by Kimberley Pfeiffer
We have learnt so much about human life through scientific advancement. By the study of science, we observe life and death, health and disease, growth and decay.
Scientists have crafted theses, methodically tested them, weighed theory against theory, and settled old contentions and created new ones, all in an attempt to gain understanding and develop the body of knowledge that informs the human sciences.
We use this knowledge to develop medicines and technologies to help the sick, find cures, to fight diseases, to improve surgeries, and promote the health of communities. We have lowered infant, childhood and maternal mortality rates, and reduced death rates from communicable diseases and illness from infections. More people are surviving cancers and living longer.
It is good to give God thanks for scientific and technological advances because we benefit from them whether we are aware of it or not.
Yet it is wise to remember that science cannot provide itself with a moral compass to govern experimentation and regulate the way we use technology.
The very same ultrasound used to confirm early life in the womb can be used to guide a needle aimed at ending the life of the unborn. Experimentation can help us develop cures and treatments, but scientific progress does not justify any and every experiment. We only need to be reminded about the torture of concentration camp prisoners in the name of scientific progress during World War II to find a sober mind about these things.
Science and technology cannot ask questions or make choices about how we value human life or what is good medicine. These are not scientific questions. These are questions of ethics: what is good, right, responsible, just, beneficent and non-maleficent. The answers to these questions are informed by so much more than science. That is where our faith comes in.
In the New Testament God reveals to us how we should understand life at the deepest level, which is always in relation to God and, even more specifically, in relation to Jesus. The book of John begins by referring to the ‘beginning’, before the creation of the world. It reads, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made’
‘Word’ in Greek is ‘logos’, from which we derive the word ‘logic’ and the suffix ‘-ology’, which refers to reason, study and pursuit of meaning. In health sciences we recognise these in the academic disciplines such as biology, pathology, immunology, physiology, and so on.
The object of our study is creation already in existence and, in our study, we expect to find meaning and gain understanding. So in the study of all things ‘created’ – all those ‘-ologies’ – we are seeking a logic that points to truth.
The John text continues, ‘In him was life, and the life was the light of men’ (John 1:4). As we pursue this deeper meaning and truth, the illumination we seek comes from God himself. He sends the light into our darkness and gives the true wisdom from above to weave throughout our scientific endeavours.
So what light does this shed on human life? True life is from him, the Word, and through him and in him. This points us to the truest and deepest sense of what human life is and what it means: its origin, purpose and goal. It is something science can never measure, but needs to be revealed to us by God. It’s this fundamental Christian truth that informs so much of how Christians will answer those deeper ethical questions associated with science and technology.
Of course, those very questions can still be perplexing and difficult. This is in no small part because life as we experience it in this world is terribly broken because of sin.
This is where God’s revelation is even more important. Incredibly, Jesus Christ, this Word from which all life came, took on our very human life to redeem and make it new. ‘The word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). True human life not only comes from him, but because of his incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension, true human life also finds its purpose and goal in him.
Kimberley Pfeiffer is the editor of the Lutherans for Life publication Life News and is a member of the LCA’s Commission on Social and Bioethical Questions. She says she became interested in ‘life’ from a biological, philosophical and theological perspective ‘after spending far too much time studying disease and death’ while majoring in Pathology at the University of Adelaide. She currently works part-time as a Support Officer in the LCA Reconciliation Ministry office.