Monday, December 14, 2020

Anonymous Asks (123)

“Why are birth defects allowed?”

Birth defects are not a small problem. One in 33 children in the United States is born with a birth defect, small or large. That seems like something about which a God who loves children might have a strong opinion.

Some birth defects are simply one of many consequences of living in a fallen world, as are tornados, tidal waves, earthquakes or disease. The vast majority, however, are due to choices made by human beings.*

So before we call on God to eradicate all birth defects, let me ask you this first: How would you feel if God overruled every bad decision you ever thought about making?

Eliminating Choice

Before you answer, supposing God were to make the world a better place by overruling every bad decision, bear in mind that he could not possibly judge our choices by human standards of good and bad, arrived at with our finite ability to estimate the severity of sin and to calculate the effect of our actions on the world around us. He is “of purer eyes than to see evil, and cannot look at wrong”. Put your bad decisions before God’s court, and he will judge those choices by the standards of his own impeccable holiness. That means a bunch of those overruled decisions would still make perfect sense to you. Others would be things you know are wrong, or think might be wrong, but really, desperately want to do anyway. God’s standards are utterly impossible to live by for fallen men, and exceedingly difficult even for regenerate ones.

On second thought, asking God to step in and manage the problem might not be the brightest idea we could come up with. There are too many other things we like about our lives that the imposition of God’s righteous standards would drastically affect. Many of us would prefer tweaking our current situation rather than inviting in the Divine Wrecking Ball.

And really, apart from waving a magic wand that would eliminate birth defects while leaving all the bad choices that contribute to them untouched (a remedy that seems highly unlikely if we invite God into the picture), anyone who set out to tackle this problem — God, genius or government — would have to deal with the same issues. God would of course do it perfectly, but the problems themselves remain the same regardless who we ask to deal with them.

So let’s consider what you and I would have to do if we tackled the problem. How much intervention would be required if we set out to eliminate birth defects entirely?

Staging an Intervention

First: since many birth defects are genetic, we would have to eliminate all the inferior choices made knowingly or unknowingly by every one of our ancestors throughout all of human history. That’s an awful lot of micromanagement, but if our parents damaged their own genes through their lifestyles, then passed those genes on to us, we will almost surely pass on the same genetic damage on to our children. Even supposing we were able to re-imagine our world in this way — a world where our ancestors made no mistakes at all that might have affected their children at the genetic level — then our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on going back ad infinitum would be very different people. They would have made all kinds of different choices than they made in the world we live in ... and bear in mind that one of those suboptimal choices your parents made may have resulted in you. In God’s economy, great things often result from terrible decisions, Exhibit A being Matthew’s genealogy of Christ. (Hint: read up on the histories of the four women mentioned therein.)

Second thing: we would have to eliminate all pollutants, carcinogens, food and water contaminants, and every consequence of human industry that contributes to damaging children in the womb. Assuming that we are able to identify every possible foreign substance that might hurt the pre-born, eliminating their presence in our environment would be a monumental and incredibly costly task entailing a cascade of millions of possible unintended consequences (like starving or further impoverishing the third world, which depends on these polluting technologies, eliminating personal transport, etc.). All the same, given global dominion, omniscience, and adequate time, we might be able to put in place a set of new laws and enforcement procedures that would reduce external harm to the pre-born to absolutely zero.

Third thing: once we had cleaned up their environment, we would have to enforce on pregnant women abstinence from all the obvious stuff they do that might cause their babies to develop abnormally. Those smoking habits have to go, along with any alcohol or illegal drug use. Too bad if she’s an addict, but that’s the cost of a better world, right? Oh, and also any behavior that might result in a mother acquiring a sexually transmitted infection. That part at least would be a good thing, even if it limits a woman’s choice of partners a bit. These may be precautions that seem obvious, and that all prospective mothers would take automatically, but we know that in the real world pregnant women often don’t. In a small number of cases this is because they are evil and don’t care about the health of their children. More often it is because they are incapable of controlling each and every one of their potentially destructive impulses continuously for nine months. To help them out, we would have to police all pregnant women continuously to ensure they remain in compliance with our mandated best practices.

Fourth thing: women over the age of 35 have a higher risk of giving birth to children with birth defects, and the risk increases with age. How would we handle that? Well, I suppose we could just mandate that women not be allowed to conceive after 35, but that seems a little drastic. Sara, Elizabeth, Rachel, Rebekah and the wife of Manoah would probably file complaints. Or we could do a little societal engineering, pulling married women out of the work force and the education system, and inviting them to consider marriage and children in their early twenties when having children is safest for them, rather than their early thirties after they have accumulated a university degree or two and established their career path. A bit draconian? Maybe, but remember, it’s in a very good cause. I’m sure women would willingly go along.

Fifth thing: high risk medications and inadequate prenatal care. Both contribute significantly to the number of birth defects. And yet who would deny a pregnant asthmatic her Ventolin, or the depressed pregnant woman her Zoloft or Paxil, the nauseous woman her Zofran, the infected woman her Tetracycline, or the epileptic her Dilantin? After all, as one doctor told a pregnant friend, a woman whose own body is stressed creates a hostile environment in the womb. Must take care of mom first, right? As for prenatal care, it is estimated that 75% of prospective mothers in the U.S. get adequate help, but in Afghanistan or Chad it is more like 20%. Filling that gap across the world would require not only the cooperation of every prospective mother but also trillions of dollars in funding, as well as jurisdiction across the entire planet.

The Problem

Maybe you can see there are major problems here. Any attempt we might make to reduce choice-based birth defects to zero requires a world: (i) that is globalist by necessity; (ii) that is prohibitively expensive to run; (iii) where our intervention in one aspect of life overflows into all others; (iv) where individual freedoms are stifled; (v) where knowledge and power exist which human beings do not currently possess; and (vi) where traveling in time is possible in order to implement our plan comprehensively.

Hmm. That sounds so invasive, so personally- and societally-transformative, and frankly, so absolutely implausible, that we might as well invite God back into the picture so we can get the job done right.

Thankfully, the Bible tells us a time is coming soon when God will invite himself.

In the meantime, maybe it’s a little clearer why it isn’t a reality right now.

* If you are interested in considering the original sin question, my co-writer Immanuel Can offers a suggestion here.

1 comment :

  1. In my opinion with regard to genetics you are putting the cart before the horse in this analysis. Questions concerning why things are the way they are can often best be answered by assuming that you can create a world by computer simulation. If you were to create a world like this one (or any other one) it is clear that it can only be done according to your design goals. The question asked by Unanimous is therefore what motivated the programmer/designer to produce this type of world since different creative design choices could have been made. E.g., you cannot blame your ancestors about making bad choices (like smoking the peace pipe) if they had no idea about genetics in their time period (which applies to most of human history). Thus, logically, the knowledge of the effect of your choices on genetics would have had to be present from the start to allow preventing poor outcomes along those lines. That's after all the idea of paradise that poor choices were pointed out to you to prevent a bad outcome. That no longer applied or could be effective afterwards with moral strength and moral and factual material insight severely curtailed. After all, that curtailment was and is intended as a form of indirect punishment or consequence of humanities choice to go it alone. And that is why stuff happens.

    This now takes you back to the design goals. They obviously included the parameters that we as a free AI, when made aware of the programmer's existence, needed to cooperate with the designer in order to create an optimal environment. But, for the sake of reality and freedom our cooperation has to be freely given. And, as long as we are inclined to say No to helpful suggestions we'll suffer the natural consequences. Now, one may ask how do I recognize helpful suggestions? Well for example - live a healthy lifestyle, don't smoke or drink in excess, become a vegetarian, learn to control your temper, value honesty and charity, exercise, get enough sleep, honor your parents, don't twist and distort facts, don't cheat in general and local elections, and on and on and on.