Science in Christian Perspective



Claude E. Stipe
Associate Professor of Anthropology Marquette University
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

From: JASA 22 (June 1970): 47-48.

My few comments and questions will be restricted to some statements included in the section of Theological Basis. Although a statement of this type must of necessity he very general, such generality often obscures important issues.

Is Sin Ever Permissible?

I am disturbed with the possible implications of the statement "As to whether or not the performance of an induced abortion is always sinful we are not agreed, but about the necessity and permissibility for it under certain circumstances we are in accord." Would those who believe that abortion is always sinful also maintain that sin may be both necessary and permissible? Is sin ever permissible from Cod's perspective? Are acts per se sinful, regardless of motivation?

How Is Will of God Determined?

It is also stated that the Christian physician who is asked to perform an abortion will seek to discover the will of Cod, not only for his own decision, but also in order to counsel his patients. How would the physician determine the will of Cod in any specific instance? If one physician decides that it is not the will of Cod for him to perform an abortion in a particular case and another physician feels free to perform it, what then is the will of Cod for the family in question?

Abortion vs. Infanticide

Although there is not complete agreement, a fetus is considered to be, "at the most ... an actual human life or at the least, a potential and developing human life." Why then do all agree that abortion is permissible in certain circumstances, but that "infanticide under any circumstances must be condemned?" Is a pre-natal "actual human life" that different from one after birth? Why is a human being accorded "all the rights which Scripture accords to all human beings" (unfortunately these rights are not identified) immediately after birth, but not before it? Why is it "Christian" to abort the fetus of a potentially normal person but sinful to kill a newly born infant who is too retarded mentally to ever he able to experience those "rights?"

Induced abortion is to be advised only to safeguard "greater values sanctioned by Scripture," among which are "individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility." How does one determine that these latter values are greater than the life of a fetus? If they are, then why do they all suddenly become subordinate to the life of an infant? On what basis is the hierarchy of values changed when the "human being" is born into the world, as opposed to his existence before that event?


The universal phenomenon of conscience is said to bear witness to the fact that all men are bound by God's moral law. It would he more correct to say that the existence of conscience hears witness to the importance of cultural training. It is a human characteristic to feel "guilty" for having acted in ways contrary to one's cultural perscriptions. To state that "apart from the guidance of Scripture and the Holy Spirit, men tend to equate it [natural law] with the mores of their particular culture," fails to recognize that all Christians equate God's law (or will) with their own cultural mores. Not only does "Christian conscience" differ from one culture to another, but also from one American Christian sub-culture to another. As a result, different groups are convinced that it is "God's will for Christians to act (or to abstain from acting) in certain ways, while the issue is irrelevant to other Christian groups. "Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit" people arrive at opposite conclusions, for example, whether or not the possible impairment of the mother's health makes abortion permissible. Which of these conclusions is in accord with natural law? In a culture in which the "sanctity of human life" is not emphasized as strongly as in ours, infanticide might well he considered necessary for the health and welfare of those family members who already are struggling to stay alive on an insufficient amount of food.

I certainly appreciate the effort of theologians to attempt a Christian statement on this important issue. Possibly a major problem is that they have attempted to base it on Scripture without overtly recognizing that many of the values expressed in the statement are actually part of their cultural training, which are then often "validated" by "guidance" from the Scripture and the Holy Spirit.