Alive, Like Me

[Spoiler Alert: This article discusses major plot points from the film Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom]

Messing with Genetics
Fourteen years after the disastrous Jurassic Park 3, Colin Trevorrow resurrected the Jurassic Park franchise with Jurassic World. True, the plot was a little predictable, but people loved it. And it’s not hard to see why, after all, dinosaurs are pretty cool. Raking in over $650,000,000, the film rocketed to the sixth highest grossing movie of all time. The sequel, Fallen Kingdom, broke new ground as well, putting the dinosaurs in an entirely new setting and raising a host of interesting questions regarding bioethics, animal rights, and what it means to be human.

The story begins with the news that a volcano on the island of Isla Nublar (former home to Jurassic World) is about to erupt, a catastrophe that will kill all remaining dinosaurs. These dinosaurs were originally artificially created, so we are left to ask, “Should the dinosaurs be saved or should they be left to die?”

When scientists first brought dinosaurs back to life in Jurassic Park, they were playing a dangerous game. Dr. Ian Malcolm, who participated in the first two Jurassic Park outings, is definitely aware that things have gotten way out of control. He argues that the dinosaurs should be left to die. We have consistently proven ourselves incapable of handling technological and genetic power, he argues, and if it gets any further out of hand, we will bring about our own destruction.

The trouble is, once you start messing around with genetic manipulation, it’s hard to know where to stop. As the movie’s main villain, Eli Mills, remarks “You can’t put it back in the box!” There’s no better demonstration of the abuse of genetic power in the film than when it is revealed that Ben Lockwood actually recreated his deceased daughter. The result is the film’s most likable character, Maisie.

Is Maisie a valuable person, even though she was genetically engineered? Are dinosaurs worth protecting, even when it means setting them loose in the United States, where they will inevitably wreak havoc and likely claim other lives?

All of these questions come to a head in the film’s crucial moment, when Claire must make a decision about releasing the dinosaurs into the world or letting them die in the compound. Owen warns her that if she releases them, there will be no going back. Chaos will be released on the world.

Warning: This video contains violence after the 2:30 marker.

Person or Human?
Claire reluctantly chooses to let the dinosaurs die, only to have her decision reversed by Maisie. Maisie’s explanation is that she had to because, “They’re alive, like me.” Maisie recognizes that though she is genetically engineered, she is alive and is worth protecting. After all, Maisie is not a robot. She’s still a real human, just like the dinosaurs are real dinosaurs. She uses this same reasoning for releasing the dinosaurs. If it’s alive, it has value and you can’t just kill it.

Not everyone is ready to jump on board with Maisie’s reasoning for setting chaos loose on the world, but we can at least sympathize with her point of view. According to some, however, when it comes to humans, being alive has nothing to do with it. Many would argue that even if life begins at conception, it is not worth protecting.

For years we argued over whether or not human life begins at conception. But that debate is changing in the academic world. In her masterful book Love Thy Body, Nancy Pearcey points out that the debate has changed from whether someone is human at conception to whether they are a person. What is the difference?

Pearcey argues that secular culture has divided the idea of personhood into two categories. According to the secular view, the human body is “raw material to be manipulated and controlled to serve the human agenda, like any other natural resource.”¹ It has no inherent dignity and value. A person, on the other hand, is valuable and worth protecting. But what are the criteria for being a person, and who sets those criteria? Often included in the criteria is “a certain level of cognitive functioning—the capacity for consciousness, self-awareness, autonomy, and so on.”² However, Pearcey points out that there really isn’t any agreement on the criteria.

Unborn babies, young children, the disabled, those with diseases, people in a coma, and often aging people, don’t always have self-awareness, complete control over body movements, or consciousness. According to the current secular theory, which is often referred to as “Personhood theory,” all of the above humans are not persons. But once we have separated the concept of being human from being a person, where do we draw the line?

The language of personhood theory is used to justify abortion and euthanasia, and it can be used to justify far worse things, like genocide. It’s uncomfortable that this way of thinking is not more than a few steps away from Hitler’s policy of exterminating the Jews and eliminating the elderly who were no longer deemed useful to society. In the end, those in power will determine who is and who is not worthy of being considered a person.

Pearcey points out that according to personhood theory, some animals might actually be persons, while some humans are not.³ In the movie, Mills argues that the raptor named Blue is quite possibly the most intelligent creature on the planet. She can think, feel emotion, express desire, etc. According to the personhood theory of human life, Blue is really more of a person than a one-year-old child.

What Gives Us Value?
It is worth noting that in the scene above, although Maisie knows that she has value, she does not seem to know that she is more valuable than a dinosaur. Indeed, many today see themselves in the same way, nothing more than advanced animals. If that is the case, then Maisie is absolutely right to let the dinosaurs out. If the other films in the franchise are any clue, the dinosaurs are probably going to make a snack out of several humans. But if dinosaurs and humans have equal value, does this really matter?

The Christian worldview, however, argues otherwise. In Genesis, God gave humans the responsibility to rule over and steward all of creation. That means that we must wisely steward our care of animals. Animals are not made in God’s image, and therefore are not equal to or more valuable than humans (no matter how intelligent the animal is), but that doesn’t mean that we can abuse them. In the film, the mercenary Ken Wheatley goes around yanking out teeth from captured dinosaurs. Some think the command to rule over creation in Genesis gives people the right to rampantly abuse animals and creation like this. However, the command in Genesis is not to exploit for our advantage, but to steward, ruling wisely and justly over God’s creation. Wheatley’s actions are actually in direct contradiction to the Genesis command.

In the end, the Christian worldview provides a basis for human dignity and value that no other worldview can provide. Yes, the unborn, the disabled, the elderly are all worth protecting because they are “alive, like me.” But beyond that, they are worth protecting because they are all persons made in God’s image. There is no difference between a human and a person. They are one and the same. Because humans are made in God’s image, they have inherent value and worth, regardless of their physical size, mental development, or any other arbitrary feature.

Have we forgotten this truth? Have we forgotten that this truth led William Wilberforce to spend his life arguing against slavery? Have we forgotten the simple wisdom of Dr. Seuss, “A person’s a person no matter how small”?4 Yes, we have forgotten. But this truth changed the world, and it can do so again.

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Ben Keiser

Ben Keiser is a writer, teacher, and student of theology, whose chief interests include biblical theology of heaven and earth, C. S. Lewis, and early Christianity in the first three centuries. Ben has a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Liberty University. He resides in Colorado where you can often find him hiking in the mountains.