Some scientific discoveries are timeless in that they transcend their age and cultural setting. For instance, no one thinks that Newton’s laws of motion give us insight into Stuart-era England or that e = mc2 tells us anything about life in pre-World War I Europe.
But other discoveries perfectly reflect the tenor of their times. For example, as described in the New York Times, we now have new blood tests that enable pregnant women to identify the father of their unborn child “as early as the eighth or ninth week of pregnancy, without an invasive procedure that could cause a miscarriage.”
In other words, the same technology that helps determine the sex of the unborn child and whether he or she has Down syndrome can now also answer the question, “Who’s your daddy?”
Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
But for $1,775, that question can be answered long before the child is born. One manufacturer claims to have sold “thousands” of the tests since they became available last August.
But why exactly do we need such tests?
Well, the New York Times provides the answer: “It is an uncomfortable question that, in today’s world, is often asked by expectant mothers who had more than one male partner at the time they became pregnant. Who is the father?”
Now, the issue of “false paternity” is not new. Throughout human history, a small percentage of men have raised children they mistakenly believed to be their own.
What is new is the cultural and moral setting where the supposed need for tests like the one described by the Times makes a twisted kind of sense. It’s a setting where having multiple sexual partners more or less simultaneously is taken for granted.
The casualness in “casual sex,” as the Times acknowledges, makes questions of paternity increasingly more complicated. It gets even more complicated when you take into account that even if sex is “casual,” there’s nothing casual about pregnancy and child-rearing.
Knowing who the father is has profound financial and emotional consequences for both mother and child.
Or, perhaps not. Because another way in which the story definitely belongs to our age is summed up in another, more chilling, sentence from the Times article: “ . . . the test results might allow women to terminate a pregnancy if the preferred man is not the father — or to continue it if he is.”
“Preferred man?” Talk about visiting the sins of the father upon his children! I’m not entirely sure which is more troubling: the idea of a woman using this test to kill her unborn child because he has the “wrong” father, or the nonchalant way the Times raises the possibility.
One of the persistent myths of our age — one that many Christian subscribe to — is that technology is morally neutral and that it’s the way it is used which determines its rightness or wrongness.
But there’s nothing neutral here. Unlike e = mc2 , these tests speak volumes about the times we live in, none of it very good. They meet a “need” that grows out of our era’s worldviews.
Who’s your daddy? The culture.
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