Christian Living in an Age of Science (10)
At this point in our study it should be obvious that science and technology are not unmixed blessings. They can be used for purposes that bring glory to God and further the work of His Kingdom. But they can also be used to advance the sinful agenda of fallen men.
Science, in other words, is not inherently good or bad. Science is a tool, a way of knowing and engaging the world for specific ends. Science can be good or bad, depending on the purposes and practice of those who use it. Bad science is that which either violates the rules of scientific study or which is done for improper motives or ends.
In this installment we want to consider the way science comes to be used for sinful purposes. Looking at one example, I hope to show how wickedness is introduced to the practice of science and, through science, into the larger society. My hope is to persuade readers of the importance of exercising vigilance over the work of science, even though we may not be practitioners in the scientific endeavor or even particularly knowledgeable of the workings of this arena.
Science can provide an avenue along which evil becomes institutionalized and entrenched in the larger society. For this reason, Christians need to understand how this happens and be prepared to resist this tendency by every available means (Eph. 5:15-17).
The Christian can only identify something as good or bad from the perspective of the Scriptures. The Bible has been given to us to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:15-17). It is the brighter light of God in which all other lights take on their proper perspective (Pss. 36:9; 119:105). Whatever operates in ways or toward ends contrary to Biblical teaching can only be regarded as undesirable and evil. A number of scientific practices must fall into this category when viewed through the lens of a Christian worldview. It is the Christian’s duty to resist evil, expose wickedness, and to work for whatever is good and true (Jms. 4:7; Eph. 5:6-11; Gal. 6:9, 10).
The use of fetal tissue in research offers what Christians can clearly see as an example of science gone bad. The goal of such research is to discover ways of using tissue from fetuses, whether aborted or “grown” for this purpose, to benefit people with degenerative diseases of various sorts. Bad science begins in bad assumptions. Christians regard this as an example of bad science because practitioners assume that fetuses are not full human beings, but merely potential human beings. Thus to use potential human beings for research and development on behalf of full human beings does not trouble the consciences of unbelieving scientists.
It is, or should be, a matter of grave concern for Christians. When such practices are discussed primarily in terms of the potential benefit to be realized, they can be made to appear “normal” and even “beneficial.” This can harden the consciences, blind the minds, and poison the affections of the public, and breed an “ends justifies the means” approach to encouraging scientific research.
The false assumption driving fetal tissue research is itself the result of other false assumptions, including, that human beings are not the image-bearers of God but merely a higher form of animal, and that human life and wellbeing is primarily a material rather than a spiritual concern. Embrace these false assumptions and others will issue from them. Together these false assumptions are a breeding ground for bad science. Christians must study to understand and be bold to challenge all false assumptions of the scientific enterprise, lest bad thinking about science lead to bad practices and the poisoning of science and society alike.
Let’s follow this example through the various steps of the scientific procedure, to see if we can identify places where bad science comes to expression in this practice.
Bad science begins at the level of assumptions, and faulty assumptions lead to skewed observations. Through reading, study, and hands-on research, scientists observe certain data and discern what they think may be connections between one situation and another. Scientists know, in the case of fetal tissue, that certain degenerative diseases erode critical brain tissue, robbing victims of vital functions. A scientist may consider that it would help such people to regain a measure of full functioning if such brain cell erosion could be impeded, or if eroded brain cells could be replaced – a good and perfectly reasonable assumption.
This scientist may then read a study on fetal tissue which indicates that it seems to have the potential to take the form of virtually any other kind of human cell. Could it also be coaxed into becoming new brain cells? What it fetal tissues could be “harvested” and manipulated under certain conditions? Would it be possible to develop such cells – “stem cells” as they are called – into something other than what they were originally intended to be? Could they be made to become brain cells? And, if so, could this process yield a product or procedure that might help those dealing with degenerative diseases?
We are beginning to see how bad science works. Because of a faulty assumption concerning human beings in the womb, a scientist combines observations in an unwarranted way and begins to conceive of research projects that would carry his bad assumptions and skewed observations to a higher state of wickedness. Could “harvesting” cells from a fetus allow him to support or disprove his hypothesis? Now that may not seem very wicked on the surface, and I suppose it is possible, in certain cases, to “harvest” fetal tissue without harming the child in the womb.
But not in sufficient quantity to do scientific research. For that the scientist would need to have a reliable supply of fetal tissue, which he could secure through “unwanted” fetuses – through abortion or by other means which treat the fetus as something less than a full human being and regard it merely as a research source. Now bad assumptions and skewed observations give rise to wicked plans and evil procedures. Here is where the web of evil begins to expand.
Expanding the web of wickedness
Some preliminary tests run, and data collected and compared, the scientist decides to expand his research, and for this he will need additional help in the form of research grants and assistants. Grants are pursued through public and private agencies, and assistants may be gathered from colleagues and graduate students. Those who give money to support bad science, and those who lend their talents in the pursuit of it, become tainted by and scope of bad science through their participation.
After a while, results of research begin to accumulate, suggesting uses of fetal tissue which should be placed before the scientific community. Journal articles are published, in which data – communicated as numbers, formulas, and clinical terms – and high hopes – possible “cures” for disease – obscure the fact that human beings are being killed in the name of science. Those who review and approve such articles for publication, and those who read them with approval, become entangled in the growing web of evil spun by bad science.
When a “breakthrough” is a achieved – or even the appearance of a “breakthrough,” the research is at last presented to the general public, where focusing on the benefit to be gained rather than the process engaged appeals to the “ends-justifies-the-means” mentality of a pragmatic and materialistic public. Thus a headline may read: Scientists Discover Fetal Tissue Can Rejuvenate Brain Cells in Degenerative Brain Disease Patients. There will be some expressions of concern on the part of the public, but the media, reporting such findings, will, for the most part, already have become complicit in the web of evil so that the focus on benefits is exaggerated to justify the means pursued to achieve them.
A competition of evil
By the time the public hears about such research, other labs and scientists will have become involved. More grants are received and assistants engaged, more fetuses destroyed and journal articles published, and the whole process can be made to appear so far “down the road” that thinking of stopping it is just out of the question. Who are we to question the work of science or the reportage of scientific journals and the media? Does not such research have the endorsement of the scientific community? The government? The media?
The more such science proceeds, the more people and money become involved, the more hopeful the public grows, and the harder it becomes even to consider the unlawful assumptions and skewed observations which are the foundation on which this house of evil is being constructed.
And the more the bad assumptions and bad practices of bad science make practices like abortion seem less horrible and abominable than what they are.
Evil in the scientific consensus
Within the scientific community a consensus of opinion obtains which determines the parameters of good and bad science. That consensus consists of beliefs, assumptions, practices, and objectives which members of the community endorse and which they use to pursue the work of science. Once that consensus becomes infected with a virus of evil – beginning at the level of beliefs and assumptions – it can quickly institutionalize wickedness in the name of goodness, thus corrupting science and endangering the public.
Christians must not be naïve about the workings of this consensus and how it operates to advance both good and evil practices in the name of science. Its power to foist the Lie of an unbelieving worldview on the public, and to institutionalize wickedness in the name of “humanity” and science, is more powerful than most Christians understand.
Social scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann writes about “the spiral of silence” that comes into play when public opinions are in the process of being formed. She says that, when views are beginning to be made public, “The camp that shows more readiness to proclaim its stand will have greater impact and will thereby exert more influence on others, who may join its apparently stronger or increasing battalion of followers.” She writes further, “public opinion is not just a matter for those who feel a calling, or for talented critics...Everyone is involved” (The Spiral of Silence). Bad science creates bad practices which can support or create bad public policies, institutionalizing wickedness in the name of truth and further endangering a society in the eyes of our holy God.
Christians today must not become trapped in a “spiral of silence” which prevents them from challenging the thinking and practice of bad science by as many means as they can. These days in particular, when so many websites offer blogs on questions related to science and ethics, Christians should become equipped and engaged in standing for the truth of God against every expression of the Lie of unbelief. We may be scorned, belittled, and attacked, but the Word of truth can take care of itself.
While we must be clear in our facts, winsome in our arguments, and patient with our opponents, we can only hope to persuade some people to consider the reasonableness of our perspective. God is able to wield His Word of truth with convicting and converting power, but He calls on us to hold forth His holy and righteous and good Word against every form of untruth and every evidence of bad assumptions, taking every though captive to make it obedient to Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
For reflection or discussion
- Explain the process whereby bad assumptions lead to bad science, and bad science leads to the entrenching and institutionalizing of sin?
- Do you know any Christians who are working in the field of science? Ask them how they deal with the bad assumptions they inevitably encounter from time to time. See if you can encourage them in any way to stand more boldly for the truth.
- Besides those mentioned in this article, what are some other examples of bad assumptions which are operating in the field of science? What true assumptions do we as Christians propose in opposition to these bad assumptions?
- “Bad assumptions” are actually a form of “false faith.” The scientific worldview is a form of faith, reflecting, in many ways, beliefs and values which science cannot prove but which it must employ in order to do its work. Give some examples of these. For example, is the conviction that there is no God or that, if there is, He is not relevant to the work of science – is this conviction a matter of scientific proof or mere faith? Explain.
- What are some ways that you as a believer might become more consistently involved in breaking the spiral of silence with respect to the bad assumptions of the unbelieving worldviews of our day?
How will you begin keeping up with the sciences? What steps can you take in order to adopt a more responsible and circumspect approach to your inescapable involvement with science? Set some goals, share them with a friend, and then get to work.
I am grateful to Dr. Andrew Bobb for his help in pulling together the resources and contributing to the development of these studies.
For more insight to this topic, get the book, Christianity and the Nature of Science, by J. P. Moreland, from our online store. You should also read the article, “Are Christians ‘Anti-Science’?” by Charles Colson.