The Christian in Science


Mission Statement

Does the Christian have a mission within science and to scientists? If so what would that be? This article explores this issue, and proposes a mission statement for Christians involved in Science.

To encourage scientists

This set of ideas is not proposed as an absolute. I propose this as a starting point for discussion. Some may want to enlarge upon it in the science area some may want it to contain more about God and the Christian view point. Some may feel there are points they wish to add or to remove.

As starting point it will do, and this evening I hope that we will be able to explore together the value of these bullet points as a mission statement for the Christian who is also a scientist. And perhaps amend it if you think fit.

Where do I fit into the categories of Christian and Scientist.

I was brought up in a Christian family, and my father is a Methodist Minister, now retired and living in Cramlington. I had my first chemistry set when I was 10 years old and had a wonderful time making smells, causing small explosions and sometimes doing less problematic things like extracting the natural soap "saponin" from conkers – after they had been used for the game I might add.

I became a church member when I was fourteen, although I am not sure how much that meant to me at the time. I didn’t stay with the faith during my later teenage years. I became a young man who was interested in, apart from everything technological or scientific, in women; drink; (never drugs) smoking, getting a good job and earning a living, and being rich as a consequence.

I did however stay with chemistry. One day while coming home from school in Penzance I decided I wanted to be a research chemist. So from there on I studied as best I could. Obtained a place at UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology), and did a degree course focussing on Organic Chemistry and specialising in colour chemistry, and then later obtained a job with the Clayton Aniline Company, a subsidiary of Ciba-Geigy. I worked first for just over three years supervising the manufacture of azo dyes on one of their processing plants. Making a range of products from intermediates for car paints, to leather, cotton, wool and food dyes. Then I moved into research & development.

During this period, I began to wrestle with personal problems focussed around excessive drinking, and eventually came into faith in a personal God. This involved an experience of God’s presence. As a consequence and over a period of time God healed the problems around drinking. From this moment on I began to re-evaluate the standards I had based my life upon.

I am not an expert on ethical issues. Simply an ordinary person who has with greater or lesser seriousness tackled some of the ordinary issues in front of me, and tried to make sense of them. Most of the material this evening has been recently compiled. I expect during this summer to engage in a sabbatical study on ethical issues involved in the recent advances in the field of genetics. But I haven’t done that study yet, and hope that this evening you will help me upon my way just as I hope to stir some thinking in areas you may to have explored.

Possible paths from this point on.

The first dilemma that woke me up to thinking what I was doing - Paper Yellow CD

Justification for each point in mission statement.

Group exercise on the sort of questions to ask.

Group exercise on sample dilemmas

Review of Mission Statement.

Mission Statement

To encourage scientists

  1. To encourage scientists to make informed ethical decisions in their field of work

    The consequences of research are unpredictable. We set out to discover knowledge, sometimes just because we are naturally inquisitive. Some areas of knowledge may be good or bad. Is knowledge neutral? For instance is research into nerve agents and biological weapons ever justified? One escaped incomplete discovery may start a disease that decimates the human population on earth. Is it possible to justify such research ever since it is only directed towards the destruction of life? Although some of the scientists would argue that their research will enable them to defend us against the life threatening research of other less scrupulous nations.

    One argument is that Knowledge is Knowledge. The judgement comes in how you use that knowledge. So that e.g. the discoveries of Fermi and others in the field of nuclear research lead both to the bomb, nuclear power, and radiation therapy for various cancers. All three became possible through the knowledge discovered – is that true of all fields of knowledge.

    I do not feel that the place of Christianity is to be dogmatic in the face of knowledge. Simply to persuade others to toe a party, political or religious line is not sufficient. That path leads eventually to totalitarianism. (The leader knows best, do what you are told.) Unless we can justify the courses of action we propose then they are based only on bias, hunch, feeling and may prevent the discovery of information that will better human life.

    I think therefore that the more people that know how to evaluate the consequences of the research they are doing, the more likely that we will see knowledge used for good rather than for evil.

  2. To encourage scientists to understand their own and other people’s biases

    Self knowledge would seem an essential element of being able to make rational decisions in the field of ethics. My upbringing, the teaching of my parents, the good and bad experiences that I have had all contribute to how I feel about issues. A recent article on Eminem in "Christian Youth Worker" (January 2001) highlighted how his lyrics deal with issues from his upbringing. You may not like or listen to him – fine. But many young people on the street find he is talking about things that they have experienced. Eminem himself may not realise just how much he is driven by the pains of his past life.

    None of us can be perfect in this area. There will always be things we just can’t do or say because the barriers in us are to great. However we can identify what drives us, and find a way to not let those things be the only driving force for judgements. One way that can help us past these biases is to ensure that the first question we ask about any subject on which we want to make an ethical evaluation is "What questions must we answer about this subject?"

    Another valuable tool is a list of questions that other people have asked about issues. This allows us to identify areas in which we are prone simply to say, "This is the answer." Without saying why. It also allows us to identify the questions we don’t want to ask about an issue.

  3. To encourage scientists to explore the idea of God as a reference point for standards

    For the Christian, God is simply part of everyday thinking. "Is there a God?" is a question we just do not ask. However that is not true for everyone. Some people think that the universe simply is. They think that it was formed by a definable natural process. That is inflated from a wrinkle in the flux of the continuum, and that life is part of the possible development of such a universe. This may all be true. Also for some such people there is no defining mind behind the whole process, nor is there no concept of a being of selfless love at the heart of the meaning of the world in which we live.

    Irrespective of the arguments for the existence of God, the idea of God can make a valuable contribution to ethical thinking – for while you can debate on the existence of God forever, it is a fact that people have an idea, which they call God. This idea differs from one religion to another, and within religions from one person to another. But there are it seems, a range of ideas which are common to all such definitions. Two such might be:- (a) That God is a source of moral standard, i.e. God acts in a certain way, and we are called to behave similarly, and within constraints defined by God. (b) Deviation from God’s defined standards brings social conflict, and punishment within an eternal framework. The concept of punishment many might hard to accept and perhaps even irrelevant to daily living, however the presence of an absolute standard for behaviour might offer at least a reference point for argument and decision.

    Let Christians engage thoughtfully with ethical issues.

  4. To encourage scientists to take action based on well formed ethical judgements

    It will bring little good to the world if our heads are full of fine thoughts but none of them see the light of day in the way we live. The hardest part of our living is to make our actions consistent with our values. Because we naturally live in community and depend upon the approval of the community we associate with we tend to stick by those values. It is even possible for people to have different sets of standards, which they use when they are with different groups – so as to be acceptable, and to not stand out from the crowd. A simple example of this is the way people behave at home with family, and on the terraces of a football match. Extremes of behaviour can be seen on the terraces, which would not be acceptable at home.

    However hard it may be to challenge accepted thinking on issues it sometimes has to be done. But done in a thoughtful manner, without undue emotion. Sometimes practice will change as a result. Such change is sometimes costly but necessary.

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