Science in Christian Perspective
What Is a Christian's Responsibility as a Scientist?
JOHN A. McINTYRE
Department of Physics
Texas A & M University College Station, Texas
RICHARD H. BUBE
Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Stanford University Stanford, California
Critiques, Rebuttals, Kibitzers' Comments
STATEMENT of John A. Mcintyre
Dr. Mcintyre is Professor of Physics at Texas A & M University, past President of the ASA in 1973, and the author of a number of articles on science and Christian faith, including "is the Scientist for Hire?" in The Scientist and Ethical Decision, C. Hatfield, ed., intervarsity Press (1973).
The question under consideration is limited to the responsibility
that a Christian
assumes directly because he is a scientist. Many Christian responsibilities to
family, church and community are not discussed unless the scientific component
of the Christian's life is directly involved.
What Kind of Work?
Perhaps the first responsibility for the Christian as a scientist is the selection of the kind of work that he will do. Often there appears to be little direct guidance for making this selection. However, there are constraints that often limit the range of possibilities. Such a constraint would be the condition of the job market. A Christian will view these constraints as indications by God concerning the place in which he should devote his professional life. For example, a decade ago there were many teaching and research positions in universities. Scientists who accepted these positions inevitably devoted most of their efforts to performing research and maintaining the highest professional competence in their field. Today the positions available often have more relevance to the problems of society and a scientist might very well develop his administrative and social capabilities instead. As Christians we know that God will supply our every need as we adjust to the situations in which we are placed.
Within these constraints, however, there is usually a range of possibilities. How does a Christian decide in a responsible way what type of work to do? I believe that the Scriptures give us definite guidance. As members of the body of Christ, we each have received different gifts that we are to use for the glory of our Lord. We should therefore select work that utilizes our gifts in an optimum way. We then face the question,
The Bible indicates that the Christian's responsibility is limited to his own acts.
"How do we best use our gifts?" Students often ask me this question and my answer has been that their gifts usually will be used most effectively when they are doing what they most like to do. We usually desire to do what we do well. Paul, for example, wrote about his calling, "For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" Some scientists like to teach, some enjoy most their time in the laboratory, while some prefer to associate with people in business relationships. A Christian scientist should determine which situation is most attractive to him and attempt to find employment which will then permit him to function most effectively.
Selecting an Employer
Having selected the type of work he should do, the Christian scientist must next select his employer. Except for the few cases where conscience interferes (a pacifist should not work for the Defense Department), all legitimate employment should he considered to be appropriate. The selection should he based on the opportunities available for the exercise of the gifts of the scientist. Jesus, for example, was a carpenter in a small town for ten years of his life. For Protestants there is no division between laity and clergy because of the type of employment; or in evangelical terms, there is no division between those in "full-time" and "part-time" Christian service. Christian scientists, then, should select their employment on the basis of professional opportunity. If Christians follow this rule, they will all be using their gifts in the most effective manner.
Professional opportunity should not, of course, be defined too narrowly. The professional rewards of training young Christians and watching them mature in a Christian school cannot be matched by the dollars received for a different kind of employment. If one does not enjoy teaching, however, he should trust the Lord to provide men who do find professional fulfillment in this work and not feel a personal obligation to train the young.
Furthermore, if Christian scientists are employed in all types of work, they will be distributed throughout society. Jesus must have had such a situation in mind when he described Christians as the "salt of the earth." Salt is effective as a preservative only if it is distributed uniformly throughout the body it is to protect. The evangelical Christian community has suffered terribly because only certain employment was considered proper; the defense of the faith has often depended on former atheists such as C. S. Lewis who had no inhibitions about being a teacher in a secular university. While the number of outstanding evangelical Christians in the sciences has been increasing during our generation, the situation is still desperate in the arts. It is essential that Christians not withdraw from secular society; we are to he in the world though not of the world.
Responsible for Employer's Acts?
In a sinful world it is inevitable that an employer's acts will sometimes offend the conscience of the employed Christian. How responsible is the Christian for these acts? The Bible indicates that the Christian's responsibility is limited to his own acts. When soldiers asked John the Baptist what they should do, he said, "Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages." There is no indication here that they should leave their positions or even repent for their participation in the activities of the Roman government. Jesus paid taxes and thereby supported the sinful government of his day; yet the Bible asserts that he was without sin. Even the description of the church as the body of Christ indicates that each member of the body is responsible only for itself. There is no way for the eye to be responsible for the foot although an imperfectly operating eye can cause damage to the foot. It is clear, then, that a Christian who is
part of an organization must perform his duties conscientiously but he is not responsible for the acts of those over whom he has no authority.
A Christian, however, is responsible for his own acts. When ordered to do an act, the Christian must remind himself of Jesus' admonition, "Render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to Cod the things that are Cod's," The legal canons recognize this limitation on loyalty to the employer when they say that the attorney should not perform any act that is contrary to his conscience. If ordered to write a computer program for illegal purposes, the Christian would refuse to do so.
Christian Verbal Witness
Finally, one might ask about the Christian's responsibility to speak of his Christian faith during employment hours. The primary consideration is that the hours at work belong to the employer. There are situations, however, when it is appropriate for the Christian to introduce the gospel as part of his professional duties. When teaching science,, for example, it is perfectly legitimate to discuss the limitations of the scientific method and the need for a Christian faith. In fact students often criticize those professors who refuse to reveal their presuppositions when they present the subject matter of their course.
We now come to the responsibility of the Christian scientist outside his profession. In most respects his responsibilities differ little from those of any other Christian. Because of his scientific training, however, the Christian scientist can minister to the Christian community in a unique fashion. Through the education of Christians in scientific matters and by acting as an intermediary no scientific issues between the Christian community and the secular world, the Christian scientist can use effectively both his professional training and his Christian commitment. Every Christian scientist should be a member of an organization such as the American Scientific Affiliation that performs just these functions.
The Christian should he sensitive to the needs of his own community and to society at large. Because of this sensitivity, the Christian particularly must guard against neglecting his professional duties as a scientist while working in the community. The activities of a professional scientist are of course not restricted to the research laboratory. Advising the government, educating the public, and even writing articles such as this are all legitimate activities. The ethical considerations arise if one neglects the duties for which he has been employed. If the scientist has been employed as a research scientist, he should devote the time necessary to be a good research scientist.
In summary, the Christian scientist is responsible to use the gifts that Cod has given him, He is loyal to his employer and conscientious in performing his duties. While he is not responsible for the actions of his employer, he will attempt to influence these actions for the common good. And, finally, he will put his scientific knowledge at the disposal of the Christian church and of society.
STATEMENT of Richard H. Bube
Dr. Bube is Professor of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, past President of the ASA (1968), and the author of The Human Quest: A New Look at Science and Christian Faith, (Word 1971).
Being a scientist is a difficult calling for anyone today. Perhaps in past years it may have seemed to many that scientists could he simply scientists, investigating the marvels of the natural world with scarcely a thought for the results of their investigations, trusting to the "innate goodness of human nature" (that great and universal fallacy) to put the results to a humanitarian and productive use. There was a kind of Pollyannish optimism that the problems of the human race could he rather immediately solved by the application of scientific research and technology. Once a few of the more serious material needs of the human race could be removed, this same "innate goodness" would express itself in appropriating the results of science for the good of all mankind. It is difficult to see how anyone can retain this misguided optimism today. Of course Christians have always had biblical reasons for rejecting it.
Who Dares to be a Scientist?
A realistic assessment of the world situation today suggests that it is only a Christian who has the basic faith foundation adequate to be a practicing scientist. The Christian is well aware that every advance in knowledge with the potentiality for good has a potentiality for evil that is proportional to the good; that while men of good will are attempting to harness the potentiality for good, others are even more busily engaged in harnessing the potentiality for evil. If every advance of knowledge is capable of bringing as great evil as good, why not simply cease the search? In an impersonal universe in which we happen to be in existence simply as the consequence of meaningless Chance, such a course of action would certainly seem the most reasonable. It is only in a universe in which God is sovereign, that the individual dares to be a scientist, facing the needs of the moment with all the humane skills available in spite of overwhelming pessimism about man's ability to resolve the problems of this world - sustained by the knowledge that the Christian man or woman of science is called to be faithful, and not necessarily to be successful in all they attempt.
The responsibility of the Christian scientist follows from this call to he faithful. The unique responsibility of the Christian scientist arises from the fact that as scientist, he is a producer of knowledge. For this reason the scientist is in a different position from other professionals such as lawyers or doctors, who mediate the consequences of existing knowledge but do not produce it themselves. The lawyer administers the law on behalf of his client, perhaps even without concern for the guilt or innocence of his client, because he is acting as a servant of society that sees the greatest equity in a system of law uniformly applied to all men. The doctor administers medicine on behalf of his client, without concern for the mural status of that client, because he is acting as a servant of a society that sees the greatest equity in a system of medicine applied uniformly to all. But the scientist has more difficult decisions to make. What he does may affect the lives of future generations for years to come.
The scientist, as a producer of knowledge, cannot sit back and let others make all the decisions about its investigation and use. Furthermore, his responsibility dues not begin only when the potentiality for good or evil has been brought into existence, but his responsibility begins back when the potentiality is still only an unrealized speculation. The scientist must feel immediately responsible for the direction and goals of his work; he cannot abdicate and place his responsibility on the shoulders of others in authority over him, such as his supervisor, his employer, his company board of directors, or his government. Any time that an individual scientist devotes his talents in a direction that violates his basic moral conscience, he has given up his choice position as a responsible professional in society, and has become instead a technical prostitute.
The difficulty of being responsible cannot be used as an argument against being as responsible as possible.
The Orders of Responsibility
The scientist has first of all the responsibility of deciding whether to proceed in a given direction and then how to proceed; both of these decisions may involve profound moral and practical issues quite incompatible with the limited or profit-focused motives of his employer. Secondly, once he has decided to proceed, the scientist takes on the responsibility to follow through with efforts to guide the use of the new knowledge in a humanly beneficial way. Scientists resist becoming politicians and activists, but for many there may be no other choice. To attempt to evade this responsibility through simplistic definitions of spheres of responsibility has had enough past failure to discredit it completely.
The Christian scientist is responsible first of all to God, and then to all other humans presently living and destined to live in the future until the return of Christ; only after these responsibilities are weighed, does his immediate responsibility as a paid employee by industry or government deserve his careful attention. The first responsibility, of course, is to God, who calls him to service not primarily in the Christian witness he may share with colleagues or coworkers but in the calling of being a practicing scientist; God's claim is upon the whole man and every aspect of his being. The second responsibility is to other human beings; this is not in competition with responsibility to God, for it is in responsibility to fellow human beings that God commonly calls us to live out our responsibility before Him.
The third responsibility to one's employer, in the light of the two
may lead to heavy decisions indeed; it tears from the scientist all
excuses by which he can rationalize participating in work designed by its very
nature to be harmful to his fellow man. It may force him to leave an employer
rather than fail his responsibility to God and man; it may even force
him to leave
the practice of science itself. It seeks to assure that the scientist will be
not only as responsible as his employer desires, but as responsible
as his relationship
with God and man demands. Here we have another application of the
between Acts 5:29, asserting the basic principle that men must obey God rather
than man, and Romans 13, asserting the basic principle that Christians should
submit as good citizens to the authority they find themselves under.
In the final
crisis, however, for the Christian it must always be a choice of
God's word over
man's word. The scientist truly owes much to his employer, but he owes more to
No Simple Answers
It should not he supposed that simple answers are available for the responsible living of a Christian scientist in today's world; the absence of such simple answers in an imperfect world cannot be taken, however, as a rationale for seeking no answers. The fear of failure to be wholly responsible cannot be taken as the basis for failing to be responsible at all. Nor can it be supposed that being responsible always follows the same pattern; it may call one into greater scientific devotion in order that the full systems effects of potential developments may be understood before it is too late, or it may call one out of scientific work itself in order to function in guiding future research, development and technology.
It must be emphasized that the difficulty of being responsible cannot be used as an argument against being as responsible as possible. The results of basic scientific research in any field can be used for evil as well as good; but the scientist who produces the knowledge has a responsibility to see that it is used for good instead of evil to the best of his ability. Such difficult decisions are not present in most of applied science and engineering, however. Here the goal of the research is clearly chosen; a scientist cannot absolve himself for working on an instrument of destruction on the grounds that knowledge of techniques gained in this way might be used for human preservation. Nor can a scientist working to develop profitable devices without regard to the effect on the environment or without consideration of the benefit of his work to those who are not rich and powerful, absolve himself by claiming that after all he is only being a trustworthy employee.
The responsibility of a Christian scientist is both a burden and a challenge; both an everpresent uncertainty and restlessness of soul, and an opportunity for fulfillment of the human purpose. It demands that in some appropriate way each scientist be responsible both for his own work arid for its consequences.
Bube's Critique of Mcintyre's Statement
One of the most striking absences in McIntyre's statement on the responsibility of a Christian scientist is any discussion of the relationship between the practicing scientist and the consequences of his successful research and development. Except in indirect ways, McIntyre leaves untouched this central issue in such a discussion of responsibility.
Some of McIntyre's statements are not so much wrong as misleading if interpreted simply. For example, he suggests that the selection of an employer should "be based on the opportunities available for the exercise of the gifts of the scientist." Certainly this should be one of the considerations, but hardly the decisive one in making ultimate decisions. Suppose a scientist has to make a choice between a project in which his theoretical and experimental skills would be admirably matched to making a Doomsday machine, and a project with a medical application suitable for his talents, but not likely to offer quite as much in the way of scientific development. Hopefully in such a case, McIntyre's criterion would be overruled, and the scientist would weight his direct foreseeable contributions to human welfare more heavily than the purely technical development of his talents without regard to consequences. This is not an unimportant issue. Many, if not most, promising scientists have chosen employment on the basis of the opportunities afforded of developing their skills with scarcely a thought to the effects of their possible success on the rest of the world. It seems to me wholly consistent with Christian goals to work to raise the social conscience of the scientist or would-be scientist.
Another example of the need for care in interpreting Mcintyre's statement relates to his argument that Christian scientists should be in "all types of work" so that they can be effective as Christian salt. But surely there are some types of work from which a Christian must exclude himself: for example, work in occupations whose principal purpose most be judged sin. An opportunity for employment in which the principal goal was the development of instruments to kill human beings, or the perfection of products harmful to consumers but profitable to producers, or the investigation of techniques destined to be used to dehumanize men and women, must certainly all be avoided by Christians.
The fact that John the Baptist did not advise soldiers coming to him to leave their positions can hardly be used as ultimate evidence that an individual's participation in an organization with immoral purposes is not a matter for his Christian concern. It has been on just such interpretations of Scripture that slavery has been defended - for otherwise "surely Jesus or Paul would have condemned it." We must recognize that the Christian Gospel works itself out in heightened social awareness of its full implications, and the absence of specific condemnations of social practice in the Bible cannot always be taken as ultimately normative.
It is perhaps significant that Mcintyre rules out illegal activities for the Christian, but he does not explicitly make a similar statement for immoral activities. Although a Christian scientist will certainly not ignore the legality of an action, he will find the domain of legal actions larger than the domain of moral actions. To base Christian decisions on legality rather than on
A person's responsibility for group actions is commensurate with his authority and ability to change those actions.
a living relationship with the living God is to adopt legalism beyond
In his argument that the church is an institution in which "each member of the body is responsible only for itself," and that "the Christian's responsibility is limited to his own acts," McIntyre appears to be misinterpreting "responsibility" to mean "guilt." The two are related but they are not identical, To say that I do not directly bear the guilt of immoral acts of someone else in an organization to which I belong is not the same as saying that I am not responsible for doing something about those acts. Paul's exercise of Christian discipline in I Corinthians 5 is a call to members of that congregation to act responsibly with respect to the behavior of a member. In I Corinthians 12:26, he says, "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together."
The relationship between individual and group responsibility is not easily assessed in detail, and depends of course on the specific group involved. To claim that a man is responsible only for his own actions, and never for those of the group in which he lives, or even for the consequences of his actions, is far too broad a claim to make. It would absolve the man who does not use a weapon to kill, but who makes the weapon available knowing that others will use it in this way. (The maker of the weapon should be responsible for what happens to it; if he knowingly passes the weapon along to men who are certain to use it wrongly, then he is also guilty.) It lays the foundation for a society in which each individual continues on his own way, prevented by blinders and tunnel-vision from detecting the inhumanities resulting from a group of individuals all concerned only with their own immediate moral purity. A far more Christian perspective is to recognize that a person's responsibility for group actions is commensurate with his authority and ability to change those actions. The responsibility of a first-century Christian under the Roman Empire for the excesses of Rome is far less than that of a 20th Century Christian in the United States for the excesses of that government. The responsibilities of the individual for the actions of his government is much greater in a functioning democracy than it is in a totalitarian dictatorship. And yet, even under the latter condition, a Christian scientist in Hitler's Nazi Germany working on armaments or gas cremation furnaces could not consider himself free of responsibility and absolved from all guilt because he was only following orders or fulfilling the terms of his employment. A lawyer might choose to defend Hitler in order to demonstrate that government by law is the best that human beings can devise. A doctor might choose to heal Hitler because he had sworn to heal all persons alike. But are there any grounds on which a scientist could make the perfectly legal choice of developing rockets and bombs for Hitler and still remain free of the responsibility and the guilt of Hitler's future use of those weapons?
Mcintyre's Rebuttal to Bube's Critique
I agree with Bube on the issue on which we chiefly disagree, as stated in the first paragraph of his critique. So let me begin by explaining why, in my view, the responsibility of a scientist for the application of his discoveries is greatly restricted if not absent altogether. To be specific, I will use an example with which I am familiar. Suppose a nuclear physicist works for the Atomic Energy Commission. How responsible is this physicist for the use of his discoveries?
There have been at least four areas of application that use phenomena associated with the atomic nucleus: weapons, power, medicine, and civil engineering (explosives). Because of its current interest, let us consider for discussion the social implications of nuclear power. Whether nuclear power is good or bad depends on issues such as the following: the effectiveness of security measures for preventing the theft of nuclear material, the dangers of storing radioactive waste, the probability of a serious nuclear plant accident, the hazards of air pollution by coal-burning power plants, the acceptability of strip mining, the importance of the United States having an independent source of energy, and the wisdom of maintaining a society using large amounts of energy. On issues such as these, the nuclear physicist has no special insight or contribution to make. The issues are concerned with the values held by different parts of society, and the resolution of these issues should be carried out by the political processes of society. It is improper, therefore, for the nuclear physicist to claim a special hearing for his opinions because he happens to he at one end of the complex technical and political process which takes the information developed by the physicist and transforms it into electricity in the home of the consumer.
The selection of nuclear physics also happens to apply to the example that Bube gives in his critique concerning the choice of working on a Doomsday machine or on a medical project. The phenomena of nuclear physics have been used for the hydrogen bomb (the present equivalent of the Doomsday machine) and for nuclear medicine (which is leading to impressive advances in the medical treatment of many diseases). Since the knowledge he develops in the field of nuclear physics will be used for both weapons and medicine, should a Christian scientist work in the field of nuclear physics? Furthermore, when does a weapon cease to be proper (a club for a policeman) and become improper (a Doomsday machine)? Are all nuclear weapons improper? Again, the answers to these questions are hardly the special province of the physicist. If society decides what the answers should be, is the physicist to refuse to participate because he has greater wisdom?
Here we come across a basic problem. In an organized society can each professional group decide for the rest of society what is right and what is wrong? We find longshoremen refusing to unload ships from Russia when the decision about trading with Russia has been assigned by the American people to the State Department and not to the longshoremen. Should the nuclear physicists he the ones to decide whether the United States is to have a nuclear power program? Benjamin Franklin had some wise words to say about this issue as the issue applies to printers,
In an organized society can each professional group decide for the rest of society what is right and what is wrong?
Men have many opinions and printers print them as a part of their business. They are educated in the belief that when men differ in opinion, both sides ought equally to have the advantages of being beard by the public; and that when troth and error have fair play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter. Hence they cheerfully serve all contending writers that pay them well, without regarding to which side they are of the question in dispute . . . . If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sore it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.
Cannot the nuclear physicist, just as the printer, trust the American people, through the political process, to arrive at a proper decision? Of course the American people make mistakes, but is it better to have these decisions made instead by those who happen to be in strategic positions such as the longshoremen, the nuclear physicist, or the printers? Each of these groups sees the world from a limited perspective and, if our society is to avoid the tunnelvision that Bube rightfully deplores, the final decisions on matters such as foreign policy, nuclear power programs and censorship of the press must reside with representatives of all the people.
If then, the scientist has no special contribution to make to any of
of his scientific discoveries, he has the freedom to decide where he wishes to
direct his efforts outside his professional life. Often, because they already
have personal contacts with men dealing with applications of their
work, nuclear physicists have become interested in the problems associated with
these applications. Thus, some nuclear physicists are experts in weapon systems
and disarmament problems, others have become concerned with the
questions of safety
associated with the nuclear power program, others have monitored the
of methods of using nuclear explosions for the extraction of oil from
nuclear physicists, however, have contributed to discussions such as this one
about the responsibility of scientists, others have written about science and
religion, and others have tried to bridge the generation gap. My contention is
that the nuclear physicist working in these latter fields is acting
just as responsibly
as those working on weapons systems, nuclear power, and nuclear
fields happen to be applications of his scientific specialty.
I agree with Bube's statement, "To claim that a man is responsible only for his own actions, and never for those of the group in which he lives, or even for the consequences of his actions, is far too broad a claim to make." Because of my agreement with these remarks, I noted in my initial statement that "except for the few cases where conscience interferes (a pacifist should not work for the Defense Department) all legitimate employment should be considered appropriate." I would therefore say that a scientist working for the Defense Department is responsible for the use of military weapons. However, is the professor who teaches ROTC (military) students in his classroom also responsible for the use of these weapons? And is the scientist who does medical research for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) also responsible? For after all, HEW is an arm of the same federal government that directs the activities of the Defense Department, so that the medical scientist is also working for an employer, the federal government, that uses the military weapons. Finally we get back to every taxpayer (pacifists and all) who pays for the weapons. Is a pacifist, who opposes as best he can the military activities of his government, to be held responsible for those activities? We have the example of Jesus who was sinless and therefore not responsible for the actions of the Roman government whose actions he could not control. The question of responsibility is indeed a complex one.
Bube also raises the question of the proper action of a Christian
Hitler. This question introduces the problem of the possibility of
the government. Since the problem of the proper justification for revolution is
a difficult problem in its own
right, I do not wish to bring it into this discussion.
Finally, I would like to correct any impression I may have made that a Christian's actions should be based on purely legal concerns and not on moral factors. In my Statement, I wished to introduce such moral considerations when I remarked that (1) "a pacifist should not work for the Defense Department", (2) "the Christian must rewind himself of Jesus' admonition, 'Render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's.' The legal canons recognize this limitation on loyalty to the employer when they say that the attorney should not perform any act that is contrary to his conscience.", and (3) "While he is not responsible for the actions of his employer, he will attempt to influence these actions for the common good." I agree completely with Bube that "to base Christian decisions on legality rather than on a living relationship with the living God is to adopt legalism beyond all justification."
Mcintyre's Critique of Bube's Statement
There are many features of Bube's statement with which I am in agreement. His first two paragraphs eloquently state the Christian's realistic but pessimistic view of a world that does not acknowledge God. And the final two paragraphs express perhaps the most important point, that there are no easy answers to the question of responsibility.
However, I do not understand Bube's contention that "the unique responsibility of the Christian scientist arises from the fact that as a scientist, he is a producer of knowledge. In this way he is different from all other professionals, who are users of knowledge but not producers of it."
It is difficult to see that the scientist plays any unique role.
Let us examine, however, the process of the production of knowledge. In the production of knowledge, there must first he the decision to support with funds the search for knowledge; only then can the scientist begin to work. There is a definite relationship between the amount of funding for research and the effectiveness of scientific research. (If there is no such relationship, then the scientists have been misleading the funding agencies of the federal government for a long lime.)
It is difficult to see in this process of knowledge-creation that the scientist plays any unique role aside from the fact that he directs the spending of the money (based on, perhaps, highly complex scientific considerations). Why, then, is the scientist, who produces new knowledge on demand, a different kind of producer than the engineer who produces a new bridge on demand? Or different, for that matter, than Verdi who composed Aida for the celebration of the opening of the Suez Canal? Rather, it would appear that the scientist shares with other creative people the same responsibilities.
Bube's Rebuttal to Mcintyre's Critique
Knowledge is not salvation as the wisdom-religions of past and present claim, but it is power. The user of knowledge has responsibility that it is used properly. The engineer is constrained by his responsibility to build a safe and serviceable bridge; it makes a difference whether the engineer uses existing knowledge to build a bridge or a device to extract confessions from prisoners under torture. The composer is constrained by his responsibility to create a beautiful and challenging work that will uplift man's spirit; it makes a difference whether the composer uses existing knowledge to produce such a musical work or instead writes an obscene musical to degrade human beings. The Christian engineer will refuse the "demand" to build a torture device. The Christian composer will refuse the "demand" to compose an obscene and blasphemous work.
To think of science as "research on demand" reduces the professional to the level of an unthinking technician.
Thus the scientist's position does not differ from that of the engineer because the latter is free of responsibility for his work; rather both scientist and engineer share in the responsibility to pursue their respective tasks with the consequences in mind.
Now it is true that the scientist cannot carry out research without funding, but it is also true that new knowledge cannot be obtained without the scientist. Both the individuals who plan what funding will be available, and the individuals who plan what to do with that funding are uniquely responsible for the production of new knowledge that may result. Since the scientist usually plays some role in both areas (by refereeing proposals and serving on advisory committees as well as by participating in research) he is doubly responsible.
It is probably very difficult if not impossible to exercise such proper responsibility if science is thought of as "research on demand." But such a concept reduces the professional scientist to the level of an unthinking technician. It is the challenge for the creative Christian scientist to make the best possible match between his abilities, the funding available, and the benefit of the human race. If he feels that such a match has become impossible, and that he must work in areas which he personally feels are necessarily detrimental to human beings, then it is time for that Christian responsibly to drop out of science.
Paul K. Jewett
1. I have difficulty limiting the discussion of responsibility on the part of a Christian who is a scientist to his role as scientist (McIntyre). Responsibility seems to me to be a quality of our lives as persons which can hardly be isolated in terms of some specific role; e.g., will a Christian who is a scientist take a job that involves regular Sunday work? Here his responsibility as a scientist overlaps his responsibility as a Christian and a churchmen, does it not?
When scientists have selected the type of work in which "they are doing what they most like to do" (McIntyre), how does one divide his time and energy between this work which he enjoys as a scientist and his responsibility to his family? These questions are raised simply to illustrate my point that responsibility is ours as persons in our several roles.
2. McIntyre seems to reason that (a) Scripture gives the scientist definite guidance as to the work he should do; (b) most people work most effectively doing what they like to do; (e) having sought employment in terms of what is attractive to him, the scientist has selected the type of work that he should do. This reasoning is hardly compelling. I just do not see much of the cross of Christian discipleship in it.
3. McIntyre makes what seems to me to be facile judgments from time to time that would warrant at least a footnote of support and elaboration. For example, he says, "In evangelical terms, there is no division between those in 'full time' and 'part time' Christian service." Are matters that simple? Is there no call to the ministry, no office of ministry? What is the meaning of ordination? Affirmations like this could stand a bit of qualification, it would seem, such as "in my view," or "it seems to me," that there is no division between full time and part time Christian service.
4. McIntyre says, "The Bible indicates that the Christian's responsibility is limited to his own acts." In my judgment, it does nothing of the kind. On the contrary, it ties my responsibility as an individual in with the sin of the whole race, going back to the first Adam. "By the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners" (Rom. 5:12 ff.).
5. I feel more comfortable with Bube's approach to the discussion. As for his affirmation that "it is only the Christian who has the basic faith foundation adequate to be a practicing scientist," this seems a little much to me. Would it not be more tenable to say that the Christian has the most adequate faith foundation to be a practicing scientist. After all, Einstein was hardly a Christian but somehow he managed rather well to practice science, did he not?*
*Note by Bube: I hope that the context shows that I am speaking not
grounding, but about the ambivalence of science. If there is no sovereign God,
we better not expose still greater possibilities for evil.
6. Does the scientist really have, as Bube suggests,
more difficult decisions to make" than the lawyer or doctor? Some of the decisions the Supreme Court justices have had to make recently seem rather difficult, in fact, so much so that many people have had reservations about former President Nixon's candidates for that bench. As for doctors, are they not scientists, and are not medical questions such as those related to abortion, euthanasia, etc., which face doctors some of the most difficult of all to resolve?
Paul K. Jewett School of Theology Fuller Theological Seminary Pasadena, California 91101
My agreement with both Bube and McIntyre is deep and wide; my disagreements might well be reconciled across coffee cups, were that possible. My contribution, for lack of space, is purposely terse. Bube says that "it is only a Christian who has the basic faith foundation adequate to be a practicing scientist". What does this mean? Had he said "practicing Christian scientist", we could hardly disagree, for it is now a tautology, assuming the foundation is Christianity itself. Perhaps he means that the scientist must assume in his chosen field a regularity sufficient to provide the clues for discovery of so-called laws of science. But this kind of presupposition (or faith) is the same for all scientists, Christian and non-Christian. Thus the nonChristian scientist would have the necessary faithfoundation,° But, more seriously, Bube has the Christian scientist responsible not only to God as ultimate Wisdom and Power, but "to all other humans presently living and destined to live in the future until the return of Christ". What a heavy load, if that were true! One wants to ask, does this make it worse than being responsible to God only? And how intense is the responsibility? I should think this conviction might quickly empty the ranks of scientists of the Christians among them, for they would live under the threat of some evil application of their contributions to science. I believe, rather, (with McIntyre) that the Bible teaches the principle of limited responsibility ("to his own acts"). It seems to he partly a matter of God's design, the "Maker's instructions": separation of the personal from the impersonal, the respondable from the un-respondable.
While a man's knowledge is not the only parameter in ethical decision, it does qualify his act: "Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." (Jas. 4:17) Newton, I'm told, suppressed certain scientific knowledge he was virtually sure would be put to evil use. But alas, the calculus which he (and independently Leibniz) invented, has been used to guide many a bomb to its human target. And, with thousands of others, I have taught many students their calculus. Must I lie awake nights wondering whether any of these will use it for wicked purposes?
I believe that God does not load the scientist, or anyone else, with responsibility for what his superiors, including his country's officials, develop from the scientific knowledge he has discovered-except, of course, those superiors and officials for their decisions. If we believe in police action (and I do) to restrain the lawless, then we can hardly oppose manufacture of efficient weapons. The root of limited responsibility, it seems to me, lies in the fact that the Biblical ethic reflects the character and will of God. "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lev. 19:2). And Jesus repeats this command. But the human race is so depraved that "none is righteous, no, not one"; so the fulfillment of the demands of the Biblical ethic is impossible without outside help. As Paul wrote "the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, indeed it cannot" (Rom. 8:7) There is thus no area free from the necessity of God's redemptive grace.
McIntyre says that "if ordered to write a computer program for illegal purposes, the Christian would refuse to do so." In most cases I could think of, I would agree. But in all cases? To agree to this seems to set legality above morality, which I doubt McIntyre wants. The duality of Caesar's things and God's admitted, the only question is how to distinguish one from the other. The mother of Moses disobeyed the law of the land in preserving him; Moses himself later opposed Pharaoh who was the law of the land; Daniel disobeyed his ruler by continuing his worship; and the disciples did similarly with their preaching the gospel. The last-named gave the eternal principle for all such cases: "We ought to obey God rather than man". Here I must agree with Bube that morality supereedes legality (and I believe McIntyre holds it, too). It is well to keep the difference in focus. Each supplements the other, each reinforces the other's authority. As J. N. D. Anderson puts it,
The demands of morality may be said to be maximal, while the requirements of the law most he confined to what is, by comparison, minimal. Morality, for example, enjoins us to love our neighbour as ourselves; but law most content itself with trying to prevent any such speech or action as injures our neighbour's legitimate interests. Again, morality . . . concerns itself not only with what can be seen and judged by men, but also the thoughts, motives and feelings which no-one except God can know or evaluate.
One final nose-tweak: both Bube and McIntyre apparently believe that research
can he done only from (sizable?) funding. It's just as well that some
didn't know this, for it might have curtailed their discoveries. But
we all know
that "big" science is not necessarily good, nor
There are ways of getting some research done, when there is no one to pick up
the tab. (George Washington Carver, come back to teach us how you did so much
with so little! And Banting and Best, show us your little lab under
where, although poor in funds, yet rich in ideas and energy and determination,
you finally gave us insulin, boon to all diabetics!)
Department of Mathematics University of Missouri Rolla, Missouri
My reaction to this Dialogue is that there are larger issues to be decided first. For example, Daedalus in a recent issue published two huge volumes on the future of higher education in America, which directly impinges on all Christian career professors in our universities and scientists too. The most obvious conclusion of those many articles is that the career of a university professor is no longer the paradigm of security. As universities cut hack, they cut back in the science department, and they will cut back Christian professors too! Young people are being counseled today to be adept in three or four skills to keep themselves viable on the job market. If a university career is no longer the paradigm of vocational security, it means Christians interested in science must take account of the situation as it is now. Perhaps in these days Paul would have added to tent making, being a carpenter and a short order cook! With the complications of our society, Christians must think of God's calling in the light of the transitions that university education and the job market are now going through.
A second impression of a larger issue is that of the nature of a university. During the sixties the activists claimed that the universities should be agents of social change. One cannot speak of social change in a university without a theory or theology of social change. I have evangelical friends who are in accord with the thought of the sixties and still want the universities to be such agents of social change. Then there is the concept of the university which looks upon it as a scholars' paradise, isolated from political and economic pressures so pure research can he followed without external pressure. Social change in that kind of situation is much different from the first instance cited. In short whatever we think is the kind of social change that a scientist should help along, will be determined by the kind of university we think is the ideal university.
Thirdly I think Bube has put his finger on the very sensitive issue of the nature of modern science.
We can now go down roads, roads by which we cannot come back. The use of radioactive materials may create conditions we cannot ever correct in many life times. Genetic engineering can go far enough that reversibility is not possible. The ethical responsibility at this juncture is crushing. We have a good idea of the destructive forces in radioactive material but we may need it as part of the solution to the energy shortage. Or to remedy one genetic defect that seems so deleterious may create something even worse which will appear two or three generations later. At this point to say, "Let us pray," is not a trite religious cliche' but mandatory for the awesome possibilities we are dealing with.
The fourth consideration is the matter of responsibility both men discussed. Nazi Germany and American Watergate showed how good men in obedience to the wrong person have no excuse for the evil deeds they do, no matter how much they might have believed in the justice of their cause.
But responsibility is not pinpointed. It vectors in on the scientist because whatever has been prepared up to this point he must now execute. We can name a scientist and say that he did this inhuman thing. But we know responsibility is a never-ending web. And this is true of Christians and Christians as scientists. I think the man who is a Christian and a scientist must understand the web of responsibility in such a setting. This means that he may have to go back in this web to a president, a senator, a governor and say that the buck not only stops here, its starts here. Only as they see the web of responsibility can Christian scientists express their own responsibility in the way it counts, in the way it is fair and in the way it cuts off the evil act at its initiation.
Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19151