Is Moral Bioenhancement Permissible on Luther’s View of Sin and Redemption?

Stefan Lindholm
Tuesday 31 August 2021
  1. Introduction
  2. Fields of Study
  3. Discussion
  4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

In the past ten years, a new discussion in bioethics about human enhancement has attracted considerable attention. This time around, it is not primarily the transhumanist project of cognitive and physical enhancement that is in focus but rather human morality (Persson and Savulescu 2012).

Diagnosis: Philosophers Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu have argued in a number of scholarly publications (Persson and Savulescu 2008; 2012; 2013; 2019a) that humanity’s morality is not fit to meet the two gravest challenges that face the world today and in the relatively near future – the harmful uses of technological advancements and global warming. They say:  “…owing to the progress of science, the range of our powers of action has widely outgrown the range of our spontaneous moral attitudes, and created a dangerous mismatch” (Persson and Savulescu 2012, 103. Emphasis mine). Today, there are people who have more opportunities to cause ultimate harm[1] than in any previous period of human history. For instance, there are dangerous technologies that are relatively easy to create for any number of relatively ingenious people today which can cause great harm (such as mouse pox). Moreover, we are creating an environmental disaster due to an unsustainable lifestyle – a problem that is not only or primarily political, says Persson and Savulescu, but about our individual and collective morality.

Remedy: Against some contenders, they argue that available political solutions are not enough, although necessary, to safeguard the wellbeing of humanity and the planet (Persson and Savulescu 2012). Neither is cognitive enhancement, as proposed by their main opponent, John Harris (2016), sufficient to make us morally fit for the future. On a regular basis, we knowingly act against our better judgement.[2] Persson and Savulescu have therefore set out and defended a proposal for how we might be made morally ‘fit for the future’ through moral bioenhancement (MBE), i.e., biochemical manipulation of the “biological basis” of our moral emotions.

This large-scale view of the human condition stands out in contemporary bioethical discussions, because it explicitly says that there is something wrong with human morality and that it can be improved by means of technology. Although the MBE proposal is expressed in secular terms, its overall narrative and conceptuality have a deep resonance with themes in Christian theology, particularly sin, salvation, and sanctification. Persson and Savulescu’s view of dangerous moral imperfections of human beings and their remedy (MBE) will, in this theological puzzle, be discussed in dialogue with the Protestant reformer, Martin Luther. The choice of Martin Luther as a dialogue partner is motivated by his view of human moral inability that seems close to that of Persson and Savulescu. As a person deeply invested in the reformation of the human heart, he was acutely aware of its crippling treacherousness. Persson and Savulescu too are deeply invested the “redemption” of our flawed human nature, albeit from a strictly secular perspective.

Luther’s perspective can be placed among a range of recent theological responses to MBE. Tracy J. Trothen (2017) argues that MBE is unwarranted “for now”, although there may be future exceptions. From a Thomist perspective, Celia Deane-Drummond (2017) critiques MBE as a misguided quick fix to a complex problem, whereas Adam M. Willows (2017), also from a Thomist perspective, defends a modest version of MBE as a supplement to virtue. In dialogue with Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Todd T.W. Daly (2017) argues against MBE, because we are not able to grasp the depth of human immorality and redemption outside of the revelation seen in the incarnation and the resurrection. Luther’s view of human sin and redemption provides another theological venue for interaction with MBE that has not, hitherto, been traveled.

The basic puzzle I address is whether there are significant overlaps between a MBE proposal and Lutheran theological anthropology, and whether it, from a Lutheran view, can be considered a legitimate practice. I proceed by presenting some basic ideas in the two fields of study: Luther’s theological anthropology and the basic arguments and motivations for MBE. The subsequent discussion demonstrates that Luther’s view of moral imperfection runs much deeper than the that of MBE, which will be made clear in the discussion of akratic action, a problem central to the MBE proposal. Thus, I conclude that MBE is, at worst, illegitimate from Luther’s perspective and, at best, very limited in value, but I leave this question open for further explorations elsewhere.

2. Fields of Study

2.1 Basic Contours of Luther’s Theological Anthropology

According to Martin Luther, human beings stand as sinners before God. Sin is not (primarily) a quality or privation that resides in a human faculty but an imperfection of the whole person as he/she relates to God. This perspective is all-encompassing: all human attempts at moral improvements – attainment of virtues and the doing of good deeds – will be marred by her condition as a sinner before God.[3]

Luther, hereby, intensifies the Augustinian suggestion that heathen virtue is nothing more than ‘splendid virtue’, an inevitable and lamentable exercise in vain-glory.[4] Since he effectively allows little continuity between heathen and proper Christian virtue, he proposes a modest idea of moral progress in authentic Christian living (see Herdt 2008, ch 6). The Christian remains a sinner before God (simul iustus et peccator) in the sense that sin continues to affects her every act and motive, limiting the project of actual character development. Luther, however, is not opposed to good works and virtues, if they are done and sought in faith in God and Christ’s atoning work. If they are not, they inevitably turn into examples of human pride and over-confidence in our own abilities. It is important to note that the context for Luther’s assertion is, of course, soteriological and not “purely” ethical.[5]

This stark contrast between human attempts to do good in the world and the unapproachable divine demands expressed, as “law” in Luther’s theology, have made some critics think that his ethics is an oxymoron and that it will result in “psychological paralysis” and passivity (e.g., Herdt 2008). Although there are examples of Lutheran theologians who may show such tendencies, there are a good number of historical (including Luther, arguably) and contemporary theologians that would disagree (McFarland 2020). Admittedly, a sense of passivity is central to Lutheran ethics in the sense of receptivity. Luther emphasizes that a human can never attain a good conscience before God unless her heart is filled with gratitude.[6] But due to sin, proper gratitude cannot be brought about through one’s own voluntary effort. A human person must, therefore, start with an attitude of receptivity of God’s good favor to her as a sinner (favor Dei).[7] Instead of trying to find a quality in herself or merit her actions, Luther thinks that she should look away from herself and toward the Word of God:

Therefore we must not judge [our status before God] according to the feeling of our heart; we must judge according to the Word of God. . . And this is the reason why our theology is certain: it snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves, so that we do not depend on our own strength, conscience, experience, person, or works but depend on that which is outside ourselves, that is, on the promise and truth of God, which cannot deceive. (Luther, Lectures on Galatians 1535 (4:6), in LW 26:383, 387)

Moral character can, from this outlook, properly change for the better, since it is done out of a sense of gratitude. Luther, therefore, thinks that justification by faith is inseparable from sanctification or moral improvement. The whole person and her deeds are justified and sanctified so that she may “take on Christ” and live a new life, free from the demands of the Law.[8]

Of course, Christians continue to experience their moral imperfection, but they can, from a place of faith and acceptance, continue their struggle against the evil in the world and themselves. The process of sanctification and moral formation is not imagined to be “automatic” such that justification mechanically produces sanctification without any effort on part of the human (Biermann 2014, 69-70; 95-97). Luther frequently talks about the desperate need for moral renovation among the Christians and the need for moral exhortation and practices. For instance, in his preface to the Large Catechism, Luther exhorts Christians to “Drill themselves daily” by putting faith into practice. He also encouraged an imaginative and practical moral pedagogy in child reading, consisting of “simple and playful methods” (Large Caechism in Kolb, Wengert, and Arand 2000, 70-76). What these examples indicate is that Luther’s ethics, indeed, entail the doing of good deeds and the formation of moral character. However, good deeds are done with the awareness that these things do not come easily and that the very act of pursuing them is self-defeating if not done in faith in Christ’s merit. These observations are important for what follows in the discussion about MBE which is a project aimed at the formation of moral character.

2.2 Human Moral Imperfection and the need for Moral Bioenhancement

Both the MBE proposal and Luther find that human nature is flawed and in need of improvement. Jotterand and Levin (2019, 46) point out that Persson and Savulescu tend to “pathologize human behavior,” since the language of enhancement presupposes that human biology and neurology is deficient and needs fixing. More than that, the pathology is a moral one. As a matter of fact, Persson and Savulescu spell out that the central problem MBE is intended to solve is akrasia – or weakness of will – meaning that we know what we should do but we lack the proper motivation to act upon our better judgement. They say:

[The] problem of weakness of will [which] is a problem of motivation: it occurs because we are not sufficiently motivated to do what we are convinced that we ought to do, for instance, we do not feel sufficient sympathy for the global poor to aid them when we come up against temptations to satisfy our self-regarding desires. To enhance the capacity to feel such sympathy would be to enhance the probability that we do what we believe that we ought. This is an instance of moral enhancement, according to our view. (Persson and Savulescu 2016, 264)

Incidentally, this seems to be close to the moral predicament in Romans 7 by the Apostle Paul, a text central to Luther’s understanding of human depravity.

Persson and Savulescu argue that humanity can find a way out of the moral predicament by enhancing two central moral emotions or dispositions: empathy and a sense of justice. Emotions, in general and therefore moral emotions, have a biological basis that has evolved through history. Due to discoveries in modern neuroscience and biochemistry, harmful emotions can be modulated, including people suffering from depression or personality disorder. Persson and Savulescu suggest on the basis of research in moral emotions that we should attempt moral bio-enhancement.[9] More specifically, they argue that the hormone and neurotransmitter oxytocin could be modulated to raise our level of empathy and “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors” (SSRI) could make us more fair-minded (Persson and Savulescu 2016). Enhanced empathy and a sense of justice will promote just the sort of altruistic actions and pro-social attitudes that are needed on a global scale to help us make necessary sacrifices for those who are not in our immediate surroundings. In this way, they argue, we will be motivated to make the necessary lifestyle changes that we know we should do in order to save the planet and its inhabitants.

MBE is, in fact, designed to be a low-level intervention. It appeals to a common-sense morality that will be easily acceptable in many different cultures and different normative ethical theories. It is qualified as a “[c]autious as opposed to confident proposal about moral bioenhancement” (2019, 13). However, it is not thought to be an infallible path to moral fitness. Yet, they argue that it is a necessary one when all other seemingly viable options have been tested and found wanting. The traditional means of moral education and political systems are not effective enough to meet the present and future challenges (Persson and Savulescu 2012).

Although they admit that MBE research is currently in its cradle, they think that the moral “mismatch” is so urgent that it should be prioritized over other enhancement technologies. Moreover, “There is indeed no guarantee that this technique will not be misused, but if we do not try to enhance ourselves morally, we run a grave risk of undermining our own existence” (Persson and Savulescu 2019, 13). Indeed, “we have a moral duty to try to develop biomedical means—as well as other means—to moral enhancement, and to apply them to ourselves if safe and effective means are discovered” (Persson and Savulescu 2019b).

3. Discussion

I shall begin by discussing some rather obvious similarities and dissimilarities between the MBE proposal and Luther. First, in the MBE perspective, human nature is inadequate and unfit for the historical period we are entering into as humanity, because evolution has not kept up with cultural and technological development, putting us in a very dangerous situation where we (and other species) may face ultimate harm. Thus, Persson and Savulescu are not saying that human nature is substantially or intrinsically flawed but rather accidentally and extrinsically flawed, i.e., in relation to a new existential risk. Although Luther’s view of sinfulness should neither be characterized as substantial nor intrinsic (pace Flacus), it runs deeper than Persson and Savulescu’s. Sin basically renders human beings incapable of practical and theoretical insight into their predicament, whether by traditional means of moral or religious education or any other form of techne. Although sin is to be considered a condition, it is all encompassing according to Luther.

Second, the defenders of MBE and Luther hold a (near to) universal inability to be good enough or to live up to the stipulated demands (although the demands are very differently conceptualized). It should, again, be noted here that in this conceptualization, Persson and Savulescu tend to go further than many secular ethicists in terms of blaming our lack of morally good emotions, over which we presumably have only a limited control. Philosophically speaking, this view is partially rooted in their “sentimentalist” view of moral motivation (Doris 2012), according to which a person’s practical judgement is not sufficient to motivate moral action. What she need is an emotional “push” or moral motivation in the right moral direction, according to Persson and Savulescu. Their view may, for our purposes, be compared with medieval theologians, like Augustine and Aquinas, who did not brand immoral emotions (what the tradition roughly calls concupiscentia) sin, since they are not within our (immediate) rational control (See Duffy 1993, ch 3 and 4). According to their view, immoral emotions are properly called sin when we rationally assent to them in action and planning. By contrast, Persson and Savulescu are effectively urging us to reevaluate the moral status of immoral emotions (e.g., egoism, tribalism, and partiality), concluding that we today, given scientific progress and climate change, have a duty to do something about them. This, of course, is at the heart of the problem of akrasia: we often know what we should do, but we are not sufficiently motivated to act upon our better judgement. However, at our stage in human history, we have gained a new scientific insight into the biological basis of our immoral emotions that are causing akrasia and the beginnings of technologies that can permanently improve upon human morality. From this new perspective, we now have a duty to align human moral evolution with scientific evolution.

Luther, also, (in-)famously went beyond the medieval majority view, since he subsumed concupiscentia under the scope of sin (Duffy 1993, ch 5). This, for instance, is seen in On God Works, where Luther expounds the ninth and the tenth commandment as a revelation of this tragic feature of sinful human nature (LW 44, 114). Thus, on both the MBE proposal’s and Luther’s view, an external work (opus alienum) on our nature, although not necessarily contrary to it, must be introduced as remedy, since we are incapable of sufficient moral improvement.

Luther’s account of human immorality and its remedy is, of course, much broader than Persson and Savulescu’s, in that sin is accounted for theologically and holistically: sinfulness is about my whole or total existence or condition before God and not merely before humanity (Hägglund 1959, chs 2-3). Luther consequently emphasizes that my moral imperfection does not primarily reside in some quality (habitus) or lack thereof. This has two important consequences. First, left to myself, I am radically unable to do anything about my moral state. A sinner is, as Luther famously says in his Lecture to the Romans, “curved in on itself” (incurvatus in se est), as created goods will in some way or other be used for egoistic, self-serving purposes (LW 25, 345). Second, as a sinner, I cannot even get an adequate picture of my moral state. Grasping or, as Luther would say, “confessing” the depths of my immorality is not something I do on the basis of secular scientific, psychological, or ethical insight. It can only truly be done on the basis of divine revelation, where I am addressed as both created and fallen.[10] Ultimately, Luther views the universal character of sin as rooted in our disobedience to the Word of God – originating and exemplified in the story of disobedience in Gen 3 – and can only be remedied through faith in the Word of God as revealed in Christ, the second Adam (Romans 5).

Recall that Persson and Savulescu argue that akrasia is the problem MBE is intended to solve.[11] In contrast, for Luther, there are important theological reasons why the category of akrasia itself is problematic. His doctrine of sin and grace effectively limits or even eliminates the need for it.[12] Risto Saarinen (2011) argued that according to Luther’s view, the Christian is not able to attain proper virtue in this life (in contrast to Aquinas’ view). At best, the Christian can attain an enkratic state – in which she is able to act on her better judgement, but she only does so with an effort of her will. There remains in her a struggle between reason and emotion that must be overcome in action.[13] This, according to Saarinen, is the only kind of moral character formation a Christian can hope for in this life and no more. Indeed, Luther clarifies that such a moral struggle with sin is a mark of authentic Christian living. This is based on his implicit criticism of the medieval majority view: (i) theologically, with regard to the remnants of sin (fomes) in the Christian after baptism,[14] and (ii) exegetically, with the interpretation of Romans 7 as depicting the person before conversion. By contrast, Luther thinks that Romans 7 describes sin not merely as a remnant but as an actual force with which the Christian who lives in faith must struggle daily. A Christian who does not experience such a struggle has (perhaps/probably) sunken deeper into her immorality and is no longer able to experience the inner conflict. However, the state to which a Christian falls when he has episodic relapses of disbelief is not to akrasia, but to vice and wickedness.

On Luther’s perspective on sin, redemption, and the possibility of character development, Persson and Savulescu have not properly assessed the human moral predicament, and therefore, they cannot address it adequately (a feature that Lutheran ethics attributes to all attempts at secular moral improvement). Akrasia is, thus, not the real problem of our predicament, but rather, at best, it is an illusion or surface problem. As we have seen, Luther thinks that it is not that we merely lack motivation (some well-chosen pro-social moral emotions) to do what we know we should. Instead, we lack the knowledge of the good as well as the roots of our lack of motivation. Yet, the MBE account merely seems to scratch the surface. Human attempts at moral improvement, therefore, inevitably will be pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps, according to Luther’s view of human sinfulness.[15] Our whole relationship with God needs to be renewed – on God’s own initiative. Then, realistic moral enhancement may begin.

4. Conclusion

One could object to these conclusions about Luther’s view of MBE, even if MBE does not give a complete diagnosis of and remedy for human immorality, according to Luther’s understanding of them. However, it might give a partial one that is true and valuable insofar as it goes. It would seem that Luther is not completely foreclosing the possibility of attributing a limited value of (some version of) MBE. Exploring such issues, for instance, could involve Luther’s understanding of the body and the soul and whether MBE could be legitimate in the civic/political sphere for the common good for people without faith. According to Luther’s view of sin and redemption, it seems to be an oxymoron, prima facie, but that does not preclude the possibility that it, in a limited sense, might have a value in his political theology coram hominis. Nevertheless, it seems safer to conclude that Luther would say that MBE is illegitimate remedy of our immorality and sin – not primarily because it is so radical in its claims, but because it is not radical enough neither in its diagnosis nor in its remedy. Sin is deeper than what Persson and Savulescu have suggested, and the solution they propose is no better than the problem it seeks to solve.[16]


References to Martin Luther’s works are to the American edition of Luther’s Works. [abbreviated LW] 1955–. Edited by Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmunt T. Lehman. Philadeplia: Fortress Press.

Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologica [abbreviated ST] at:

Biermann, Joel D. 2014. A Case for Character: Towards a Lutheran Virtue Ethics.

Daly, Todd T. W. 2017. “A Transhumanist Moral Bioenhancement Program: A Critique from Barth and Bonhoeffer.” In Religion and Human Enhancement, edited by Tracy J. Trothen and Calvin Mercer, 213–228. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Deane-Drummond, Celia. 2017. “The Myth of Moral Bio-Enhancement: An Evolutionary Anthropology and Theological Critique”. In Religion and Human Enhancement, edited by Tracy J. Trothen and Calvin Mercer, 175–189. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Doris, John M., red. 2012. The Moral Psychology Handbook. 1. pbk. publ. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Duffy, Stephen. 1993. The dynamics of grace: perspectives in theological anthropology. New theology studies, v. 3. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press.

Harris, John. 2016. How to be Good: The Possibility of Moral Enhancement. Oxford University Press.

Herdt, Jennifer A. 2008. Putting on virtue: the legacy of the splendid vices. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hägglund, Bengt. 1959. De homine: människouppfattningen i äldre luthersk tradition Volym 18 av Studia theologica Lundensia. Lund: CWK Gleerup.

Jotterand, Fabrice, and Susan B. Levin. 2019. “Moral Deficits, Moral Motivation and the Feasibility of Moral Bioenhancement.” Topoi 38: 63–71.

Kolb, Robert, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, red. 2000. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

McFarland, Ian A. 2020. “Being Perfect: A Lutheran Perspective on Moral Formation.” Studies in Christian Ethics 33: 15–26.

Persson, Ingmar, and Julian Savulescu. 2008. “The Perils of Cognitive Enhancement and the Urgent Imperative to Enhance the Moral Character of Humanity.” Journal of Applied Philosophy 25: 162–177.

—. 2012. Unfit for the future: the need for moral enhancement. 1st ed. Uehiro series in practical ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

—. 2013. “GETTING MORAL ENHANCEMENT RIGHT: THE DESIRABILITY OF MORAL BIOENHANCEMENT: Getting Moral Enhancement Right.” Bioethics 27: 124–131.

—. 2016. “Moral Bioenhancement, Freedom and Reason.” Neuroethics 9: 263–268.

—. 2019a. “The Duty to Be Morally Enhanced.” Topoi 38: 7–14.

—. 2019b. “The Duty to Be Morally Enhanced.” Topoi 38: 7–14.

Pesch, Otto H. 1970. “Existential and Sapiential Theology”. In Catholic scholars dialogue with Luther, edited by Jared Wicks and Joseph Lortz, 61–81. Chicago: Loyola University Press.

Roskies, Adina. 2016. “Neuroethics.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Saarinen, Risto. 2011. Weakness of Will in Renaissance and Reformation Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Trothen, Tracy. 2017. “Moral Bioenhancement through An Intersectional Theo-Ethical Lens: Refocusing on Divine Image-Bearing and Interdependence.” Religions 8: 84.

Willows, Adam M. 2017. “Supplementing Virtue: The Case for a Limited Theological Transhumanism.” Theology and Science 15: 177–187.


[1] Ultimate harm, or existential risk, is a point in time when the conditions for human and sentient life on earth due to human actions or inactions in the past. In fact, Persson and Savulescu point out that the invention of the atomic bomb is a species of ultimate harm.

[2] Thus, they argue that improved cognitive abilities are not sufficient to induce improved moral action. Instead, they reject cognitive enhancement since, in their opinion, it may make things worse: more smart people with no better morality than an average person can cause greater harm instead of less in a technologically advanced society.

[3] Paul Althaus comments: “A man may do many good things but still not be a good man, because his heart is never pure but always divided and enslaved to sin. A man could be truly good, and he and his works well pleasing to God, only if his heart were free to serve God with undivided loyalty……even if with the help of grace a man should ever bring himself to the point of such complete devotion, his perfect ethical righteousness still would not motivate God to save him” (Althaus 1972, 4).

[4] “[T]he whole exodus of the people of Israel formerly symbolized that exodus which they [the via moderna scholastics or the theologians of glory] as one from faults to virtues. But it would be better to understand it as an exodus from virtues to the grace of Christ, because virtues of that kind are often greater or worse faults the less they are accepted as such and the more powerfully they subordinate to themselves every human emotion at the expense of all other good qualities.” (WA 56:158; LW 25: 136-137)

[5] Human beings can never merit salvation on the basis of good character or work since everything she does has a stain of sin. Salvific actions must be initiated by God but will, in time, give birth to good character and deeds.

[6] WA, 6: 209; LW, 44: 29.

[7] God’s favour to me or his being please with me has a twofold meaning: his pleasure in the good acts he has brought about in me in salvation, and his pleasure in the good acts, however imperfectly, is able to perform because of the prior act of the favour of God in me. Althaus argues that this presupposes that Luther is a divine command ethicist in normative ethics and metaethics. “In the ethical sense my action is good if done in response to god’s command. In the metaethical sense my action is good, despite its constant impurity, because of God’s act of justification” (Althaus 1972, 7).

[8] “Christians. . .are a people with a special call. . . That is why they are called a Christian people and have the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies them daily, not only through the forgiveness of sin acquired for them by Christ. . ., but also through the abolition, the purging, and the mortification of sins, on the basis of which they are called a holy people” (On the Councils and the Church, in LW 41:143-44).

[9] Other proponents of moral enhancement suggest more radical biochemical enhancement or other types of enhancement, focusing primarily on cognitive enhancement. A new term used for a related field of study is ‘neuroethics’. Both proponents and those who reject the whole idea of moral enhancement differ in a number of issues that are foundational to defining what they are talking about, which makes the debate rather obscure at times. For an overview, see (Roskies 2016).

[10] Nowhere does this revealed truth about human sinfulness cancel out her being created by God as good. Rather, they are both total determinations of what it is to be human that can only be fully realized through the revealing word of God. Furthermore, an evolutionary account of creation does not necessarily cancel out these perspectives of Luther’s perspective of human nature.

[11] Although it cannot be treated here, it seems, however, that their analysis is philosophically problematic, since they have: (i) an inadequate or limited view of akrasia, and (ii) are mistaken in thinking that akrasia is a near trait that will properly characterize even the most depraved (the vicious). I leave these aspects out of this writing, but I plan to analyze them in another publication.

[12] The Aristotelian view of akrasia as knowing what one should do, but due to some error in practical judgement, it does not register implicitly or explicitly in Luther’s writings (Saarinen, 2011, ch 3). However, akrasia comes in other versions, both in antiquity and the Middle Ages and the Reformation.

[13] It seems to me that MBE also, if possible, would at best make us enkratics and not fully virtuous people in the traditional senses. However, it is very unclear whether that meets the standard of fitness that Persson and Savulescu posit.

[14] See, e.g., Aquinas, ST, III, q. 86, art. 5 [“Whether the remnants of sin are removed when a mortal sin is forgiven?] “I answer that, Mortal sin, in so far as it turns inordinately to a mutable good, produces in the soul a certain disposition, or even a habit, if the acts be repeated frequently. Now it has been said above (Article 4) that the guilt of mortal sin is pardoned through grace removing the aversion of the mind from God. Nevertheless when that which is on the part of the aversion has been taken away by grace, that which is on the part of the inordinate turning to a mutable good can remain, since this may happen to be without the other, as stated above (Article 4). Consequently, there is no reason why, after the guilt has been forgiven, the dispositions caused by preceding acts should not remain, which are called the remnants of sin. Yet they remain weakened and diminished, so as not to domineer over man, and they are after the manner of dispositions rather than of habits, like the “fomes” which remains after Baptism.” Here, sins are called qualities and habits, as sins are vicious dispositions, but these dispositions are tampered after the aversion of God has been turned away. In a limited sense, there is, thus, a view of “simul iustus et peccator” in Aquinas. See Otto H. Pesch (1970) for a comparative analysis of the two theological styles of Luther and Aquinas.

[15] A non-theological version of such a bootstrapping objection to MBE has also been conceded by Persson and Savulescu (2012 and 2019): we need to be morally fit to know what would truly make us morally fit. It seems that we are not, and therefore, we do now know whether MBE is a reliable path to moral improvement.

[16] I would like to thank the participants in the research seminar at Johannelund school of theology and especially for my colleague, Thomas Nygren’s comments on an earlier draft of this text.

Cite this article

Lindholm, Stefan. 2021. Is Moral Bioenhancement Permissible on Luther’s View of Sin and Redemption. Theological Puzzles (Issue 3).

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Stefan Lindholm
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