Some Personal Thoughts
The following material was written for university-level courses I teach for our science majors. It is designed to help them apply their Christian faith to the science that they have learned. It is designed to make them think about their profession from a distincly Christian view.
However, as such I have attempted NOT to put forth THE Christian view on the subject, as I do not beleive that is possible in most of these areas. Rather, I have attempted to provide the students with sufficient background so they will be familiar with a number of perspectives held by Christians in hopes that they will be mature enough to sort and sift and develop their own views which they can then support and uphold.
I hope it proves helpful as you do the same...
TABLE OF CONTENTS
II. Brief History of Science
IV. Stewardship Ecology
(Back to Faith/Science Page)
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of thc world God's invisible qualities --his eternal power and divine nature -have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator --who is forever praised. Amen.
The history of science in the Western world is one of the best examples of Paul's analysis of history as outlined in Romans 1 above. More importantly, many of the current controversies in biology, four of which will be discussed here, are the end result of man's rejection of God's truth.
As Christian biologists it is imperative that we understand the background, both from a historical and theological perspecdve, that has led science to its current state before we attempt to define a Christian approach to these modern problems. Therefore, this paper will first attempt to define a Christian approach to science in general and to provide a foundational background in the history of science as well. Only after that has been attempted will the main topics of origins, environment, euthanasia and genetic engineering be discussed.
Respective Realms: Separate or Overlapping?
theology: "The study of the nature of God and religious truth; rational inquiry into religious questions, especially those posed by Christianity. An organized, ohen formalized, body of opinions concerning God and man's relationship to God." (Moms 1976)
science: "A theoretical explanatory discipline which objectively addresses natural phenomena within the general constraints that its theones must be rationally connectable to generally specifiable empincal phenomena and that it normally does not leave the natural realm for the concepts employed in its explanations." (Ratzsch 1986)
As these two definitions point out, the two disciplines to be dealt with here are indeed separate and distinct. Theology is the science, or study, of God and, ultimately, man's relationship to God. Since both of these are in the area of non-physical things they cannot be studied by science which can only deal with things that are capable of being studied empirically, that is, by observation and experimentation. As Van Till et al (1988) express it, Science deals with how the physical world was formed and how it currently behaves while religion is concerned with the origin of the physical world and its present governance. Thus the domains of the two areas are indeed separate and distinct.
However, the above definitions also indicate some significant similarities and potential for overlap. Note that both are "rational" endeavors being based on logic and reason. Neither is seen as being irrational. Note also that both are human endeavors. Thus, while philosophers of science once thought, or hoped, that science could be accomplished with pure objectivity and without interference from Ratzsch's "metaphysical shaping principles" (1986), we now realize that no human endeavor can be conducted in a vacuum as all humans bring their presuppositions to their work. Therefore, as Van Till et al state: "Scientific theorizing is a value-guided activity of human judgement applied to the products of creative insight."
The first overlap that occurs, therefore, is due to the "world view" that each theologian and each scientist brings to their work. As Hoffecker (1986) points out "all world views are religions, not just those expressed by theologians". Therefore, even those scientists who profess that there is no God are dealing with some sort of "theology" that they bring into their laboratory, even if it is the theology that "God is dead". This overlap is particularly important to the areas to be studied here as a person's "fundamental ideas directly or indirectly shape their thoughts, choices and actions" (Hoffecker 1986), thus affecting how we perceive the natural world around us.
However, a more important overlap exists for Christians due to the nature of truth. While these two disciplines are indeed separate in the areas they study, a Christian's "theology" must always take precedent over their "science" as the ultimate scientific truth will always be God's truth. Thus, Orr can say "that truth is universal and that the revelationally based Christian world view therefore will not and does not conflict with anything that philosophy and science can establish with certitude" (Henry 1 976a). The opposite cannot be said, however, as there may well be times when the findings of philosophy and science will conflict with what the Christian world view says.
It becomes imperative, therefore, for Christians to remember that they have as much right to their predispositions, based upon their Christian world view, as do other scientists whose world view is based on humanism, positivism, atheism or whatever -ism they believe in. More importantly, the Christian scientist must remember that they and they alone are working with presuppositions that reflect the absolute truth, God's truth.
Before we see how science has faltered and pulled away from God's truth it is necessary to understand how this truth was and is revealed to us and how science can play a role in this revelation. In his 1975 book No Final Conflict Schaeffer points out that God has revealed His truth to man through four revelations, two being "general revelations" and two being "special revelations". The general revelations are those that Paul refers to in the Romans passage quoted already when he refers to the fact that "since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities --his eternal power and divine nature --have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." These revelations that are "clearly seen" are the universe and its form and man and his form which are visible to all who have physical eyes. However, God has also provided us with two additional revelations that are special as they require the eyes of faith to see. These are the Bible and Jesus Christ.
Schaeffer goes on to point out that the work of science is to help man see and understand the first two types of revelation, believing, as has already been stated, that God's revelation has nothing to fear from scientific truth.
How then do the Bible and science interact? Is the Bible to be ignored whenever religion is not the topic of study or is it a science text that should be adhered to over all other science texts? Again, the answer is yes and no. While the Bible is indeed God's Word, His special revelation, its main purpose is to reveal God to us, to tell us what we must know to know Him. Therefore, everything the Bible deals with has been stated to enhance this purpose. Therefore its principal purpose is religious, not scientific. However, this does not mean that, where it makes statements about the physical world, it is incapable of truth, both religious and scientific. Thus while the primary purpose of Genesis 1 and 2 is to tell us something about God's nature it is also capable of conveying truth about the actual origins of the cosmos. The question, of course, is what truth is it conveying, simply that God did it or that He did it in six literal days? Schaeffer can therefore say that "the Bible does give affirmations about that in which science has an interest." ( 1975). Unfortunately, as we shall soon see, it is up to man to interpret exactly what those affirmations are.
II. A BRIEF HISTORY OF SCENCE
If Christians are to attempt to stand against the non-Christian flow of science and attempt to divert it in a Christian direction they will undoubtedly face opposition. Such brave souls should be encouraged by two important facts: (1) only a culture based on Biblical Christianity was philosophically capable of bringing forth modern science and (2) science originally operated under a Biblical, Christian world view. Therefore, instead of being ashamed of our Christian world view, we should be proud of our Judeo-Christian heritage and its importance to science. Instead of thinking we are proposing some new mindset for science, we should realize that we are actually attempting to bring science back to its roots.
Non-western- As far back as 3000 B.C., civilizations in Sumeria, Egypt, Babylonia, India and China were developing techniques in medicine and astronomy, the latter being the oldest of the sciences.
Alcmaeon of Greece discovered the connection between the brain and the sensory organs along with the differences between veins and arteries around 500 B.C. which is also when Susrata of Indian was performing cataract surgery. Around this time the Mayan civilization was also developing sophisticated capabilities in South America. In the succeeding generations each of these peoples, the Chinese, Arabians and the South Americans, would independently make important discoveries in astronomy, mathematics, medicine, etc. However, by the 2nd century A.D. the sciences in general were dying out in each of these cultures or, at the very least, no longer leading to significant new discoveries. This is also true of the Greeks although their sciences flourished for much longer. (Grun 1979)
Western- With the development of Western Civilization, however, science continued to grow and expand, frequently building upon Greek discoveries. However, where science failed to progress in other civilizations, it reached its greatest achievements in Europe. During the Middle Ages this included such scientists as Roger Bacon while the 16th Century saw the writings of Copernicus. It was the 17th century, however, that produced the greatest modern scientists such as Galileo, Kepler, Francis Bacon, Boyle, Newton and Hooke. These men made significant advances in virtually all areas of science. More importantly, perhaps, they laid the foundation for the advances and discoveries of the 1 9th century which continued, allowed and encouraged science in a way that no other civilization had ever done. (Grun 1 979)
Why did these advances occur in this environment but not in the environments provided by Greece, Egypt and China? The answer lies in the philosophical and religious mentality of each of these cultures. In the Far East the prevailing metaphysical ideas centered around a view of God and the physical world that had nature being a part of God or an emanation of God's thought. Here there was no way for science to progress as such a pantheistic outlook neither allows nor requires an explanation of the natural world since it is God.
The Greek mindset, which was picked up by the Byzantine, preRenaissance version of Christianity, also prevented significant scientific advancements due to the strong dichotomy that was seen to exist between the important, real and high realm of the mind/spirit and the unimportant, false or distorted and lowly realm of the body/nature. Since these views saw neither truth or worth in the physical world around them, the study of that world could not develop.
However, in the Western version of Christianity, especially as presented by the Reformation beginning in the 1 6th Century, a mindset was created in which science was encouraged to flourish as a means of knowing and glorifying God. As the renowned physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer ( 1962) and the mathematician Alfred North Whitehead (1925) have both observed, only Christianity created a philosophical and religious environment that allowed modern science to develop. As Schaeffer (1968) says only Christianity "affirms that God has created a true universe outside himself...not an extension of the essence of God...there is something there to think about, to deal with, and to investigate which has objective reality."
As we reexamine the definition of science it becomes obvious that only a world view that believes that we exist in a reasonable world that was created by a reasonable God would allow man, using his reason, to discover and explore the form of the world (Schaeffer 1968). That the early Western scientists believed this to be true is evident from their work and their writings. F. Bacon, in his Novam Organum Scientiarum wrote "Man by the Fall fell at the same time from his state of innocence and from his dominion over nature. Both of these losses, however, can in this life be in some part repaired: the former by religion and faith, the latter by the arts and sciences." This short statement contains significant Biblical truths while also illustrating the importance that one of the premier scientists of the 17th Century gave to Christianity. As Trevelyan states (Schaeffer 1976), such beliefs were shared by most of the great scientists of this time period, "Robert Boyle, Issac Newton and the early members of the Royal Society were religious men...(who) believed that these (scientific) methods would never lead to any conclusions inconsistent with Biblical history and miraculous religion; Newton lived and died in that faith."
However, during this time these very scientists were laying the foundation for a shift away from Biblical truth as they relied increasingly on observation, experimentation and mathematics.
While such scientists as Michael Faraday and James Maxwell continued to operate under such metaphysical assumptions well into the 19th century (Schaeffer 1968) the necessary reliance on these tools of science was soon picked up by various philosophical and religious schools of thought and combined to move the culture increasingly away from the God of the Bible. In science this included a change from a geological belief in a young earth formed through catastrophism in a relatively short period of time to a belief in uniformitarianism as set forth primarily by James Hutton in 1788 and Charles Lyell in 1830. This new theory held that the processes and rates presently forming the earth's geology were the same ones that had always formed earth's geology. This created a time scale expressed in billions of years rather than in thousands of years (Tarbuck and Lutgens 1988). This vast time frame was used by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book Origin of the Species by Natural Selection which began the shift away from a creation account of origins to an evolutionary account.
These changes, supported by philosophical and theological changes, have moved science totally away from God to a man-centered cosmos where knowledge is primarily obtained through scientific observations of the natural world. More importantly, it has moved from a belief in the existence of nature within an open system where God could affect the natural world to belief in a nature operating in a closed system which lead scientists such as Carl Sagan (1980) to make such statements as "The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be."
Sagan's viewpoint, and that of many other modern scientist, is further expressed in the closing paragraph of Cosmos:
"For we are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring."
In less than two hundred years science has truly, as Paul stated in Romans, "exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator".
As Christian scientists it thus becomes imperative that we realize where science is coming from and where it is heading. The switch from a God-centered science to a man-centered science, from the use of science to serve God to the use of science to serve man, from worshipping the creator to worshipping the created, must be recognized and stood against. Only with this understanding and resolve will we be able to understand, evaluate and alter, if necessary, the science of the future. Only then will we be able to understand the controversies of the past, present and future.
Many, Christians and non-Christians, scientists and laymen, will say, however, that such cautions are unnecessary, that science and religion should not mix. I would suggest that such Christians think of the different path that medicine, geology, astronomy and other scientific endeavors would have taken if more Christians had historically gone into these areas instead of leaving the sciences primarily to nonChristians for decades. Remember that science is a "value-guided activity" and the values of the majority of scientists are humanistic, believing that "man is autonomous, independent and perfectable by his own rationality" (Hoffecker 1986). To the non-Christian who would say that they are not influenced by any religion, I would simply quote Van Till et al (1988) as they define religious commitment as "the full spectrum of beliefs concerning the ultimate nature of reality, the existence or nonexistence of a transcendent deity, the significance of human life, and the relationship of the physical world to any transcendent beings or realms of reality." This, as others have also pointed out (Hoffecker 1986; Schaeffer 1981; Van Till, et al 1988), makes their belief in Humanism, Naturalism, Evolutionism, etc. as much a religious endeavor as Christianity. If they are permitted to allow their value system to enter the laboratory with them why should Christians not be able to do the same?
If there is any single topic that has served to split Christianity and Science over the years it is certainly the topic of origins. As has already been mentioned, it was the development of the theories of uniformitarianism and evolution that coincided with the philosophical, political and theological shift away from traditional Christianity and served as the rallying points for "enlightened" mankind. More importantly, they provided a "scientific" reason for discarding most Biblical beliefs.
The topic is therefore of historical importance.However, with the rise of "scientific creationism" it continues to be a popular rallying point for both Christians and non-Christians. It is important, therefore to look first at the problems inherent in this area of science before going into the various theories that exist today.
The first major difficulty one encounters in examining this topic is that each of us brings with us our personal biases, presuppositions, beliefs, etc. which we have previously referred to as 'metaphysical shaping principals". This is particularly tme of this topic and it is helpful in reading any article or book on the subject to be aware of where a person is coming from. The problem, however, is that the normal separation drawn between "Christians and Scientists does not hold true as, within the Christian camp, there are many who consider themselves evolutionists and many who consider themselves creationists. This is also true of the Scientists as many consider themselves atheists or agnostics while many consider themselves to be Christians. Further confusion occurs as the definition of what is involved in being a "Christian" is also highly subjective and appears to mean very different things from one extreme to another. Thus it is very useful to try to find out an author's personal beliefs about Jesus Christ, the Bible, etc. before placing too much weight in their
These differences are very evident as you read various commentaries on those topics dealing with creation. Here the conflict may be over the tNth and accuracy of the Bible as a whole (de: The Genesis account is simply a myth) to the meaning of single words that are known to have multiply meanings (de: "yom" throughout the Old Testament). Other problems arise over the accuracy and methodology of recording the Biblical genealogies which many people use to date the earth's age and over the wording of Genesis. 7:19, 20 "They (the waters) rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet." Many people would interpret this to mean a true world-wide flood while others would say it means only that the immediate area was flooded. In the last three examples, solid, conservative, evangelical Christians may differ substantially in their beliefs while still agreeing on the basics of Christianity. Therefore, it must be remembered that nowhere does the Bible make creation/evolution beliefs a criteria for salvation and that many of these points may never be resolved.
However, one must realize that numerous difficulties also arise in examining the scientific aspects of this controversy. While it is always possible to get a good argument going between creationists and evolutionists, even bigger ones can develop among creationists or evolutionists. In both cases this may involve differences over how to interpret the scientific data. Numerous examples of differences of opinion over the use, value and results of radiometric data, human evolution, the exact age of the earth and the nature of the early earth atmosphere are recorded in major scientific publications. One must remember that science, by its very definition, is best at dealing with current events that can be experimented with and observed. It is weakest when it starts looking at past or future events which can neither be experimented with or observed first-hand.
Therefore, regardless of the point of view, the most important thing to keep in mind is the tremendous complexity and diversity of opinion that exists regarding this topic.
However, it is important to recognize the major schools of thought that have gained popularity in recent years. In order to do this we will start with one extreme, involving a literal interpretation of the Bible, and progress to the opposite extreme, an atheistic form of evolution, discussing several major views in between.
Before proceeding with that, however, it is important to draw a distinction between two views known as "microevolution" and "macroevolution" as the tendency today is to simply to use the more general term "evolution". While evolution usually connotes the idea of non-living chemicals changing into more and more complex living forms of different types over long periods of time, microevolution more correctly defines only that portion of the theory of evolution that deals with the "small changes" that we know occur because we have verified them through experimentation and observation. Thus, while many people would disagree with "evolution" they would agree with "microevolution" as it is a scientifically proven theory that not even the most ardent creationists disputes. The portion of "evolution" that causes these folks problems is best distinguished as "macroevolution" which refers to the large changes leading to significantly new species. This is the portion of the theory that has not been observed or proven. By correctly separating the concept of evolution into these two parts, a degree of common ground can be reached by all concerned and the differences can be more quickly addressed.
24-hour Day/Scientific Creationism
These two titles, along with several others, are used to denote those people who believe that the Genesis 1 account is to be interpreted in a literal sense as an actual scientific account of creation and that the Hebrew term "yom" refers to a standard 24-hour period of time. As Youngblood (1990) and Schaeffer (1972) point out, the word "yom" can mean several things, such as a 24-hour period of time, the period of daylight or an unknown period of time. However, many believe that whenever it is used with a numeral (ffrst, second, etc.), as it primarily is in Genesis, then it refers to a 24-hour period of time, a literal day (Chittick 1984; Youngblood 1990). Proponents of this theory also tend to take the genealogies pretty literally and thus arrive at a very young earth, usually less than 10,000 years old. It should be noted, however, that while these people tend to be very conservative Christians the scientists among them make every attempt to base their belief on this theory strictly on scientific evidence. Thus the term "scientific creationists" has been used and they have developed a rather consistent and well thoughtout scientific theory of creation.
A summary of this theory, pieced together from a variety of sources (Morris 1968 and 1974; Patten 1970, 1971, 1972, 1975; Chittick 1984).would start off with a six day period of creation exactly as set forth in Genesis 1 with God miraculously creating all the "kinds", usually thought to be species, ever to exist on earth. Each of these creatures was perfect, genetically, and thus contained the capability to produce the varieties we now have. The earth's geology was fairly "soft" with rolling hills and little change in elevation. The atmosphere was very dense with large amounts of water vapor that protected the earth from harmful ultraviolet rays, which, when combined with the perfect nature of man, contributed to longevity. It also prevented the formation of rainbows and contained enough water for a worldwide flood. This flood was sent by God to punish sinful man who, since the Fall, had been slowly going downhill, spiritually and physically so that, as man moved away from the Tigris-Euphrates area, he degenerated into what evolutionists refer to as man's ancestors, the Java, Neanderthal, etc. fossils.
With the Flood came tremendous changes to the earth's geology as the vast amounts of water and erosion quickly created the huge mountain chains and canyons associated with present day earth. This theory, known as catastrophism, allowed the creation of earth's geology in a relative short period of time. The Flood was also responsible for the extinction of many species and the creation of the fossils. Combined with the extinctions that occurred in a fallen, sinful earth and the increase in UV light after the flood, when the protective clouds were no longer present, many species disappeared from the earth. Man's lifespans also decreased from this point on and the rainbow became visible.
Sin has continued to reign the earth which now exists in a fallen state. However, no new species have ever been formed through macroevolution although microevolution has produced numerous varieties of the species we have.
Another theory, albeit a much less recognized one, attempts to rectify the Biblical account with the theory of evolution by seeing a "gap" between Genesis 1:1 ("In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.") and 1:2 ("Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters."). Thus they would have a perfect, supernatural creation occurring in Genesis 1:1 followed by a complete destruction of that creation in the gap of time between the two verses so that the earth was "formless and empty". This destruction is usually associated with Satan's fall from heaven and is probably when the mass extinctions occurred that created the fossil record we now have and removed "fossil man" from the scene. This
account allows billions of years to pass during this gap and then allows a supernatural creation, as per Genesis 1:3 on, to create earth as we now know it. (Youngblood 1991; Wright 1989).
This theory purports that the author of the Genesis account, Moses, was not recording any sort of chronology or scientific information regarding creation in Genesis 1. He was simply meditating on God's creation and attempting, in a literary and topical fashion, to explain creation and God's relation to it. He chose to do this through a tie-in to the Sabbath concept, hence the seven day pattern. The fact that the sequence he chose to use occasionally fits the evolutionary sequence is purely coincidental (Wright 1989).
Revelation Day Theory
Somewhat similar to the above theory, proponents believe that the days mentioned in Genesis are not the actual days of creation but, rather, they are the days that God revealed those events to Moses. Therefore, on the first day of creation God simply told Moses about the events that Moses records as occurring on that first day.
Progressive Creationism. Theistic Evolution. Geologic-Age Theory. etc.
This theory has numerous variations and titles. However, all are based around the belief that the use of the word "yom" in Genesis 1 does not refer to a normal 24-hour day. Instead, they believe that the word refers to a period of unknown length of time such as an eon or a geologic era (Youngblood 1990, 1991; Wright 1989). This appears to be supported by the use of "yom" in Isaiah 2:11,12,17: "The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day. The LORD Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled). The arrogance of man will be brought low and the pride of men humbled; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day," and Genesis 2:4 "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens." Numerous other verses are used in which the term refers to a period of indefinite time and 2 Peter 3:8, "with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day", is usually mentioned at some point.
One other primary aspect of these theories is the close similarity between the Biblical chronology and the Evolutionary chronology. However, one of the biggest conflicts in attempting to do this is the presence of light (Genesis 1:3-5) on day one before the creation of the sun (Genesis 1:14-19) on day four. Ross (1991) proposes an interesting interpretation that he believes rectifies the Bible and evolution, or at least the astronomical and geological aspects of it. In his opinion, the mistake most interpreters take in trying to explain the Biblical account is to have God viewing the earth from space. It is his belief that, as stated in Genesis 1:2: "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters", God is actually on the earth looking up through the dense cosmos, full of galatic debris from the "big bang", and seeing the already created sun as merely a glow in the heavens. It isn't until the fourth day that the cosmos clears to the point of actually being able to see the sun. Thus, from the "frame of reference" of the speaker, the light can appear before the apparent appearance of the sun (Ross 1979).
In any case, most holders of this view are attempting to mesh both the Genesis account and many aspects of evolution. However, they are rarely willing to support the entire theory of evolution and frequently have God stepping in with a supernatural form of creation at certain points along the way. This usually occurs whereever the Hebrew word "bare" is used. This form of the word for "to create" is highly specific and implies a definite intervention of God (King 1948; Schaeffer 1972). As the term is used in Genesis 1:1, 21, 27 and 5:1,2 it becomes necessary to have God stepping in at these points where God creates out of nothing, creates "conscious life", and creates man (Schaeffer 1972; Ross 1991).
This theory thus reconciles the Biblical account with many aspects of geology and evolutionary biology by allowing long periods of time, macroevolution, once God kicks things off, and, to a degree, the correlating of the chronology of events.
The term "atheistic" is not used here to imply that all who hold to this theory are indeed atheists. Rather, it is meant to separate this belief from the "theistic evolution" theory frequently connected to the theory mentioned above and to imply that God is in no way required for this theory.
As usually explained, the theory of evolution begins with a "Big Bang" in which a giant cloud of hydrogen gas explodes, creating numerous other elements and eventually forming the cosmos. This occurred over 15 billion years ago and probably lead to earth's formation around 4.6 billion years ago. Over the next several million years the earth cooled, solidified and began forming complex organic compounds in a highly volatile environment of lightning storms, extreme temperatures and gases such as ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide and water vapor. These then formed "precells" which led to the first cells around 4.0 billion years ago. Presently, however, the oldest fossils we have are approximately 3.7 billion years ago.
These first cells would have been very simple, "prokaryotic" cells that eventually would have to develop the capability to perform photosynthesis as this was required to convert the primative earth atmosphere to an oxygen based one capable of supporting life as we know it. With this type of environment, about 2.0 billion years ago, the first "eukaryotic" cells formed, most likely from a symbiotic association of several different types of prokaryotic cells. Up until now all these organisms have been unicellular, composed of only one cell. It is hypothesized that between .5 and 1.0 billion years ago the first multicellular organisms formed making increased complexity, specialization and adaptation possible.
Evolutionists believe that at this point the ancestors of all future organisms were present and development from this point on occurred due to four basic factors: mutations, genetic drift, gene flow and natural selection. The first three factors all create changes in the "gene pool" of a "population". The population is a group of the same type of organisms (a species) located in the same area. The makeup of the entire populations genetic material is referred to as its gene pool which contains all the variations (de: blue, brown and green eyes) that exist in the population. Mutations change this gene pool by creating entirely new genes due to a sudden, inheritable change in the nitrogen base sequence of the gene. This creates a new gene that is going to either kill the organism because the mutation has removed the organism's ability to make a certain protein it needs, not affect it at all because the change was insignificant or give the organism the ability to make a protein that helps it in some way. It is this third possibility that leads to evolution. Unfortunately, less than 1% of all mutations are beneficial.
Genetic drift, on the other hand, is simply the random changes that occur in a populations gene pool over time simply due to chance matings. This can be illustrated by looking at the percentage of male and female babies born to a certain population. While there is always a 50:50 chance of a male or a female being created when a sperm and an egg meet, this ratio is rarely seen in actuality. Thus, over a given period of time, more males may be born giving the population a higher percentage of "Y" chromosomes in its gene pool. Ten years later there may have been more females born so genetic drift will occur and the gene pool will now have more "X" genes than it did before.
This same type of random occurrence can change the gene pool through gene flow. Here, however, there is an actual physical movement of the genes into and out of the population as the organism with those genes physically leave (emigrate) or enter (immigrate) the population. Thus genes that were once present may no longer be available while new genes may enter the population's gene pool. Either way the gene pool is altered and evolution is affected.
Each of these three factors results in variation occurring within a population. The most important aspect of evolution, Darwin's original "survival of the fittest", occurs when the "environment", essentially everything surrounding and affecting an organism, begins to select for or against certain variations within that gene pool. This natural selection occurs because certain variations give an organism an advantage under certain conditions while other variations will prove detrimental. Those organisms with the "adaptive advantage" are most likely to survive to reproductive age while those with the other variations will not. If an organism reproduces more than its competitors it will contribute more of its genes, which are ultimately responsible for all variations, to the gene pool. Over time the population will thus take on different characteristics due to this "differential reproduction".
This slow change over time is microevolution and has been demonstrated both in the field and in the lab. However, evolutionists believe that given enough time and enough small changes, entirely new species can be formed due to the cumulative affect of the microevolutions. This is macroevolution which has never been demonstrated or seen to occur. However, evolutionists believe that the fossil record provides ample evidence of it having occurred in the past.
It is readily apparent that the entire topic of origins suffers from several major problems. It has become a very controversial topic and discussions about it usually result in more smoke than fire. Secondly, we are dealing with events that occurred before man ever appeared. We must, therefore, rely on limited data which is open to highly subjective analysis and which can be used to support highly diverse theories depending on one's metaphysical shaping principals. Finally, in both creation and evolution, large amounts of information must be taken on faith, whether evolutionists like to admit it or not, as there are simply too many unprovable points in all of the above theories.
One then begins to realize that, perhaps, this is one topic that is best removed from the scientific classroom and placed into the philosophical or theological curriculum. After all, science deals best with things it can readily observe and experiment with.
IV. STEWARDSHIP ECOLOGY
While the problem of origins has served as a dividing line between many Christians and science for over a hundred years, another source of division between the two raised its head in 1967. With the publication of Lynn White's Science article "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis" Western Christianity was blamed for the ecological degradation that we were just then becoming aware of. White's article, published in such a prestigious scientific journal, and the favorable reception it received among the scientific community further stressed the opinion many scientists have of Biblical Christianity. More importantly, the poor response from the Christian community to his assertions pointed out that, even if Christianity was not responsible for the problems, we were certainly not concerned or responsive to the issues.
However, providing a response to White and developing a Christian approach to our environmental crisis is important beyond its simple debate value. As White (1967) himself pointed out "What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them. Human ecology is deeply conditioned by beliefs about our nature and destiny- that is, by religion." Therefore, it is imperative that Christians develop a proper, Biblical response in order to guide our approach to the problem.
If we believe that the Bible contains Ultimate Truth, God's Truth, then we will be held accountable by God to convey it and apply it to all aspects of life. This is particularly important regarding the ecological crisis as Massey ( 1985) states:
"Unlike the threat of nuclear war, the destruction wrought by these crises is not potential. It is happening right now. It does not hang upon a single bad decision that we may hope will never occur. It is the cumulative effect of a billion small decisions made by people who believe that their part in the destruction doesn't count."
This quote offers several insights into the question at hand. First is the accurately stated similarity to the effects of a nuclear war as both are capable of creating a world where life as we know is no longer possible. Secondly, as Moncrief (1970) points out, pollution in much of the developed world is, by nature of the democracies and land ownership patterns present, a truly democratic mess, not restricted to a small number of rich landowners. We are each truly to blame for the mess and, as such, we are each truly responsible and capable of cleaning it up.
In response to the many Christians that continue to believe that the major issue facing Christians in science is the creation/evolution debate I would relate DeWitt's (Wright 1989) oft told story about the group of people standing outside a beautiful art museum that is being vandalized by thiefs. As graffiti is being sprayed on the beautiful marble exterior and masterpiece after masterpiece is being destroyed forever, this group of people is debating how the building came to be there in the first place. If their pattern continues there will soon be no museum to talk about. Surely, God has called Christian scientists to delve into more than one topic.
The purpose of this paper is to attempt to shift our awareness away from the origins question, as important as it may be, and towards the more immediate and life threatening question of how we will save the world God entrusted to us. While the preceding section attempted to be a lesson on the scientific aspects of origins, here we will be concerned only with the historical and philosophical issues affecting our approach to the scientific aspects of ecology.
The basis for our current ecological philosophy, which will be discussed next, should be based upon Biblical principals found in both the Old and New Testaments. These sources also serve as the basis for the oldest approach to the environment as they are the record of the Hebrew's view of the relationship between God, the land and man. A brief look at the Old Testament, and the meaning it had to the early Christians, reveals the following important aspects of their Godrevealed view of nature:
1. God created the earth out of nothing (Gen. 1:1,2; John 1:3).
2. It was created good (Gen. 1:31).
3. Part of the goodness was man's having "dominion" over the
earth (Gen 1:28; Gen. 2:15).
4. When man fell his relation to nature and nature's relation to
itself was affected, "cursed" (Gen. 3:7; Rom. 8:20-22).
5. In spite of this:
a. God is still at work sustaining the creation (Col. 1:16,17;
Hebrews. 1 :3) and
b. Nature still serves to glorify and reveal God (Ps. 19:1-6;
Rom. 1 :20).
6. Since the land belongs to God and is only a promise or gift to
a. man is a steward of God's property ()
b. possession and bounty of land is by God's grace and
obedience to God is required to keep and maintain the
land (Lev.26:14; Lev. 25:18,19; Lev. 26:3-5)
c. the land is limited and is to be divided between the "
tribes" (Joshua 13)
d. the land is deserving of a rest every Sabbath (seventh)
Year and every Jubilee (fiftieth) Year (Lev. 25:8-17; Lev.
e. the land is to be used to help the poor, the orphaned
and the widowed (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 24: 19-22).
The most controversial aspect of this mindset probably revolves around the idea of man's dominion which will be more clearly defined in the philosophical section of this discussion.
While the JudeoChristian influences contributed greatly to Western thought, the Greek ideas were also instrumental in defining Western beliefs. While the majority of Greek philosophers did not deal specifically with nature it is possible to briefly state their apparent views on nature based primarily upon their approach to the physical world in general. Thus Plato would say that nature was imperfect, constantly changing and untrustworthy as it is only a poor reflection of the the real, perfect and eternal world of the intellect. This created a contempt for the physical world that continues in many aspects of Western thought.
Aristotle, Plato's most famous student, raised the material world, and thus nature, to a much higher plane believing it was the true form and that knowledge c-an be obtained by the senses' observation of nature. His beliefs resulted in his widespread interest in nature and his creation of some of the first zoos, gardens, classification systems, etc. were practical outgrowths of his philosophy. Other philosophers of the time either raised nature to the divine status (Stoics) or lowered it to the level of a giant machine (Epicureans). (Wilkensen 1991)
During the Middle Ages knowledge and learning were restricted primarily to the monasteries run by the Catholic church. While the majority of the orders paid little attention to the world around them, being highly influenced by Aristotle's separation of the flesh from the mind/spirit, the orders founded by Francis of Assisi and Benedict of Nursia (Dubus 1974) were highly involved in nature. The Franciscans, based on St. Francis' desire to live in total harmony with all other creatures, sought to disrupt nature as little as possible and as such did not wish to subject nature to any form of human order. To many this resulted in a very unrealistic approach although many today seek to emulate St. Francis' approach to life in an effort to solve our ecological crisis (White 1967). Either way, the Franciscans were responsible for encouraging man to study nature to learn about God (Wilkensen 1991). On the other hand, the Benedictines sought to work with nature and to "tend the garden" as explained in Genesis. They were involved in all aspects of life around their monasteries and were instrumental in many of the practical inventions and advances that occurred during this time (Weigand 1984; Dubus 1974). For the first several centuries of their existence they actually did a great deal to heal the ecological destruction caused by the Romans throughout Europe. However, by the 8th century they became more materialistic in their lifestyle and actually became a part of the problem rather than part of the solution (Woods 1984).
In the late 1600's events coincided to lead to the Industrial and Scientific Revolution that was to change the Western world forever. At the heart of these changes were the scientists, especially the astronomers, who influenced environmental thought through their belief in the power of the senses, the ability to know about God through their observations and, eventually, their belief that the world was simply a machine operating by strict mathematical principals. The earliest astronomers were indeed Christians who saw themselves fulfilling numerous Biblical injunctions as they explored the heavens. While many of their pronouncements disagreed with the Catholic church's teaching, few if any disagreed with the Bible. However, other scientists of this age began to seriously question the Biblical teachings as they sought to distance man from God. It was their belief, "supported" by their science, that led to a view of nature that was to cause most of the ecological problems of the Western world. While White may seek to blame Christianity for these beliefs others see it quite differently:
"I would say that the great modern exploitation of nature has taken place under the reign of a liberal humanism in which man no longer conceives of himself as being under a creator, and in which therefore his place of dominance in the universe and his right to dispose of nature for his own ends is, unlike the situation in the Bible, unlimited." (Barr 1974)
A careful examination of exactly when during this time this shift against nature occurred will indeed show it to occur after the humanists had established themselves as the dominants of the period.
This attack on nature was also influenced by the politics of the region as the French Revolution led to a redistribution of the nations wealth, land, production capabilities, etc. The ability to pollute thus became accessible to more people. Throughout Europe the Industrial Revolution contributed to the increase in pollution as production capabilities increased creating more problems. Finally, the increased affluence of the masses, combined with the increased production capabilities led to increased demand for products with its associated increase in waste (Moncrief 1970).
While America lagged behind Europe in terms of industrial development, it suffered from its own set of problems during this period. The majority of these were, unfortunately, due to the Pilgrims interpretation of the Biblical command to "subdue" the earth. In their religion, which saw the unordered, primitive wilderness of the New World as evidence of the Fall, this took on a very different meaning in which the destruction of the wilderness took on the role of a missionary undertaking. When this was coupled with the seemingly unending resources available in the New World, a "frontier mentality" soon developed that was to carry this country through the next several hundred years of exploration, development and exploitation of the land (Wilkinson 1991).
This trend was interupted briefly during the early 1 800's by the movement known as "Romanticism" in Europe and, usually, "Transcendentalism" in America. These philosophies recognized the direction the Industrial Revolution was taking and sought to redirect man into an appreciation of nature. Thomas Jefferson, John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were all strong proponents of this credo which is frequently summed up in Thoreau's quote "In wilderness is the preservation of the world" (Wilkinson 1991).
Unfortunately, these men did not prevent the continued expansion of the frontier accompanied by its destruction. Indeed, this frontier mentality has continued to today, particularly in the West, and is seen in the destruction of the rainforests of South America.
In America, this entire history culminates in the idea of "Utilitarianism" which borrows from the Epicureans and many of the thinkers of the Industrial and Scientific Revolution, such as Galileo. Briefly stated, this philosophy sees the consequences of an act as of prime importance, not the act or the motive behind it. Thus there are no good or bad actions, just good or bad results. The classic "the end justifies the mean" applies here. The implications to the environment are many for the destruction of forests, the extinction of species, the poisoning of lakes and streams are not in and of themselves wrong if they lead to profit, fulfillment and wealth for those involved. Indeed, it is the fulfillment of man's wants and desires that become the primary measure of the goodness or badness of an act (Wilkinson 1991). Thus, coupled with America's "rugged individualism" growing from its frontier mentality, we ended up with a national ethic that stressed the importance and power of the individual. Unfortunately, it is this combination of philosophies that has guided business, government and individual actions for over a hundred years and which has led us to our present environmental crisis.
A Christian Response
As we examine this brief history, it is possible to cast the blame on numerous philosophies, individuals and groups. However, as previously stated, pollution in America is due to each individual, whether due to our democratic form of government which gives us control of our legislatures, our free-market economic system which makes each of us stockholders or customers of the polluters or our own lifestyles with their wasteful patterns of consumerism. It is thus up to us as individuals to say "Enough" and to stand against our own past to reverse the destruction.
To do this requires a basic foundation or philosophy which will justify and guide our actions. As Christians we can do no better than to return to the Old Testament example set forth by God himself to guide the Hebrews. However, we also have the benefit of the New Testament and its teachings as well as the insights Christ and the apostles offered regarding the meaning of the Old Testament.
At the outset it is important to stress that man's relationship to his environment is not the most important one we are involved in. As Henry (1987) reminds us, our relationship to God should be our number one concern as He is man's most permanent and universal environment. Only once we have reestablished and repaired that relationship can we begin to heal our relations with our fellow humans and our physical environment. This is particularly important for us to remember as it reminds us that only Christians have the ability to truly heal our broken relationship with nature as only we have the means to heal our broken relationship with God, which started the downward spiral.
Prior to the breaking of these relationships, due to the Fall, God had created a perfect world that belongs to Him (Genesis 1:31; Psalms. 50: 7-12). Part of the goodness of this new world was the relationship between God, man and the rest of creation. As Schaeffer(1984) points out, a unique aspect of Christianity, that provides a true understanding of our correct relation to nature, centers around the fact that the God of the Bible is both Infinite and Personal. He is Infinite in that He is the Creator God who created all things on earth. Yet, for some reason He chose to establish a personal relationship with man as seen in our being made in His image (Genesis 1:26), His conversing with Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3:8) and His willingness to sacrifice His son for us (John 3:16). These two aspects of God create a unique set of conditions in which we are lumped together with our fellow creations due to God's infinite nature and separated from them by our personal relation with God and the fact that he set us over them. This situation is illustrated in the following diagram:
Only Christianity, therefore, offers justification for both man's respect for nature, as a fellow created being, and man's authority over it, due to God's ordering of creation.
This command to man giving him authority over creation is seen in Genesis 1:28 and 9:2,3. Here God makes it very clear that, even prior to the Fall, part of God's plan for the earth was that man was to be in charge of it. However, as we saw with the Pilgrim's interpretation of this "dominion" it is not as straightforward as we might hope. The Hebrew words used for "to subdue" and "rule over" are "kabash" and "radah" respectively. In examining other Scriptures where these words are used (Micah 7:19; Isaiah 4:2-6; Nehemiah 9:28; Joshua 18:1; Jeremiah 34:11, 16; Nehemiah 5:5; Leviticus 25:43) the uses are almost exclusively forceful and negative in connotation as they deal with God, armies, countries or rulers subduing and ruling over others. Only in I Kings 4:24 and Psalms 72:8 is the connotation somewhat positive as Solomon's rule over his dominion is related. However, radah is also used to mean "supervision" as in I Kings 5:16 and 9:23 and II Chronicles 8:10 where workers are being guided in the performance of their duties (Dewitt 1991) and, perhaps, this is the meaning which best fits the Genesis passage. Man's dominion and rule over nature thus becomes a guiding, supervising quality rather than a dominating, subduing tone.
One must remember, however, that words and verses cannot be taken on their own. They must be understood within the framework of other Scriptures dealing with God's and man's relationship to nature. We have already mentioned that God made nature, that He created it "good", and that He owns it. It therefore is difffcult to imagine God then telling his caretaker, man, to feel free to destroy His perfect creation. Thus it seems more likely that God was giving man authority over His property much as any landlord would give
authority to his steward to care for his property during his absence. As in Matthew 25 and Luke 12, where the servants or stewards are commended for having properly exercised care over the master's property, we are to properly exercise care over God's property so that, when He returns, we may return His property in better shape than we received it. This is supported by Genesis 2:15 when man is placed in the garden to care and tend for it.
Unfortunately, sin entered into the picture with the Fall and man became separated form God, himself, other humans and nature. Indeed, so close was the connection between man and nature that, because of man's sin, the ground was cursed (Genesis 3:16). In Romans 8:19-22, Paul states that the entire creation is groaning in pain due to the sin of man and is waiting for Christ's return to be freed. Numerous verses in the Old Testament show how the land is continually affected by man's action, especially his disobedience (Hosea 4:1-3; Isaiah 24:4-5; Jeremiah 4:18-28; Micah 6:1-15).
The fall thus changed a God-ordained situation in which nature obeyed man, was tame and revealed itself to man (Genesis 2:19-20) to one in which nature fought man due to its wild and fearful nature and where man was afraid and confused by nature (Genesis 9:2-3) (Henry, 1987).
Many, including the Pilgrims, have used this change to turn nature itself into an evil force to be reckoned with. It must be remembered, however, that even in its fallen state, nature still reveals God's handiwork (Psalms 19:1-6; Romans 1:20) and that God is still at work sustaining and upholding His creation (Colossians 1:16- 17; Hebrews 1:3). One has difficulty imagining either of these being true if nature is seen by God as being evil deserving to be destroyed in order to be redeemed. This is particularly true in light of Henry's (1987) statement that:
"Nature is the creation of a sovereign, rational, moral God who continually reveals himself in nature...He has fashioned nature as an environment in which humans have responsible dominion over inanimate and animal existence in the service of good and for the implementation of His moral purposes"
The concept of "environmental stewardship" or "stewardship ecology" thus seems to best describe the attitude Christians ought to have towards nature, especially when combined with the practical concepts of justice set forth in the Old Testament. If, indeed, the earth is the Lord's and we are merely His caretakers then all the Biblical concepts regarding stewardship should be applied to the land itself. Byron's "Ethics of Stewardship" (1978) are particularly relevant when applied to our current environmental problems:
"The unethical steward is the person who violates that trust (caring for God's material creation):
1. by neglecting to care for that which has been entrusted; 2. by destroying without adequate reason the substance of that which has been entrusted; or 3. by appropriating or assigning to oneself the exclusive use of that which has been entrusted, and doing so in a way which denies the legitimate claims of others.
A trustworthy steward is one who models Christcompassionate, trustworthy, humble, self-sacrificing."
One dictionary defines the term "euthanasia" as "The action of inducing the painless death of a person for reasons assumed to be merciful; an easy or painless death" (Morris 1976) while many prefer to refer to it as "death with dignity. However, these rather bland definitions belie the tremendous amount of controversy and passion that the term has generated. The term was apparently first used in 1920 by Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche in their book entitled The Release of the Destruction of Life Devoid of Value (Koop and Schaeffer 1983) and basically refers to the process of either passively or actively seeking to end another's life to avoid future suffering. At first glance this appears to be a noble endeavor. However, the term passive euthanasia applies to the all too common practice of starving to death a newborn child suffering from what are considered to be too serious congenital defects while active euthanasia is being practiced without the consent of the patient in many cases.
The controversy is further fueled by several significant changes that are occurring in modern medicine as our population lives longer (Spring and Larson 1988). Presently, 25-33% of acute hospital care in the United States is being spent on patients who die within one year while 33% of all Medicare dollars go to patients who will die, even with all the care they receive, within six months. In an era where our country is facing increased costs and the inability to feed our children proponents of euthanasia ask if it is really wise to spend 50% of a person's lifetime medical costs on the last six months of their life (Krabil 1988).
The processes involved in administering euthanasia are varied. As stated above, passive euthanasia refers to simply not doing something that would continue to keep the patient alive. This can then be used to refer to any procedure which does not provide a necessary life requirement to the patient: food, oxygen, life support equipment, etc. However, increasing emphasis is being placed on what might be called active euthanasia in which steps are taken to end the patient's life through injections, pills, or other deliberate mpans whether they are administered by the patient themselves or by a loved one or doctor.
Are such practices legitimate in a pluralistic society? Does the Bible have anything to say about such practices? Should Christians stand against them? The following section will attempt to trace the history of medical ethics regarding the sanctity of life and arrive at a Biblical perspective that will help us address this important issue.
Although the Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) was indeed an historical figure the medical oath that bears his name is most likely a document created by a group of his followers who, in the 4th century B.C. sought to set forth a code on ethics and conduct to guide the fledgling medical profession (Grolier 1991; Halsey and Johnston 1987). One translation of this oath is as follows:
"I swear by Apollo the physician, by AEsculapius, by Hygeia, Panacea, and all the gods and goddesses, that, according to my best ability and judgement, I will keep this oath and stipulation; to reckon him who taught me this are equally dear to me as my parents; to share my substance with him and relieve his necessities if required; to regard his offspring on the same footing as my own brothers, and to teach them this art if they shall which to learn it, without fee or stipulation, and that by precept, oral teaching and every mode of instruction, I will impart a knowledge of the art to my own sons and to those of my teachers, and to disciples bound by stipulation and oath, according to the law of medicine, but to no others.
I will follow that method of treatment, which, according to my ability and judgement, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; furthermore, I will not give to a woman an instrument to produce abortion.
With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my art. I will not cut a person who is suffering with a stone, but I will leave this to be done by practitioners of this work. Into whatever houses I enter I will go into them for the benefit of the sick and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption, and, further, from the seduction of females or males, bond or free.
Whatever in connection with my professional practice, or not in connection with it, I may see or hear in lives of men which ought not to be spoken abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret.
While I continue to keep this oath inviolate, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of my art, respected always by all men, but should I trespass and violate this oath, may the reverse be my lot." (Halsey and Johnston 1987).
Until modified in 1948, this oath was the guiding light of both ancient and modern medicine and set the tone for much of how a doctor conducted himself. Thus, both traditional Greek medicine, at least once this oath was accepted, as well as the physicians prior to 1948 had a strong mindset against both euthanasia and abortion.
The traditional Jewish approach, based largely on the Torah and its historical tradition, has also greatly influenced Western medicine. While many Jewish scholars would say that the "sanctity of human life" is too vague an idea (Jakobovits 1986) they would hold that Jewish tradition had a great deal to say relative to the issue. Such tradition is built upon their believe that God created man and did so in His image (Genesis 1:26) and that man's life is sacred in a very special way (Genesis 4:8-15, 9:5-6). Therefore, to take a man's life in any way, apart from capital punishment, is against Jewish tradition. This tradition is underscored by their believe in the sovereignty of God who alone has control over all aspects of mankind, including lifespan, as expressed throughout the Scriptures (Job 1 :21; Deuteronomy 32:39; Psalms 135:6; Psalms 139; Ecclesiastes 12:7). Included in this tradition is the injunction against murder in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:13) where the Hebrew word "ratsach" is used to mean the taking of an innocent life intentionally as well as the order of David to kill the man who, essentially, performed euthanasia for King Saul at the king's request (II Samuel 1:5-16). Finally, the Old Testament includes several passages where people requested that God take their life before God's timing called for, in each case He refused (I Kings 19:3-6).
On the basis of these Scriptures, Jewish tradition holds that human life is infinite in value and, since infinity is indivisible, seventy years of life is as valuable as two minutes of life. To believe otherwise, they would say, would mean that someone with two hours to live is twice as valuable as one with only one hour to live as a person's value would be based soley on his expected lifespan. Therefore, a doctor who takes a patient's life is guilty of first degree murder whether or not a patient gives his permission as the patient himself is not the master of their own life (Jakobovits 1986). Thus we also have a Jewish tradition that is strongly against any form of euthanasia.
As Darwinian Evolution gained hold in science it eventually spread its philosophy to virtually all aspects of thought. Nietzsche based much of his philosophy upon it and as a result the idea that God was needless or dead became wide spread among intellectuals of the late 1 800's and early 1 900's. With that thought came the demise of absolutes in either truth or ethics/morals. This lead to the publishing, in 1933, of the Humanist Manifesto which stated "that modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values" (Geisler 1987).
In hindsight then, it should have come as no surprise when German physicians and scientists proposed the extermination of the physically and socially unfit that resulted, in 1939, in the death by euthanasia of 275,000 children and adults who were killed because they were mentally defective, psychotic, epileptic, or suffering from infantile paralysis, Parkinsonism, multiple sclerosis or brain tumors (Brown and Cameron 1988). As the war began, and throughout it, this lead to the extermination of the chronically ill, socially disturbing, and any others deemed socially or politically unacceptable. Frequently such exterminations were conducted in the name of medicine and science.
While the world was horrified by these atrocities and attempted to reaffirm the belief in the Hippocratic Oath for physicians in 1949, the reaffirmed Hippocratic Oath was modified greatly to the following:
I solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of humanity. I will give to my teachers the respect and gratitude that is their due; I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity; the health of my patients will be my first consideration; I will respect the secrets which are confided in me; I will maintain by all means in my power the honor and noble traditions of the medical profession; my colleagues will be my brothers; I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, party politics, or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient; I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception; even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity. I make these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honor." (Halsey and Johnston 1987)
Notice that while the emphasis remains on respecting life "from time of conception", the wording has been toned down from the original and that the original injunction against giving "no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel" has been dropped entirely.
The consensus thus began to shift from a belief in the intrinsic value of life where a person has both a body and a soul to a belief that the "value of our existence lies only in the experiences we have" (Brunk 1988). Therefore, a human has no inherent value; value exists only if the pleasure an individual experiences is greater than the pain in their life. This has led to a belief in abortion, suicide and euthanasia as remedies for a person's prioblems. These views were reinforced with the publication in 1973 of the Human Manifesto II which stated that each of these were "rights" of humanity (Geisler 1987).
We have thus come to the point where the original meaning of euthanasia, ensuring that a patient had an easy, gentle and undistressful death, has come to mean the "deliberate termination of someone's life in order to relieve distress and suffering, where the underlying illness cannot be cured" (Chalmers 1988). The problem is that these vague terms such as "relieve distress and suffering" and"qualitv of life" can refer to the patient. their baby, their relatives, their doctors or society (Cameron and Brown 1988). As such we have doctors, patients, relatives, live-in-lovers, states, federal authorities, and everyone else trying to "pull the plug" or trying to prevent others from "pulling the plug". Each instance seems to have different opponents on different sides of the issue.
As Koop and Schaeffer (1983) see it "we live in a society today where all things are relative and the final value is whatever makes the individual or society "happy" or feel good at the moment. This is even true with regard to human life".
If society as a whole is in turmoil over this issue and if few authority figures are willing to set forth an answer, where can Christians turn? Again, as with our study of stewardship ecology, the Bible gives definite answers based upon God's absolutes.
Referring back to the section on Jewish traditions we can see how the Old Testament set forth a belief in the value of a human life because man is created by God and made in God's image. The several stories mentioned already, including Saul's death and Elijah's desire to die, tell of God's belief in His control over the time of death. This particularly relates to the matter of suicide, which is currently being encouraged by numerous "societies" that have formed to make such an alternative available to patients desiring it, as seen in Exodus 20:13, Daniel 5:23, Romans 13:9, Matthew 5:22 and Ephesians 5:29.
The New Testament reaffirms these values and beliefs as seen in I Corinthians 6:19. "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own" and 1 Corinthians 6:20, "you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." Christ Himself recognized the importance of allowing God the Father to determine the time and manner of His death as seen in Matthew 26:39, "Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." Even as He stood trial He remained silent "Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly" (I Peter 2:23).
As Christians we too should accept God's control over our lives and allow Him to decide when our time on earth has ended. This therefore, removes the choice of active euthanasia. However, the choice of accepting passive euthanasia, perhaps by not allowing heroic life saving measures to take place, is a much more difficult question. The problem here is usually one of degree, condition of the patient before and after the measures have been taken, etc. While many would say that if God has made possible the technology to maintain a person's life it should be used, others would say that just because such technology has been invented does not mean that it is ethical, correct or necessary to use it. They would point to the numerous high-tech weapons, genetic techniques, etc. that have been invented as examples of technology that is best left alone. Unfortunately, the Bible does not offer much assistance at this point and individuals must reach their own conclusions.
However, should this also apply to non-Christains who do not believe that God is in control of their lives? Should Christians respect their difference of opinion and make available to them the means to fulfill their desires? The Bible is rather emphatic on this point as, whether a person believes in God and the principals related above or not does not make them false. If a person does not believe in gravity they will still plunge to their death if they attempt to walk out a thirty story window. Therefore it is our responsibility to prevent society from continuing along such a path to the best of our ability. As Christians we are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). We also need to remember that God's grace can only be imparted to the living and anything that hastens their death is restricting the ability of that grace to save them.