Jan, I appreciate your response to my questions for Shaun. I am often the
last one to see the liabilities in my own understanding of things, so I
welcome the chance to hear from others. Perhaps I can respond to both your
post, as well as Shaun's, in what I say below.
At 05:10 PM 5/7/02 -0400, Jan de Koning wrote:
>Maybe, by saying why you think that there are no insights on this forum on
>population control, you may get quite a discussion going.
I did not say there are no insights on this forum on population control,
only that I find it difficult to imagine that any such insights on
population control would be necessarily "Christian" insights. I harbor the
suspicion that a thorough assessment of the issues involved in population
control, and the development of successful proposals to resolve those
issues, are more likely to be derived from the principles of the natural
and social sciences, and not from the principles of Christianity. In that
sense, I also suspect that we are in fundamental disagreement over another
of your comments:
>Nothing is just "technical". Saying so removes the actions of
>technical people and scientists from the rule of the lord.
If by "technical," you mean generally pertaining to a specific professional
community of practice, then I believe there is a great deal that is
I teach ethics to students in engineering and physical sciences
programs. When we discuss issues like moral decision-making in engineering
design, reflected in such traditional cases as the Kansas City Hyatt
Regency Hotel walkway collapse, or the O-ring failure in the Challenger
Space Shuttle disaster, or the GM truck side-saddle gas tanks, we are
drawing on the standards of moral excellence inherent in engineering
practice, and not on the principles of Christianity. The essential message
of Christianity has nothing to do with O-ring design.
I also teach ethics to students in our business school. When we discuss
issues like moral decision-making in accounting, as reflected in cases like
the recent Arthur Andersen/Enron fiasco, we are drawing on the standards of
moral excellence inherent in accounting practice, and not on the principles
of Christianity. The essential message of Christianity has nothing to do
with external auditing procedures or derivatives management.
I am not sure what you mean by "removes the actions of technical people and
scientists from the rule of the Lord." What "rule of the Lord" applies to
me when I am trying to figure out what to do with an incompetent student
who has a learning disability, or when I am responsible for deciding which
of two candidates for a faculty position should get the job? The "rule"
here, if there is one, seems to be derived from the professional practice I
am in, and not from the Lord.
As a Christian, and after several years of teaching and studying
professional ethics, I'm pretty well convinced that it is extremely
difficult, and mostly unnecessary, to take a set of ethical principles from
some source (say, some alleged "Christian" ethical principles) and
transplant them into very different professional contexts, and try to force
them to fit. For one thing, the attempt to do just this sort of thing
suggests that Christianity is a specific source of ethical norms, and I
dissent from this (meaning, I know of no conclusive biblical or historical
support for this argument). But even if there were a compelling argument
that the Christian Gospel generates moral standards, those standards (like
everything else in Christianity) would be universal in their scope, while
the normative elements in technical and professional practices turn out to
be highly particular and specific in their application. How often have all
of us said to ourselves something like, "I'm supposed to be compassionate,
as Christ was. But what exactly is the compassionate thing to do here, in
this situation, in this professional context?" Christianity will not
detail that. Communities of professional practice can develop such ethical
guidelines over time, ones that are pertinent to the range of moral
problems that arise in their distinctive activities.
> Having reviewed books on genetic research I am more than ever
>convinced that it is time that christian scientists see, that there are
>grave dangers in genetic research.
I believe you are right, Jan. There are indeed grave dangers in certain
types of genetic research. But my recognition of that fact does not arise
from hearing the good news in Jesus Christ. And more important, any sense
of what is appropriate to do in the face of those dangers can only emerge
from my professional judgment, informed by the best technical information I
can get, and not from my worship of the crucified and risen One.
Or so it seems to me.
Thomas D. Pearson
Department of History & Philosophy
The University of Texas-Pan American
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