In the Eye of the Beholder

"Everybody at school calls me shrimp," complained 11-year-old Marco. "I feel like a loser." Just what is Marco's problem? He's short. Marco stands several inches below the average for his age. To solve the problem, his parents inject him every day with the genetically engineered human growth hormone. It's a stark example of modern technology literally creating a new category of disease. Genetic engineers experimented with the human growth hormone not because it was desperately needed but simply because it's easy to work with in the laboratory. Once scientists had found a way to produce the hormone, however, the pressure was on to find a way to market it—to make money from it. The hormone became a cure searching for a disease. At first it was used only to treat pituitary dwarfism, a congenital disease where the body is unable to manufacture its own growth hormone. But dwarfism is quite rare; not much of a market there. So gene companies began to aggressively target another market: kids like Marco, who have no disease or disability but are simply short. Researchers targeted the bottom three percent on the height scale—the low end of normal—and redefined it as abnormal. They declared shortness a disorder. And to "treat" the disorder, kids like Marco are receiving daily shots of the genetically engineered human growth hormone. What makes this disturbing is that there's no proof the drug actually increases these kids' ultimate height. Nor is there any evidence that it alleviates feelings of inferiority that short kids might have. Even worse, studies show an alarming link between the hormone treatments and the development of leukemia. Yet once treatment is started, it cannot be stopped without stunting a child's growth. Despite the risks, gene companies are enjoying blockbuster sales of the hormone. It's a dramatic example of technology creating our sense of what we need, instead of being a servant to human needs. The original impulse for modern technology was thoroughly Christian. The early scientists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries regarded technology as a gift of God—a means of alleviating the destructive effects of the curse recorded in Genesis 3. The Bible teaches that human sin caused disruption and discord in nature itself—including our physical bodies. The early scientists believed that science could be a means of healing and restoring nature. The application of science through technology was permeated with religious concern to help the poor and the sick. But today technology has been divorced from its Christian roots. As Andrew Kimbrell puts it, the secular religion of America is that science will allow us to know everything, that technology will allow us to do anything, and that the market will allow us to buy anything we want. You and I can help bring technology back to its Christian roots by scrutinizing our own lives. Do our gadgets and gizmos serve genuine needs—or do they create new and superfluous needs? Whether it's old-fashioned machines or the new genetic technologies, we should not let them lead us to worship at the altar of science.


Chuck Colson


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