Monthly Archives: February 2016

Not Just About Love

February 2016 Pulse

In June 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that same-sex marriage is legal in all US states. This means that the 14 states that ban same-sex marriage must now not only recognise same- sex marriages that have taken place in other states; they must also grant marriage licences to gay and lesbian couples.

In his speech after the historic decision was announced, US President Barack Obama declared that the ruling was a “victory for America”. Equating the legalisation of same-sex marriage with the triumph of equality and freedom, two of the most cherished values of the West, he added: “When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.”

The responses from many Christians in America have been swift and clear, with some describing the decision as “profoundly immoral and unjust” and others calling it a “tragic error”.

Christians can never endorse or embrace same-sex marriage for at least two reasons.

Firstly, Scripture clearly, categorically and consistently condemns homosexual behaviour as a sin (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9).

Secondly, God has ordained marriage as the permanent union between a man and a woman, the fruit of which is the procreation of new human life (Genesis 1:28). Therefore, Christians believe that marriage is not a social construct that can be subjected to changes and revisions depending on the mood and fancies of the prevailing culture.

Not only has God ordained marriage to be the intimate partnership between a man and a woman, he has also established it in human nature. Therefore, it is only in the context of real or natural marriage – i.e., marriage as God has ordained it to be – that children can benefit from the nurture provided by their father and mother in their distinctive and unique ways.

The structure of marriage and family ordained by God is critical to the wellbeing not just of the individual and his family, but that of society as a whole. As the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, promulgated in 1965, has so eloquently put it: “The wellbeing of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community produced by marriage and family.”

Seen in this way, although marriage has to do with love and commitment, it is much more than these things. Marriage must be distinguished from all other forms of relationships because of its comprehensive nature. It is a union of minds and wills as well as an organic bodily union, which the Bible describes as the becoming of ‘one flesh’ of the husband and his wife (Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:6-8).

Maleness, femaleness and their complementarity are central to marriage. Built upon the paradox of humanity as male and female, marriage co-ordinates the similarities and differences between the two genders in such a way that each contributes what the other lacks.

As the Catholic and Protestant authors of a recent document put it: “Marriage creates ‘one body’, a new reality, ennobling the sexual union of a man and a woman by ordering it toward a common life that promotes the good of the couple, the family, and the community as a whole.”

Understood in this way, marriage as God had ordained is a primordial institution of human society.

Despite President Obama’s rhetoric, marriage is not about equality. Rather, as we have seen, it is about how sexual relationships should be ordered. It is about how the family should be structured for the raising of children.

As I have argued elsewhere, if marriage is only about equality, then we should by no means stop at the legalisation of same-sex marriage. We should also allow open, temporary, polygynous, polyandrous, polyamorous and incestuous unions as long as they are between or among consenting adults who love each other.

In the wake of such a radical shift in culture, the Church will no doubt be faced with a difficult challenge because her rejection of same-sex marriage will be seen as bigoted. As some Christian writers have put it, “the Gospel itself will eventually be declared as an enemy of society”.

Amidst this sea change, the Church must remain steadfast; it must continue to uphold and promote real marriage and reject its distortions.

Obedience to God’s Word is the Church’s best witness and most compassionate service to society.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. 
This article, which first appeared in the September 2015 issue of the Methodist Message, is republished with permission.

Can A Christian Accept Macroevolution? – Examining A Number of Common Objections

February 2016 Feature Article

Many Christians today accept macroevolution, but many others reject it. In this article, I shall examine a number of common objections. While I am not fully committed to the theory of evolution, I shall show that there are various ways by which theistic evolutionists can defend the theological acceptability of their case.

Macroevolution refers to the process, involving the mechanisms of genetic variation and natural selection, by which the present diversity of plant and animal life arose from a common ancestor. Thus understood, this process is compatible with the view that God created the universe, fine-tuned its laws, brought about the first life, controlled the mutations of genes which appear to be random and the natural forces such that certain biological traits are selected (perhaps by acting at the quantum level), and (as explained below) specially created the first human in His image. Such a view would imply the possibility of perceiving both the evidences for creation (e.g. intelligent design) and the evidences for macroevolution in biological organisms. Thus, creation and macroevolution are not necessarily mutually exclusive, rather God could have chosen to use the process of macroevolution to bring about various organisms.

Many people think that embracing theistic evolution would mean accepting that we came from monkeys, which is objectionable. Aside from pointing out the scientific misconception—evolutionary theory does not say human bodies evolved from monkeys, but from common ancestors of apes and humans—this objection seems to assume that our physical bodies are all that ‘we’ are, which is false. Theistic evolutionists can say that only the physical aspect of humanity came from the common ancestor. The spiritual aspect, however, was directly created by God (this is one way to understand the phrase ‘breathed into his nostrils the breathe of life’ in Genesis 2:7). Given that God is a spiritual being (John 4:24), the image of God in humanity should not be understood as asserting that our physical body is similar to God. Rather, it should be referring to our spiritual aspect. Based on Scriptural passages such as Genesis 1:26-8, 2 Corinthians 4:4 and Romans 8:29, the properties of (i) having the potential for a unique kind of dominion that could extend to the whole world and over all kinds of creatures, (ii) having the potential for a sense of responsibility for this kind of dominion, and (iii) having the potential to be made to become conformed to Christ would be some of the properties that differentiate humanity from animals which do not have the image of God. It could be the case that these properties were directly and specially created by God on a pre-existing physical body of the hominid species, resulting in a new, originally sinless person (Adam), who would be the first ‘human being’.[1] In this way, human uniqueness compared to animals is affirmed, and whether the physical aspect came via macroevolution or not is of no theological importance. Other scholars have argued that passages such as ‘according to their kinds’ (Genesis 1:11, 20) and Genesis 2:7 can be shown to be consistent with macroevolution.[2]

Many people are troubled by the existence of animal suffering prior to Adam’s disobedience on the theistic-evolutionary view.  In reply, this is not a problem for the theistic-evolutionary view only. It is also a problem for Old Earth progressive creationists (e.g. Hugh Ross) who reject macroevolution.[3] Ross argues that God allows pre-human suffering to occur for His good purposes, and theistic evolutionists can argue similarly. For example, Ross thinks that carnivores are created prior to Adam’s disobedience and argues that ‘carnivores appear to be optimally designed to maximally benefit the health and population levels of the herbivores they prey upon by selectively weeding out the sick and the dying. In fact, carnivores appear to be optimally designed to benefit all life-forms, including human beings.’ [4] In response to whether Genesis 1:30 imply that all animals were vegetarians prior to Adam’s disobedience, it can be replied that Genesis 1:30 may be referring only to creatures in the Garden of Eden rather than creatures on the entire earth.[5] Likewise, the cursing of the ground by God because of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3) can be understood in functional terms, i.e. the ground was cursed with respect to Adam. In other words, after his creation Adam was placed in a divinely protected environment (Eden) which occupied a limited geographical area on earth, and after he sinned the ground on which he lived was cursed in the sense that it no longer had that divine protection [6]

Theistic evolutionists might also point out that Genesis 1-3 is not intended to be a complete record of everything about creation. For example, why was the earth formless and void near the beginning of chapter 1 (Genesis 1:2)? And why was the snake evil? The text of Genesis 1-3 itself does not answer these questions. It is in other Scriptural texts (e.g. Revelation 12:9) in which the snake is identified as Satan and the angelic disobedience mentioned (Jude 1:6; 2 Peter 2:4). Genesis 1:2 hints that something was not right prior to creation of humans. Other Scriptural passages indicate that there have been cosmic battles going on between good and evil angels which can affect the history of the world (e.g. Daniel 10:13), and that Satan is capable of inflicting suffering on God’s creatures (Job 1). While Young Earth creationists regard animal suffering as a result of human sin, theistic evolutionists can likewise regard animal suffering prior to humans as the result of angelic sin. It is noteworthy that Adam and angels are both called ‘son of God’ in the Scripture (Luke 3:38, Job 38:6-7), indicating their special relationships to God. The objection ‘why would God create so many amazing creatures such as dinosaurs and allow them to go extinct before humans could appreciate them?’ neglects the possibility (suggested by the Bible) that parts of creation might have been created for the appreciation by angels; cf. the angels’ shouting for joy at God’s creation in Job 38:6-7. Disobedient angels, however, would be motivated to destroy God’s work rather than appreciate them. On the basis of these Scriptural hints, theistic evolutionists might suggest the possibility that certain blundering mutations were caused by the destructive work of Satan, and that God might have chosen to use an evolutionary process to create—during which He also worked out His purposes for other creatures such as angelic beings—so as to demonstrate that He is able to bring good out of suffering (cf. Romans 8:28). That is, despite the destructions and sufferings, God still brought about many kinds of beautiful and amazing creatures; from this perspective, God saw that it was good (Genesis 1:25).

Some might ask ‘If God created humans to take care of the earth, why create humans after the earth had existed for such a long time?’ In reply, this question is based on fallacious assumptions. God did not need a gardener to help Him take care of the earth; God could have done it Himself if He wanted, or He could have assigned angels to do it. God assigned humans certain roles (Genesis 1:28; 2:15) not because God needed humans to serve Him (Acts 17:25); rather this assignment should be understood as an act of grace that allow humans to express their gratitude, love and worship to Him.

There are many other things which can be said about these and other objections, but I have reached the word-count limit of this article. Those who would like to find out more can check out my book ‘Science and the Christian Faith’. In that book I explain in detail that, even if the physical bodies of human beings were evolved from simpler life forms, that does not contradict the Christian faith, and those life forms must still have ultimately come from an intelligent First Cause (i.e. a Creator) who is the source of all things and the designer of the order within the universe such that it can be described by elegant and intricate mathematics (e.g. E=mc2). While the Bible does not say that the Creator used an evolutionary process to create various living organisms, the Bible also does not say that He did not use an evolutionary process. Hence we must remain open to various possibilities, be charitable to Christians who might want to accept macroevolution, and not let this issue be an unnecessary obstacle to Christian unity nor to seekers coming to Jesus.

 

Dr Andrew Loke


Dr. Andrew Loke
 (PhD, Kings College) is Research Assistant Professor at The University of Hong Kong. A former medical doctor, he is the author of ‘A Kryptic Model of the Incarnation’ (Ashgate, 2014) and ‘Debating the Christian Faith’ (Tien-Dao, 2014). He has published articles in leading academic journals such as Religious Studies. He is also the author of the ETHOS Institute Engagement Series booklet, ‘Science and the Christian Faith‘.

 

Notes:

[1] Andrew Loke, Science and the Christian Faith (Singapore: Ethos Institute of Public Christianity, 2016), chapter 7.

[2] Ibid.

[3] On the age of the universe see ibid, Chapter 6.

[4] http://www.reasons.org/articles/thank-god-for-carnivores

[5] Gavin McGrath, ‘Soteriology: Adam and the Fall,’ Perspective on Science and Christian Faith 49 (1997): 252-263, available at http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1997/PSCF12-97McGrath.html; accessed 18/1/14.

[6] Andrew Loke, ‘Is Evolution compatible with a literal interpretation of relevant Biblical passages?’ Theology and Science (forthcoming).

Nanotechnology and Society

February 2016 Pulse

Scientists at the Harper Centre Research Institute, a partnership between Notre Dame and the Indiana University School of Medicine-South Bend, are attempting to improve the detection of breast cancer with the help of nanotechnology.

While mammography is a very effective means of diagnosing breast cancer, it is not perfect. The researchers at the Harper Centre seek to improve our ability to detect tumors by delivering a radiographic contrast agent to target abnormalities in breast tissues thereby making them more visible in mammography.

‘The contrast agent’, explains Professor Ryan K. Roeder, ‘uses gold nanoparticles which have molecules attached that target microcalculations, which are associated with breast cancer, or antibodies which target tumors themselves’.

Nanotechnology, also known as molecular manufacturing, is arguably one of the most exciting emerging fields in our century. This vast field includes the development of highly functional molecular systems, brain-machine interfaces, tissue engineering and recombinant genetic alterations in plant and animal (including human) systems.

The impact that these developments have on fields like materials, electronics and medicine is enormous. Nanotechnology can be used to provide target anticancer therapies, clean up toxins and oil spills and eliminate landfills.

While nanotechnology promises to enhance our quality of life in many exciting ways, it also raises serious and sometimes indomitable health, environmental and social concerns that could count against the benefits.

One of the greatest concerns surrounding nanoscience and nanotechnology is safety. While human activities such as mining, cooking and combustion have resulted in the emission of nanoparticles into the environment, the manufacture and use of nanoparticles introduces new risks.

The size, crystalline structure and reactivity of the nanoparticles are themselves of concern. Size changes the properties of the material, including toxicity. For example, while bulk gold is chemically inert and harmless, gold nanoparticles can be easily taken up by cells and accumulate at their nuclei.

Studies have shown that prolonged exposure to nanoparticles can have adverse consequences to the health of living organisms. In 2004, James Lam and his associates found that carbon nanotubes, one of the most commonly used engineered nanoparticles caused unusual lesions in the lungs of mice that interfered with oxygen absorption.

Nanoparticles can enter the body by various means – via the digestive tract (by ingestion and drinking), the respiratory tract and the skin. Once in the body, they can migrate to different parts, penetrating organs and even cells. These nanoparticles may disrupt normal cell functioning, triggering a toxic response.

Even more uncertain are the consequences to the environment once manufactured nanoparticles are released into it and once they bioaccumulate in plants and animals. As Anne Ingeborg Nyhr and Roy Ambili Dalmo point out, ‘The concern about environmental effects is compounded by the fact that nanostructures and nanosystems can exhibit properties quite different from those of corresponding bulk materials’.

‘In the extreme case’, writes Deb Bennett-Woods, ‘there is even speculation that self-replicating “nanorobots” could initiate an ecological domino effect that could devastate the biosphere’.

In light of the potential harm that nanotechnology can inflict on human beings and the environment, ensuring that robust, comprehensive and honest risk-assessment is undertaken before embarking on its application is paramount. This is underscored in a UNESCO report on the ethics and politics of nanotechnology published in 2006.

Unfortunately, as the proportion of funding indicates, risk-assessment has not been given the emphasis it deserves. For example, according to its 2009 report, of its US$1.5 billion budget, the US National Nanotechnology Initiative allocated only 5% for risk-assessment research.

Rigorous and accurate risk assessment is in everyone’s interest.

This is because like all new technologies, nanotechnology has also inspired utopian and dystopian visions that have generated exaggerated hopes and fears. Without accurate and thorough assessment of actual and potential risks, the development of safe and beneficial nanotechnology may be hampered or harmful products may be irresponsibly endorsed.

But risk analysis does not only have to do with responsibility. It is also about trust.

As Christian ethicist, Dönal O’Mathüna has poignantly put it: ‘Risk assessment must incorporate not only the costs and benefits, but also the place of responsibility and the building of trust between society, industry, academia and government’.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.