Explainer: IVG is the newest technological threat to the family structure

August 18, 2020

Growing up, I was often surprised that other people did not have as many grandparents as I did. While everyone I knew had four, I had more than double that at nine total. This is because my father and birth mother divorced, and they were themselves the products of blended homes. So to talk about my family tree, I would end up confusing people because I would switch from speaking about my “mother” to my “birth mother” (leading some to think I was adopted). I didn’t know any different, and that was just how my family tree looked. I’m sure it is the same for many people.

What is IVG?

This is a reality that will become even more common in the coming years, but not because of a rise in divorce rates. It’s because of new technology that makes it possible for a child to have two, three, four, or any number of parents. This technology, in vitro gametogenesis (IVG), goes beyond merely assisting couples in reproduction and actually circumvents the very biological processes necessary for fertilization. Thus, while certain artificial reproductive technologies (ARTs) can, in some ways, reinforce the biological reality of sexual complementarity and childbearing, IVG necessarily opens up the floodgates for a complete reinterpretation of sex, family structures, and parenting. 

Before looking at IVG, I should state clearly that most ARTs arise out of a deep desire for children that is godly and honorable. Also, in many cases, individuals turn to these technologies because of the reality that they have been unable to conceive by natural methods or because of a series of miscarriages. This is something that my wife and I discussed at length prior to our marriage because of a series of health concerns which she feared would prevent her from conceiving. Thinking about this topic is different than speaking to someone who is struggling with the thought that they are unable to do the very thing that they desire most in this world. The longing for children is a good and holy desire. It is one of the most devastating effects of sin on our bodies that it is not always possible to fulfill that desire. 

Additionally, there is an entire generation of young men and women who were conceived through IVF. So this is not just a discussion of theoretical concepts, but of the very lives of people that we know, whether that is the child down the street, a friend, or a family member. These are not partial people who possess only a half-dignity because of the manner in which they were conceived. They are full image-bearers. Any discussion of ARTs should bear in mind that this has direct practical application on people’s lives. 

With those caveats about ARTs generally, I would argue that IVG is a different kind of technology and thus is a unique threat to family structure and stability. 

In vitro gametogensis is the process of creating gametes (sex cells) from other human cells, usually stem cells. The process of sex cell creation occurs in the reproductive organs of men and women, with either a sperm cell or egg produced. However, IVG allows individuals to take any cell from any portion of the body—skin, muscle, organ—and through a series of processes create a gamete. Thus, a single individual—or two men, or two women, or four individuals—could have both a sperm and egg produced which could then be fertilized. The possibilities are literally endless for the ways in which this technology could be employed to create children. Thus, my conundrum about the number of grandparents could be easily multiplied so that a future child has three or four biological parents. 

IVG’s threat to the family

This technology represents a unique threat to the family structure because it destroys the very complementarity of sexuality in a way that no other ART has done. Andrew T. Walker and Matthew Anderson do an excellent job of laying out the ethical concerns of other ARTs in their article on IVF, but these technologies at least recognize the complementarity of the sexes and seek to artificially reproduce it. IVF takes the normal combination of the sex cells of men and women and combines them outside the uterus before implanting them. But implicit in this action is the creational reality that it takes a man and woman to produce a child, so even when employed by same-sex couples, there is a need for an outside donor or surrogate to carry the child. 

However, this is not the case with IVG. It is not two individuals who are participating in the conception of a child, but one or any number of people. Thus, the very structure of heterosexual reproduction, and by extension the definition of the family, is threatened by this new technology. Debora Sparr admits as much in her article on IVG by saying that this method could “dismantle completely the reproductive structures of heterosexuality.” On one level, it is impossible to do this because even the combined cells must be transformed into male and female sex cells. But practically, the truth of a man and woman coming together in the sexual union is totally destroyed. 

Again, I want to affirm that the desire for children is good and holy. But, like all such desires, God has created a structure for the proper fulfillment of that desire. IVG not only circumvents but entirely subverts the creational ordinance for men and women to come together and multiply (Gen. 1:28). Though this technology is possible only in mice at the moment, history has shown that humanity has a tendency to surge forward without thinking about the ethical considerations, leading to situations such as one donor who had fathered over 200 children. 

Christians should be the first to urge the surrounding culture to understand that just because something is scientifically possible does not make it good. Just because we can create life does not mean that we are capable of assuming such godlike power with any true measure. And that does not even begin to get at the scientific problems that could arise from meddling with genetics in this way. 

As I recounted in my story, divorce, another threat to family stability, caused me to be confused about my grandparents. And this technology opens the door for even more confusion. Christians should reject this ART, not out of a fear of the future or a luddite rejection of technological innovation, but because it threatens family structure and subverts God’s design and ordering of the cosmos.

Alex Ward

Alex Ward serves as the research associate and project manager for the ERLC’s research initiatives. He manages long term research projects for the organization under the leadership of the director of research. Alex is currently pursuing a PhD in History at the University of Mississippi studying evangelical political activity in … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24