Science in Christian Perspective



Ethical Decisions of Christians In Science
introduction to a Symposium

From: JASA 14 (September 1962): 66-67.

The scientist engages in a process of decision-making both in his work in the hidden recesses of his laboratory and in the outside world where he is called upon to act on the basis of scientific knowledge. The values upon which his decisions are based come ultimately from outside of science, although many of these values have been incorporated into the scientific perspective and its methodology and theories.

Christianity is not simply a system of ethics. Nevertheless, the Christian's commitments to Jesus Christ have pronounced ethical implications. This symposium introduces certain aspects of Christian ethics which apply to the scientist in his process of decision-making in the contest of modem society. Some of the papers deal with "pure science" while others have to do with Christian ethics in the application of scientific conclusions by the medical doctor, psychotherapist, and, in the case of capital punishment, the scientist as citizen.

The ethics which are basic to the scientific method are, it seems to this writer, strongly undergirded and sustained by the Christian Scriptures. The scientific method involves love of truth, self-discipline by the scientist to control his predilections and verify his findings, humility which acknowledges that scientific knowledge is never complete, a welfare orientation that aims at promotion of the well-being of mankind, and a demand for intellectual honesty which implies control of personal and group biases as well as the avoidance of cheating, lying, "doctoring" of data, and other forms of dishonesty. Philosophers of science and of religion have indicated repeatedly how closely related to Judeo-Christian ethics these scientific values are.

Commitment to a particular theory, at least in the behavioral sciences, often involves an implicit, if not explicit, moral decision. The theory molds one's image of man and of the universe, or at least of that portion of the universe which is directly related to the theory. It compels one to adopt a tentative if not conclusive ontological perspective. It determines what will be observed and recorded and what will be ignored. It dictates the tools and techniques to be used in the research process. It specifies ones definitions of concepts and as a result tends to alienate one from others whose theories on the same subject "don't make sense." A "faith commitment" may hence be as basic to advanced scientific work as it is to personal trust in God through Jesus Christ and commitment of one's life to Him.

Ethics are thus woven into the procedure of the scientist in his scientific work as well as into the application of scientific findings to the problems of modern society and the needs of individual men. A realistic appraisal of the relationships between science and Christianity must include these shared ethical values as well as the historical conflicts which so often are stressed by the critics of Christianity. Christians who demand that their opponents be fair in the intellectual give-and-take pertinent to science-religion controversies must also be fair, recognizing that men in their own camp have not always been ethically consistent. Christians in science must practice what they preach, for "faith without works is dead, being alone." The end does not justify the means.

This symposium grows out of the eighth regional meeting of the North Central Section of the American Scientific Affiliation held at Macalester College, April 7, 1962. The four papers given at that excellent meeting on "Critical Ethical Decisions in Science" form the core of this issue of the Journal. The others have been selected or solicited to deal with related subjects.

Numerous additional topics could have been included. Readers are invited to submit manuscripts dealing with these topics. There is, for example, the question of popularizing science for a religious audience. Is it ethical to draw close parallels between modern scientific interpretations of the world and biblical passages which were first written for a non-scientific audience as well as in a pre-scientific age? The use of science in apologetics is closely related. Is it ethical to use illustrations from science which do not really prove the validity of Christianity or the Bible in such a way that readers or listeners are given the impression that these presentations indeed do "prove" the truth of Christian faith? Must one prostitute either science or Christianity in order to demonstrate the close relationships between them?

How do Christian ethical values enter into political decisions pertinent to nuclear fallout? Must the Christian be a pacifist, a militarist, or neither? Should the Christian in the scientific and academic world engage in the bargaining, bluffing, and other tactics which Caplow and McGee (The Academic Marketplace) have so thoroughly documented? Ought Christians in scientific laboratories, colleges, and universities use the same hiring and firing policies as are general in their profession? What are the ethics of seeking students for graduate programs in a university?

What are the Christian ethics of testifying in court, publicizing commercial products through "research" findings, or advocating a particular scientific perspective, theory, or idea? What Christian values pertain to the questions of influencing public opinion in a democracy? Can a Christian conscientiously engage in the "engineering of consent" even for ends he believes to be good? How can free will of the individual be

*Dr. Moberg is Professor of Sociology and Chairman of the Dept. of Social Sciences, Bethel College, St. Paul, Minnesota.

reconciled with the social and biological determinisms often observed by scientists? Et cetera ad infinitum.

We hope this symposium will be a stimulus for further discussion of its topics and related ones and that it will significantly contribute to the improvement of both the scientific excellence and the Christian quality of readers' work. We look forward to receiving letters to the editor and additional articles relevant to Christian values and scientists' ethical decisions, for such discussion will sharpen our intellects, modify our consciences, and thus increase our effectiveness.