A Crisis of Conscience
Richard H. Bube
for Christians in Science
Department of Materials Science & Engineering
Stanford, California 94305
on Science and Christian Faith, 41:11-19 (1989)]
©1996 by the American Scientific Affiliation
This paper was originally presented at the ASA 1988 Annual
Weapons, and Hope: Christian Perspectives"--as the opening address
of the conference.
Dealing with crises of conscience for Christians
in science requires a prophetic approach. Although there are serious crises
arising from areas related to the theme of this conference on "Science,
Weapons, and Hope: Christian Perspectives," the subject itself has
far greater significance and implications. The possibility for crises of
conscience implies an authentic responsibility borne by Christians in science
based upon a fundamental stewardship that is ours as Christians. Crises
arise out of the tension between the realization that in a sinful world
any increase in knowledge is potentially dangerous, and the realization
that if science did not exist, Christians would have to invent it to fulfill
their obligations in the world. Crises of conscience appear when Christians
in science see directly the probable harm that will result from their work.
We pose the guideline question: "If a scientist would not approve the
use of a process or device if developed, shouldn't he refuse to work on
its development?" We consider examples of crises of conscience in several
different areas of science, with particular attention to weapons research
and development as a response to evil in the world. A constant pitfall is
"religious pragmatism," which is based on a religious context
and admits the direction of the biblical teaching on a particular issue,
but concludes that this direction is not practical in the sinful world in
which we live.
The opportunity to address the subject, "Crisis of Conscience for Christians
in Science," as the opening address of a conference dedicated to the
subject of "Science, Weapons, and Hope: Christian Perspectives,"
is a challenging one indeed. It is challenging because it is particularly
in these crises of conscience that the Christian position is most dramatically
put to the test. It is in these crises of conscience that we are most strongly
challenged to find out whether our proposals for the integration of input
from authentic science and authentic Christian theology are really acceptable
At the same time, such a discussion of crises of conscience is challenging
simply because "crises" are the subject. To admit that crises
exist is to admit that Christians have a hard time deciding the appropriate
courses of action. To admit that Christians have a hard time deciding is
to admit further that in any gathering such as this there will be a wide
range of Christian convictions, some of them held with devout dedication.
The temptation to lay out final resolutions for all crises, in a take-it-or-
leave-it way, is likely to produce only a polarization among Christians.
I trust that we will all be very conscious of the unity of all those who
truly commit themselves to Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit, and will be
able to come from this conference with a renewed dedication to Christ, one
another, and the living out of His Way. It is through conferences such as
this that the Holy Spirit is pleased to guide His people.
And yet there is a need to speak almost prophetically, being as honest and
forthright as possible. Crises of conscience arise very often in connection
with "Science, Weapons, and Hope," but they are by no means limited
to this area for Christians in science. I would like to share with you,
therefore, a general view of crises of conscience, and then to give some
examples from particular areas, among which one of the most common is the
subject of this conference.
Finally, I would leave you with two major thoughts: For Christians in science
to have crises of conscience is a sign of Christian maturity. For Christians
in science to act decisively on the basis of such crises of conscience,
not succumbing to what I will call "religious pragmatism," is
a sign of Christ's power in their lives.
The Issue of Responsibility
To speak of a crisis of conscience as a Christian in science implies
that Christians in science have a particular responsibility both because
they are Christians and because they are in science. It is this kind of
dual or overlapping sense of responsibility that underlies many of the discussions
of the members of the American Scientific Affiliation. If we were only
Christians, we would perhaps not have the knowledge or the involvement in
science to make meaningful decisions. And, of course, if we were only
scientists, we would not have the biblical guidelines that characterize
lives lived in response to the call of Christ. It is because we are both
Christians and scientists that we cannot avoid attempts to clarify
the nature and the extent of our responsibility.
Being a Christian in science is a difficult task, perhaps especially today.
For a time, we could relax in the assurance of a scientific mythology--of
which I say more later--that it is enough for Christians in science simply
to investigate the marvels of the natural world, thinking God's thoughts
after Him, with scarcely a thought for the results of their investigations.
In this somewhat naive approach, Christians in science could trust that
somehow knowledge produced goodness, and that the results of their work
would be put primarily to a humanitarian and productive use.
Reflection, however, indicates to us immediately 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 people of good will are attempting
to develop the potentiality for good, others are as busily engaged in developing
the potentiality for evil. Every increase in knowledge is inherently dangerous.
The only way to be sure of not contributing to the use of new knowledge
for evil is to avoid all efforts to obtain new knowledge in the first place.
Although there are certainly areas of human investigation where a simple
cessation of activity is the informed response of Christians in science,
it is clear that the general responsibility of Christians and the Christian
community to meet the needs of the people in the world cannot be met by
advocating a simple end to all science. If, in fact, science did not exist,
Christians would have to invent it in order to be faithful to their call
to be stewards of the earth for God and their fellow human beings. Excellent
cases have been made for the historical premise that one of the main contributors
to modern science was the Judaeo-Christian world view.[2,3]
Here is a tension that cannot be resolved by some simple choice of one extreme
or the other, but must be recognized and lived out constantly by a walk
in faith down a middle path.
Once we recognize that the responsibility of Christians in science rests
upon their unique role as stewards of God's creation, we must conclude that
this responsibility imposes certain concerns and actions upon Christians.
Scientists, the producers of the potentiality for good or evil, 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 giving up science
at some place and at some time, if their own circumstances totally prevent
an honest expression of conscience and commitment to Christ.
The responsibility of Christians in science must be construed in terms of
their respond-ability. Since scientists are the producers of the
potentiality for good or evil, their responsibility does not begin only
when the potentiality has been brought into existence, but it begins back
when the potentiality is still only an unrealized speculation.
Scientists must feel immediate responsibility for the direction and goals
of their work. They cannot abdicate and place this responsibility on the
shoulders of others in authority over them, such as their supervisors, their
company board of directors, or their government. Any time that scientists
devote their talents in a direction that violates their basic moral conscience,
they have given up their choice position as responsible professionals in
society and have become technical prostitutes instead. In the final crisis,
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, or even allowed, because it
is legal according to human law is a deceptive claim indeed.
Crises of conscience arise when scientists directly see the probable
harm that will result from success in their research and development
work. Should they refuse to work on the project? Should they continue to
work, but plan actively to influence the use of the results?
Every advance with the potentiality for
good has a potentiality for evil that is
probably proportional to the good.
I suggest the following question as a way of summarizing these ideas: "If
a scientist would not approve the use of a process or device if
it were developed, shouldn't he refuse to work on its development?"
Crisis for the Ideals and Identity of Science
In any discussion of crises of conscience for Christians in science, we
must step back far enough to recognize that there is a fundamental crisis
in both the ideals and the identity of science today. Since this basic crisis
has so many implications for specific problem areas, we need to consider
it first of all.
In the final crisis, for the Christian it
must always be a choice of God's law
over human law.
In the past few decades, science has changed from being a quasi-neutral
pursuit of understanding of the universe to the situation where today's
scientists and engineers--the largest number ever living at one time since
the beginning of the world--are controlled either by the economic concerns
of big business or the military concerns of big government. This situation
has profound effects on both what science is and what scientists do. Christians
must consider whether the actual opportunities available in a scientific
career merit--or perhaps even allow--their participation. In view of the
ambiguity of science and its ability to provide the means for evil as well
as good in the world, it is inevitable that Christians should repeatedly
ask "Is this a worthy life's activity for me?" Young Christians
particularly need to be aware of these issues as they consider what vocation
is most consistent with their Christian commitments.
I cite just two examples from my own recent experience at Stanford University.
All the members of the graduating class this year were invited to consider
making a voluntary pledge that when they considered their future employment,
they would take account of the ecological impact of that employment.
My other example is the comment of a Christian graduate student in my department,
whom I invited to list several of his personal "cries of conscience."
His first entry was as follows: "As a graduate student investing large
amounts of time and money to specialize in high technology, I feel that
time and money are being diverted from the solution of major human problems,
such as hunger and inadequate housing and sanitation. In addition, the discoveries
I make and the work I do may actually make the above problems worse rather
At least over the first fifty years of this century, a definite concept
of what it meant to "do science" developed and was taught in our
schools, colleges, and universities. It is still probably the dominant meaning
being taught today, on the basis of which career choices men and women are
making. People are led to believe that there are many opportunities to make
a career out of increasing our understanding of the natural world. They
are led to believe that such a career is accepted as being beneficial to
society, both for the general contribution to human understanding and also
to providing a fund of knowledge upon which those involved in more applied
pursuits can draw. The implication is that the support of such scientific
research is a priority of the collective society, expressed through government
grants and contracts, and also of the various technologically oriented industries,
which recognize the importance of building a basis of understanding for
This view of science may well be much too self-serving and idealistic to
represent the actual state of affairs in the real world over any appreciable
length of time. It may, in fact, simply be a kind of "scientific mythology,"
which may continue to be perpetuated by word of mouth even though actual
societal practice denies it.
Today's scientists and
engineers ... are controlled either by
the economic concerns of big business
or the military concerns of big
But two major developments of the past few decades, the industrialization
and the militarization of science, have so changed the general perspectives
of a scientific career, that crises of conscience among those involved in
such careers are not uncommon. We find that much of scientific research
today is motivated by one of two simple questions: (1) does the research
promise financial profit in the near future (the industrialization of science)
or (2) does the research promise contributions to the military program (the
militarization of science)?
After the second World War, many of the major industries in the United States
entered into a program of setting up and encouraging major research laboratories
with the goal of developing applied science. A student graduating with an
advanced degree in science in the late 1940's and 1950's could consider
employment by a variety of industrial laboratories such as Bell Labs, General
Electric, RCA, Sylvania, GTE, US Steel, Eastman Kodak, Rockwell, Xerox,
Texas Instruments, and may more, all which had basic and applied research
groups of a major size. University research laboratories were dedicated
to the pursuit of basic science as a contribution to society and as an educational
medium for students.
Where are those industrial science laboratories today? In thirty years drastic
changes have taken place in every one of the major industrial laboratories,
so that today fundamental and applied science occupies only the smallest
part--if any--of the laboratories' programs.
Today we are seeing a parallel process taking place in our major research
universities. With growing needs because of the increased tempo of commercial
competition, not only do American industries not have the time and resources
to develop new understanding, they do not have the time and resources to
handle their own manufacturing problems. As a consequence, they are turning
more and more to the universities as a resource that can be put into the
service of solving manufacturing dilemmas. However beneficial such relationships
between industry and university may be in particular cases, the net effort
of a major industrialization of our universities will drastically change
the meaning of "doing science."
Coupled with an industrialization of science is a militarization of science.
The expectation that the doing of science leads to positive contributions
for society as a whole is seriously called into question with the increasing
support of scientific and engineering research for purely military purposes.
For many years, a large fraction of scientific research has been supported
under the aegis of a contribution to the national defense. This means that
the choice of research topics and the direction of research efforts tends
to be more or less directly influenced by military needs in a proportion
out of balance with overall human needs. This emphasis increases in impact
with every succeeding year.
There are many other characteristics of the way that science is developing
in our day that call into question the ideals and the identity which people
have commonly ascribed to science and a career in science.
The realization of the loss of the "myth" of science leads to
disillusionment and frustration for people who entered the field with certain
expectations and now cannot find them.
The influence of utilitarianism, material success, and practical goals in
scientific work leads people to wonder whether it is sufficient for them
to be involved only in helping business success and increased profits, regardless
of the intrinsic value or necessity of the products.
We find that much of scientific
research today is motivated by one of
two simple questions (1) does the
research promise financial profit in
the near future or (2) does the
research promise contributions to the
The growing importance of big machines and big costs as essential for doing
meaningful science has drastically changed its character. Louis W. Alvarez,
Nobel prize winner in physics in 1968, confesses in his autobiography that
if he were starting life over, he would no longer be able to become a particle
More and more scientific research and development involves toxic chemicals,
poisonous gases, and possibly dangerous new life forms, all of which threaten
the environment even when involved only in experimental work, but especially
if the experiments are put into practice with widescale production.
Certainly it is right and proper for Christians so gifted by God to take
part in the pursuit of scientific understanding and in the application of
science to meet authentic human desires and needs. But it is also essential
for Christians to be aware of the changing character of a career in science
and engineering, and to take seriously the relationship of the real situation
with the commitment they have made to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.
It is out of this interaction that crises of conscience arise.
In order to be more specific, I would like to consider four areas only as
examples of the intricacy of the crises of conscience experienced
by Christians in science.
Beginning of Life
Christians working on scientific techniques and processes involved in various
procedures to bring about or sustain new beginnings of life are involved
in crises of conscience. To what extent are we justified in using new methods
to allow pregnancies to occur under conditions in which they would not do
Even the fairly simple procedure of in vitro fertilization using
the husband's sperm and the wife's ovum moves the beginning of life from
the home to the laboratory. This procedure can readily be expanded to include
donor's sperm and donor's ovum. Is it fundamentally a Christian response
to a legitimate desire to have children, or is it a step toward ultimate
dehumanization? Kass points out that our view of life and the world is reflected
in the terms used to describe the generation of life: for the Hebrews, "begetting"
or "siring"; for the Greeks, "genesis"; for the pre-modern
English-speaking Christian, "procreation"; for the modern, entranced
with mechanization, "reproduction"; in Aldous Huxley's Brave
New World, it becomes "decantation."
If, in the process of in vitro fertilization, only some of the fertilized
eggs are actually implanted, how do scientists respond to the remainder?
Can they do experiments with them to help treat organic diseases in order
to live out their commitment to help human beings in need? And what would
be the larger societal effects of such decisions?
Can a Christian work at a sperm bank or an ovum bank? Can a Christian work
at a support facility for surrogate mothers? Can a Christian do research
on cloning human beings? Can a Christian engage in research directed toward
genetic manipulation in order to find cures or treatments for the various
diseases associated with genetic defects, knowing that success will certainly
lead to many other applications?
Ending of Life
Can Christians devote themselves to the development of sophisticated techniques
to maintain human biological life even beyond the apparent termination of
self-conscious personal life? Can they justify the time and money spent
in the development of ever more powerful technological approaches and machines
in order to maintain human biological life, knowing that only the wealthy
have access to them and that the money invested in maintaining for a brief
time the biological life of a few could be spent to help and improve the
personal life of many?
It appears to be within the scope of technological ability to maintain biologically
alive the cadavers of individuals for years after personal death has occurred.
These could be considered banks, or farms, of cadavers requiring feeding
and maintaining, awaiting the time of harvest. They could be used for training
medical students, for testing of drugs and surgical procedures, various
medical experiments, as organ and blood banks, and as manufacturing units
for antibodies, all in a cost- effective way. Can a Christian be involved
in research and development of this type?
Are many of these examples actually situations where one might not ascribe
some particular evil to a well-defined act, but where one might still argue
against the widespread application of such acts because of their almost
inevitable deleterious effect on social awareness? This idea is expressed
well by Gaylin: "Sustaining life is an urgent argument for any measure,
but not if that measure destroys those very qualities that make life worth
Advanced technology drives us relentlessly to processes and approaches that
threaten the environment around us. We all know of acid rain, toxic wastes,
the carbon dioxide layer, and the hole in the ozone layer. This was certainly
the motivating force for the pledge of ecological concern suggested for
Stanford's graduates this year. We are living on a finite earth with finite
resources and finite capabilities for being changed from its natural state.
Can Christians continue to develop new technologies or exploit present ones
without an ongoing concern for these issues? Can we continue to act as if
tomorrow's technological solution was the preferred solution for every problem
induced by yesterday's technology?
When we know that there is an approaching ultimate limit to energy production
on earth before the temperature of the earth is radically increased, can
we as Christians continue in scientific and engineering development without
regard for alternative, renewable energy sources, conservation of energy,
and altered lifestyles?
The choice of research topics and the
direction of research efforts tend to
be more or less directly influenced by
military needs in a proportion out of
balance with overall human needs.
Can Christians in science and engineering continue to develop processes
involving more and more toxic materials, so that our environment and our
communities are endangered by chemical wastes that do not decay with time?
Can Christians devote all of their skills and abilities to increasing the
high technology of affluent Western society, using up fossil fuels and scarce
elements, while effectively ignoring the very simple human requirements
of the Third World? How seriously should more Christians consider the possibility
of "tent-making" ministries to other countries of the world traditionally
closed to missionaries and other presentations of the Gospel?
One of the difficulties in assessing the responsible Christian answers to
the above questions, is the fact that they are not questions to which the
Bible writers address any simple and direct treatment. They involve problems,
options, and situations that were totally foreign to the society of Jesus'
day. Resolutions of these crises of conscience must therefore be based on
conclusions derived from general biblical guidelines, often without common
agreement among Christians as to how to proceed to actual practical directions
for living today.
The fourth and final area we consider for crises of conscience is the area
of immediate concern to this conference. It is somewhat different from the
previous three. The biblical situation did not contain any direct references
to in vitro fertilization, genetic engineering, maintaining of cadaver
banks, or development of techniques and processes with careful regard for
environmental problems in an industrial age. But the biblical situation
was fully cognizant of issues of war and peace, friend and enemy, and of
the procedures involved between antagonistic human beings. To be sure, the
biblical situation did not proceed beyond bows and arrows, swords, spears,
or horses, but it would seem a curious inference to suppose that the increased
ability of today's weapons to kill people, and the fact that many of them
have no use whatsoever except to kill people, should in any way make their
use more favored.
Because of the fact that the Bible does have much to say about issues directly
relevant to the use of weapons, it is essential for us to take a look at
them. We do that, of course, fully aware that they have been endlessly debated
in the past, and will continue to be debated at this meeting. Even as a
prophet, I will not presume to make a decision for any other Christian concerning
his or her participation in research and development of military weapons,
but I will try to state clearly the teaching of the Bible on the issues
that must be used in order to arrive at a decision concerning involvement
in such research and development.
Here we face a question that is perhaps the greatest, the most common, the
most certainly to be encountered in a key role in the future of the human
race: the fundamental questions, "How should we respond to evil in
this world?" In some of the other considerations we have mentioned
as crises of conscience for Christians in science, many others who are not
Christians may also have agreed. But when it comes to the question, "How
should we respond to evil in the world?" the Christian response is
almost unique. If our response to this question as Christians is not different
from the common response of those who are not Christians, then we are in
danger of losing the very essence of Christianity itself.
Christians themselves are widely split on the answer to this question. Our
attitude toward science and the applications of science depend crucially
on its answer. It goes to the very heart of the Christian Gospel and to
the meaning of that Gospel in the Christian life. It probes the authenticity
of the Christian message and demands that we put even our lives on the line.
Resolutions of these crises of
conscience must be based on
conclusions derived from general
biblical guidelines, often without
common agreement among
Christians as to how to proceed to
actual practical directions for living
Why does it pose a crisis of conscience? It is simply this. On the one hand,
we have the clear New Testament teaching that the role of the disciple of
Christ is to be the role of love; embracing not only friend and family,
but extending even to the enemy. The reason for this is fundamental: love
is the only authentic and practical way to overcome evil in this
world. Such love may require personal sacrifice, even the laying down of
our lives. Jesus faced the evil of the world in exactly this way as our
example: the only way in which He could break the power of evil, and lay
open the road to forgiveness and restoration of fellowship with God, was
to lay down His life out of love. If he had done anything other than that,
God's plan of salvation would not have been achieved.
On the other hand, we have clear biblical teaching that the role of the
disciple of Christ is to be the protector of the helpless, the defender
of the oppressed: the one who in the presence of the evil of the world demonstrates
the love of God by being willing to defend the defenseless against the evil
of other people. Christians may be willing to sacrifice themselves rather
than respond violently to the perpetration of evil, but do they have the
right (the duty?) to sacrifice the lives of others as well, even those who
do not share in the Christian commitment?
To find the Christian response to these questions, we ask only a
single question: What is the significance of the teaching and life of Jesus
Christ for these issues? It may seem at first that this approach is inadequate.
We may prefer to ask other questions instead. Does this make sense? Will
it work? Will it achieve the goals that we desire? Will it prevent suffering?
Is it a practical approach? If we follow it, will we probably lose our desires,
our freedom, and perhaps even our lives?
If we are to be faithful to our goal, however, we must ask none of these
questions--at least, not in such a way that they dictate the answers that
we give. We may insist that the teaching and life of Jesus Christ is not
enough for us to consider; we must also consider the Old Testament, or we
must reckon with a systematic analysis to synthesize a theology following
some tradition. We may indeed obtain other helpful insights and guidelines
from such procedures, but at the very least they must not contradict the
teaching and life of Jesus. As Christians, we are called to follow in the
steps of Christ here and now. If we conclude, even for a moment, that this
life is not going to work, what are we saying about the authenticity of
Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God? If we say that this life is foolish
and incapable of being responsibly followed, what are we saying about the
trustworthiness of the One whom we proclaim to accept as Lord and Savior?
If we look carefully at the teaching of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels and
John, and with the inspired reflection on this teaching
in Romans, I Corinthians, and I Peter in particular,
we may derive certain basic guidelines for the Christian, which may be divided
into actions that Christians are required to take and actions that Christians
are forbidden to take.
We have the clear New Testament
teaching that the role of the disciple
of Christ is to be the role of love;
embracing not only friend and
family, but extending even to the
In brief summary, Christians are required to love their enemies, pray for
those who persecute them, bless those who persecute them, do good to those
who hate them, bless those who curse them, be merciful, obey the commandments
of Christ, feed their enemies if hungry, give their enemies something to
drink if thirsty, overcome evil with good, and rejoice insofar as they share
Christ's sufferings. In the same way, Christians are forbidden to do anything
that results from the desire for retaliation, put the safety of their lives
above that of service to Christ, fight (in physical violence) for the cause
of Christ, return evil to someone else for evil inflicted on them, avenge
themselves for wrong inflicted on them, allow themselves to be overcome
by evil, or incur suffering because of doing wrong.
If we put all of this biblical teaching together, we have one of the most
incredible claims ever made: ultimate victory over evil even in this most
sinful world can be achieved only through self-giving and active love. It
is not that we should love only those who are part of our family, community
or nation--we should, of course--but our enemies as well. It is not that
we should exercise love as long as we can without suffering as a consequence--but
without end. It is not that love will carry us only so far in a sinful world
and that after that we must resort to force and violence, but that if we
seek genuine victory in Christ we must persevere in love far beyond the
boundaries of human reason and "common sense" that has not come
into fellowship with Christ.
Christians may be willing to sacrifice
themselves rather than respond
violently to the perpetration of evil,
but do they have the right (duty?) to
sacrifice the lives of others as well?
Of course this is incredible to the earthly mind. Who would dare to be a
peacemaker in the midst of a warring world that looks at peacemakers with
contempt? Who would willingly suffer abuse and persecution for the sake
of Christ when it could be avoided by violent resistance? Who would presume
to attempt to love one's enemies without making some kind of semantic switch
so that "love" really means "destroy"? Who would be
so bold as to live in this world while holding fast to citizenship in another?
Who can bring oneself to bless one's persecutors? To bring food to one who
desires your destruction, or to offer drink to one who works for you abuse?
Who could be so naive as to attempt to offer good in response to the evil
poured upon him? Who would willingly forego his "rights" and suffer
for someone unjustly?
Do we not find in Christ Himself the answer to all these questions?
If these guidelines do not seem very practical, perhaps it is because we
don't really understand what God is doing in this world. There is nothing
passive toward evil in these guidelines. We do not ignore evil as Christians;
we are called to overcome evil with good. This requires all the sanctified
creativity that we can bring to bear. Still, how alien these guidelines
sound in our world. Retaliation is the thing in today's world.
Is it possible to pass a day without newspaper, radio or TV speaking of
efforts to retaliate somewhere in the world--and then to retaliate for retaliation?
Was Jesus wrong? The issue is a fundamental and serious one. Every aspect
of the central Christian message testifies to the fact that a violent response
to evil can only compound evil in the world, and not overcome it. Jesus
died defenseless and alone on the cross in order that the good news of His
Gospel might be preached and lived. When His disciples sought to fight to
defend Him, He forbade them. The victory of the Resurrection was the open
proclamation that self-giving love had triumphed over evil. To deny this
central core of the Gospel is to run the danger of calling into question
the very integrity of Jesus Christ and of the whole set of relationships
and truths that Christians treasure in Him. To affirm it is to open the
way for God to guide and rule our future.
And this, of course, is why there is a crisis of conscience for Christians
in science when they contemplate the issues involved in their participation
in the development of weapons intended for destruction. Whether such participation
in a particular instance can in good conscience be defended is a matter
for Christians in science to answer for themselves. Whatever the answer,
however, it cannot be given with integrity unless the requirements for a
Christian and the actions forbidden to a Christian are understood and followed
as part of the decision.
We do not ignore evil as Christians; we
are called to overcome evil with good.
The test question raised earlier may be repeated: "If a scientist would
not approve the use of a process or device if developed, shouldn't
he refuse to work on its development?"
In all of these issues, no attitude is more common or more destructive than
"religious pragmatism." We must be careful not to confuse "religious
pragmatism" with "Christian realism." Let no one misunderstand
Christians must always be realistic in assessing the character of the world
and the types of problems that they must face. Christians are not called
to be visionaries, living in an otherworldly way that is inconsistent with
the real nature of the world around them, but to be salt and light in this
very real, sinful world. But what constitutes our understanding of reality
must come to us from the biblical revelation, from the teaching and life
of Jesus Christ.
"Religious pragmatism," effectively
denies any real significance for the
teaching and life of Christ in many of
the situations of life.
"Religious pragmatism," on the other hand, effectively denies
any real significace for the teaching and life of Christ in many of the
situations of life. It is a view held by religious people, people who may
indeed have made a commitment of one type or another to Jesus Christ, people
who regard themselves and who are regarded as Christians. Such people say,
"We know and understand the teaching of Christ. We value it as a noble
ideal that we should all strive toward."
But...they then add, "Of course in this real, sinful world it simply
won't work. Maybe in the millennium, but not now. Maybe in heaven, but not
now. Now we have to do the practical thing--we have to lie to survive; we
can't ask too many questions about the work we're employed to do; we have
to be concerned about tomorrow and not about thirty years from now, about
ourselves and not about others; we have to respond to violence with violence;
we have to kill to maintain life; and we have to retaliate to be sure that
we are respected." While claiming to be followers of Christ, they effectively
deny everything for which He lived, died, and rose again. If "religious
pragmatism" is right, then there is nothing of value left to Christianity.
It becomes only a psychological comfort or an illusory ideal.
That is the reason that I close this discussion with an impassioned plea
against "religious pragmatism." Let's not perpetuate the denial
of Christ, which says: "I know what Christ teaches and I respect it,
but I can find reasons--using anything from practical politics to interpretations
of other portions of the Bible--not to do it."
Let's be honest with ourselves and with each other. Let's seek to know and
understand the full message of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. And
then let's get busy to see how best we can put it into practice in the world
in which we live. Crises of conscience can be opportunities for service
 Portions of this paper are based on material included
in a manuscript, Shaping the Future: Modern Science and Christian Choices
by R.H. Bube, still in process.
 R. Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern
Science, Eerdmans (1972); E.M. Klaaren, Religious Origins of Modern
Science, Eerdmans (1977).
 Paul Meissner, personal communication.
 J. Trefil, review of Alvarez: Adventures of a
Physicist by L.W. Alvarez. New York Times, June 7, 1987, p. 14.
 L.R. Kass, "New Beginnings of Life," inThe
New Genetics and the Future of Man, by M. Hamilton (ed.), Eerdmans (1972),
 W. Gaylin, "Harvesting the Dead," in Bioethics
(3rd edition), T.A. Shannon (ed.), Paulist Press (1987), p. 553.
 Matthew 5-7; 16:24-26; John 14:15,21,23; 15:10,12-14;
 Romans 12; I Corinthians 6:1-8; 13:4-7; I Peter
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