on until the world was brought to the brink of nuclear destruction. It can be argued that America foisted an arms race off on the rest of the world by our lack of wisdom in the use and development of nuclear weaponry. How different would world history be if America had announced, immediately after World War II, that we were destroying the plans to atomic bombs, would never use or build them again, and immediately signed international treaties prohibiting them? Instead, scientists said “We can blow up this much with an atomic bomb, let’s see what a hydrogen bomb would do” and finally even the ghastly “neutron bomb” was proposed. To this day we live under the threat of imminent death that could come any time some madman pushes a button. How clearly was the decision to develop nuclear weapons thought out? Don’t we wish we could put the genie back in the bottle?

This is exactly where we are with cloning right now. We are at the place where wisdom says we need to stop for several reasons. First, no one really knows how it worked, if it will work again, or exactly why it worked. For certain, we know what they did, we know the procedure. But “Roslin scientists have said the cloning was the result of much hit-and-miss experimentation and needs to be refined through further research.”(11) “They just made a cloned sheep, and they don’t know why” says Scott Gilbert, developmental biologist as Swarthmore College.(12) The big key, many think, is that the cell they popped the adult DNA into had been forced into a resting state. However, others are not so certain: “They may have hit on something there that is important that was overlooked before,” says David Kirk, a developmental biologist as Washington University in St. Louis. On the other hand, he said, there’s no hard proof that the crucial cell was indeed resting.”(13) Second, no one knows if the procedure is safe. Dolly came from a six-year old cell. Does that cut six years off her life? Dolly may or may not be sterile. No one yet knows. Will Dolly prematurely age, or develop unheard of diseases? Again, we just don’t know. Cloning may be very dangerous: “In addition, as the high rate of spontaneous abortions suggests cloning sometimes damages DNA.”(14) It would be positively criminal to clone a human with such unknowns. However, the only way to know what would happen with human cloning is to do the experiment so it would have to be tried. Who wants to be the “guinea pig” (literally guinea human!) for that? What person should be brought into the world as nothing more than a scientific experiment that may or may not work? To top it all off, we have no idea where this will lead. The possibilities and problems that could come from human cloning have not been thoroughly mapped out by any means. Interestingly, very little is said about potential good this could bring. No one is saying “If we can clone humans we can cure cancer.” Science doesn’t seem to be asking “Should we” only “Can we?” Yet everyone admits “the potential for evil is infinitely greater”(15) than any good that might come of it. Think of some of the complications that may arise. What will we do with “bad copies” — malformed babies who are the results of failed cloning experiments. And what of the possibility that a person could be cloned without even knowing it? “It would be almost impossible to prevent someone from cloning you without your knowledge or permission, says Philip Bereano, professor of technology and public policy at the University of Washington. Everyone gives off cells all the time … visit the dentist — and those cells all contain one’s full complement of DNA.”(16) The mind reels with the possibilities for sin and iniquity that human cloning presents.

Cloning is just not wise. The folks at Babel ought to have asked “Should we?” before asking “Can we?” Are we wise enough to do better than they? The truth is that cloning is an attempt to control and choose who will be born. It is highly doubtful that we have the wisdom, moral sense, or moral fiber necessary to make good choices in that arena. Remember, what we value changes. If cloning had been invented a few centuries ago we would have cloned the men with strong backs and the women who easily bear children, while Einstein and Franklin would be left completely out.(17) We lack the wisdom to develop cloning properly, use it, or understand it. Why should we continue down such a path? How wise is it to board a train going where we don’t know, and traveling on untested tracks?

Our second objection to human cloning is that it can be outright sinful. This is true for several reasons. First, cloning results in abortions. Cloning is a complicated procedure that often does not work, so many, many cloned embryos must be made. In the Dolly experiment there were 277 cell fusions, resulting in 29 that began to grow and were implanted, 13 sheep became pregnant, but finally only 1 lamb.(18) As one ethicist said, “It took 277 trials and errors to produce Dolly the sheep, creating a cellular body count that would look like sheer carnage if the cells were human.”(19) While toying with (and destroying) sheep embryos is not troubling to anyone what if that were done with human embryos? This is not an article on abortion, but we must advance the principle here that life begins at conception (see Psalm 139:13-16; Jer. 1:5). It is not right for scientists to murder hundreds of lives (that is what embryos are) in their scientific experiments! The means is not ethical.

Further, cloning could be used to have a child outside of the family unit. God’s order for the family is clearly set forth in Ephesians 6:1-4. Children need parents, both a mom and a dad. If you are not in a marriage where that home can be provided then the hard truth is God doesn’t want you to have kids. But who is it that is most thrilled with cloning? The homosexual community. Technology is trying to find yet another way to have children outside of the God-given pattern and plan. On the front page of a New York Times article a cell biologist from Washington University in St. Louis named Ursula Goodenough quipped that with cloning “there’d be no need for men.”(20) “A single woman might choose to clone herself rather than involve a man in any way.”(21) Are we constructing a technology to circumvent God’s moral and natural laws? “God forbid that we should design such technology in order to give homosexual couples an opportunity to produce a family, or even to allow the unmarried to reproduce outside of marriage.”(22)

Perhaps worst of all, cloning will inevitably result in exploited children. When the experts are pressed to explain what cloning could be used for what do they talk about? How about producing a child as “spare parts” for yourself or for another child that is sick? What if your three-year old has kidney disease, ultimately will have to be on dialysis? No problem. We’ll clone that kid, so that a new child will be an exact genetic match, then take one of those kidneys in 3-5 years. That would work as well for bone marrow transplants, and many other diseases. Yet we must ask if that is an appropriate reason to bring a child into this world? Yes, “spare parts” children are brought into this world (occasionally) already. But if doctors could guarantee a genetic match this will increase the practice dramatically. When we think about it one wonders how long it would be until someone clones a child for the clone’s heart? The child would be born, put on super growth stimulants, never cared for or loved, until he or she was big enough for the heart to be “harvested.” What a thought — we will just take what we want and leave the rest to die because we didn’t want you anyway. We just needed a part!

Psalms 127:3-5 says “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them…” Children are a gift from the Lord, not something to be exploited for our or another’s benefit!

Look at the other exploitive uses for cloning. What if your child dies — you could clone a “replacement” child. But what kind of pressure is that kid going to be under to be exactly the same as the one that died, instead of being his or her self? How would that child feel, knowing that he was not loved or wanted for who he is but only because he resembles another child? What of the opportunity to clone athletes, composers, other gifted people? The only way to ensure, however, that little Michael Jordan will grow up to be another great basketball player is to start training him early. We have long looked with horror and disdain at countries that take small children from their families and train them endlessly to be Olympians. That is exactly what will happen to cloned children. They will be trained from start to finish to be what they were designed to be — never given the opportunity to develop into their own person. That is pure exploitation, plain and simple. No child should be subjected to that.

Conclusion

The Bible does guide us, doesn’t it? Wisdom dictates that we stop cloning experimentation before the genie gets further out of the bottle, or more accurately, before Pandora’s box is open any wider. Scripture clearly shows us that the means to cloning is sinful, and will surely lead to more sin (exploited kids). It is very difficult to look at any of this and say “Yes, God is blessing this, this will help humanity, let’s go full speed ahead.” Human cloning looks more and more like our own Tower of Babel. Let’s be content to know that God made us, and that we did not make ourselves ( Psalm 100:3). May we use our minds and technology to draw closer to him rather than building monuments to human pride that will only harm and hurt us all.

Endnotes:

  1. News Release, “Scientists at the Roslin Institute Publish Scientific Breakthrough,” 24 February 1997, Roslin Institute, page 1.
  2. J. Madeline Nash, “The Age of Cloning,” Time, March 10, 1997, Vol. 149, No. 10, web posted document, www.pathfinder.com/time
  3. Charles Krauthammer, “A Special Report on Cloning,” Time, March 10, 1997, Vol. 149, No. 10, web posted document, www.pathfinder.com/timeWhat Does the Bible Say About Cloning?
  4. Washington Post, “Oregon scientists produce primates from cloned embryos,” The Dallas Morning News, March 2, 1997, page 7A.
  5. Jeffrey Kluger, “Will We Follow the Sheep,” Time, March 10, 1997, Vol. 149, No. 10, web posted document, www.pathfinder.com/time
  6. Jack Cottrell, Tough Question, Biblical Answers, Part Two, College Press: Joplin, MO, 1986, page 95.
  7. “Multiple Birth,” Microsoft Encarta 96 Encyclopedia. 1993-1995 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Funk & Wagnalls Corporation. All rights reserved.
  8. Steve Kloehn and Paul Salopek, “A matter of identity,” March 9, 1997, Sunday Reader: The Dallas Morning News, page 10J.
  9. Kloehn and Salopek.
  10. Jeffrey Kluger, “Will We Follow the Sheep,” Time, March 10, 1997, Vol. 149, No. 10, web posted document, www.pathfinder.com/time
  11. AP, “Britain cuts money for cloning, citing research project’s success,” The Dallas Morning News, March2, 1997, page 19A.
  12. Sue Goetinck, “Biological mysteries still surround cloning,” Discoveries: The Dallas Morning News, March 3, 1997, page 9D.
  13. Sue Goetinck, “Biological mysteries still surround cloning,” Discoveries: The Dallas Morning News, March 3, 1997, page 9D.
  14. J. Madeline Nash, “The Age of Cloning,” Time, March 10, 1997, Vol. 149, No. 10, web posted document, www.pathfinder.com/time
  15. Charles Krauthammer, “A Special Report on Cloning,” Time, March 10, 1997, Vol. 149, No. 10, page 2 of 3, web posted document, www.pathfinder.com/time
  16. Wray Herbert, Jeffery L. Sheler, and Traci Watson,, “The world after cloning,” U.S. News and World Report, March 10, 1997, web posted document, www.usnews.com/usnews/issue
  17. Jeffrey Kluger, “Will We Follow the Sheep,” Time, March 10, 1997, Vol. 149, No. 10, web posted document, www.pathfinder.com/time
  18. Ray Bohlin, 1997, web document from Probe Ministries.
  19. Jeffrey Kluger, “Will We Follow the Sheep,” Time, March 10, 1997, Vol. 149, No. 10, web posted document, www.pathfinder.com/time
  20. J. Madeline Nash, “The Age of Cloning,” Time, March 10, 1997, Vol. 149, No. 10, web posted document, www.pathfinder.com/time
  21. Wray Herbert, Jeffery L. Sheler, and Traci Watson,, “The world after cloning,” U.S. News and World Report, March 10, 1997, web posted document, www.usnews.com/usnews/issue
  22. Jerry King, “What about cloning?,” document posted to Gary’s List, garyslist@creature.tn.org, March 13, 1997.