The SBJT Forum -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 13:2 (Summer 2009)
Article: The SBJT Forum
Author: Anonymous

The SBJT Forum

Editor’s Note: Readers should be aware of the forum’s format. C. Ben Mitchell, Mark T. Coppenger, Chad Owen Brand, Denny Burk, and Stephen J. Wellum have been asked specific questions to which they have provided written responses. These writers are not responding to one another. Their answers are presented in an order that hopefully makes the forum read as much like a unified presentation as possible.

SBJT: In Your VIew, Why Must The Doctrine Of Humanity Be Articulated Afresh And With Urgency Today?

C. Ben Mitchell is Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, and Editor of Ethics & Medicine: An International Journal of Bioethics. In addition to his academic work, he also consults on matters of public policy and has given testimonies before policymaking groups, including the U.S. House of Representatives, the Institutes of Medicine, and the Illinois Senate. Dr. Mitchell taught bioethics and contemporary culture for a decade at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School before recently joining the Union faculty.

C. Ben Mitchell: One of the most urgent crises facing us in this first half of the twenty-first century is the wide-spread confusion over what it means to be human?1 Pro-life Christians have been focused on the most obvious locus for asking this question: a nearly forty-year battle over abortion. Meanwhile, however, an emerging biotechnology revolution increasingly challenges us to redefine human nature for the sake of technological progress. Certain advances in genetic engineering, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, cybernetics, robotics, and nanotechnology depend in large measure on our willingness as a culture to recast what it means to be human, what it means to be “one of us.”

For instance, trans-species genetic engineering may produce chimeras—living members of our species who share either discreet organs from another species or DNA from another species. Would an animal-human chimera be a member of our species? Would an animal-human chimera be a human person? Would the answer to that question depend on which, or how many, non-human organs were transplanted, or, on what percentage of human DNA was retained? Should we define our humanity by the number and identity of our genes?

A tempting alternative is to define what it means to be human as the possession of human consciousness. The mind, with its awareness of self and others, its perception of temporal-spacial situatedness, the presence of memory, and so on, might define a human person. However, how do we account for human beings at the margins of consciousness—for example, unborn babies and those at the other end of life who have lost co...

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