Academic journal article Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

The Changing Face of the Science-Faith Dialogue in a Biomedical Arena

Academic journal article Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

The Changing Face of the Science-Faith Dialogue in a Biomedical Arena

Article excerpt

The contribution of the ASA to science-faith discussions is indicated in part by the degree to which it has facilitated openness and dialogue between those of dissenting points of view. In doing this, it has provided numerous opportunities for the contribution of scientific thinking and perspectives in debates at the interface of biblical and scientific territories. However, attention in the science-faith area is frequently dominated by evolutionary and allied philosophical questions, with little attention paid to the biomedical domain; this problem arises because scientific input is frequently slender at best, suggesting that bioethics is peripheral to mainline science-faith discussions. By reference to my own experiences and drawing on a range of publications in JASA and PSCF, I argue that the ASA has contributed immensely over many years in spite of the contentious nature of some of the conflicts. I draw attention to the need for flexibility, open-mindedness, and humility when confronted by the moral ambiguity so often encountered in bioethical decision making. I also argue that science has a crucial role to play in these discussions placing them within the mainstream of science-faith dialogue. However, what stands out is the centrality of specific situations, with their demand for in-depth scientific analysis and for determining what might best serve the needs and welfare of human patients.

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A society's journal provides a glimpse into its interests and concerns. With this in mind I have gone through issues of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (PSCF) and its predecessor, Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation (JASA), over the period 1949-2015, to examine the prominence of bioethical issues. The first evidence of an article that I would class as examining bioethical issues appeared in 1962, on birth control. Two other articles appeared in the remainder of the 1960s, on medical practice and control of our genetic future. This mirrors the relative lack of interest in bioethical issues more widely. This began to change in 1970 with a major article from the Christian Medical Society outlining a Protestant affirmation on the control of human reproduction, along with four responses. Taking 1970 as a starting point, sixty-six articles on bioethical concerns (excluding articles on environmental ethics, homosexuality, and those on neuroscience and psychology) have appeared. This amounts to a little less than one bioethics article for every three issues. What is interesting is that the number of articles has remained remarkably constant over this period, suggesting there has been little in the way of an increase in interest over recent years, despite the burgeoning of interest in society.

However, these comments have immediately to be balanced by reference to some of the notable contributions made by ASA members over this period. Among Richard Bube's many contributions to the journal there were ones specifically on bioethical topics, including ethical guidelines, abortion, euthanasia, the biological control of human life, and the slippery slope in bioethical debate. (1) James Peterson's contributions have included articles on what we owe to future generations, and the ethics of altered nuclear transfer. (2) However, his major contribution is to be found in his books, Genetic Turning Points (3) and Changing Human Nature. (4) Other topics have included the future of medical science, (5) ethical issues in high technology medicine, (6) the repository for germinal choice, (7) recombinant DNA, (8) embryonic stem cells, (9) and genethics and virtue ethics. (10) Theologians such as Bernard Ramm and Carl Henry presented their ideas in the early years: Ramm on a Christian definition of death and biogenetic engineering, (11) while Henry provided a perspective on Christianity and medical frontiers. (12)

My own bioethical contributions in the journal have covered a range of fields from abortion to the reproductive technologies, from nonexistence to contemporary medical scandals, and from genetic issues to biomedical manipulation and how we can cope with our disagreements over bioethical dilemmas. …

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