Science in Christian Perspective



Energy and The Environment
(B) Barriers to Responsibility

Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Stanford University
Stanford, California 94305

From: JASA 35 (June 1983): 92-100.

In the Western world human beings have been often profligate and irresponsible in energy use. Since it appeared that the source of energy was inexhaustible, waste was a matter of no concern. Since it appeared that the reservoir to receive human waste was inexhaustible, what was done with the environment was a matter of little concern. Since most of the time was spent for so long in conquering nature, it never occurred to people that nature after all was delicate and structured in a way that human victories increasingly destroyed. All too often mankind and the environment were considered as distinct entities; human beings tended to forget that they too were integral parts of the environment. Almost abruptly, over the space of just a few decades, we have found ourselves facing major disruptions associated with energy exhaustion and environmental degradation, and wondering what to do about it.

In this installment we consider some of the main barriers to a responsible use of energy and protection of the environment.
1 We are not concerned here with the specific issues and problems that must indeed be faced on dozens of different fronts to put such a plan into action, but rather with the underlying motivations that lead to actions. We are all so shaped by cultural, political, economic and ethnic factors that we sometimes fail to see the picture except from a distorted perspective, even when we sincerely desire to exercise Christian responsibility.

Probably we should start with the clear disclaimer that we are not claiming that good motives can be a substitute for essential knowledge of the problem. Good motives are necessary, but they are hardly sufficient. Without a careful, often scientific, assessment of the various problems and their proposed solutions, we are unable to apply our best motives intelligently and effectively. The assumption that environmental degradation can be wholly accounted for, for example, by the growth of population-triggering a reduction in population as the only need for reducing such degradation, is made severely questionable by the realization that the increase in environmental pollution over the past twenty years has been many times larger than the growth of population over the same period. The simple recognition that impoverishment of the soil and pollution of nearby water supplies is caused by overfertilization of fields with chemical fertilizers is not sufficient to show how the farmer, who depends vitally on such overfertilization for his economic survival, can both prosper and avoid pollution. The simple recognition that every plastic item ever manufactured has either ultimately to be burned, and thus contribute to air pollution, or else is still somewhere in the land or water masses of the earth, is not sufficient to guide the development of our future culture without plastics. As in all cases where Christian motives are applied to produce intelligent and effective solutions, a great deal of hard knowledge obtained only with difficulty and diligence is essential. Many of our technological problems demand technological solutions applied with humane concern, not just humane concern alone. Commoner,2 for example, makes a convincing case that the large increase in pollution in the last twenty years is not due directly to an increase in population or an increase in affluence, but rather to a drastic change in productive technologies. In this connection Christians particularly should remember the memorable words of James Allcock, "I do not think that either prayer or flair will see you through. There is no substitute for a profound competence at your job and this will be the source of your persuasiveness.3

Neither should we suppose, however, that motivation is not essential. We know in many ways, or are rapidly learning, what it is that we must do,

Technologic man must listen to the Spirit. Earth must be mastered and transformed ... Mastery must include control ... Mastery must also include effective legal and social guarantees ... He must learn to share the goods of this world with his less fortunate brothers in other lands ... Man must return to his senses, He must be willing to count environmental costs into production costs; he must not tolerate exploitation.4

But how and why are people going to do it? We've known in some sense what we must do for a long time: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The weakness is often not in not knowing what we should do; the weakness is in willing to do what we already know we should do. This is essentially a religious problem. The power to break the patterns of selfishness, waste, unconcern, and exploitation can come ultimately through a restored relationship with God in Jesus Christ. That is why the Christian considers the biblical faith to be so crucially relevant to today's pressing crises in this area as in others.


If there is a common philosophico-religious base for the great majority of people living in the Western world, it is that

This continuing series of articles is based on courses given at Stanford University, Fuller Theological Seminary, Regent College, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, Foothill Covenant Church and Los Altos Union Presbyterian Church. Previous articles were published as follows. 1. "Science Isn't Everything," March (1976), pp. 33-37. 2, "Science Isn't Nothing," June (1976), pp. 82-87. 3. "The Philosophy and Practice of Science," September (1976), pp. 127-132. 4. "Pseudo-Science and Pseudo- Theology. (A) Cult and occult," March (1977), pp. 22-28. 5. "Pseudo-Science and Pseudo-Theology. (B) Scientific Theology," September (1977), pp. 124-129. 6. "Pseudo-Science and Pseudo- Theology. (C) Cosmic Consciousness," December (1977), pp. 164-174 7. "Man Corne of Age?" June (1978), pp. 81-87. 8. "Ethical Guidelin ' ; September (1978), pp. 134-141. 9. "The Significance of Being Human

March (1979), pp. 37-43. 10. "Human Sexuality. (A) Are Times A'Changing?" June (1979), pp. 106-112. 11. "Human Sexuality. (B) Love and Law," September (1979), pp. 153-157. 12. "Creation. (A) How Should Genesis Be interpreted?" March (1980), pp. 34-39, 13. "Creation. (B) Understanding Creation and Evolution," September (1980), pp. 174-178. 14. "Determinism and Free Will. (A) Scientific Description and Human Choice," March (1981), pp. 42-45. 15. "Determinism and Free Will. (B) Crime Punishment and Responsibility," June (1978), pp. 105-112.16. "Abortion," September (1981), pp. 158-165. 17. "Euthanasia," March (1982), pp. 29-33. 18. "Biological Control of Human Life," December (1982), pp. 325-331.19. "Energy and the Environment. (A) Is Energy a Christian Issue?" March (1983), pp. 33-37.

of secular materialism. It claims quite simply: to have is to be. Things bring happiness. Buy this and your lives will be complete, happy and sexually fulfilled. "She doesn't own a house, or more than one beat up car, or any really nice things-she must be a failure!" The production, the purchase and the owning of things is constantly pressed upon us as the way to the good life, the beautiful life, the American life. All of this makes genuinely responsible use of the earth's resources quite impossible.

We are all so shaped by cultural, political, economic and ethnic factors that we sometimes fail to see the picture except from a distorted perspective, even when we sincerely desire to exercise Christian responsibility.

A new Christian definition of success is a first necessity in combatting these tendencies, a definition in terms of being rather than in terms of having. We saw in the last installment5 that the biblical picture of ownership is quite contrary to what we ordinarily experience; we in fact never own anything, but at best recognize that we are caretakers of what God has given into our trust for a brief time. Thus success cannot be found in the ownership of things. A person can be said to be successful only if he/she is living within the will of God in the place and in the situation where God has called him/her to live, and when he/she is using the abilities and gifts that have been given to him/her by God responsibly in that place. Surely any man or woman who can truthfully say, "I am in the place where God wants me, doing what God wants, and fulfilling the role to which God has called me," can truly be said to be successful. Such a person can be wealthy or limited financially, in a position of great power and importance or in a position of humble service, having at his/her disposal many things or few, being brilliantly intellectual or simply loving-none of these things are crucial as far as success is concerned.

Once we face our relationship with things seriously, we soon come up against a whole group of issues that cluster around the concepts of necessity and luxury. To each of us comes in one way or another an inflow of goods, whether in the form of money or of products. How much of this inflow is it appropriate for me to spend on myself, my family, my group, my pleasure-and how much on yours? There are no general answers that can be given to these questions that apply to everyone at every time. Each must be decided within the context in which an individual lives before God and out of an informed and lively conscience in relationship with God. We face these questions so seldom, however, generally coasting on cultural normals without further thought, that simply their realization is a valuable beginning.

We could in principle decide that our resources should be spent only on providing the physical necessities of life: food, clothing and shelter. How quickly do "necessities" in these areas arise-former "luxuries" being transformed over night, as it were, into things that are essential for our very existence! Even so, would such a decision be responsible in view of our full understanding of human life? Shall we devote nothing to poetry, music, painting, drama and the other arts? Shall we feed only a starving person's stomach as though he were an animal, and not feed his human aspirations as well? Is it responsible to plan for a person to have every physical and material need supplied-and never to stand on a mountaintop to view a sunrise? The master violinist in a symphony orchestra contributes "nothing" to the physical needs of humanity; shall his position and function therefore be deliberatelv abolished? Yet, how can we delight in the grandeur of opera, while others have never even heard an organ grinder? What fraction of our resources can be dedicated to the aesthetic rather than the physical?

One of the reasons that there are no simple answers to these questions is that no solution exists that would remove the challenge of them. If everyone's present wealth were put into one large pile and then distributed equally to every person in the world, the only result after a few weeks at most would be that we would then all be paupers. In at least some sense, the enjoyment of the good things of this world (not necessarily the expensive things!) is part of the essential meaning of human life.

Economic Barriers

There are two basic approaches to carrying out the requirements of society: competition and cooperation. The curious fact is that both of these approaches, when attempted exclusively, ultimately lead to something quite different and much less satisfactory.

The competition model argues that society is best served as a result of competition between many sources of supply, each trying to gain a larger share of the market and hence a larger profit than its competitors. In the course of this sharp competition, the final product is presumably improved, economies are ensured, and incentive is provided where it counts the most: in the pocketbook.

When this model is chosen, however, it is often found that the final product is degraded because the necessity for profit has made quality an unaffordable luxury, economies are obtained at the benefit of the public and in order to provide larger profits for the relatively small number of wealthy investors, and the foundation is laid for a class-conscious society with the "common man" finding himself crushed between Big Business and Big Labor. Although it is commonly assumed that in this model those who are successful will provide help and support for those who are not, the reverse seems to happen as those who are successful consider their success as a sign of "divine favor" and the failure of others therefore as a sign of their deserved desserts. The consequence of this set of circumstances is that only Big Government is adequate to deal with Big Business and Big Labor and to enforce the observation of minimal rules of social equity. Furthermore the pursuit of unrestrained profit leads to the design and production of short-lived and often ill-designed products, and a continuous and growing demand for the exploitation of energy sources in order to keep production and the market for production in an increasing status. Third World nations are granted their identity as "potential consumers" and the welfare of these nations and their people is not a prime matter of concern. Under the system of competition, which is the system in which simple profit is exalted as the motive for all business enterprise. conservation of energy and care for the environment can be brought about only by making conservation and care more profitable, or by the edict of Big Government. In the unhappy state of affairs in which Big Government joins Big Business and Big Labor in an unholy Big Triumverate, the concerns of the people and the requirements of the environment matter very little indeed.

The curious fact is that both competition and cooperation, when attempted exclusively, ultimately lead to something quite different and much less satisfactory.

The cooperation model, on the other hand, argues that society is best served when people willingly work together for the common good, sharing both talents and the fruits of the applications of these talents, in an atmosphere that cultivates a sense of brotherhood and mutual responsibility among all people.

When this model is chosen, however, it is often found that the spirit of cooperation is not given freely and must be strongly coerced, again by Big Government, in order to make the system work at all. Although cooperation is given strong lip service by almost anyone who reflects on human society, the sad reality is that a sufficiently large portion of society would rather have someone else do their work for them than work for themselves. Even in a Christian context, Paul had to issue the order, "If any one will not work, let him not eat" (11 Thessalonians 3:10). A large industrial enterprise operating under enforced cooperation is a wasteful system, with any desire for conservation, responsibility, and quality production imposed from above rather than arising from the individuals involved. It appears to be a matter of record that every Utopian community starting on the basis of voluntary cooperation, has either passed out of existence or has shifted of necessity to a non-voluntary program based on economic, political, physical or psychological coercion. Even the Christian community described so lovingly in Acts 5:32 ff, which seems the epitome of Christian spirit in practice, passed out of existence and has not been successfully revived on any major scale.

Why should it be that neither the system of competition
nor the system of cooperation is able to function in spite of the obvious theoretical strengths of either? The Christian believes that the biblical insight into the nature of the human being provides a fundamental clue; our intrinsic self -centeredness, often considered to be the essence of biblical "sin," turns either system from a Utopia into a problem society. Competition becomes cut-throat animosity; cooperation becomes selfish laziness.

Neither approach then, by itself, is able to respond to the need for responsibility in the utilization of energy in the future. As long as competition is the motivation of business, and profit is the final goal of all activity, the common welfare has no business advocate. As long as enforced cooperation is the social system, the spirit of individual freedom and responsibility is quenched. Christian principles lead one to consider starting with the approach of cooperation and providing such incentives as are necessary for the development of practical results and the involvement of individuals on a voluntary basis.

What can be done? The answers to this question fill many volumes and even libraries of economic theory and political speculation. A couple of ideas come to mind that are not meant to do more than illustrate the type of creative variations that may be desirable. These ideas may well be criticized as arising from simplicity of concept and economic and political naivete. On the other hand, sophisticated solutions haven't worked too well to date, either!

Reworking Management/Labor Categories. Do away with the categories of management and labor within individual businesses, not by making all workers come under the category of labor, but by bringing all workers under the category of management, i.e., enabling all workers to be owners of the enterprise with which they are associated. Initially the capital outlay may come from one individual or small group of individuals, but as the company grows, the other members of the company become part-owners as well. In this way all participants in the company profit when the company profits, and all suffer when the company suffers. This approach, already in limited practice, aims at removing the working class vs ruling class distinctions so often destructive in a free enterprise system. It retains the pursuit of profit, but acts to make the profit directly applicable to the general welfare, rather than the property of a privileged few. It encourages the spirit of cooperation rather than competition among the participants in a particular business venture.

Alternative Payments. It may well be objected that reworking management /labor categories as above, even if systematically carried out, does not eliminate the problem of competition between companies. Following the suggested route simply broadens the base of cooperation from the individual or the family to the group of business associates, but if anything, accentuates the competition between business groups. This is true, and to deal with such competition between groups, a still more radical change is needed. An alternative must be found for payment for work well done to the only payment effective today: money. For too long society has regarded money as the only acceptable measure of success. This attitude afflicts even the women's liberation movement with the sometimes unfortunate emphasis on a woman's participation in a money-making job as the source of her identity. The ability to reverse present trends requires the recovery of a sense of achievement in public recognition of a job well done, of a sense of pride in a quality performance, of a feeling of satisfaction from having contributed to the full extent of one's ability to the task. Competition between companies should not be eliminated; it should be redirected. It should become competition, not for the greatest financial profit, but for the greatest contribution to the special situation. And even this competition, which also can get out of hand, needs to be leavened by a system in which such public recognition is generously distributed for all kinds of contributions corresponding to all kinds of abilities.

It is fairly universally accepted in a profit-oriented, competitive society, that a person with greater gifts of talent should receive greater payments of money than a person with lesser gifts. Perhaps the principle itself might be disputed, but foregoing that I would like to argue merely for steps to shrink the difference between the maximum and minimum incomes. When the complaint is made that a person with only vocational training makes more money as a plumber than a scholar with a Ph. D. after 10 years of post- high school study, a fallacious set of values is being espoused. What the scholar has "bought" by his dedication and long years of study is not the right" to a larger income, but the opportunity to occupy himself in a scholarly profession capable of giving personal satisfaction in ways commensurate with his abilities and his possibility of contributing to society. If it is desirable, as to some extent I think it is, to equilibrate the aesthetic plus financial rewards of various occupations, it is not unreasonable to suppose that those necessary occupations with the least aesthetic satisfaction should receive special financial rewards. The goal of this exercise is not to give everyone the same income regardless of ability or effort, but rather to encourage in every possible way the attempt to provide substitutes for financial remuneration as the only measure of success, and the only measure of a job well done.

In such a context it may become possible to make recognition for responsible action in energy conservation and utilization, for environmental protection and concern, the accepted goals of organized efforts, rather than the begrudged stepchildren who are tolerated as long as they do not cut into the profits.

Nationalism, Racism and Ethnicism

Nationalism (exaltation of nation), racism (exaltation of race), and ethnicism (exaltation of ethnic background) can be grouped together as analogous challenges to the responsible use of energy. They correspond to putting some group of people above the welfare of all people, whether that group be the nation, the race, or the ancestral background, respectively. In each case the preservation of the welfare of the group takes priority over all other possible responsibilities.

In our culture, nationalism is frequently falsely equated with patriotism. The unfortunate consequence has been a decrease in patriotism through a resistance to this limited view of nationalism. Yet the difference between nationalism and patriotism is easily stated. Patriotism means a love for country, a desire for its welfare, and the willingness for the devotion of whatever means are necessary for the improvement of the country that do not conflict with more basic responsibilities. Patriotism loves country as I might love California, but it does not place country above the world anymore than I would put the interests of California above those of my fellow Americans in other states. Nationalism absolutizes the virtues of patriotism, proclaims, "My country, right or wrong!" and demands allegiance to the welfare of the country (as perceived by some) even when that allegiance demands actions harmful to other nations. Nationalism is a spirit of competition on the world level, untempered by cooperation between nations except where one's self-interest is served. Exactly analogous statements may be made about racism vs appreciation of racial heritage, and ethnicism vs. appreciation of ethnic background, and need not be repeated. In each case we need a decreasing consciousness of the separations caused by nations, races, and ethnic emphases, and an increasing consciousness of the basic unity of the entire human race.

Nationalism threatens the responsible use of energy because it demands that one nation's energy utilization be maintained and expanded even at the expense of all other nations' energy needs. Calls for the United States to become energy independent, a natural goal for nationalism, become suspect when one begins to inquire as to the cost for the rest of the world. The United States has 6% of the world's population but uses more than one-third of the world's energy. More than half of the energy consumed in the United States is discarded as waste heat. Energy consumption in the U.S. has doubled over the past 20 years, and over 20% of this energy is involved with the automobile. By continuing our inordinately large share of the world's energy, and in fact continuing efforts to increase or at least maintain that share, what are we deciding as far as the rest of the world is concerned? Nationalism hardly sees it in the interests of the native country to "allow" undeveloped Third World countries to have control over the energy resources in and around their countries. By unifocal efforts to make one's own country Number One, not only does one become committed to non-Christian attitudes and actions toward others in the world, but one's own goals growing out of authentic patriotism are frustrated rather than advanced.7

Support of Scientific Research

Many of the problems raised by consideration of the energy and the environment are indeed political ones, but there are also many problems that are susceptible to scientific investigation. In such a situation, basic questions need to be asked about the support and direction of scientific research. By whom should science be supported? To what extent should science be supported? What is the relative value of "basic" research vs technological applications? To what extent should imminent possibility of practical results be the criterion for the support of a scientific endeavor? In what ways does the scientist bear personal responsibility for the uses to which the results of his work are put? These are very practical questions, of interest to Christian and non-Christian alike; all offer a challenge for the application of Christian principles to the removal of barriers against energy development and conservation, and environmental protection.

Up until the last century the scientists have been either independently wealthy or have been supported by wealthy patrons. This was a workable system when scientists numbered only a small minority of the total population. Today, however, we are told that 90% of all the scientists (taking that term generally, I am sure) who have ever lived, are alive now. Many of these scientists are supported by private industry and are paid out of profits made as a result of their scientific and engineering work-at least over the long period. But a large proportion of scientific work is supported either directly (in government laboratories) or indirectly (in research contract funds to private and public universities) by the federal government out of tax money, i.e., by the ordinary taxpayer. What fraction of the national economy can safely be committed to the support of science, what fraction must be committed to maintain desired progress in the future, and how should this support be divided between the possible areas of research?

It may become possible to make recognition for responsible action in energy conservation and utilization, for environmental protection and concern, the accepted goals of organized efforts, rather than the begrudged stepchildren who are tolerated as long as they do not cut into the profits.

There are at least two reasons why a definite balance must be maintained between the effort to obtain a basic understanding and the effort to apply present understanding to a multitude of possible practical goals. The first reason is that science is a valid technique for gaining understanding, and the increase of understanding must always be to some extent the concern of the collective society as well as of individuals. The second is that continued technological advancement can occur only on the basis of a continued growth of understanding.

The need for a balance between support for the sake of basic understanding and for the sake of technological advancement is illustrated by the cases of nuclear physics and space science. Every year brings the request for a larger and more energetic instrument to probe deeper into the heart of nuclear structure. Each new instrument requires a greater and greater capital investment. Obviously this continued escalation cannot be justified indefinitely. When the next requested nuclear facility requires a major fraction of the national income for its construction, a halt will come in a very natural way. The space program offers an exciting and unlimited prospect for increasing our knowledge of the universe; realistic evaluations of our limited resources, however, have greatly curtailed the original plans. Of course, when the fraction of the national income spent on scientific research is compared with other aspects of the government budget, one quickly realizes that no major excesses in spending in this direction threaten us. One further quickly realizes that major spending on scientific and engineering projects is closely linked to the perceived military interests of the country. Much of scientific research today is motivated by one of two simple questions: (1) does the research promise financial profit in the near future (if supported by private industry), or (2) does the research promise contributions to the military program (if supported by the government)? It is possible to point to other government support of scientific endeavors that does not fit this criterion, but the fractional support is small indeed. The pressure toward applied science and engineering is great.

For many years a large fraction of scientific research has been supported under the aegis of a contribution to the national defense. It was far easier to obtain funds for research if it could be correlated with military programs, than if only a vague correlation with general human welfare or understanding could be established. Such military funding has supported a great deal of basic science, but the result is that much research that might more properly have been supported as a basic contribution to understanding, has been as a practical matter supported as a contribution to the military effort. This means that the choice of research subjects and the direction of research efforts tends to be more or less directly influenced by the military in a proportion out of balance with essential needs. Today a shrinking budget is directed toward problems in connection with the energy needs of the country, dispensed by agencies other than those of the military, and the major share of this budget is being invested in the possible development of nuclear energy sources.8 In the next installment we will consider some of the specific problems related to nuclear energy.

A few short years ago manned exploration of space was viewed as a major program to comprehend the mysteries of the universe and to demonstrate human dominion over everything that could be brought within reach. In the brief interval since men first walked on the moon, the world has been brought to the realization that there are limits to what people can do-not limits necessarily of human imagination and desire, but limits of physical resources available for the testing of that imagination and the realization of those desires. The travel of human beings to the moon might be viewed as one of the more idealistic ventures of mankind. It lifted human beings from the earth to new heights in the universe for the thrill of achievement and the hope of knowledge. How sobering it is to realize that our space program from the very beginning was stimulated by military concerns, that its glamorous facade sometimes resembled an ancient circus, designed to take our minds off the fact that the space program was in large measure direct competition with the Soviet Union for nationalistic dominance of space and a means for providing support during a few years of peace for an industry previously committed to instruments of war. Reflection might lead us to wonder whether the expenditure of the money and energy resources to put humans on the moon can be justified when the expenditure of much smaller amounts is begrudged to keep men and women from dying on earth. Today all wraps are off; the space program is almost totally dedicated to military interests. It is true that valuable byproducts did come as a result of the space-oriented research, but is also remains a live question whether or not they could have been achieved with less cost by the support of other earth-related programs.

  The Responsibility of Scientists

Being a scientist is a difficult task, especially today. For a time it seemed that scientists could be simply scientists, investigating the marvels of the natural world with scarcely a thought for the results of their investigation, trusting that somehow knowledge was equivalent to goodness, and that their results would be put to a humanitarian and productive use. The subject of the responsibility of the individual scientist is a big one and certainly not limited to questions of energy and the environment; these areas do emphasize in a particular way this responsibility, however, and it is appropriate to make a few remarks in this context in preparation for a consideration of the broader issue of a Christian response to evil to be discussed in the final installment of this series.9

As the producer of knowledge and potentialities for good or evil, the scientist is in a uniquely different position from other professionals.

It is abundantly clear that every advance with the potentiality for good has a potentiality for evil that is probably proportional to the good. It is also clear that while men of good will are attempting to harness the potentiality for good, others are as busily engaged in harnessing the potentiality for evil. Every increase in knowledge is dangerous. The scientist, the producer of this potentiality, cannot sit back and let non-scientists make all the decisions about the uses of it. Scientists resist becoming politicians and activists, but for some there may be no other choice. Some may indeed be driven even to the giving up of science if their own context totally prevents an honest expression of conscience and life motivation.

The responsibility of the scientist must be construed, as for all others, in terms of his or her respond-ability. Since the scientist is the producer of the potentiality, his/her responsibility does not begin only when the potentiality has been brought into existence, but back when the potentiality is still only an unrealized speculation. The scientist must feel immediately responsible for the direction and goals of his work; she cannot abdicate and place this responsibility on the shoulders of others in authority over her, such as her supervisor, her company board of directors, or the 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 a technical prostitute instead.

Such a position is in sharp contrast to the course of events when a scientist regards himself and is regarded simply as an employee.10,11 As the producer of knowledge and potentialities for good or evil, however, the scientist is in a uniquely different position from other professionals such as lawyers or doctors, who mediate the consequences of knowledge and ethics 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 svstem of law uniformly applied to all men. The doctor administers medicine on behalf of his client, without concern for the moral status of that client, because she is acting as a servant of a society that sees the greatest equity in a system of medicine uniformly applied to all. But the scientist has far more difficult decisions to make. What he does may affect the lives of future generations for years to come. Certainly the "first obligation" of a Christian scientist is to God, and not to his employer. Here we have another application of the familiar tension between Acts 5:29, asserting the basic principle that we 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 law over human law, and the claim that it is moral, or required, because it is legal according to human law is a deceptive claim indeed.

The relationship between individual and group responsibility is not easily assessed, and depends of course on the specific group involved. To claim that a person is responsible only for his own actions, and never for those of the group in which he lives, is far too broad a claim to make. It would absolve the person who does not use a weapon to kill, but who makes the weapon available knowing that others will use it in this way. It lays the foundation for a society in which each individual continues on her 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 in the Roman Empire for the excesses of Rome is far less than that of a 20th-century Christian living in the United States for the actions of this country. The responsibilities of the individual for the actions of the government is much greater in a functioning democracy than it is in a totalitarian dictatorship. And yet, even under the latter condition, I would have hoped that a Christian scientist in Hitler's Germany working on armament would not consider himself absolved from guilt because he was only following orders or fulfilling the terms of his employment contract. A lawyer might conceivably choose to defend Hitler in order that the law might have full opportunity for functioning; a doctor might conceivably choose to heal Hitler because he had sworn to heal all persons alike." But there are no grounds on which a scientist could choose to develop rockets and bombs for Hitler and remain free of the responsibility for Hitler's future use of these weapons.

The scientific community at large has become increasingly aware of the responsibility of a scientist. The constitution of the American Physical Society, for example, said only

The object of the Society shall be the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics.

An amendment adds the words,

in order to increase man's understanding of nature and to contribute to the enhancement of the quality of life for all people. The society shall assist its members in the pursuit of these humane goals and it shall shun those activities which are judged to contribute harmfully to the welfare of mankind.

Brave-and perhaps empty-words, but there is a growing consensus that the pursuit of science does not take place in a vacuum, but must be related to the welfare of the society that supports it. Personally, I would terminate the above amendment after the words, "humane goals," on the grounds that judging which activities might "contribute harmfully to the welfare of mankind" is an essentially impossible task.

Current practices in funding university -based research in the United States are inefficient and inferior to the practiced in most other major countries in the world.

Human and Environmental Values

A final reflection on the responsible use of energy resources centers on the intrinsic value of the natural world and the relationship of this value to human values, Three major models exist with fairly direct consequences if consistently followed.

In the first model the natural world has value only because of its usefulness to human beings. This can be a fairly broad view, including not simply the grossest forms of environmental exploitation, but even efforts to preserve the environment based only on the conviction that conservation is in the best selfish interest of human beings. Of course the natural world does have a value because of its relationship to human beings, but the position that this is the only source of its value-like that position that the individual has value only because society gives it-is ultimately insufficient to meet the requirements of a total worldview.

In the second model, which is often advanced in reaction against the first, the natural world is considered to have the same value as human beings. Usually advanced in the pantheistic framework of Eastern religions, this view attempts to remove the lordship of mankind over the natural world by identifying mankind with the natural world and frequently divinization both. Although the divinization of the natural world might be conceived as raising it to identification with mankind, the final effect is to dehumanize mankind to the level of the natural world.

Neither the view that exalts mankind over nature or that reduces mankind to nature is the view presented by the biblical record. It is recognized that nature has intrinsic value as nature because of Creation; a tree has value as a tree because God made it as a tree. The value of nature to mankind is then a second source of value in addition to this intrinsic component. Second, it is recognized that on the level of creation mankind is part of the natural world and cannot ever forget this interdependence, but as the only creature made in the image of God, man and woman are also distinct from nature and responsible for its care before God. Francis Schaeffer has dramatically captured this relationship in the words,

But I must be clear that I am not loving the tree or whatever is standing in front of me, for a pragmatic reason. It will have a pragmatic result, the very pragmatic results that the men involved in ecology are looking for.... When we have learned this-the Christian view of nature-then there can be a real ecology; beauty will flow, psychological freedom will come, and the world will cease to be turned into a desert. Because it is right, on the basis of the whole Christian system-which is strong enough to stand it all, because it is true-as I stand and face the buttercup, I say, "Fellow creature, fellow creature, I won't walk on you. We are both creatures together."13


Great cultural patterns and convictions stand in the way of the responsible care of planet earth, patterns and convictions that commonly aspire to the status of religious categories in the lives of those who hold them. Materialism is usually accepted without reflection as the guiding principle for success in life, but materialism values "the thing" above all else and will sacrifice all for the possession of more things. Profit-making as the sole motivating spirit of economics and production in a competitive system cannot afford to be consciously responsible if profits are threatened, and automatic responsibility as a natural consequence of the system appears to be a discredited illusion. All economic systems founder on the basic self-centeredness of the human heart, and Christian realism demands inclusion of this reality in any attempts to improve the system. Nationalism, racism and ethnicism are all other ways in which individual self-centeredness without concern for others is generalized to a larger group and made a virtue rather than a vice.

A special responsibility falls upon those in charge of scientific research and technological development. There is both the responsibility to use resources wisely in the pursuit of basic understanding and practical applications, and the responsibility of choosing projects that appear to maximize benefits to the human race. A scientist cannot simply sell his talents to any legal bidder without becoming responsible for the outcome of his investigations. To be a practicing scientist or engineer in certain situations may well not be an honorable profession.

A Christian view of human responsibility with respect to the environment is based on the biblical doctrine of Creation. The natural world has value in itself because it was made in the form it has by God Himself. Mankind is not the owner of the natural world, nor is the only purpose of the natural world to serve him. God has provided the resources of the world for the benefit of people, and has entrusted them with the responsibility of caring for these resources so that they may be used in the best way for all people. We must not forget that we are part of the natural world and hence are direct participants in the ecology, and that we are responsible for the natural world in a way assigned to no other creature. Such human awareness cannot be evoked, however, by an intellectual enumeration of the things that must be done in order to save the earth from further pollution and exploitation; a knowledge of what must be done must be coupled with a personal will to do it, a motivation that has no ultimate source except a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.


1Portions of this installment are based on R.H. Bube, "A New Consciousness: Energy and Christian Stewardship," journal ASA Supplement 1 (1976), p. 8

2Barry Commoner, The Closing Circle: Nature, Man and Technology, Bantam (1971)

3James F. Allcock, "A Christian in Industry," Journal ASA 29, 139 (1977)

4 A.J. Fritsch, A Theology of the Earth, CLB Publishers (1972), pp. 6-3,64.

R.H. Bube, "Science and the Whole Person. Part 19. Is Energy a Christian Issue?" journal Asa 35, (1983)

6A.L. Hammond, W.D. Metz and T.H. Maugh, 11, Energy and the Future, AAAS (1973)

7 James W. Skillen, "Security and Morality in Planning for US Defense,Journal ASA 24, 84 (1982)

8Current practices in funding university-based research in the United States are inefficient and inferior to the practice in most other major countries of the world. Every research project must be obtained through proposals to government or industrial agencies by the investigator involved; this is the only source of funds for research in most institutions. Such proposals when finally granted usually have a term of only one or two years, before proposals must again be written if an extension is desired. Far more efficient would be basic institutional grants to cover every faculty member with a sufficient basic amount to support, for example, two students; faculty desiring to expand their programs beyond this basic amount could then pursue the proposal route as at present.

9It is somewhat remarkable how the fallacious optimism about the "innate goodness" of human nature lies at the root of so many of mankind's attempts to solve its problems. The liberal politician believes that if the causes of poverty and hunger are removed, then the innate goodness of human nature will assert itself and remove all causes of strife and discord. The conservative politician believes that if the individual is left free of control to develop according to his individual initiative, the innate goodness of human nature will lead him to share with others for the benefit of all. The Communist is relying in principle on the innate goodness of human nature to finally achieve the ideal of the socialist state. Neither the biblical record nor the historical record offer much support for such optimism.

10John A. McIntyre, "Is the Scientist for Hire?" in The Scientist and Ethical Decision, C. Hatfield, ed., InterVarsity Press (1973), p. 57; John A. McIntyre and Richard H. Bube, "What Is a Christian's Responsibility as a Scientist?" Journal ASA 27, 98 (1975)

11Samuel C. Florman, Blaming Technology, St. Martin's Press, N.Y. (1981), Chapter 15.

121n the unique circumstance of Hitler, one might well debate whether either the lawyer Or the doctor could, in view of their larger knowledge, responsibly maintain professional neutrality.

13Francis A. Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man: A Christian View of Ecology, Tyndale, Wheaton, Illinois (1970), pp. 92, 93


I . Can any major change in society's attitude toward materialism be expected as long as there is no change in the advertising seen in newspapers, heard on radio, or seen and heard on TV?

2. How does the knowledge that Americans use six times more energy per person on the average than anyone else in the world affect you? Does it make you more determined to hang onto this possibility in the future, or does it lead you to resolve to use as much less energy as you can possibly manage regardless of what anyone else does?

3. It has been suggested that no Christian has the right to build up a bank account to cover the large expenses required for his children's education -hen this money could be put to use to keep starving people elsewhere in the world alive How do you respond to this suggestion?

4. Define a "luxury" as contrasted to a "necessity." Is it proper for a person's definition of human " to change with his economic status? Is it possible to define "luxury" in such a ~ay that is is applicable to specific items in the lives of all people" Is there any ethical reason to limit our "luxuries," and if so, where do you draw the line?

5. In today's Western societv, it is commonly assumed that a successful person will advance continuously throughout life to positions of greater administative responsibility, requiring greater commitments of time, and paying higher salaries Will society accept a person . ho arrives at a certain level of responsibility and duties and then decades not to advance further, but to spend time and energy in a variety of alternative pursuits of value to him personally as well as to others" Can such a person be called successful?

6. Would you take a job doing something you don't like if it paid twice as much as your present job which you do like? If you said no, how much more would it have to pay before you would say yes?

7. Would a world m which there was a virtually unlimited source of energy (as, for example, from successful nuclear fusion reactors) necessarily be a more trouble-free world than our present one? Why?

8. In his book 2001 author Arthur Clark compares mankind's venture into space as an evolutionary quantum step forward comparable to the first time that a pre-human creature first realized the value of a tool or weapon. Do you see such significance in this activity? How much additional support should be given to human trips into outer space?

9. Consider the relationship between the responsibility of the person in Nazi Germany who ordered that Jews be taken to the gas chambers, and the person in Nazi Germany who was in charge of designing the functioning of these gas chambers for maximum efficiency in ending human life. Not only were both persons acting in accord with the contemporary Nazi legal system, but both were acting under direct orders from their superiors. Does the principle established in the Nuremberg Trials have general applicability to this kind of situation?

10, A friend of mine left his position as a research scientist for a large industrial laboratory because he felt that he was contributing there only to the development of esoteric products of use to the very rich; instead he started his own small business laboratory dedicated to products of general utility and to projects of social value. Was he wise or foolish in taking this action? is he an oddball or an example to be emulated?

11. What gives a person the right to cut down a tree? Does it matter what the cut tree will be used for? Consider the response according to each of the three positions described in this installment.