Re: Religious Life/Professional Ethics

Tom Pearson (
Wed, 04 Feb 1998 14:36:25 -0600 (CST)

At 03:05 PM 1/31/98 -0500, Dennis Feucht wrote:

>Can anyone pose a specific problem of professional morality for which the
>Law of God has no relevance?
>I have been a design and research engineer in both big and little
>technology-driven companies, and a consultant to such companies, for over
>25 years. I have yet to encounter an ethical issue for which the Law of God
>does not have fairly direct relevance. (In perfectly fulfilling the Law,
>Christ's conduct would represent the highest expression of it rather than
>some other ethic, and is included in what I mean by the Law of God.)

The notion of "relevance" doesn't seem to me to be at issue in these
discussions. The "relevance" between one thing and another can be
established in a variety of ways. What I am most concerned about is whether
any professional ethic can be directly *derived from* divine Law, and
whether that Law can be *specifically applied* in the kinds of ethical
situations that professionals most often encounter. Based on my research,
I'm beginning to think the answer is, "probably not."
This is not to say that the individual believer can't discern very
broad, very general principles and motivations for ethical conduct from
within the Christian tradition. We can, but so can those who belong to
other traditions. The real difficulty is that these generalized guidelines
do not themselves stipulate how they are to be applied in specific contexts.
We have a translation problem. If, after 25 years, you have not encountered
an ethical issue in professional life to which God's law did not speak,
please be assured that this is not true for many serious, dedicated
Christian professionals.
Can I identify any specific examples of this? Sure, several.
They're not examples of "no relevance," but of "no direct derivation and
application" of divine Law to issues of professional life and obligation.
*There is a researcher in the agriculture division of a chemical
company that has for many years made pesticides for use on cotton plants.
Because of the degree of toxicity of the pesticide, she now learns that her
research team is to begin working on developing a new genetically engineered
version of the cotton plant, one that will be resistant to the insects that
feed on the plant, insects that were the target of the pesticide. The
researcher does not know what the full range of consequences may be for this
sort of genetic manipulation, nor the long-range effects on the public. Is
her participation in the project ethical, or unethical?
*An environmental engineer works for a large manufacturing company
which routinely emits a sizeable quantity of heavy-metal toxic effluent.
This engineer is responsible for making sure that the toxic waste is diluted
to so-many ppm, which is the federally and locally established specification
for the effluent. He has now been told that the plant will begin increasing
production, which will result in double the amount of toxic waste being
emitted. He is instructed to meet this higher emission by doubling the
amount of water that is used for diluting the waste. But the engineer is
concerned that the water treatment plant downstream may not be able to
handle the increased water flow, even though the ppm specifications will
continue to be met to the letter. Is this proposed solution ethically
acceptable, or not? (Adapted from the engineering video, "Gilbane's Gold").
*Or take an example of current significance in Texas at the moment.
Last night, Karla Faye Tucker was executed at Huntsville for murders she had
committed in 1983. She has since become a born-again Christian and a model
prison inmate. You are a corrections officer at Hunstville, assigned to
duties on the "tie-down team," responsible for the final preparation of the
one condemned to die. You are convinced that Ms. Tucker's conversion and
Christian faith are authentic, and you believe that her contrition is
sincere. You do not think it is right to execute her. You ask to be
excused from your duties last night, but are refused. As a Christian and a
professional corrections officer, what is the ethically correct thing to do
at this point?
In broad outline, I can see that divine Law might suggest some
general considerations in these cases. However, I am skeptical that
invoking God's Law, without significant adaptation and massaging, will be
able to address the specific moral issues in these cases. But I'm willing
to see the error of my ways.

Tom Pearson

Thomas D. Pearson
Department of History & Philosophy
The Unviersity of Texas-Pan American
Edinburg, Texas