Science and technology are rapidly advancing fields which, among other purposes, seek to find new diagnostic tools, treatments, and therapies for disease. In the last twenty years, there have been numerous technological advances in the field of biotechnology including stem cell research, cloning, and the mapping of the human genome. Genetic research examines questions surrounding such matters as the isolation and testing for genes for breast cancer and the role of genes in behavior. While these advances have helped broaden our understanding of injury and disease, they also have raised a variety of ethical dilemmas. These dilemmas are particularly challenging for Christians who seek to live their lives in accordance with biblical principles. For example, with the availability of genetic testing, should a Christian be tested for genetic disorders? Do genetic causes for behavior excuse personal responsibility for sinful behaviors? The purpose of this section is to explore the ethical issues raised by advances in biotechnology from a Christian vantage point and provide resources to help guide ethical decision-making in this area.
Although RT no longer garners many headlines, this does not mean that it is free of controversial ethical issues, many of which challenge religious beliefs regarding marriage, family, and more broadly what it means to be human. Consequently, it is incumbent upon Christians to evaluate RT in light of their most deeply held theological and moral convictions, especially those considering using RT and those providing pastoral care and guidance in the discernment process.
[T]he progress that has been made, combined with this hype of decontextualized and often exaggerated claims by the media, continue to fuel the hope of medicine and technology: “If we could only accomplish a little more . . . .” But more is never enough. And hope, commingled with the fear of death (Heb 2:15), can fuel an attitude of “taking and keeping” (the “agency”), one that grasps at and clings to the technological hope of immortality. From here one can easily (and subtly) fall prey to worshipping technology and progress as gods.
Dolly’s clone was not easily conceived, for it took researchers 277 attempts before they produced 29 embryos that survived longer than six days. Even then, only one lamb was born as a result! And here is where the ethical implications begin to appear, for if a similar ratio of human embryos were used in an attempted human cloning, the loss of human life would be morally unconscionable.
The desire to have a child of one’s own is a compelling force for many women. This desire drives many of the technological advances in reproductive medicine of which uterine transplantation is a prime example. Its recent development highlights the quagmire of ethical issues arising from technological advancement. When perfected, this procedure would appear to be a promising achievement, providing women who would have had no possibility of reproducing with the hope of having a child of their own. But are there other ethical implications to consider, particularly in the context of church life and practices?
In The Abolition of Man—published nearly 75 years ago—C. S. Lewis speaks indirectly, though perhaps prophetically, to our current complexities—reminding us that there is truly nothing new under the sun. In the title chapter of the book, Lewis asks the question, “In what sense is Man the possessor of increasing power over Nature?” Are we able to have the control over Nature and live the autonomous lives we desire? In our attempt to understand and fully live out what it means to be human, is it possible to conquer those aspects of Nature we believe hinder, diminish, or destroy our flourishing, thereby solidifying our humanity?
All too many of us (both those outside the church and sadly too many within as well) look to technology as a kind of savior, believing it will alleviate all our pain and afflictions, leaving us with nothing but happiness. Such an idea, Lawler says, is futile. Not that happiness is wholly elusive; rather it “is more than a chemical problem that has a technological or biotechnological solution.” Even if these means can solve some of our ailments, they will undoubtedly introduce new problems. Lawler points out, “we will never live in a world without the reality of catastrophes, without sin, suffering, loneliness, profound disorientation, dementia, and death.”
“Advent” comes to us from the Latin adventus meaning “arrival” or “coming to.” We celebrate this beginning with the lighting of the hope candle. It reminds us of the promise of a coming savior, the messianic hope—a hope that as Jesus said to his disciples that “many prophets and righteous people longed to see . . . and to hear” (Matt 13:17 NIV). We remember this hope, as it was realized in the coming of the Christ in the most vulnerable of human forms, an infant. And yet, in this very same hope we remember that the fulfillment of the first Advent, was also marked by the promise of a second Advent, the blessed hope. As the Nicene Creed affirms, having been seated at the right hand of the Father, Jesus Christ “will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom shall have no end.”
In a small way, this illustrates the power of digital technologies. On the plus side, they connect us with people we otherwise could not meet, such as the researcher in Australia I only know through a Skype video call. On the negative side, these technologies have the power to dis-connect us from people, by creating virtual relationships with nameless strangers, whether on Words with Friends or Facebook. When I occasionally—and ever more rarely—drop in to Facebook, I notice posts from people I do not even recognize. (How did they “friend” me?) If I met them in person, no name would come to mind. What aspect of friendship, or even mere acquaintance, could I attribute to these “Facebook friends”?
For those with eyes to see, the movie WALL-E (Disney and Pixar, 2008) can be something of an apocalypse, revealing God’s Kingdom and stoking a Christian imagination. 800 years from now the remnant of humanity exists on the Axiom, a space cruise ship. The high-tech deck chairs supporting their overfed/corpulent bodies double as hovercraft to move them around the ship. All interaction between humans is mediated by a device. Every hobby is virtual. Every meal comes in a cup. The trip on the Axiom was initially billed as a five-year cruise. But 700 years later, the remnant is unaware of any other existence, or indeed, of their ancestral home which had been so thoroughly trashed (literally) that it can no longer support life of any kind.
Many studies in neuroscience report that extensive usage of social media and screen technology changes the human brain in ways that make it difficult for a person to maintain sustained levels of concentration. Nearly thirty years ago, Jane M. Healy argued in her book, Endangered Minds, “that we are rearing a generation of ‘different brains.’” How much more might this be the case today than it was then? Such changes raise important questions. How are all of these technologies shaping us? And, what ramifications does this have for worship, preaching, and religious education?
Zac and Sally Crippen host Vernacular, a podcast that explores human flourishing through a broad range of categories, from sports, creative media, and food to philosophy and science. This interview highlights their work, experiences, and advice relating to bioethics.
Our brave new world is here, thanks to a new gene editing technology called CRISPR. (And it’s cheap! Maybe you qualify for a free CRISPR kit? Google it.) The potential applications of the technology are myriad.
We are at a relatively early stage in developing digital social networks. With Facebook, smart phones, and GPS, we can find what we are looking for and track our friends with comparative ease. Interconnectivity is developing to the point at which, when we are sent electronic communications, algorithms identify what we might like on the basis of the included content. Satellite and CCTV offer some degree of surveillance, but not to the extent provided by the Bentham Grid. The narrator tells us that in 2023 “you can’t do anything in New York City without the Grid knowing who you are and where you are.” Merely science fiction? Read on.
In Chasing Methuselah, Todd Daly examines the modern biomedical anti-aging project from a Christian perspective, drawing on the ancient wisdom of the Desert Fathers, who believed that the Incarnation opened a way for human life to regain the longevity of Adam and the biblical patriarchs through prayer and fasting. Daly balances these insights with the christological anthropology of Karl Barth, discussing the implications for human finitude, fear of death, and the use of anti-aging technology, weaving a path between outright condemnation and uncritical enthusiasm. Below is an interview with Daly on his book.