ROME, February 11, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – How often has the name of Frankenstein been invoked in headlines and editorials talking about experimental technologies using human embryos? It is a shame that science students in universities are not taught anything about literature or mythology. If they were, they would realize that the name of Frankenstein – which unfortunately now only brings up silly images of neck bolts and hallowe’en costumes – is one with profound moral and cultural connections to what is going on now in the world.
Nearly two hundred years ago, Mary Shelley re-told the myth of Prometheus, the Titan who brought the divine spark to humanity, against the will of Zeus and was punished horribly. Shelley’s story, published in 1818, of a brilliant but deranged scientist who sews together an automaton out of the parts of dead criminals, and brings it to a form of life by harnessing a lightening bolt, was a warning against the great social and moral changes that our growing addiction to materialistic science were to bring about.
These warnings have echoed throughout our literature: do not allow human material ambitions to outstrip our moral capabilities. And from Hesiod to Shelley and on to Aldous Huxley, we are told again and again that those who ignore this divine warning suffer terrible consequences.
Today two items in the news have redirected my thoughts to Mary Shelley’s retelling of that ancient myth of calamities.
Yesterday, the French Catholic bishops issued a statement condemning the creation of “saviour siblings,” children created in a lab to provide genetically matched transplant tissue for an existing child. One such child has just been born to parents who selected him from a group of artificially created embryos to treat their other children for beta thalassemia. He was created, chosen and allowed to live because of the use he would be to others.
“To want to cure a brother in humanity honors man,” the bishops said. But “to legalize the use of the most vulnerable human being to cure is unworthy of man. To conceive a child to use him – even if it is to cure – is not respectful of his dignity.”
“Such utilitarianism is always a regression.”
The second is yet another tale of great power, motivated by the lust to control human destiny, imposing its will over 700,000 men in Rwanda.
Utilitarianism, materialism – the new creed that has remade man from the image of God to nothing more than a machine made of meat: a thing that can be a means to someone else’s ends, or an obstacle to those ends, to be removed. Eugenics is the business of this new creed – that undercurrent in science that seeks to remake mankind and that was the favourite philosophical ideal of the post-Christian political and scientific elites through the 20th century. It fell into public disrepute after the Nuremburg trials, but it lives on in the world’s cloning and biogenetic research labs and commercial IVF facilities.
Hesiod, Shelley, Huxley; all warnings that are being ignored. I’d recommend them to anyone who wants to see the Big Picture. But if “classic” literature isn’t your thing, maybe popular science fiction will appeal. At the moment, I am zooming through a series of pulp sci-fi novels by Dean Koontz, based on Mary Shelley’s original novel. Koontz’s Frankenstein is a new warning against the “contemporary project.”
This series explores the question: what would the brilliant and ruthless Victor Frankenstein do in the present day with access to modern bio-genetic research and experimental techniques? Koontz’s Frankenstein is a paragon of the utilitarian philosophy who wants to re-make human life according to his own image. He is a type of the modern cloning scientist, the ultimate extension of their logic.
The monster that Victor created in Shelley’s novel is as nothing to the moral monster that he has made of himself in Koontz’s novels. The modern Victor, who has moved to New Orleans, rules an empire not only of private bio-genetic research companies, but of his New Race, men and women who, grown in tanks, genetically enhanced and programmed for total obedience, have no other god than Victor. And no other creed than his materialistic lust for dominance.
The New Race are, as per the requirements of a science fiction adventure story, improved: they are stronger, faster and harder to kill than we are. But they suffer from an essential flaw: they are in total despair from the moment of their awakening. Their programming allows them to know no hope, no love and no meaning, nothing that transcends Victor’s pure, diamond-hard utilitarianism.
They are, in Victor’s own phrase, nothing more than “meat machines,” programmed to forward his project to subdue all of nature, starting with the human “Old Race.”
The New Race, Koontz makes clear, is the ultimate vision of the world’s real-life, historical utilitarians. Victor’s plans were financed by Mao and Stalin as well as Hitler. They are the ultimate goal and vision for humanity espoused by both Nazi and Communist ideologies, that grew, as it were, in the same post-Enlightenment philosophical tank.
Victor has programmed his New Race to be without “superstition” (religion), to be created efficiently in vitro and to form no inconvenient social structures that would threaten his biogenetic revolution. Victor’s two particular hatreds are for the family and religious belief, both of which, he knows, would set up rivals to his own godhood.
Koontz’s message is loud and clear, and it is pretty bluntly expressed. One member of the New Race, “had been taught in the tank [that] the universe is nothing but a sea of chaos in which random chance collides with happenstance and spins shatters of meaningless coincidence like shrapnel through our lives.”
“The purpose of the New Race is to impress order on the face of the chaos … to bring meaning to creation that has been meaningless since time immemorial.
And the meaning they will impose on it will be the meaning of their maker, the exaltation of his name and face the fulfillment of his vision and his every desire, their satisfaction achieved solely by the perfect implementation of his will…”
But it becomes clear that Victor has failed to remake even his own creations to his standards of materialist perfection. They start to implode. Being created incapable of natural reproduction, they begin to long to have babies; they adopt religious belief; they yearn for self-immolation to escape the horror of their existence. Truth, the reality of their existence, cannot be denied.
One of Victor’s monsters, an assassin, inescapably confronted with the contradictions of his lifeless pre-programmed creed, wonders “why he had been designed to be the ultimate materialist and then had been required to care about anything other than himself.”
“Why should it matter to him that the New Race ascended considering that this world had no transcendent meaning? What was the purpose of liquidating humanity and achieving dominion over all nature … if all of nature was just a dumb machine with no point to its design?
Why strive to be the king of nothing?”
Dean Koontz may not be a producer of great literature – he is no Mary Shelley, nor even an Aldous Huxley – but he is issuing a clear warning against our hubris nevertheless. (And his books sell considerably more briskly than Shelley’s or Huxley’s do nowadays.)
Today, as I was looking again down into that terrible pit of eugenics and utilitarianism, as I do every day, a ray of light came to me. Men are not gods. They are not capable, no matter what ideology they adopt, of remaking themselves. Finally, the external, the real, the objective realities of our nature will always reassert themselves. We are not our own Creator and cannot usurp His throne:
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.
For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.