Christian Biotechnology: Not a Contradiction in Terms
Presented with the idea of "Bioethics" most people in the scientific community today immediately get the impression of repressive, Luddite forces wishing to stifle research and advancement in the name of morality and God. Unfortunately, this stereotype too often holds true. If one looks over the many independent sites on the Internet regarding bioethics, reads popular magazines and publications, or browses library shelves for books on bioethics, the message seems quite frequently negative. Many Christians --and particularly those in conservative camps-- seem to have a deep seated fear of many elements of biotechnology. While this is slightly less problematic with such advances as genetically modified plants and animals (which are targeted more by liberal neo-pagans and primitivists), it is certainly very true in the field of medical experimentation and especially stem cell and embryonic research. In many ways, this dedication to an anti-technology stance is very unfortunate. It seems that the bulk of Christian activists are failing to realize that biotechnology can serve as a powerful tool for the advancement of Christian principles and goals, and that far from being an enemy it may actually be an ally in the cause of Christ. In a very real way, biotechnology may actually give mortal humans the power to actually enact the answers to questions such as "what would Jesus do?" Jesus would miraculous cure the sick, feed the masses with a single loaf of bread and a few fish, cast out demons, and raise the dead -- these are things that we may never have done before, but today are on the verge of being able to do. As a manager and mover in the fields of biotechnology or pharmaceuticals, a Christian has the opportunity to radically approach these issues with a fresh new perspective which sees inhuman progress a pathway towards the ultimate realization of the mission of Christians here on earth.
In orderly to fairly discuss the issues at hand, it is important to establish a few basic assumptions. Any debate in which the parties do not clearly state the assumptions on which their arguments are based must be doomed to be unproductive, because if the underlying assumptions clash then one cannot logically reach agreement on the conclusions drawn from such disparate foundations.
In this paper, several very basic Christian assumptions are made. The first is that the Bible is indeed the literal word of God, and that it is the only true authority on the will of God. While tradition is useful, it is only valuable as it gives insight into the obscurities (or in the case of Jewish traditions, the context) of scripture and is not in itself authoritative. So for example a tradition which states that abortion is wrong would not be theologically valid without direct scriptural support, though for the record if one studies scriptures it is possible to indeed construct a case against abortion. As a correlate with this idea is that which states God himself endowed humans with reason and with intellectual and scientific abilities, and that these abilities should be honored. Reason and science allow us to understand the scriptures and the universe, and it is not an affront to God to study science and pursue knowledge of the physical world in order to understand his ways better.
It is further the contention of this writer that the original creation of God has fallen from its state of grace and been corrupted. So what now passes for "natural" is only the state of nature as corrupted by sin and not necessarily reflective of God's original design, which can be learned from His Holy Nature as seen in the Bible more than from looking at the physical world. Only pagans and pseudo-pantheists look at the world as it currently is physically and assume morality from that world -- in short, this paper holds that something being more or less "natural" is in no way evidence that it is more or less moral.
The final, and certainly most controversial (among Christians) point which this paper assumes is that the role of Christians is to perfect the world as much as possible and to stand against (and hopefully defeat) the fruits of sin. God tells us to be perfect as He is perfect (Matt. 5:48) and he instructs us to pray that the will of God will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. (Matt. 6:10) This seems to indicate that we are meant to do our best to emulate God, and to return the earth to the status it held before the Fall when it was like Heaven. This is not to say the arguments presented here depend on embracing a Kingdom Theology or even a millennial stance, though this might help prove their perceived merit. Even from a very conservative perspective which believes in the Rapture and suggests that the world is incapable of being perfected, one must surely understand that the closer we can bring the world to the perfection of heaven (though we can never fulfill the will of God completely) the closer we will be to fulfilling the mission which we have been given. Many theologists have allowed that our duty is to "sustain, restore, and improve... our fallen world. We are called to mitigate the Fall's effects and thus improve human and planetary life." (Gushee, 34)
So whether or not it is possible to perfect the world, the argument of this paper is that our solemn duty as Christians is to use all means at our disposal to bring the spiritual and physical world into alignment with the will of God.
Biotechnology has the potential to be a part of bringing the physical world into alignment with God's will. In addition to instructing his people on the pastoral care of their fellow Christians and the need for witnessing, it seems that Jesus and his exalted father have also given other commandments to humankind. For example, mankind was supposed to be a guardian and caretaker of the garden of the world, and later, after the time of Noah, a shepherd of the animals of the world. Christians in particular also have a mission to feed the hungry of the world, care for the sick and dying, and bestow mercy upon those who are suffering. This call to social service could theoretically be fulfilled by such beautiful and self-sacrificing lives as that led by Mother Theresa. To some degree however, there are rather small limits to what one person can do practically in direct philanthropy. On the other hand, through biotechnology it may be possible to fulfill these commands from the comfort of the boardroom and the laboratory with more far-reaching results than one could hope for in the actual mission field. Through biotechnology it may be possible to create a supply of genetically modified crops that could solve problems with world hunger and truly fulfill our mission to feed the hungry. Through biotechnology it may be possible to once and for all eradicate many of the diseases that plague mankind, and forever answer the call to care for the sick. Through biotechnology we may be able to save lives and to extend lives, both lengthening the ministry of Christians and the time that the unsaved have to accept Christ. Through biotechnology we may finally be able to eradicate many aspects of suffering and even sin that have plagued humankind, and in so doing fulfill the demands of God upon us. With this is mind, it is both sad and ludicrous that Christians have put so much energy into resisting biotechnology.
Loaves and Fishes:
Biotechnology and the Miracle of Food Production
Two of the great miracles of Christ are recorded in Matthew 14 and 15, which speak of his dividing five loves and two fishes (or in the second case seven loaves and a few fishes) and with them feeding thousands of people with food to spare. Another great miracle at the wedding in Cana occurs when Jesus turned water into wine. (John 2) The holy scriptures specifically say that the wine of Jesus was better than the best wine that could be bought. In many ways, these miracles are prototypes for the goals of a biotechnologist -- to take the minimal gifts of nature and replicate them and improve upon them. Feeding the hungry and filling a need with better products than previously existed was one of the roles of the Messiah, and it is something that his followers can aspire to continue in.
Perhaps one of the most promising areas in which biotechnology may better the world is in the area of increased food production, and a betterment in farming techniques and yields. Unlike some other areas of biotechnology studies, the genetic modification and adaptation of food producers such as plants and meat animals is already well underway. This is not a matter of distant sci-fiction with its speculative threats to human well-being and its questionable possibility of success. Genetically…