Modern Day Frankenstein
Frankenstein and Darwin’s Grandfather
One of the most well-known monsters that has attracted much attention and terrified generation after generation is the grotesque, human-like creature that Dr. Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist, created with a mysterious, unconventional experiment. It has become one of the longest-standing popular fictional tales that almost everyone has experienced, bringing suspense and horror that is hard to forget. This story was first published in 1818, originally authored by Mary Shelley anonymously when she was only 20 with the title, Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus. The mythical Greek god, Prometheus, is known for forming humans out of clay. In this Gothic tale, Victor Frankenstein, Shelley’s principal character, is Prometheus, who attempts to create creatures in his likeness. Instead, to his dismay, he is forced to face a monstrous human-like figure that will torment him until his death. The preface was written by Percy Bysshe Shelley, one of the most remembered romantic English poets who eventually married Mary. Frankenstein was so bizarre for the time they lived. The first publication appeared with mixed reviews and produced additional editions that followed with her name as the author. However, the first edition is the most popular and is still read today. As time went on, the tale would become more socially acceptable and would not just be confined to the written word but would make its way to live theater and on-stage productions. The next century, for the first time, Frankenstein would appear on a 35 mm film in 1910, produced by Edison Studios with crude black and white visual projections. It was void of any sound, but even then, the blurry images kept audiences at the edge of their seats, especially when Frankenstein’s monster’s disfigured, tormented image appeared. This short film’s captivating moment is when the hideous figure suddenly rises to full form in a huge cauldron of boiling chemicals.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein story has a life unto itself that transcends so quickly from one generation to the next in big-screen full color with realistic horrifying sounds made to terrify their audiences. Stretching over a century, over 60 film productions focus on telling Shelley’s story, usually modifying it to their themes, as exemplified in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) or Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). The creature differs from Shelley’s first description. The monster body has been enhanced by a composition of cadaver parts grafted together and given life with huge amounts of electricity at times portrayed with lighting strikes. Frankenstein’s story appears in countless outlets. Is it no wonder so many people in the western world know the story of Frankenstein?
One might be curious about how Mary Shelley, as a teenager, came up with the idea of this heinous creature. She gives us the answer in the introduction of her 1831 edition. She states,
“…Many and long conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley, to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener.”
Mary’s husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, is in conversation with a fellow English poet, Lord Bryon, discussing the famous scientists of the time – Erasmus Darwin and Luigi Galvani – and the topic of producing life in the laboratory from common inorganic materials. In 1780 Luigi Galvani, an Italian physician and physicist, discovered that animals reacted to electricity with the well-known experiment of a dead frog’s legs contracting to an electrical impulse. He found that living things had a property to respond to an electrical charge. Many theories were proposed, including generating an electrical charge that could restart dead organisms. It is interesting to note today, we use electric shock with an automated external defibrillator to help restore heart rhythm. When the novel was written, Mary Shelly was impressed with Galvani’s work and mentioned it in her 1831 edition.
Erasmus Darwin happens to be the Grandfather of the celebrated Charles Darwin. The latter published the Origin of Species in 1859, promoting the famous theory of evolution that is still being taught dogmatically today in our schools even though it fails because it cannot be experimentally tested. It is based on a supposition that happened in the distant past with no humans around it to observe it.
Charles walked in the footprints of his Grandfather, as Erasmus was a devout and committed evolutionist. Erasmus, during his lifetime, believed in Spontaneous Generation, which is described that life could come from nonliving things. Charles was more subtle about the origins of life as he wrote on this topic in one of his letters to a close friend, suggesting that the first life could come out of a warm pond of chemicals, electricity, and heat. They both believed in secular evolution, voiding God out of their lives as their faithful Creator and Redeemer.
Erasmus Darwin’s Evolution
The Darwin that Mary Shelley admires and in so many ways can be credited with the creation of the story of Frankenstein, was a bright medical doctor who cared for the King of England, a superb gardener and botanist, a poet who wrote about his science, and an inventor who was a founding member of the Lunar Society, which was a significant part of the Industrial Revolution in England. Erasmus Darwin was a devout evolutionist and naturalist who believed that man and all life had their origins in the earth, as he states in the first canto of Temple of Nature published in 1803:
“Hence without parent by spontaneous birth, Rise the first specks of animated earth; From Nature’s womb the plant or insect swims, And buds or breathes, with microscopic limbs.”
He explained this passage in the appendix of the book with much detail and many unproven assumptions that dead microscopic animals had been brought back to life as he suggests,
“Some of the microscopic animals are said to remain dead for many days or weeks, when the fluid in which they existed is dried up, and quickly to recover life and motion by the fresh addition of water and warmth.”
If dead things could come back to life with freshwater, observed Shelley, why not a corpse? She would follow Darwin’s theory and all its implications in her novel. Erasmus Darwin and other intellectuals were blinded against the truth that the only life-giver is our Creator and Redeemer in the form of Jesus Christ. Francesco Redi, an Italian biologist who lived two centuries before Erasmus, successfully challenged that idea experimentally. In the 1860’s, Louis Pasteur put spontaneous generation to rest and concluded that only life can form pre-existing life.
These outrageous assumptions supposedly made by a well-respected scientist compelled those onlookers to speculate that life was a product of nature in the form of evolution. It was easy to believe that we all came from inert matter and energy as the huge cauldron of boiling chemicals conjured up in 1910 by Edison Studios. Although this story is now over two centuries old, the story of evolution has not changed. According to the dogmatic teaching of evolution, it took billions of years to go through tedious and never-ending processes of death and struggle to bring us to our humanity.
At the time of Erasmus Darwin’s death in 1802, evolution was not widely accepted. Intellectuals and liberal thinkers were raging a war against God using evolution a primary weapon as they were more willing to accept. They used the name of science to censor the divine Creator out of the public arena and began to chip away with hypothetical evolution claims based on their foolish ideas with evidence that never existed. Erasmus Darwin is an excellent example of this. With all his brilliance measured with the many worldly achievements he accomplished, he is guilty of proclaiming absurdity to the highest degree, as stated, “The thought of foolishness is sin: and the scorner is an abomination to men.” (Proverbs 24:9) He proudly paraded his ridiculous theory of evolution in his publications and, in turn, motivated Shelley to create the Frankenstein story we know so well. Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist, is tormented with the beast he made in his likeness. It resembled the horrific evilness of his maker and would eventually rise against him. What if this story became real today? What if today we can change who is in the laboratory? Would we be tormented by the creature we made?
In China, people want to know their DNA to find out what is in store for them in their future. At the same time, many Americans are curious about their long-lost relatives. They want to identify the specific genes that may cause disease with new scientific advances. They are hopeful for genetic editing to avoid mutational diseases like cancer, sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, etc. Chinese scientists are far more advanced than other countries making inroads with research on mammals like pigs. They demonstrated growth in muscle tissue by successfully editing the muscle cells in dogs, specifically beagles.
To the world’s surprise, causing international controversy, a Chinese researcher named He Jiankui of Shenzhen, who had training in the United States, genetically engineered seven embryos through In vitro fertilization. It resulted in one pregnancy with the birth of twin girls resistant to the HIV virus.
Chinese genetic scientists, amid a biomolecular revolution, indicate they are at a precipice with the ability to interfere with humankind’s destiny by changing its DNA. Fighting the war against mutational diseases is the good side, but it creates a pathway to play god on the evil side.
We now have reached a time in humankind’s history that the young Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s classic novel is a reality. The tool used today is both inexpensive and simple. It was introduced by two biochemists, Jennifer Doudna from the University of California and Emmanuelle Charpentier from Max Plank Institute in Germany. In 2012, they won the Noble Prize for their work in Chemistry. They discovered CRISPR, an acronym that stands for Clustered Regulatory Interspersed Palindromic Repeats, which can edit and modify DNA to prevent disease. This tool can alter the DNA in organisms’ traits or physical characteristics. CRISPR is a genetic editing process in which the genes on the DNA strand are spliced out and then modified. The DNA is a fantastic information system filled with 3.2 billion base pairs of information bits designated by A, T, C, and G to make every living organism. They are arranged on the strand in slices or tiny pieces called genes that give information to make the proteins of living things function. The proteins provide the organism structure and act like tiny micromachines to be part of the many functions to keep the organism alive. Their DNA gene–protein relationship is a fundamental function to give the living thing all of its traits, like human hair color, the color of skin, amount of muscle, and the list goes on. Scientists estimate that there are 20,000 to 25,000 human genes that code an average of 10 proteins per gene. A human may have an estimated from 80,000 to 400,000 different kinds of proteins.
CRISPR is an efficient tool to perform surgery on our genes by splicing DNA areas precisely using the specific protein CRISPR-Cas9. This protein is found in bacteria along with RNA, a molecule like DNA. Both Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier’s discovery is so earth-shattering because the protein they discovered could snip the exact location in a DNA strand so that genes are modified not just for bacteria but all sorts of living things.
This discovery marks a time in history that genetic engineering will emerge as new biotechnology that has the power to change biology forever. The Genie is out of the bottle. In 2000, when the DNA was decoded, scientists realized that mutations or errors in the genetic code needed to be fixed. Now with CRISPR, there is the hope of attempting to repair over 6,000 genetic diseases. A woman from Mississippi was the first recipient in the United States of the CRISPR-Cas9 procedure for sickle-cell anemia. The process has been successful for over a year now. These cases and many more will be followed to see if future health problems occur.
There are ethical concerns when it comes to changing human DNA. What are we going to create? We can add more muscle to our skeleton, just as dogs’ experimental breed, the beagles mentioned above using CRISPR. With this procedure, we have the potential of making designer babies with the most desired traits, the parent’s choice, or even your own monster. Genome editing is allowed except where the cells are egg and sperm. There are laws to prevent any DNA changes that will be transferred from one generation to the next. Whether these laws are followed internationally will depend on the values of each nation.
In the CRISPR project, it has been said that those involved were attempting to control evolution. This statement was also part of the infamous eugenics movement where they wanted to control humankind’s destiny by improving man’s traits through the inheritance of better genes. It spread from Europe to America quickly. The German Nazis enthusiastically incorporated this idea, resulting in the holocaust and horrifically taking millions of innocent lives. They used the American Eugenics program to help them develop the concept of the master race, which was defined as the Nordic or Aryan race. Madison Grant’s “The Passing of Great Race,” when translated into German, became Hitler’s Bible. The Nazi scientists were inspired by Darwin and his belief in natural selection: that the strongest will survive. If you can breed a better horse, you can certainly breed a better human race. The eugenics movement led to the highest form of racism, which is tightly bound to the idea of evolution’s tree of life.
According to Darwin, the higher branch is referred to as an English Gentleman on the tree. He believed the branch just below is the primate. He, along with other evolutionists at the time, thought the intermediate or missing link was the Black African.
This idea was written in many textbooks inspired by Ernst Haeckel, a German medical doctor and biologist. He was known at that time as Darwin’s European Apostle. In his book, “The History of Creation,” there were many artistic illustrations exaggerated and created on his opinions without supportive evidence. One of these illustrations was drawing the head of a gorilla and several transitions into a human with a Black African skull in the middle.
These kinds of errors appeared in science books from the 1880s until the 1920s while racism persisted in America, particularly in the south. We live in a dangerous world, and we go to our God, constantly praying to Him, discipling others, and preaching the Gospel to the whole world. Man must stay true to God’s Word, believing that we are created in His image and that we submit to our Creator, who gave us the gift of life both spiritually and physically. The DNA that we possess is His gift to us, and He has made grand plans for us from the very point of inception as King David eloquently declared:
My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.(Psalm 139:15)