Science in Christian Perspective
Evangelical Theology and Technological Shock*
American Baptist Seminary of the West
Covina, California 91722
From: JASA 23 (June 1971): 52-56.
Evangelical Strategy of the Past
In the past, the evangelical response to new scientific theories (and/or their ethical or theological implications) has gone through somewhat the same pattern. The new theory is announced. In that it apparently conflicts with evangelical theology, evangelicals denounce it. The evidence piles up overwhelmingly for the theory. Then the evangelicals scramble around to undo their initial interpretation and find how the new science and its implications can be absorbed into evangelical theology.
Our proposal is to reverse that procedure. We shall attempt to anticipate what is coming at us and think out our possible theological responses before it gets to us. Thus by "technological shock" I mean those radical things that we anticipate will be done in the next thirty years, and by "evangelical theology" I mean how an evangelical may now think provisionally about how he will absorb this into his theology.
We shall not be talking about scientific advance in general, [as suggested by the article, Anton J. Schwarz, "What Lies Ahead-Blue Sky Speculation" (Bioscience, October, 1966)], but those things anticipated which have theological implications.
I am not a scientist, so in what follows I am at the mercy of the scientists, 1f f default in explanation or interpretation on the technical aspects, it is simply because I am out of my field of specialization and over my head in scientific waters.
Furthermore, these theological interpretations I intend to make are heuristic, exploratory, and provisional, not final nor definitive. Our intention is to anticipate theological developments in science, rather than let science first kick us in the head (as evangelicals) and then start to do our theological retooling.
The politicians are aware of the significance of "technological shock" as there is now in Congress a bill to set up The Office of Technological Assessment (OTA) to inform the government of unusual strides in technology (John Lear, "Science, The Endless Search," Saturday Review, March 28, 1970). The World Council of Churches is also interested in "technological shock," They held a conference in Geneva on the topic, "Exploratory Conference on Technology and the Future of Man and Society" (The Los Angeles Times, July 5, 1970).
The Concept of a Genetic Pool
Stemming mainly from the writings of Augustine, Christian theologians have linked the passing on of original sin with the genetic process of the begetting of children. The Roman Catholic Church has been for the most part insistent on monogeneticissn, i.e., that the human race originated from one pair so that the doctrine of original sin would have a sound biological foundation. Polygeneticism, the origin of the human race from many pairs, has been criticized as it breaks the genetic continuum necessary to support the doctrine of original sin.
Modern genetic engineering, which we shall return to later, is making this unilateral, uninterrupted connection somewhat tenuous. It is anticipated that biologists can make genes, alter genes, substitute genes, and replace genes (Paul E. Lutz, "What's Around the Corner for Humanity in the Life Sciences?" Concordia Theological Monthly, Vol. 41, May 1970. Robert L. Sinsheimer, "The Prospect for Designed Genetic Change," American Scientist, Vol. 57, I, 134142, 1969).
It is anticipated that biologists can make genes, alter genes, substitute genes, and replace genes.
Furthermore there is the prospect of "clonal man." The Greek word for twig is klonos. Plants that can be started from twigs and not seeds are clonal plants. The nucleus of the egg of a frog was shot out with a nuclear beam, a cell from the intestine of a frog (with the dormant DNA Gode in it) was put in the egg, and a tadpole was developed. This was a clonal frog. It is remote but not impossible that female ova be activated by cells from the male and not the sperm, and such a man would be a "clonal man." The advantage of aclonal man would be the unusual genetic control man would have over reproducing the race (C. A. Clark, "Problems Raised by Developments in Genetics," Ethics and Biology, pp. 93-99).
If genetic engineering makes the unity of the race less and less a matter of lineal, genetic descent, then maybe both the concepts of mono-geneticism and poly-geneticism are inadequate. I suggest the concept of mankind as a "biological pool" and its unity thought of in terms of this logical construct. But this must be supplemented with a theological and spiritual concept of the unity of man as decreed by God, or else we make sin virtually a biological substance. All the human race is part of one "biological pool" and hence genetic engineering does not disturb the Christian concept of the unity of the race at its physical level.
The Concept of a Paternal Rather Than Genetic Family
A genetic family is one in which a male and fe male by intercourse produce children. A paternal fam ily is one in which there is a male who plays a father role, a female who plays a mother role, and children who play brother and sister roles. Historically theology and Christian ethics have placed great emphasis on the genetic family.
Part of "technological shock" is that the genetic family is on its way out. In present artificial insemination the father is not a genetic father but he is a paternal father. The process can now be reversed and the mother is not a genetic mother but only a paternal mother. In the future with "sperm banks" and "ovum banks," parents will "shop" for the kind of child they want, so neither mother or father will be a genetic parent but only a paternal parent (Paul E. Lutz., op. cit. Lutz goes one step further and says that parents might even shop supermarkets for frozen embryos).
If the genetic family disappears, then all of Christian theology and Christian ethics has to be reformulated purely in terms of paternal families. Therefore we ought to begin at least in mind, in projection, to think of a Christian home, a Christian church, a Christian ethic, and a Christian theology, built totally in the concepts that characterize a paternal family.
We Need a New Concept of Mental Death
The transplantation of organs has raised afresh the problem of when a man is dead. Some consider the removal of the heart to be murder. If the heart can be used in some sense the donor is still alive.
The Christian Church has functioned with the metaphysical definition of death: that moment when the soul leaves the body. However the theological definition of death and the medical definition are growing further apart. That is why I think in the immediate future we should start thinking of mental death as well as metaphysical death in Christian theology. (For the following see Paul Ramsey, "Updating Death," The Religious Situation 1969.).
This complicated matter of dying in degrees was dramatically highlighted by the death of Senator Kennedy in Los Angeles: (i) looking back from the autopsy he was "good as dead" when he was shot; (ii) examined by an expert neuro-surgeon the next morning at 10:30 a.m. he was declared "practically dead;" (iii) when the brain waves ceased to register he was declared physiologically dead at 6:30 p.m. that same day; (iv) when all life processes stopped at 1:30 a.m. the next day he was declared officially dead; (v) according to microbiologists, cell division may go on for three weeks after burial (cf. Lutz, 01). cit. p. 304); so that cellular death occurred then; and (vi) as a Roman Catholic, somewhere along the line he died metaphysically, i.e., when his soul left his body.
If we are entering a whole new epoch of transplants, then the Christian theologians must put more thought into the definition of death than the traditional philosophical and theological one of the soul leaving the body. This new concept of death is currently called "mental death," i.e., the patient has reached a point beyond which he cannot be recalled to normal existence. Furthermore the theologians have to face the problem of difficult death (dysthanasia) and the morality or immorality of spending huge sums of money to perpetuate the physiological life of a person who has already entered the realm of mental death.
In short, technological advance in medicine means that Christian theologians are going to have to move out of the traditional rut and bring their theology of death into some sort of rapport with what is going on in modem technological medicine.
We Need a New Theology of the Holy Spirit
One of the main themes of evangelical thinking is that the Holy Spirit can do the unusual. Harold Begby's famous book, Twice Born Men, showed how the Holy Spirit could transform the most hopeless of cases that one could find in the slums of London. When doctors and psychologists must give up, the Holy Spirit can take over and work a miracle. This aspect of the work of the Spirit we do not want to forget or ignore, let alone deny. But in the light of developments in behavioral sciences and psychiatry we need to take a second look at our doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
Put in simplest and most direct terms, many of the things we now claim only the Holy Spirit can do with man supernaturally, man will do for himself. We see no ceiling to the control, shaping and modulation of human behavior in the future.
All forms of criminology and personality pathology that can be traced to heredity or physiology will be eliminated. (cf. J. E. Williams, "Legal Concepts of Responsibility," Biology and Ethics, p. 52ff.). It is speculated that this could even lead to the elimination of war!
Donald Huisingh speaks of three kinds of genetic engineering ("Should Man Control His Genetic Future?" Zygon, 4:188-189, June 1969).
Euphenics is adding substances to man which he no longer can make. Insulin is the most common example, but now a great number of substances can be given the haemophiliacs to control bleeding.
Genetic Engineering is working with and exploring the functions of DNA, the family of RNA chemicals, chromosomes and genes.
Eugenic Engineering is the control of reproduction so that all that is detrimental, which is genetically transmitted, will be eliminated, and all the positive genetic goals of mankind will be achieved.
In addition to this there is a Neo-Lombrosianism emerging. Lombrosio was an Italian sociologist of the last century who believed criminals were of certain physiological types. He was refuted on the grounds that criminality can be accounted for adequately by psychological and sociological understanding of man. But there now appear to be criminal types. If this is true then all such criminality that can be traced to criminal types can he engineered out of existence (see the pro and con Neo-Lombrosian literature in J. E. Hall, "Legal Concepts of Responsibility," Biology and Ethics, p. 52).
In addition to the genetic control and shaping of human behavior we also have unlimited horizons on the electrical, chemical, and surgical alteration of man's behavior.
(i). Electrical. Recently the following dramatic episode took place in Barcelona. A bull charged furiously at the matador. When but a few feet away the bull suddenly turned and trotted away. The crowd did not know an electrode was implanted in the "happy center" of the bull and just before the bull reached the matador the electrode was activated. The bull lost his anger, felt happy, and trotted away (Cf. Hudson Hoagland, "Some Biological Considerations of Ethics," in Technology and Culture in Perspective, p. 18). Already monkeys can be stimulated into joy or depression by electrodes. We are just now microscopically mapping the brain. The long hours now spent with the psychiatrist and patient, for the patient to relearn his responses and so eliminate his symptoms, may be replaced with implanted electrodes.
If we are entering a whole new epoch of transplants, then the Christian theologians must put more thought into the definition of death than the traditional philosophical and theological one of the soul leaving the body.
(ii). Chemical. In the last century the scientist Ehrlich spoke of "chemical bullets." They were chemicals that would hit specific behavorial patterns in man. Now psychiatry works with generalized drugs that effect over-all moods like depression, anxiety, apathy or rage. By the year 2000 we might have our Ehrlieh bullets in psychiatry, bullets that control love, hate, morality, etc. (Lutz., op. cit., p. 302). Lutz is so bold as to predict that by chemically modifying behaviour we could eliminate war.
(iii). Surgical operations on the medial surface of the temporal lobe can turn ferocious animals into tame ones (Hoagland, op. cit., p. 17). The most savage of all monkeys (the macaque), which under usual conditions would bite off the hand of any human who approached him, can be made surgically as docile as a kitten. Anger can be turned back on by an operation on the ventromcdial nucleus of the hypothalmos.
The prefontal lobotomy is a crude operation compared to what may be done surgically either with knife or by freezing. One small slice at the right place may cure the psychopath or the criminals who now exist in such permanent rage or hostility that they would immediately kill if released from their cells. Granted at the present we cannot predict what these operations will do to man, as life in a cage is very simple compared to life in society. But profound surgical modulation and modification of behavior will be here by the year 2000.
Another amazing development is that Lawrence Massett has been able to by-pass the cerebrospinal nervous system where conditioning usually takes place and can reach and condition the autonomic nervous system. This he does by the use of curare. As yet he can only do this by blocking out the regular nervous system with curare, but he is working on how to do it without curare. If we can condition the autonomic nervous systems where neurotic impulses have their derivation, psychiatry will be revolutionized ("Learn ing to Control the Uncontrollable," Science News, 97: 274-275, March 14, 1970).
Space and time forbid the formulation of the new doctrine of the Holy Spirit I have in mind, but it is not an ad hoc thing called in to fill a so-called gap in present knowledge. Briefly I would build my case on the following: (i) the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament as the immanent touch of God with his creation in all its facets; (ii) the Augustinian and Medieval idea of the concursive action of God with natural events, i.e., the so-called difference between primary and secondary causation; (iii) the rich materials in Calvin's essay, "The Secret Providence of God" (published in Calvin's Calvinism, Cole, editor); (iv) the concept of common grace well-known in Reformed theology; (v) the effort of V. Hepp of Holland at the turn of the century who tried to add a natural theology of the Holy Spirit to the more traditional doctrine of the witness of the Spirit; and (vi) Lindsey Dewar's startling book, The Spirit in Modern Thought: An Inquiry into the Historical, Theological and Psychological Aspects of the Christian Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (1959). Dewar tried to show how the Holy Spirit's working is to be read into modern medicine and psychiatry. Thus if we have worked out an adequate doctrine of the natural workings of the Holy Spirit, the immanent operation of the Holy Spirit in the cosmos and in every dimension of the cosmos, we shall have a theological stance whereby to meet the increasing technological revolution we are experiencing. While maintaining the uniqueness and discontinuity of the work of the Holy Spirit at the right places, we shall also be able to point out the continuity of the work of the Holy Spirit with man's technological control over nature. By such a doctrine of the holy Spirit we shall be more adequately prepared for the confrontation of the Church with "technological shock."
We Need to Rethink the Concept of the Authenticity of Holy Scripture
The ideal concept of authenticity which evangelicals have worked with is as follows: if we know the author, date, nature of composition of a hook of the Bible, it is then authentic. It can be considered inspired and authoritative and therefore part of the Sacred Canon. It is not possible to do this directly with every book of the Bible for we do not know the authors of many Old Testament hooks. So we build up our ease as much indirectly as we do directly (such as noting that the New Testament sanctions the entire Old Testament as the Word of God.)
Many of the things we now claim only the Holy Spirit can do with man supernaturally, man will do for himself.
I am not dealing here with ordinary literary criticism. I am anticipating how
technology is going to be called in to solve literary problems or
outside of Scripture. I anticipate that these methods will then spill over into
Biblical criticism, and when it does, evangelicals must have some answers.
The beginning is already here. By computer it has been established that Paul wrote the standard Pauline
letters of Romans, I and 11 Corinthians and Galatians, and that he did not write the Pastoral Epistles. Recently it was claimed that the computer proved there were two Isaiahs.
The response of the evangelicals has been mixed. Generally they have been sceptical on the basis that the variables are too great and the computer sampling too small. But let us look at the situation twenty years from now. Computers will have become far more complex. Men of literature and historians will have run thousands of tests on documents. Computer analysis of documents has already become a well-established methodology. What are we evangelicals going to say to the results of computers in Biblical research at that future level of sophistication?
We must add one more item to this. Geologists and archeologists are finding more and more "clocks" in nature and in archeological reconstruction. The methods of dating documents and events twenty years from now will also reach a higher level of sophistication. What if computers and clocks prove as far as things can be demonstrated in science, history and literature that the Pentateuch is a highly composite document, or that the date of Daniel is around 165 n.e., or that Paul could not have written even Ephesians or Colossians? Please remember that we are not dealing with literary problems but with what technology may do to Biblical criticism.
Maybe our current evangelical theory of authenticity is wrong. Maybe it is time right now to do a total rethink on what kind of authenticity is necessary to support our views of the inspiration and revealedness of Holy Scripture. To short, maybe the processes we have assumed as necessary to go along with our concept of authenticity are products of our own cultural conditioning and not of Scripture itself. A new theology of authenticity would have as its goal to show that modern technological advances in documentary analysis of dating are not incompatible with the manner in which God reveals himself and inspires Holy Scripture.
[This is but an aside that I have not had the time to investigate. When the furor about communication set off by MeLohau has died down and an immense amount of sober research has gone into the nature of language theory and communication, we might have to develop a whole new theory of inspiration and revelation. I am always haunted with the suspicion that our theories of inspiration and revelation are severely culturally conditioned by our culture and not, as we hope and think, by the Scriptures themselves. It may well turn out that when modern theory of communications is developed, we will find that Holy Scripture is far more in harmony with that than it is with the kinds of concepts of language and communication we have worked with in the past few centuries in developing an evangelical view of revelation and inspiration].
We Need a New Meaning for Life
Two very different processes are converging on mankind. First, man's life is being extended. By ordinary increase of scientific knowledge and of medicines and surgery in the next twenty years, it is expected that life will be extended fifteen years. There are about twenty theories why the human body ages. One of these is that the older we get, the more elongated molecules we accumulate which gum up the physiological works. If we had an enzyme that could dissolve these molecules we could add thirty five years to man's life. (Cf. Bernard Strehler, "Ten Myths About Aging," The Center Magazine, 3:41-48, July-August,
Maybe it is time right now to do a total rethink on what kind of authenticity is necessary to support our views of the inspiration and revealedness of Holy Scripture.
1970, for a general discussion of this problem). Then there are those who claim
we will develop "system shockers." The real fountain of youth is to
shock our organs back into their youth by some sort of chemical. The literature
on this subject is divided. Some think that after one million years
the limitation of man's age is fixed and we can extend it only a decade or so
at the most. Others think "system shockers" or advanced knowledge of
the DNA-RNA processes will enable us to keep man alive until he is one hundred
and fifty years old. Let us presume that by 2000 AD. life expectancy
is 100 years.
It is now agreed that if all of American industrial manufacturing could be done by automation, only 2% of the population would be necessary to run our factories. The more technologically sophisticated we become, the fewer people it takes to operate factories. Yet the more technological we get, the longer we are going to live.
Rollo May is one of the outstanding theorists in America in psychiatry. He claims that the psychiatrists know the pulse of society better than anybody else because they see how society makes people sick. The heavy Victorian sexual ethic in old Vienna created many sexual problems and that is why Freud's basic theory has such a dominant sexual motif. This was followed by the plague of anxiety neuroses. In his book, Love arid Will, May says our present problem is apathy. This explains why people are murdered while their neighbors do nothing. The neighbors are suffering from apathy and that is why they cannot arouse themselves to come to the person's help or even phone the police.
Now let us put all of this together. If man is suffering from apathy now, what degree of apathy will he suffer if he retires at age 50 (as retirement age is going to drop rapidly too) and has another 50 years to live? Or if we are suffering from apathy now, what degree of apathy will we suffer if only 10% of our population can manufacture all we need and supply all our services so that most of us will be born retired?
Right now the backbone of the meaning of life is the work week. If technology knocks out the work week as we know it, it also knocks out the meaning of life for the mass population. The question is this: will technology plunge us into a pandemic of apathy?
Maybe not. Maybe as one area is shut down a new one will open up. Maybe when one cultural routine becomes obsolete another one will move in and fill the vacuum.
I want to speak theologically at this point. Perhaps the only source of the real meaning of life if technology does create this vacuum in civilization, this pandemic of apathy, will be that given to us in Holy Scripture. Perhaps the greatest hour of the Christian Church is ahead. As technology drains meaning and purpose out of life, perhaps it will be the Christian Church with the Holy Scriptures that will be able to pump meaning back into society so that life will he meaningful in an age of technological utopia but spiritual apathy. (The one article that really gets down to a debate about technology and ethics and meaning is that of Donald Huisiogh, "Should Man Control His Genetic Future?" op. cit.).