"THE GOSPEL OF MARK" The Parable Of The Growing Seed (4:26-29) by Mark Copeland

                          "THE GOSPEL OF MARK"

               The Parable Of The Growing Seed (4:26-29)


1. Of the many parables taught by Jesus, there is one found only in
   Mark's gospel...
   a. It is "The Parable Of The Growing Seed"
   b. Recorded in Mk 4:26-29 (Read)

2. The setting of this parable is the same as when Jesus told...
   a. The parable of "The Four Soils" - cf. Mk 4:1-20
   b. The parable of "The Mustard Seed" - cf. Mk 4:30-32

[Let's begin by taking a closer look the parable itself...]


      1. It describes how the Word of God produces fruit (i.e., how the
         kingdom grows)
         a. The "seed" is not identified in this parable as the Word of
         b. But it was defined as such in the parable of "The Sower"
            - cf. Mk 4:14; Lk 8:11
      2. The growth produced by the Word is a mystery - Mk 4:26-28a
         a. The sower can sow the seed and see it sprout and grow
         b. But the growth is beyond his comprehension, and even grows
            by itself
      3. The growth produced by the Word is gradual - Mk 4:28b-29
         a. It doesn't all occur at once
         b. But step by step:  first the blade, then the head, then the
            full grain
         c. But through such growth the harvest eventually comes 
            - Mk 4:29
      -- So the kingdom grows mysteriously and gradually by virtue of
         God's Word

      1. The parable of "The Four Soils" emphasizes human responsibility
         a. The seed did not produce the desired fruit unless it fell on
            good soil
         b. It takes "a good and noble heart" for the seed to produce
            fruit! - cf. Lk 8:15
      2. The parable of "The Growing Seed" stresses the divine power
         within the Word
         a. A "good and noble heart" cannot bear fruit by itself!
         b. It takes Seed that has within itself the power to germinate
            and grow in good soil
      -- This parable emphasizes the need to trust in the power of the
         Seed (God's Word)

[Yes, the Word is the "seed" which contains the power for spiritual life
and growth when planted in the soil of a good and noble heart!  We may
not fully comprehend the true working of that power, but the parable
illustrates how we can still use it!  And for that, let's now


      1. It can cause us to be "born again" - 1Pe 1:22-25; Jm 1:18
      2. It can help us to "grow" - 1Pe 2:1-2
      3. It can indeed "save your souls" - Jm 1:21
      4. It is living and powerful, filled with Spirit-giving life 
         - He 4:12; Jn 6:63
      -- Never underestimate the power of the Word of God!

      1. By receiving it into our own hearts (for spiritual growth)
         a. Here we are talking about the growth of the kingdom of God
            in our lives
         b. Of course, we must receive it properly
            1) With a good and noble heart - Lk 8:15; cf. Ac 17:11
            2) With meekness - Jm 1:21
            3) As babies longing for their mothers' milk - 1Pe 2:2
            4) "Laying aside" those things that would "choke" the Word
               - cf. Jm 1:21; 1Pe 2:1
         c. When so received, growth will occur
            1) But remember the parable, for the growth will be gradual
               - Mk 4:28
            2) Therefore the need to feed daily on the Word, "that you
               may grow thereby" - 1Pe 2:2
      2. By sowing it as far and wide as we possibly can (for kingdom
         a. Here we are talking about the growth of the kingdom of God
            in the world
         b. Like the sower in the parable of "The Sower", we must sow
            the seed everywhere
         c. But like the sower in the parable of "The Growing Seed", we
            must remember...
            1) Growth comes through the divine power of the seed
               a) It is God who gives the increase - cf. 1Co 3:5-7
               b) We are simply "seed-throwers" and "water-boys"!
            2) Growth comes in stages, not all at once
               a) There will be days when all we seem to be doing is
               b) There will be days when all we seem to be doing is
            3) Like the farmer, then, we must be patient - cf. Jm 5:7
      -- In our lives and in the world, spiritual growth occurs only
         through the Word!


1. The general lessons in the parable of "The Growing Seed" are these...
   a. In the kingdom of God, as in the kingdom of nature, we are
      laborers together with God
   b. The results depend on Him, and for the perfection of these results
      He takes His own time

2. That being the case...
   a. Our duty is to sow the seed, it is for God to give the increase
      - cf. 1Co 3:6-9
   b. Having sown the seed, we must wait for God's Word to perfect the
      growth - cf. Php 1:6

3. Therefore this parable teaches us to trust and hope in power of the
   Word of God...
   a. Do we trust in its power to save the lost?
      1) Or do we look to gimmicks designed by men?
      2) The gospel is God's power to save! - cf. Ro 1:16-17
   b. Do we trust in its power to save your own soul?
      1) Or do we look to self-help methods that promise but really
         can't deliver?
      2) The Word of God is what is capable of saving our souls! - cf.
         Jm 1:21

Are you sowing the seed of the kingdom, brother?  Both in the world, and
in your own life as well...?
Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

"THE GOSPEL OF MARK" Take Heed What You Hear (4:21-25) by Mark Copeland

                          "THE GOSPEL OF MARK"

                   Take Heed What You Hear (4:21-25)


1. When we have opportunities to hear or read the Word of God...
   a. Are we aware that we will be judged by we how give heed?
   b. That the blessings we receive are proportionate to how we hear?

2. During His ministry, Jesus began teaching in parables...
   a. To the public He would tell the parables - Mk 4:1-2
   b. In private He would explain them to His disciples - Mk 4:10-12,

3. In "The Parable Of The Four Soils" Jesus...
   a. Illustrated how not all receive the Word as they should
   b. Ended with the cry, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" - Mk 4:9

[After explaining the parable, Jesus exhorted His disciples to "Take
Heed What You Hear" (Mk 4:21-25).  Let's first consider Jesus' words...]


      1. Jesus asked rhetorical questions involving a lamp - Mk 4:21
      2. What was hidden would be revealed, what was secret should come
         to light - Mk 4:22
      3. The context regards His use of parables and the ultimate
         intention of His teaching
         a. Jesus spoke publicly in parables at the time - Mk 4:11
         b. The meaning was explained privately - Mk 4:33-34
         c. But His teaching was meant one day to be proclaimed abroad
         d. His disciples would be involved in publicly proclaiming it
            - cf. Mt 10:27
      4. Thus they were to pay close attention to what He was saying
         - Mk 4:23
      -- Jesus intended one day for all to hear and know His teaching

      1. Jesus charged His disciples to take heed what they hear - Mk4:24a
      2. The importance of taking heed is repeatedly stressed - Mk 4:
         a. "With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you"
         b. "To you who hear, more will be given"
         c. "For whoever has, to him more will be given"
         d. "But whoever does not have, even what he has will be take
            away from him"
      3. This is illustrated in the parable of The Talents
         a. Talents given according to each person's ability - Mt 25:15
         b. Those who utilized their talents received more
            responsibility - Mt 25:20-23
         c. The one talent man lost that which he did not utilize 
            - Mt 25:24-28
         d. "For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will
            have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he
            has will be taken away." - Mt 25:29
      -- Jesus promised more for those who take heed to what they hear,
         utilize what they have

[Jesus spoke these words to prepare and motivate His disciples for their
future service.  Let's now reflect on His words...]


      1. Things kept private were to be made public after His
         resurrection - cf. Mk 9:9
      2. The Spirit would be given to guide the apostles into all the
         truth - Jn 16:12-13
      3. They were to proclaim the gospel and His commandments to all
         - Mk 16:15; Mt 28:19-20
      4. The apostles (including Paul) were faithful to their charge
         - Ac 20:27
      5. What was once a "mystery" has now been revealed - Ro 16:25-26;
         Ep 3:3-5,8-9
      -- In the New Testament, that which was hidden can now be known by

      1. The need to take heed to what we hear is still the same
      2. Consider the importance of listening carefully:
         a. To be blessed - cf. Mt 13:16-17
         b. To have faith - cf. Ro 1:16-17; 10:17
         c. To bear fruit - cf. Lk 8:15; Col 1:6
         d. To prevent apostasy - cf. He 2:1-3
         e. To avoid rejection and condemnation 
            - cf. Mt 10:14-15; Ac 13:44-49; Mt 12:41-42
         -- For more, see "How Well Do You Listen?"
      3. The principle of measure remains the same - Mk 4:24-25
         a. "With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you"
         b. "To you who hear, more will be given"
         c. "For whoever has, to him more will be given"
         d. "But whoever does not have, even what he has will be take
            away from him"
      -- For those willing give careful heed to the Word of God, they
         will be richly blessed!


1. There is a well known maxim:  "You get out of something what you put
   into it."

2. Does this not explain why many get little out of religion and the
   Bible in particular...?
   a. They have little interest in spiritual matters
   b. They make little effort to learn what the Bible says
   c. Their interest in spiritual things declines with time

3. Yet Jesus promises for those willing to "Take Heed What You Hear"...
   a. "With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you"
   b. "To you who hear, more will be given"
   c. "For whoever has, to him more will be given"

That is why some never stagnate in their spiritual growth, why their
faith is refreshed and renewed daily (cf. 2Co 4:16).  And so together
with Jesus we offer the following admonition:

              "If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."
                               (Mk 4:23) 

Pitiful Paleolimnological Mumbo—Jumbo by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


Pitiful Paleolimnological Mumbo—Jumbo

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

Paleolimnology is “the study of past freshwater, saline, and brackish environments” (Sweets, 1997). According to a recent report in the Journal of Paleolimnology, a naturalistic explanation has been uncovered that may reveal why Jesus was able to walk on water. Researchers Doron Nof, Ian McKeague, and Nathan Paldor have proposed that “unique freezing processes probably happened in that region several times during the last 12,000 years” (2006, 35:418). Thus
the unusual local freezing process might have provided an origin to the story that Christ walked on water. Since the springs ice is relatively small, a person standing or walking on it may appear to an observer situated some distance away to be “walking on water” (35:417).
...With the idea that much of our cultural heritage is based on human observations of nature, we sought a natural process that could perhaps explain the origin of the account that Jesus Christ walked on water (35:436).
The same gentleman who proposed more than a decade ago that the parting of the Red Sea was the result of “a wind set-down which exposed a usually submerged ridge” (see Nof and Paldor, 1992), has now taken the lead in attempting to explain away another Bible miracle.
Countless man hours and untold thousands of dollars from various grants and universities have been spent by these three men in an attempt to explain that there may be a possible naturalistic explanation to the account of Jesus walking on water. Unbelievable! Why not just say that it is possible Jesus floated on some drift wood, hopped on rocks, walked on the backs of turtles, or wore inflatable wine skins around his feet? Anyone can concoct unusual, naturalistic explanations for various Bible miracles. But, that does not prove the miracle did not happen.
In truth, the only reason people even know that Jesus was at the Sea of Galilee 2,000 years ago is because the gospel writers said that He was. Why accept this detail as factual but not the miracle Jesus performed? And what about Peter? The Bible claims that he “walked on the water,” too (Matthew 14:29). Where is the researched “rationalization” for this miracle? For a trio of scientists living 2,000 years this side of Jesus to assert that they have a better understanding of this event than Jesus’ own disciples, who witnessed it (some of whom were experienced Galilean fisherman, including the apostle John who wrote about the miracle—John 6:14-21), is the height of “academic” arrogance (i.e., foolishness!—cf. 1 Corinthians 1:20-31). Moreover, the New Testament possesses attributes of supernatural inspiration, hence its reporting of the incident is factual.


Nof Doron, Ian McKeague, Nathan Paldor (2006), “Is There a Paleolimnological Explanation for ‘Walking on Water’ in the Sea of Galilee?” Journal of Paleolimnology, 35:417-439, April.
Nof, Doron and N. Paldor (1992), “Are There Oceanographic Explanations for the Israelites’ Crossing of the Red-Sea?,” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 73[3]:305–314.
Sweets, P. Roger (1997), “The Paleolimnology Home Page,” [On-line], URL: http://www.indiana.edu/~diatom/paleo.html.

Inevitable--Given Enough Time? by Jeff Miller, Ph.D.


Inevitable--Given Enough Time?

by  Jeff Miller, Ph.D.

Macroevolutionists often point the proverbial finger at the laws of probability in a pointless attempt to traverse the gaping chasms which exist in the theory of evolution and Big Bang Theory and thereby substantiate them. However, the gaps that exist, such as the origin of matter (cf. Miller, 2013), the origin of life (cf. Miller, 2012), and macroevolution (cf. Brooks and Deweese, 2009), are many and cannot be traversed without violation of recognized scientific laws. In spite of this dilemma, many evolutionists have long cited the principles of probability in an effort to support their dogma, noting that as long as the required events do not have a probability of zero, they are inevitable, given enough time (cf. Erwin, 2000). As far back as 1954, George Wald, writing in Scientific American concerning the origin of life on Earth, penned the words:
However improbable we regard this event, or any of the steps it involves, given enough time, it will almost certainly happen at least once. And for life as we know it, once may be enough. Time is the hero of the plot.... Given so much time, the “impossible” becomes possible, the possible becomes probable, and the probable becomes virtually certain. One has only to wait; time itself performs miracles (Wald, p. 48, emp. added).
There are at least two problems with this assertion. First, several of the events that are necessary in order for the theory of evolution and the Big Bang Theory to be true, indeed, have a probability of zero. So, the question is not really one of improbability, but impossibility. There is absolutely no scientific evidence that supports the contention that, for instance, matter could spontaneously generate or life could come about from non-life (i.e., abiogenesis). In fact, quite the opposite is true. The experimental results of renowned scientist Louis Pasteur forever killed the possibility of the spontaneous generation of life back in the 19th century, and the Law of Biogenesis drove the nails into its coffin (cf. Miller, 2012). This truth creates an impenetrable barrier for evolutionists—a gaping chasm that must be crossed in order for the theory of evolution to be plausible. So, according to the scientific evidence, there is a probability of zero that abiogenesis can occur. According to the laws of probability, specifically Kolmogorov’s first axiom, when the probability of an event is zero, the event is called an “impossible event (Gubner, 2006, p. 22, emp. added). Since several events that are necessary in order for the theory of evolution and the Big Bang Theory to be true have a probability of zero, according to the laws of probability, these atheistic theories are impossible.

The second problem with this contention is that we are not “given enough time” for macroevolution to have occurred. We at Apologetics Press have documented this fact time and time again (cf. Jackson, 1983; Thompson, 2001). Years ago, in his article “The Young Earth,” Henry Morris listed 76 dating techniques, based on standard evolutionary assumptions, which all indicate that the Earth is relatively young (Morris, 1974). Donald DeYoung documented extensive, compelling evidence for a young Earth as well, in the book Thousands...Not Billions (2005). Of course, such information is not broadcasted widely due to its implications. If atheistic evolutionists were sincerely interested in the truth—if they were interested in giving all options a fair shake—they would hear the silent but forceful cry of the evidence: “Macroevolution is impossible! There is a God!”


Brooks, Will and Joe Deweese (2009), “A Response to the 21st Century Science Coalition Standards of Science Education,” Reason & Revelation, 29[6]:41-43, June, http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/240161.
DeYoung, Donald (2005), Thousands...Not Billions (Green Forest, AR: Master Books).

Erwin, Douglas (2000), “Macroevolution is More Than Repeated Rounds of Microevolution,” Evolution and Development, 2[2]:78-84.

Gubner, J. A. (2006), Probability and Random Processes for Electrical and Computer Engineers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Jackson, Wayne (1983), “Our Earth—Young or Old?” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/rr/reprints/yng-old.pdf.
Miller, Jeff (2012), “The Law of Biogenesis [Part I],” Reason & Revelation, 32[1]:2-11, January, http://apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=1018&article=1722.
Miller, Jeff (2013), “Evolution and the Laws of Science: The Laws of Thermodynamics,” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=9&article=2786.

Morris, H. (1974), “The Young Earth,” Acts & Facts, 3[8], http://www.icr.org/article/young-earth.

Thompson, Bert (2001), “The Young Earth,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/1991.

Wald, George (1954), “The Origin of Life,” Scientific American, 191:45-53, August.

God's Providence and the Problem of Evil by Kyle Butt, M.Div.


God's Providence and the Problem of Evil

by  Kyle Butt, M.Div.

In 2008, best-selling author and agnostic professor Bart Ehrman wrote a book titled God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer (2008). In the book, Ehrman presented his case for how the biblical answer to the problem of evil is insufficient. His analysis is incorrect and lacking in many ways, but the title of his book brings us to a crucial question regarding evil—why would Erhman and a bulk of the unbelieving world seek such an answer from the Bible? Why put forth so much effort attempting to refute the biblical answer to suffering?
In truth, the “problem of evil” argument is built on the foundation of what the Bible says about God. As it is historically set out, the “problem of evil” contends that the three premises (1) God is all-loving; (2) God is all-powerful; and (3) evil exists, cannot all be true. Where did these three premises originate? The third, that evil exists, is a matter of personal experience and knowledge that virtually all humans can know intuitively. But the first two premises, that God is all-loving and all-powerful, are distinctly set forth in the Bible as attributes of God. Without the biblical insistence that God is all-powerful and all-loving, there would be no “problem of evil.” With that in mind, it would be unfair and dishonest for the skeptic to demand that the Christian answer the problem of evil without reference to the Bible. Yet, that is precisely what Ehrman and others expect. They attempt to discredit the biblical answers to the problem of evil. These attacks against the Bible’s answer have been unsuccessful (Warren, 1972; Miller, 2015). In fact, one of the most impressive responses to evil is the biblical understanding of God’s work through providence. For the purposes of this discussion, we will define providence as the way God orchestrates His will through natural laws. This idea is contrasted with God’s miraculous intervention in human affairs. A miracle, such as Jesus walking on water or God’s empowering Moses to put his hand into his cloak and it become leprous, is a recognizable overriding of certain natural laws. God’s providence, on the other hand, is seen in cases where God works through natural laws to accomplish His will.
To illustrate this difference, let us consider specific examples. In 2 Kings 19, the story is told of Sennacherib’s campaign against the land of Judah. The evil king and his Assyrian army encircled Jerusalem and were confident that they would soon crush the city. That did not happen, because one night an “angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when the people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses—all dead” (2 Kings 19:35). This episode is a clear example of God miraculously intervening in human affairs. On a different occasion, the prophet Micaiah warned Ahab, the king of Israel, that he would be destroyed if he attacked Ramoth Gilead. Ahab ignored the warning from God’s prophet and attacked the city anyway. In the course of the events, “a certain man drew a bow at random, and struck the king of Israel between the joints of his armor” (1 Kings 22:34). Ahab died of his wound exactly as God had foretold. Ahab’s death, however, came about through what we would call natural events, not miraculous ones.
Another contrast between providential and miraculous involvement can be seen in the lives of Mary and Hannah. In the New Testament narrative of Jesus’ birth, the Bible states that Mary would miraculously conceive Jesus even though she was a virgin (Matthew 1:18-25). In contrast, we read about the birth of Samuel to Hannah. She prayed earnestly for a son and God answered her prayer. Hannah’s conception and birth of Samuel, however, were not miraculous but came about through her union with her husband Elkanah (1 Samuel 1:19-20; see Jackson, “A Study of Divine Providence”).  Samuel’s birth provides an excellent illustration of God’s providence.
Throughout the course of human history God has worked His will through miraculous and providential means. In many eras of history He has used both at the same time, but in some instances and epochs, He has worked primarily through providence with very little or no recognizable miraculous activity. It is important to understand this truth, since it is often affirmed that if God has worked miracles in the past to aid his people, then He “should” be doing the same today. For instance, Bart Ehrman demands, “If he [God] could do miracles for his people throughout the Bible, where is he today when your son is killed in a car accident, or your husband gets multiple sclerosis, or civil war is unleashed in Iraq, or the Iranians decide to pursue their nuclear ambitions?” (p. 274). This idea is well-illustrated on Marshall Brain’s Web site whywontgodhealamputees.com (2014). According to Brain, the fact that God does not miraculously regrow limbs proves that He is imaginary. In chapter 5 of his material, he says, “Nothing happens when we pray for amputated limbs. God never regenerates lost limbs through prayer…. Does God answer prayers? If so, then how do we explain this disconnection between God and amputees?” (2014).
Notice that Brain and Ehrman insist that if God is capable of miracles, then we should be seeing them now. But why must that be the case? Could it be that an all-knowing God has very good reasons why He is not at work in the same miraculous ways He worked in the past? In addition, the same Bible that tells us about God’s miracles also lays out a very strong case for God’s working through providential means. To demand that God must operate in the way that we insist He operate is more than slightly presumptuous, especially in light of the fact that He has given us ample information about other ways He works.
This play by unbelievers is more clearly seen in the proverbial story of the atheistic professor who stands before a class of freshmen and dares God to strike him dead. When nothing happens, the professor glibly comments, “I thought not,” and assumes he has made his point. Could it be possible that there are good reasons God does not strike the professor dead? Certainly. Maybe God knows the man will repent in the future. Maybe He knows that this professor will find a cure for cancer, and although he will lose his soul, he will save many lives. The possibilities are virtually endless.
Ehrman and other unbelievers challenge Christians to produce modern miracles as evidence that God intervenes in the world today. They do so, however, refusing to recognize two important truths. First, even during the ages of human history when God performed miracles, He did not intervene to stop all suffering. People still got sick, had accidents, broke bones, suffered emotionally, and died. It is as if the skeptic insists that the Bible paints a picture of a God who swooped in miraculously to stop all suffering. Such was never the case. Miracles were isolated events designed to confirm the validity of the message of certain divine messengers (Miller, 2003). The Bible has never presented them as a wholesale answer to the problem of pain and suffering. Second, to insist that God must use miracles today discounts the pervasive biblical theme of providence. Throughout history, one of God’s primary modes of operation has been to providentially work through natural laws. To deny that this is the case is to turn a deaf ear to a massive amount of biblical testimony.

A Biblical Case for Providence

When many people think about God working through miracles, they have a picture in mind of a God Who periodically interrupts the regular flow of things and tinkers with the laws that are usually in place. They see God as an intruder into the natural order that He initially set up and that He leaves alone for a large portion of time. It is as if God has created a cosmic aquarium filled with fish, rocks, hiding areas, and a water filtering system. He sits outside the system watching patiently until He is needed, dipping His hand into the system to add something here or take something away there. The problem with this view is that it pictures a system that somehow works independently of God. In this system it is thought that if God does not miraculously intervene, then the system still works fine.
The Bible provides a picture of God’s activity in the world that is much different from this model. Instead of a self-sustaining system that God created at the beginning and primarily has left to its own devices, Scripture teaches that the entire system constantly relies on God. The writer of Hebrews explains that God appointed Jesus Christ as the heir of all things and that He is presently “upholding all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:2-3). It is not that at one time (but not now) He created and upheld the world, but that He is at present still upholding “all things.” Paul confirmed this idea in Colossians when he spoke of Jesus, saying “All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist” (Colossians 1:16-17). Notice that not only was Jesus active in the Creation, but the created world continues to “consist” in Him. It is important to recognize that God originally designed a world of natural laws that would be ideal for Him to providentially use throughout the course of human history. His use of these laws to bring about His purposes is not an interruption of the regular flow of things, since the regular flow of things constantly depends on His power to sustain it. As Richard Bube wrote in his book The Human Quest:
The natural order exists only because God is constantly active in upholding it. God does not use natural processes as if they existed without him. God does not take advantage of natural laws to accomplish his will as if the laws existed without him. We see immediately why the question “Can God intervene in a world ruled by orderly laws?” is meaningless. There is no world ruled by orderly laws except that one constantly maintained in existence by the activity of God (1971, p. 28).
It is because of this fact that scholar John Walton defines providence as “the way God acts through all so-called natural processes, whether in creation, nature, or history” (2001, p. 101). His addition of the adjective “so-called” highlights the fact that the laws of “nature” are perpetually dependant on the supernatural God. In the term providence, then, we see God’s perpetual upholding of the entire Universe.

Special Providence

The general providence of God upholds all nature. The way the term providence is usually applied, however, refers to God’s coordination of events in order to bring about specific desired outcomes. This has been referred to as God’s special providence. It often is spoken of in the Bible as it is seen in the lives of those who follow him (May, 2014, p. 14). We see the difference between general and specific providence when we compare Matthew 5:45, which says that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust,” with Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” In one sense, all life comes from God and the fact that anyone can take a breath is a providential blessing. In another sense, God has promised that all the events in the lives of those who love Him will be orchestrated in a way that they will work together for the ultimate good.
It is important to recognize what the Bible does not say about God’s providence. There is an idea that if a person is a faithful child of God, then God will make sure that he or she is always prosperous, has a wonderful spouse, is blessed with children, and lives a life of comfort and ease. That is not what the Bible says. In fact, the Bible is clear that those who love and follow God often experience serious hardships and trials. Paul told Timothy that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). James told his readers to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2-3). Peter told his readers who were suffering governmental persecution not to “think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:12-13). Even the Lord was disciplined in obedience by the things which He suffered (Hebrews 5:8). God does not promise that everything that happens to those who love Him will be good. Instead, He promises that they will work together so that the end result is good.

Bible Examples of Special Providence


The name of God is never mentioned in the book of Esther. For that reason, some have questioned its inspiration and place in the canon. A close analysis of the book, however, shows that it meets the criteria for inspiration. The fact that it does not use God’s name is significant, because the events that happen in the book provide some of the clearest examples of special providence in all of Scripture.
Let us briefly summarize the story. Esther is a Jew who lives in Shushan, the capital of the Persian Empire. She is orphaned, so her cousin Mordecai raises her as if she were his. In the course of events, the Persian king Ahasuerus dismisses his wife and begins the process of looking for another. Esther is among the young women that Ahasuerus assembles at his palace. She surpasses the others in talent and beauty and becomes the new queen. Mordecai warns her not to reveal that she is a Jew. On one occasion, when Mordecai sat in the king’s gate, he uncovered a plot to kill the king. Those involved were found guilty and the event was written in the history book that Ahasuerus kept.
During this time, the wicked general Haman began to advance in station and status with the king. He hated Mordecai because the Jew would not bow to him. Instead of killing Mordecai, Haman tricked the king into issuing a decree that all the Jews should be killed. Esther courageously pleaded with the king to save the Jews. Ultimately, Haman’s plot was discovered, he was hanged, and the Jewish people were delivered from destruction. The most interesting aspect of the book of Esther is the underlying working of God through “natural” processes throughout the events taking place.
For instance, of all the young women in the entire kingdom that Ahasuerus could have picked, he chose the Jewess Esther. Her cousin Mordecai was in the perfect place to discover a plot against the king’s life, and his deed was written down in the history book. The entry, however, went unnoticed for many days until one “fortuitous” night the king could not sleep. Due to his insomnia, he ordered that the history book be read, and it just so happened that Mordecai’s discovery was the chosen text. While the king was deciding what to do to honor Mordecai, Haman entered his presence hoping to request that the king hang Mordecai. Instead, Haman was instructed to parade the Jew through the streets as one whom the king chose to honor. Haman was later hanged on the very gallows that he had built to hang Mordecai.
The number of perfectly aligned events that brought about the Jews’ salvation were not coincidences. As John Walton noted, “If we truly understand Esther, it is not saying that there is no God at work, but neither is it saying that there is no circumstance. Instead, it insists that God works through the circumstance…. The only way to understand how God works is to see circumstance as one of his agents” (p. 104). One of the most familiar passages in the text is found in a statement that Mordecai made to Esther. He admonished her to have the courage to go to the king, even knowing that she might die. And he said, “who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). Notice that Mordecai’s statement implies that the circumstances that led to Esther being the queen could have been arranged intentionally and purposefully for her to save the Jews.
It is at this point that we need to consider an important aspect of special providence. God performed miracles in a way that, to the honest observer, left no room for doubt. Anyone who observed a miracle performed by Jesus or another empowered spokesperson from God, if the person was dealing honestly with the situation, could be sure that God’s power was directly responsible for the event. When considering providence, however, God’s work is often not clear until after the events take place, and even then it is difficult to put a finger on exactly how and where God was active. Mordecai’s sentiment of “who knows” captures this facet of providence well. We see this idea in the New Testament as well. When Paul wrote to his friend Philemon, he mentioned that he had come in contact with one of Philemon’s former slaves. This slave, Onesimus, had run away from Philemon and become a Christian during his time away. Paul was sending him back, and he wrote to Philemon, “perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you may receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 15-16).
Paul’s use of the word “perhaps” echoesMordecai’s use of “who knows.” Both writers were acknowledging that God works through natural, providential means. But they were also conceding that the circumstances under discussion could only be viewed with some uncertainty when trying to determine exactly what parts of their lives and the lives of others were related to God’s activity. As May correctly wrote, “Miracles are clearly from God. Providence is always ‘perhaps,’ except when God in Scripture tells us He is working behind the scenes” (p. 69).


The life and times of Joseph, son of Israel, consume the bulk of Genesis chapters 37-50. His story provides another clear example of God’s providence in action. Joseph’s dad favored him above his other brothers, because he was the son of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel. This favoritism led Jacob to treat him better than his brothers, which fueled their jealousy and hatred toward the young man. In addition, Joseph had dreams in which his brothers, Jacob, and Leah bowed down to him. This infuriated his siblings all the more.
On one occasion, Joseph was sent to check on his brothers as they tended their father’s flocks. They conspired against him, captured him, and sold him to a band of slave traders. The traders sold him into Egypt. In Egypt, Joseph spent many years in slavery and in prison, but through a series of remarkable events, became the second most prominent man in all the land. Due to a massive famine, his brothers journeyed to Egypt to buy food. There they bowed to Joseph just as he had seen in his dreams. Eventually, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers and brought his family to live in Egypt. When his father died, his brothers feared that Joseph might seek revenge on them. They came to him, begging for his forgiveness. He calmed them and said, “[D]o not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:19-20).
As we read through the events of Joseph’s life, we see many people who were not trying to help Joseph, nor were they attempting to obey God. His brothers sold him into slavery. Slave traders cruelly sold him into Egypt. His first master’s wife lied about him. His master, Potiphar, then threw him into prison. And the chief butler forgot about him for two years before bringing his name up to Pharaoh. Obviously, the people in Joseph’s life could not see the hand of God, nor were they complicit in God’s plan to elevate Joseph. In addition, many of the events were unjust, wrong, and painful to Joseph. God, however, orchestrated these events in Joseph’s life so that eventually they turned out “for good.” This is the nature of providence.

Providence and Human Free Will

A study of divine providence naturally leads to questions about human free will. If God orchestrates events to bring about desired outcomes, does He force people to act in certain ways? Does He override human free will in order to work providentially? The stories of Esther, Philemon, and Joseph provide us with the answer. God used the choices that the people in the stories freely made, and worked His providence through those choices. At no time did God in the past, or will God in the present or future, override a person’s free will.
If God works His providence through the decisions that various people freely choose, that must mean He knows what they will choose. Some have argued that if God knows what a person chooses, then that person is not free to choose, since he or she is “stuck” choosing what God knows he/she will choose (see Barker, 2008, p. 127). The flaw in this argument hinges on the difference between knowledge and cause. Just because a person may have knowledge of an event does not mean that he caused the event or that the person who makes the choice is somehow constrained by this knowledge. A brief thought experiment makes this point clear. Suppose, hypothetically, you knew that a friend of yours drank coffee yesterday morning. Now suppose you could go back in time and watch him choose to drink coffee instead of milk. Did your knowledge that he would choose coffee somehow force his decision? Not at all. He could have chosen coffee because he liked the taste or wanted the caffeine. The fact that you knew what he would do does not mean he was forced to do it or that your knowledge somehow caused it. Similarly, God knows what every person will do. Using that knowledge, He can arrange events to accomplish His ends through natural circumstances.

How Knowledge of Providence Helps the Sufferer

One of the primary reasons to study providence is to assimilate the idea into an overall answer that helps explain how a loving, all-powerful God can allow those He loves to suffer. What does knowledge of providence offer the sufferer? First, an understanding of providence assures us that God will never allow any person to suffer or be tempted beyond his/her ability to deal with the suffering. Paul explained this to the Corinthian church when he wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
When we suffer, there are times we may feel that we simply cannot endure the pain and sorrow that is crushing us. During such periods of trials and troubles, we must remember that God is still in control of the Universe, and He has solemnly promised us that He will never allow us to suffer or be tempted more than we are able to withstand. While it may seem to us that we cannot hold up under the trials we experience, if God is all-knowing, and if God can providentially arrange the events of human lives to accomplish His ultimate desire, then we can know that He will provide the strength that we need to not only endure, but even to grow through our struggles. The strength He provides may not come in the form or way that we expect. It may come through what others do for us. It may come through something we read in God’s Word. It may come through an inspiring story that we read in a book that a friend happened to lend us. Or it may come through a person coming into our lives that is suffering worse than we are and needs our help, channeling our attention from our own pain to constructive ways to help others with theirs.
Second, an understanding of divine providence can help the sufferer understand that God can arrange events so that suffering can have meaning and purpose, even though it is not inherently good. One excellent biblical example is seen in the life of Paul. Paul’s life after his conversion to Christianity was eventful to say the least. He took three lengthy missionary journeys, during which he was often in peril. He explained to the church in Corinth that he had been beaten three times, shipwrecked three times, stoned, whipped by the Jews five times, and spent a night and day in the ocean (2 Corinthians 11:22-33). Paul often found himself trying to escape legal authorities that were attempting to imprison or kill him.
On one occasion, Paul was lowered over the city wall of Damascus in a basket to escape being captured by the governor of the city (2 Corinthians 11:32-33). Paul’s efforts to avoid capture, however, were not always successful. Once, He was imprisoned and held by the prestigious palace guard. Without an understanding of providence, this situation would seem to the average observer to have a negative effect on Paul and his preaching of the Gospel. Why did Paul have to suffer by being thrown in prison? Why did the church have to suffer through their concern for the apostle? Why did his relatives have to endure the mental anguish of knowing he was imprisoned unjustly? Such questions are legion. Paul provides us with some insight into his situation in the letter he wrote to the church in Philippi. He told them, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which have happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ” (Philippians 1:12-13). Notice Paul’s use of the word “actually.” The implication is that at first, it would not seem like prison would help the cause of Christ and the furtherance of the Gospel. It turns out, however, that even though Paul had been unjustly imprisoned and punished with evil intent, God providentially arranged the events so that the Gospel message spread.


God created the world and upholdsit by the word of His power. He designed the natural laws that He perpetually sustains in a way that He can work through them to bring about His desired goals. Throughout human history, He has worked both providentially and miraculously. The fact that He used miracles in the past, however, does not mean that He still, or must, use them today in order to accomplish His ultimate will. The Bible provides extensive material on how God has providentially worked in the past, and how He has promised to continue this activity in the present and future. An understanding of God’s providence provides a vital aspect of the Christian’s overall answer to suffering in the world. Furthermore, the concept of providence can help those who suffer find meaning and comfort through their suffering.


Barker, Dan (2008), godless (Berkeley, CA: Ulysses).
Brain, Marshall (2014), “Why Won’t God Heal Amputees?” http://why wontgodhealamputees.com/.
Bube, Richard (1971), The Human Quest (Waco, TX: Word).
Ehrman, Bart (2008), God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer (New York: HarperOne).
Jackson, Wayne (no date), “A Study of Divine Providence,” https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/
May, Cecil Jr. (2014), Providence: The Silent Sovereignty of God (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
Miller, Dave (2003), “Modern-Day Miracles, Tongue-Speaking, and Holy Spirit Baptism: A Refutation,” Apologetics Press, https://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=11&article=264& topic=293.
Miller, Dave (2015), Why People Suffer (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Walton, John (2001), Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Warren, Thomas B. (1972), Have Atheists Proved There is No God? (Jonesboro, AR: National Christian Press).

Design Demands A Designer by Kyle Butt, M.Div.


Design Demands A Designer

by  Kyle Butt, M.Div.

Sir Isaac Newton was a famous mathematician and scientist who strongly believed in God. The story is told that he had an atheistic friend who did not believe in God. Sir Isaac devised a plan to try to convince his friend that God did exist and had created the Universe. One day, he went to a carpentry shop and asked the owner to make a model of our solar system. This model was to be to scale, intricately painted, and designed to resemble, as closely as possible, the actual solar system.
Several weeks later, Sir Isaac picked up the model, paid for it, and placed it in the center of a table in his house. Some time later, his atheist friend came over for a visit. When the friend arrived at Dr. Newton’s house, the model of the solar system caught his eye, and he asked Sir Isaac if he could inspect the model more closely. Of course, that was fine with Sir Isaac. As the atheist inspected the model, he stood in awe of the fine craftsmanship and beauty of the various pieces. After some time, the atheistic friend asked Dr. Newton who had crafted this wonderful model of the solar system. Sir Isaac promptly replied that no one had made the model; it just appeared on his table by accident. Confused, the friend repeated the question, and yet Newton stubbornly clung to his answer that the model had just appeared, as it were, “out of thin air.” Finally, the friend became upset, and it was at that point that Sir Isaac explained the purpose of his answer. If he could not convince his friend that this crude replica of the solar system had “just happened by accident,” how could the friend believe that the real solar system, with all its complexity and design, could have appeared just by time and chance? Point well taken! Design always demands a Designer. As a case in point, let us look at one beautiful example of design.
Inside your head is an organ that weighs about 3 pounds. Doctors who operate on this organ say that it feels like unbaked bread dough when you touch it or hold it in your hands. But this “doughy” organ we call the brain certainly is not a loaf of bread. On the contrary, it is the most complex “computer” the world has ever known.
The brain is composed of over 10 trillion different cells. These cells work together to send electrical impulses at a rate of 273 miles per hour (393 feet per second). Nerve cells in the body send 2,000 impulses to the brain every second. These impulses come from 130,000 light receptors in the eye, 100,000 hearing receptors in the ears, 3,000 taste buds, and over 500,000 touch spots. As this is happening, the brain does not move, yet it consumes over 25% of the body’s oxygen and receives 20% of all the blood that is pumped from the heart (which is pretty amazing, considering that the brain makes up only about 2% of the body weight of an average man).
And if all these “brainy” abilities don’t impress you, consider that the brain serves as the “doctor” for the rest of the body. It produces more than 50 drugs, ranging from painkillers (like endorphin) to antidepressant drugs (like serotonin). In addition, the brain allows you to remember words, smells, pictures, and colors. In fact, the brain is so good at allowing a person to remember information, it has been estimated that it would require 500 sets of encyclopedias to hold the information found in the brain. Let’s be honest; if we were walking through the forest one day and found a laptop computer that weighed less than three pounds and yet could perform more complex tasks than any computer on the market, would we say it “just happened by accident?” If we use our brains, we can see that the design found in the brain demands an intelligent Designer.

Human Cloning and Stem-Cell Research--Science's "Slippery Slope" [Part II] by Bert Thompson, Ph.D. Brad Harrub, Ph.D.


Human Cloning and Stem-Cell Research--Science's "Slippery Slope" [Part II]

by  Bert Thompson, Ph.D.
Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In the “Editor’s Note” accompanying last month’s issue of Reason & Revelation, I alluded to the fact that reports are “surfacing with disturbing frequency about scientists’ planned use of human-derived stem cells,” and that as a result I felt an in-depth analysis of this subject certainly was warranted in these pages. In the short, one-month span since the August issue was mailed, research on human-derived stem-cells has become the focus of a national—no, make that a worldwide—debate. On August 9, 2001, George W. Bush, President of the United States, made stem-cell research the topic of his first major address to the American people since taking office in January of this year. During that speech, he explained that it would be his administration’s policy to support federal funding only for research on stem-cell lines already in existence, rather than making government funds available for research programs that obtained stem cells via methods requiring the destruction of additional embryos (for example, experimentation on soon-to-be-discarded embryos left over after in vitro fertilization procedures). As we will point out in this issue, and in Part III in October, science now has taken the first perilous step on that infamous “slippery slope.” Once again, therefore, we invite your serious attention to these most urgent matters.]


How, exactly, does cloning work? Cloning procedures currently involve the removal of an egg’s nucleus (which contains the genetic “blueprints” of the cell) in order to replace it with the nucleus from either an adult somatic (body) cell that has been “stressed” (via chemicals, radiation, nutrient deprivation, etc.) or an embryonic stem cell. Under normal conditions, cells go through a process known as “differentiation,” during which the majority of the DNA within the cell is deactivated—except for a small portion that instructs the cell regarding its future destiny. For example, once a cell differentiates, it is destined to become only a muscle cell, a neuron, a red blood cell, a fingernail cell, etc. Most scientists, of course, have no real desire to clone an entire laboratory of fingernail cells. What they would like to be able to do is to clone entire organisms. But in order to do that, they must locate newly dividing cells (e.g., stem cells) that have not yet differentiated, or they must stress older, fully formed cells that already have differentiated in order to force them to return to an undifferentiated state. In cloning, the goal is to “reset” the developmental clock of the implanted nucleus, the result being the production of a new organism that is genetically identical to the cell from which the genetic material was derived originally.
 Technique used by Wilmut, et al. to clone a sheep. Their breakthrough involved starving body cells of nutrients, thus interrupting the normal cycle of growth and division. In this quiescent stage, the cell can be “reprogrammed” to function as a newly fertilized egg (after Travis, 1997, 151:215).
There can be little doubt that it is only a matter of time until someone, somewhere, attempts to add humans to the list of creatures that already have been cloned. As Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine (and an outspoken critic of religion), wrote in his 2001 volume, The Borderlands of Science: “[C]loning is going to happen whether it is banned or not, so why not err on the side of freedom and allow scientists to freely explore the possibilities—not to play God, but to do science?” (p. 77). Waiting in the wings are the rogue scientists who are more than willing to “freely explore the possibilities” (and yes, even play God in the process!). In yet another 2001 book, The Shattered Self: The End of Natural Evolution, Pierre Baldi asserted:
Thus, in time and with the proper technology, we will be able to clone any human being whose DNA is available in sufficient amount and viable form.... Of all the scenarios we have discussed, human cloning is probably the most pressing and concrete.... [H]uman cloning is essentially available today. ...Cloning, gene therapies, advanced molecular medicine, and surgical procedures such as organ transplantation, together with a better understanding and control of environmental factors, can render our bodies essentially immortal (pp. 82,121, emp. added).
That idea—of potential human immortality—has not been lost on some within the scientific community. In January 2000, Panayiotis Zavos (of the Kentucky Center for Reproductive Medicine and In Vitro Fertilization at the University of Kentucky in Lexington) announced that within eighteen months he and Italian fertility expert Severino Antinori planned to produce an embryo—derived from human stem cells—for implantation in a surrogate mother (see “Cloning Effort,” 2000). Their plans to do just that are well under way.
However, in an article titled “The God Game No More” in a July 9/July 16, 2001 special double issue, U.S. News & World Report noted that on March 27, 2001, a formal letter from the United States Food and Drug Administration was hand-delivered to Dr. Zavos, informing him that any attempt on his part to clone a human might well place him in violation of FDA regulations regarding experimental medical procedures. In response, Dr. Zavos stated that he and Antinori already have “set up two clandestine labs overseas” (see Boyce and Kaplan, 2001). And, on August 7, 2001, at the National Academy of Sciences Conference on Cloning—just two days before President Bush gave his nationally televised speech on stem-cell research—Zavos and Antinori announced their intention to impregnate as many as 200 women with cloned embryos by November 2001 (see Stolberg, 2001).
Scientists like Zavos and Antinori are being “egged on” by those who are anxious to see—regardless of the cost in human lives—exactly what might happen when scientists attempt to clone humans. As Skeptic editor Michael Shermer went on to lament:
The mass hysteria and moral panic surrounding cloning is nothing more than the historically common rejection of new technologies, coupled with the additional angst produced when medical advances fly too close to religion’s sun.... So that is what it really comes down to: the fear that science is unduly infringing on religion’s turf.
Why not lift the ban on all research into cloning—including humans—and see what happens? Let’s run the social experiment and analyze the data.... In the borderlands between science and pseudoscience, the best method to determine which fuzzy category a claim belongs is to test it. Why not do that here? (2001, pp. 75-77).
Why not? Perhaps Shermer would understand “why not” if he immersed himself in some of the latest results emerging from the laboratories of the scientists who actually are involved in the process of cloning animals on a day-to-day basis. For example, in a study reported in the July 6, 2001 issue of Science, researchers found that the techniques themselves were not the cause of the problems they were discovering in their cloned animals. Instead, the difficulties arose from the fact that the actual donor cells (i.e., embryonic stem cells) appeared to be extremely unstable in culture. During their growth and division phases, these special cells began losing important segments of DNA that instruct particular genes to “turn on” or “turn off.” While the effects of these deletions were not visible outwardly, tests in which gene expression was measured showed an entirely different story.
David Humphreys and coworkers used embryonic stem cells to provide the genetic material that was placed into egg cells. The nucleus from these embryonic stem cells was transferred to mice eggs and then placed into surrogate mothers to be carried to term. The researchers found that the DNA in mice born as a result of this procedure exhibited irregular gene expression—in other words, some of their DNA was missing. In order to confirm their suspicions that the technique itself was not at fault, the scientists then implanted other egg cells using stem cells from the same culture. As they suspected, the technique worked flawlessly. It was the stem cells themselves that were unstable. In discussing their results, Humphreys and his colleagues wrote: “Our results indicate that even apparently healthy cloned animals can have gene expression abnormalities that are not severe enough to impede development to birth but that may cause subtle physiological abnormalities which could be difficult to detect” (2001, 293:97). Dr. Humphreys and his colleagues observed that cloning already has
been used to derive live clones in several species including sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, and mice, but only a few percent of nuclear transfer embryos develop to term. Even those clones that survive to term frequently die of respiratory and circulatory problems and show increased placental and birth weights, often referred to as “large offspring syndrome” (293:95, emp. added).
This report confirmed what many already suspected—that reproductive cloning not only is inefficient, but also may be extremely unsafe. In an article titled “Don’t Clone Humans!” in the March 30, 2001 issue of Science, Rudolf Jaenisch (one of the authors of the Humphreys study on cloned mice), and Ian Wilmut (who cloned Dolly), wrote:
Animal cloning is inefficient and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Cloning results in gestational or neonatal developmental failures. At best, a few percent of the nuclear transfer embryos survive to birth and, of those, many die within the perinatal period. There is no reason to believe that the outcomes of attempted human cloning will be any different. ...Newborn clones often display respiratory distress and circulatory problems, the most common causes of neonatal death. Even apparently healthy survivors may suffer from immune dysfunction, or kidney or brain malformation, which can contribute to death later (2001, 291:2552, emp. added).
Jaenisch and Wilmut addressed the claims of Zavos and Antinori specifically, and the possibility of human cloning generally, when they wrote:
We believe attempts to clone human beings at a time when the scientific issues of nuclear cloning have not been clarified are dangerous and irresponsible. All the data collected subsequently reinforce this point of view.... If human cloning is attempted, those embryos that do not die early may live to become abnormal children and adults; both are troubling outcomes (291:2552, emp. added).
In an August 20/August 27, 2001 special double issue of U.S. News and World Report, the magazine’s well-known editor at large, David Gergen, wrote under the title of “Trouble in Paradise”:
It took 277 embryos to make one Dolly, they point out, and that was for a simple sheep. Think how many more will be required to make a human and how many deformed fetuses may result. Will we see mass abortions? Miscarriages? Human suffering? Even a monster in a laboratory?...[I]t is troubling enough that Dolly grazes nearby. If we now turn loose her human cousins, how can we possibly keep nature’s balance? (131[7]:80).
In this controversy, “keeping nature’s balance” apparently is on the minds of a lot of people—scientists and non-scientists alike. In the same issue of U.S. News in which Gergen’s article appeared, the editors also chimed in with an editorial of their own titled “Send in the Clones?,” in which they wrote:
Stem-cell research, cloning, and genetic engineering—the new frontiers of science—are creating a landscape of slippery slopes where politics, religion, science, and hope collide. The pace of discovery is so rapid that we can’t even resolve one ethical debate before another rears its head....
So far, mainstream scientists have opposed reproductive cloning because it’s just not safe. Sudden abortions, stillbirths, and gross birth defects are among the seemingly unexplainable and initially undetectable problems that arise (see “Send in the Clones,” 2001, 131[7]:12, emp. added).
Shortly after news of Dolly’s cloning was announced in February 1997, then-President Bill Clinton asked the National Bioethics Advisory Commission to prepare a report for him containing recommendations on human cloning. That report, presented to the President in June 1997, contained six chapters. In chapter six, the Commission listed five distinct categories of recommendations:
1. The Commission concludes that at this time it is morally unacceptable for anyone in the public or private sector, whether in a research or clinical setting, to attempt to create a child using somatic cell nuclear transfer.... The Commission, therefore, recommends the following for immediate action.
A continuation of the current moratorium on the use of federal funding in support of any attempt to create a child by somatic cell nuclear transfer.
An immediate request to all firms, clinicians, investigators, and professional societies in the private and nonfederally funded sectors to comply voluntarily with the intent of the federal moratorium. Professional and scientific societies should make clear that any attempt to create a child by somatic cell nuclear transfer and implantation into a woman’s body would at this time be an irresponsible, unethical, and unprofessional act.
2. Federal legislation should be enacted to prohibit anyone from attempting, whether in a research or clinical setting, to create a child through somatic cell nuclear transfer.
3. Any regulatory or legislative actions undertaken to effect the foregoing prohibition on creating a child by somatic cell nuclear transfer should be carefully written so as not to interfere with other important scientific research....
4. ...[W]e recommend that the federal government, and all interested and concerned parties, encourage widespread and continuing deliberation on these issues in order to further our understanding of the ethical and social implications of this technology and to enable society to produce appropriate long-term policies regarding this technology should the time come when present concerns about safety have been addressed.
5. Finally...the Commission recommends that Federal departments concerned with science should cooperate in seeking out and supporting opportunities to provide information and education to the public in the area of genetics, and on other developments in the biomedical sciences, especially where these affect important cultural practices, values, and beliefs (see Cloning Human Beings..., 1997, pp. 108-110, emp. added).
The report of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, which was extensive, discussed several “domains” in regard to human cloning, not the least of which was the safety of the procedure itself. As evolutionary geneticist Richard Lewontin observed:
The serious ethical problems raised by the prospect of human cloning lie in the fourth domain considered by the bioethics commission, that of safety. ...It seems pretty obvious that the reason the Scottish laboratory did not announce the existence of Dolly until she was a full-grown sheep is that they were worried that her postnatal development would go awry.... Ninety percent of the loss of the experimental sheep embryos was at the so-called “morula” stage, hardly more than a ball of cells. Of the twenty-nine embryos implanted in maternal uteruses, only one showed up as a fetus after fifty days in utero, and that lamb was finally born as Dolly. Suppose we have a high success rate of bringing cloned human embryos to term. What kinds of development abnormalities would be acceptable? Acceptable to whom? (2000, pp. 166,167).
Abnormalities? What abnormalities? According to Princeton molecular geneticist Lee Silver, such occurrences very likely would be little more than figments of our overactive imaginations. The same year Dolly’s arrival was announced (1997), Silver authored his groundbreaking book, Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World, in which—in a brazen attempt to defend human cloning—he wrote (incredibly!): “If safety is judged by the proportion of those lambs born who were in good health [that would be a grand total of one—Dolly—BT/BH], then the record is perfect (albeit a rather small sample size)” (p. 103, parenthetical comment in orig.). A small sample size indeed—one! Who does Dr. Silver think he is kidding? Were any other “scholar” to make such a ridiculous claim based on a statistical set of one (is there even really such a thing?), he would be ridiculed unmercifully in the halls of science—by his own colleagues! In fact, as two scientists wrote in a letter to Science in regard to Dolly, one successful attempt out of 277 “is an anecdote, not a result” (Sgaramella and Zinder, 1997, 279:635). Is it any wonder that most Americans oppose human cloning (see “Send in the Clones,” 131[7]:12), when such irresponsible pronouncements are forthcoming from scientists?
What a difference four years—and statistical sets larger than one—make! As we noted earlier, reproductive experts have cloned at least five mammals. Yet even those scientists directly involved in the research are critical of current methods and their end results. Harry Griffin is assistant director of Scotland’s Roslin Institute, where Ian Wilmut successfully cloned Dolly. In an interview on January 30, 2001, he told BBC News Online:
The success rate with animal cloning is about one to two per cent in the published results, and I think lower than that on average. I don’t know anyone working in this area who thinks the rate will easily be improved. There are many cases where the cloned animal dies late in pregnancy or soon after birth. The chances of success are so low it would be irresponsible to encourage people to think there’s a real prospect. The risks are too great for the woman, and of course for the child. It would be wholly irresponsible to try to clone a human being, given the present state of the technology (as quoted in Kirby, 2001, emp. added).
Unfortunately, maverick scientists like Zavos and Antinori are not deterred. Nor are they alone. It appears that there are those “waiting in the wings” for just the right moment to announce their own plans for the cloning of humans. In a disturbing article titled “Today the Sheep...Tomorrow the Shepherd?,” Newsweek staff writer Kenneth Woodward remarked: “Science has a way of outdistancing all ethical restraints. In science, the one rule is that what can be done will be done” (1997, 129[10]:60, emp. added). That “one rule” is what is known among scientists as the “technological imperative.” And it rules supreme in many areas of science. The famed Star Trek mantra—“to boldly go where no one has gone before”—has taken on an entirely new meaning in light of current reproductive technology. Pierre Baldi even went so far as to suggest:
In my judgment, we do not have much to fear about cloning in the short term, and we have plenty of time to think about its consequences if we begin now. It will take quite some time and debate before the first laws are passed authorizing human cloning, and it may take some time to achieve the level of technical proficiency required for its legal practice. It will take decades for the first human clone to become an adult, and for us to begin to sort out the effects of nature and nurture (2001, p. 145, emp. added).
Baldi did admit, however: “Before human clones are produced, we should ask ourselves whether it is ethical for human beings to precisely determine the genome of another human being” (p. 144). Determining (actually “predetermining” would be a more accurate term) the genome of another human being is indeed no small matter. Newsweek’s Woodward observed: “Perhaps the message of Dolly is that society should reconsider its casual slide toward assuming mastery over human life. Do we really want to play God?” (129[10]:60).


The specter of numerous laboratories around the country filled with maimed, malformed, malingering human embryos that grow into “abnormal children and adults” is not exactly the image of cloning that most people envision when they think of cloning. Yet according to those researchers who are on the cutting edge of the technology, that may be exactly what we will see if we tread on this slippery slope in our attempts to “play God.”
In an article summarizing the August 2001 National Academy of Sciences Conference on Cloning in Washington, D.C. for Time magazine, Michael Lemonick discussed some of the potential consequences of “playing God” via reproductive cloning.
Most of the scientists who gathered in Washington earlier this month to talk about human cloning agreed that cloning an entire human being—besides being morally questionable—was fraught with technical obstacles. After all, research into animal cloning has already shown that for every apparent success like Dolly the sheep, there are hundreds of failures, including many badly deformed creatures that were usually miscarried (2001, 158[8]:56, emp. added).
Having discussed just such horrendous possibilities in his book, The Impact of the Gene, it was hardly with a cavalier attitude that science writer Colin Tudge admitted:
But whether we like it or not, the human clone and the designer baby, the reinvented human being, will stay on humanity’s agenda for as long as science itself is practiced. With such power before us, we have to ask as a matter of urgency, what is right for us to do. Some have suggested that these new technologies raise no “new” ethical issues, a point that largely depends on what is meant by new. They certainly raise the ethical ante. After all, we cannot be held morally responsible for events that we cannot control, but we are answerable for those that we do control. In the normal course of events, we cannot control the genetic makeup of our offspring. We do have some influence, because we choose our mates carefully, but the process of genetic recombination during the formation of eggs and sperm ensures that the genetic details of our offspring are not ours to specify. But if we clone children, or engineer their genes, then we are prescribing their genome. Our responsibility, then, for all that befalls them, far outstrips that of any parent. Noblesse oblige. It is too casual by far to say there are no new issues. We must look deeper (2000, pp. 307-308, emp. in orig.).
Indeed, we must “look deeper”—for several reasons. We must force ourselves to realize that once the genie is out of the bottle, we will not be able to put it back. Science never goes backwards. Never! In his book, Designing Babies, Roger Gosden addressed this point when he wrote:
The march of scientific knowledge pauses from time to time, awaiting the discovery of a new theory, technique, or instrument, but it never retreats. Its discoveries can never be destroyed like a canvas that offends or a music score that grates. Hence the fear that an uncomfortable fact discovered today is bound to be applied sooner or later, possibly for ill (1999, p. 17, emp. added).
Medical ethicist Leon Kass of the University of Chicago (the physician selected by President Bush on August 9, 2001 to head the President’s Council on Stem-Cell Research) observed: “We Americans have lived by...the technological imperative—if it can be done, it must be done...” (2000, p. 105, emp. added). Do we honestly believe that we can “clone now, but remedy the consequences later”—and somehow do it with impunity? As long ago as 1967, in an editorial in Science, Marshall Nirenberg of the National Institutes of Health cautioned:
Man may be able to program his own cells with synthetic information long before he will be able to assess adequately the long-term consequences of such alterations, long before he will be able to formulate goals, and long before he can resolve the ethical and moral problems which will be raised (as quoted in Walters and Palmer, 1997, p. 141).
Or, as Kass put it: “Here we surely should not be willing to risk everything in the na├»ve hope that, should things go wrong, we can later set them right” (2000, p. 105). Evolutionist and Nobel laureate George Wald of Harvard decried the fact that
DNA technology faces our society with problems unprecedented not only in the history of science, but of life on the Earth. It places in human hands the capacity to redesign living organisms. ...It is all too big and is happening too fast. So this, the central problem, remains almost unconsidered. It presents probably the largest ethical problem that science has ever had to face. Our morality up to now has been to go ahead without restriction to learn all that we can about nature. Restructuring nature was not part of the bargain. For going ahead in this direction may be not only unwise, but dangerous (1979, pp. 127-128, emp. added).
Any way you slice it, human reproductive cloning is not only unwise and dangerous, but patently unethical as well. Ask any knowledgeable ethicist, Christian or otherwise, and he or she will confirm that two important principles come into play in experimentation on human beings.

Is the Experiment to the Subject’s Benefit?

The first principle is that basic medical ethics requires the experiment be to the subject’s benefit. Even avid cloning proponent Lee Silver was forced to admit:
A basic principle of medical ethics is that doctors should not perform any procedure on human subjects if the risk of harm is greater than the benefit that might be achieved. In the case of cloning, this principle would oblige physicians to refrain from practicing the technology unless they were sure that the risk of birth defects was no greater than that associated with naturally conceived children (1997, p. 103).
Is the risk greater? In the chapter he authored on “Cloning Human Beings: An Assessment of the Ethical Issues Pro and Con” for the book, Clones and Clones, Dan Brock answered that question in a very clear fashion: “There is no doubt that attempts to clone a human being at the present time would carry unacceptable risks to the clone” (1998, p. 157). How true! As things stand now, laboratory procedures for cloning humans scarcely would benefit the cloned embryos. Ian Wilmut and his colleagues attempted 277 fusions between donor cells and unfertilized eggs. Only 29 of those fused cells became embryos and were introduced into (13) ewes. Of those 29, only one became pregnant and gave birth to Dolly. What if the same failure rate held true for the cloning of humans? Or, for the sake of argument, suppose that somehow the failure rate could be cut in half (in other words, out of 29 human embryos, “only” 15 died during the process)? Would that then be ethically and morally acceptable? It would not! With human cloning—if the 1-2% success rate of scientists’ efforts today is any indication—the failure rate could be staggering. Producing human embryos—with the full knowledge in advance that many more of them will die than will live—is, to use the words of evolutionist Gunther Stent, “morally and aesthetically completely unacceptable” (as quoted in Howard and Rifkin, 1977, pp. 125-126).
Interestingly, at times atheists and theists alike acknowledge the major thrust of such arguments. Evolutionist Richard Lewontin, for example, admitted:
Of course, the technique will get better, but people are not sheep and there is no way to make cloning work reliably in people except to experiment on people.... Even if the methods could be made eventually to work as well in humans as in sheep, how many human embryos are to be sacrificed, and at what stage of their development? (2000, pp. 165-166).
As long ago as 1975, medical ethicist Paul Ramsey suggested that we cannot even develop the kinds of reproductive technologies being discussed here “without conducting unethical experiments upon the unborn who must be the mishaps (the dead and retarded ones) through whom we learn how” (as quoted in Restak, 1975, p. 65, parenthetical item in orig.). Sir John Polkinghorne, in an article on “Cloning and the Moral Imperative,” wrote:
An attempt to use a similar procedure to produce a cloned human person would undoubtedly also require a large number of trials before success was achieved and would involve similar uncertainties about long-term consequences. In contrast to the work that led to the birth of the first IVF baby, the procedures would be the result of radical human manipulation and not simply the facilitating of a natural process. Putting it bluntly, it would inevitably require the production of “experimental human beings.” This, in itself, is morally unacceptable. If the profound respect due to an unimplanted embryo requires that experimentation cease at 14 days [as required by British law in Polkinghorne’s home country—BT/BH], how would a much more extended series of experiments in utero be ethically justifiable? These procedures might have as their intended end a desirable purpose, such as the birth of a healthy baby who might otherwise suffer from a severe mitochondrial disorder, but the manner in which this had become feasible, through a sequence of experiments of this kind, would have been ethically tainted. The end would no more justify the means than it would, say, in the case of a fetus conceived naturally but with the intention of providing suitable material for the treatment of Parkinsonism in a close relative.... Not everything that can be done should be done (1997, pp. 41,42, emp. added).
Leon Kass put it another way: “The good things that men do can be made complete only by the things they refuse to do” (2000, p. 106, emp. added).
In addition, there is more to this matter than merely “perfecting” the cloning method itself. As a case in point, consider the scenario that evolutionist Mark Ridley presented in his 2001 volume, The Cooperative Gene:
But could human cloning ever become widespread: could most, or even all, human reproduction become clonal? At this stage, the Darwinian answer has to be: probably not. We need sex. We may need it to clear our harmful mutations. A sub-branch of human beings who went in for clonal reproduction would also be signing their progeny up for a mutational meltdown. They would undergo rapid genetic decay, as mutations accumulated faster than they could be eliminated. I do not know how many generations it would be before every offspring was so loaded with genetic defects that it would be dead; the details would depend on the exact cloning procedure, but cloning could not last long on an evolutionary timescale...My forecast is that the clone would be sick, and destined to collapse under the burden of its own copying errors (pp. 253,354, emp. added).
Is it to the clone’s benefit to be born “abnormal” thanks to a “mutational meltdown” that has the potential to make it into a monster with gross birth defects? To ask is to answer. Truth be told, the scientific facts surrounding cloning do not paint a pretty picture. Rather than being viewed as a “miracle of life,” it may well be that cloning should be portrayed instead as a death sentence.

Has the Subject Given “Informed Consent”?

There is a second equally important medical principle involved in the potential cloning of people. In any experiment performed on a human, the subject must know the risks beforehand and give “informed consent.” [Note the important difference here between an “experiment” and a routine medical procedure (such as surgery).] One of the saddest events ever recorded in American medical history provides an excellent case study in this regard. During the forty years between 1932 and 1972, the United States Public Health Service sanctioned the so-called “Tuskegee <$I[]Tuskegee experiments>Experiments” in which 399 poor men from Macon County, Alabama who were known to have syphilis were studied to determine the effects of this debilitating condition. The government doctors in charge of the study never told the participants that they were infected with this disease (the men were told they had “bad blood,” and that they could be cured if they entered the research program voluntarily). Even though the doctors knew that the disease was fatal if left untreated, and even though antibiotics were available that could have saved the lives of the 399 Alabamians, those men were denied access to such antibiotics. Nor did the scientists involved ever obtain “informed consent” from the men for their experiments, as required by United States law.
Instead, they were patronized, prodded, and poked in what can only be called one of the most shameful medical experiments ever perpetrated on Americans by Americans. As a result, almost all of the men died a cruel, agonizing death—with their tormenters recording every moment for posterity in the name of “scientific research.” What was the rationale offered in later years for the experiments, once the scheme finally was uncovered? Those responsible claimed that they wanted to provide knowledge of the disease in the hope that it might prevent the physical degradation and death so often associated with syphilis victims. And, of course, they wanted to secure information that could be used to slow, or halt, the “moral degradation” associated with contracting a venereal disease in the first place. Laudable goals, to be sure; but the end results did not justify the means through which they were accomplished!
Perhaps it was a case such as the Tuskegee experiments that was on the mind of Lori Andrews when she commented in her book, Future Perfect:
[U]nder the medical model, little attention is actually paid to informed consent. This is thought to be tolerable since people seek medical services when they already have a health problem and physicians are presumed to be acting in the patient’s best interest by providing services.... Unlike other areas of law, where the standards of behavior are externally imposed, in medicine the standard of care is set by the profession itself.... Currently, most genetic services are regulated by the medical model. Under it, physicians are the source of information about genetic tests (2001, pp. 23,24, emp. added).
The sad fact that some researchers within the scientific/medical community today do not adhere to the ethical standard of informed consent is no justification for not obeying the law, however. Two wrongs do not make a right.
In the case of human cloning, however, the tiny embryo being produced (and that more often than not is likely to die) could not provide informed consent, even if the researchers involved in the experiments actually decided to obey the law. As Kass noted:
...[A]ny attempt to clone a human being would constitute an unethical experiment upon the resulting child-to-be. As the animal experiments (frog and sheep) indicate, there are grave risks of mishaps and deformities. Moreover, because of what cloning means, one cannot presume a future cloned child’s consent to be a clone, even a healthy one. Thus, ethically speaking we cannot even get to know whether or not human cloning is feasible (2000, p. 88, emp. added).
Dr. Kass’ point is well made. Even if we could perfect the technology (a big “if,” to be sure!), that still would not alleviate the problem of informed consent.
At every turn, then, the problem of the ethics of cloning rears its head. Little wonder Rob DeSalle and David Lindley admitted: “We hardly dare to think of the ethical difficulties such achievements would bring in their wake” (1998, p. 104). And yet we must think on these matters! As Pierre Baldi correctly observed:
Many bioethics texts share the same conservative punchline: we ought to be extremely careful and proceed very slowly with biotechnology, because we must preserve our notion of humanity and of who we are (2001, p. 136).
Interestingly, President Bush echoed that same phrase—“proceed very slowly”—in his August 9, 2001 speech to the American people on human cloning and stem-cell research (which we will discuss at length in next month’s installment). In fact, the feature article in the August 20, 2001 issue of Time was titled “We Must Proceed with Great Care” (see Gibbs and Duffy, 2001)—which was a direct quote from the President’s televised speech when he said that after many months of deliberation, “I have decided that we must proceed with great care” (Bush, 2001).
President Bush was absolutely correct to urge “great care.” As Gina Kolata pointed out in her book, Clone: “If we really want to stop human cloning, it might be argued that any forays in this direction are tentative steps down a slippery slope” (1998, p. 234, emp. added). That “slippery slope” has been the topic of much discussion since Dolly’s arrival. Roger Gosden observed: “Probably no subject in medical science receives more critical attention from both government and the press than reproductive biology and genetics” (1999, p. 17). And with good reason! As Kass has reminded us:
Changes are now being considered that would improve the very germplasm, the permanent heredity, of these “created” clones. Traits thus made inherent would be potentially transferrable to every succeeding generation. This goes beyond fantasizing about Bionic Man to conjuring up the dream of Designer Man.... We have here a perfect example of the logic of the slippery slope, and the slippery way in which it already works in this area...We should allow all cloning research on animals to go forward, but the only safe trench that we can dig across the slippery slope, I suspect, is to insist on the inviolable distinction between animal and human cloning (2000, pp. 128,96,103, emp. added).
We could not agree more!


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