Category Archives: Pulse

Normalizing Homosexuality: How Should Christians Respond?

November 2018 Pulse

Reader’s Question: How should Christians respond to the attempts to normalize same-sex relationships?

Without a doubt, the LGBT advocacy movement may be said to be one of the most successful in modern history. Within a short space of fifty to sixty years (slightly beyond one generation), we have seen the seismic shift in cultural sensibilities, from viewing homosexual behaviour as a reprehensible taboo to legalizing same-sex marriage.

These winds of change are not only blowing in liberal societies in the West, but are also felt in more conservative countries in Asia. The ruling of the Taiwanese Constitutional Court on 24 May 2017 that same-sex couples have the right to marry is a case in point.

LGBT advocates have exerted influence in different sectors of society – education, business, media and even religion – taking full advantage of the internet and social media to advance their agenda. Some have tried to repeal prohibitive laws against homosexual conduct by challenging the constitutionality of such legislations.

The main strategy of these advocates is to convince the world that homosexuality is normal, that people who are same-sex attracted are born that way. Many have appealed to the modern concept of sexual orientation and insist that the genetic and neurological basis for homosexuality is well supported by science.

If homosexual orientation has a biological basis, then discrimination against people with same-sex attraction amounts to bigotry and the infringement of their fundamental rights and liberties – so goes the argument.

How should Christians respond to the obvious agenda of LGBT activists to normalize homosexuality in society? Because of the multi-faceted nature of the LGBT strategy, the Christian response must take different forms and be made at various levels of society.


 We begin with the Church. A recent study conducted by the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity revealed that the majority of church leaders and young adults think that not enough is being done to educate Christians on the LGBT issue.

Pastors and leaders could do more to help members appreciate what the Bible and the Christian tradition teach about sexuality, marriage and family through sermons, seminars and discussion groups. They must also be aware of the work of revisionist scholars who try to show that the Bible only prohibits certain forms of homosexual acts but not faithful homosexual relationships. And they must be able to show how these arguments are fundamentally flawed.

In addition, the church must also engage members who are struggling with same-sex attraction, and create an environment of trust where they can receive prayer, support and encouragement to choose obedience.

The National Council of Churches of Singapore has also played an important role in addressing this issue, and will continue to do so. In 2003, the Council issued a statement that clearly articulates its position on homosexual behavior and current legislations (377A) against such behavior. It also urged the government not to put in place liberal policies that would promote the homosexual lifestyle.

The Council has continued to intermittently address the issue since its 2003 statement whenever it has been necessary to do so.


Parents have a special responsibility to nurture their children in such a way that they would take the teaching of the Bible and the Church on human sexuality seriously. A number of studies have shown that the home environment and parental guidance play an important role children’s understanding of sexuality.

Parents should be willing to discuss with their children the liberal notions about sexuality that they may encounter in social media and in popular TV networks such as Netflix. They should also take an interest in the books and website articles that their children might be reading.


One of the strategies that LGBT activists employ to normalize homosexuality is to influence public education – its curriculum, policies of inclusivity and ethos. Here, Christians involved in public education at various levels – from ministers to policy makers to principals and teachers – must be especially vigilant.

Parents should also take a special interest in what their children are being taught and the books they are required to read, especially on topics like sexuality and the family.

In Singapore, vendors are engaged by the school or the Ministry of Education to provide sexuality education in public schools. Christian principals and teachers should be aware of the background of the vendors and their views on human sexuality. Parents must likewise be aware of the assumptions and values of the vendors engaged by their children’s schools.

Social Policies

Christians involved in shaping policies should try to prevent the promotion of radical views on sexuality or the gay lifestyle. This includes, for example, granting licenses to operate explicitly gay bars or clubs or to organize big public events that promote the LGBT cause.

Much of the rhetoric for allowing LGBT to organize themselves in ways that make their presence more prominent in society revolves around cherished ideals and values such as inclusivity, equality and rights. For Christians, these values are important, but they must always be tempered by other considerations that are of no less importance, such as morality and the well-being of society.

Here, Christian politicians and civil servants can also play a crucial role in checking the information posted on government websites. For example, in 2014 the Health Promotion Board of Singapore posted its ‘FAQs on Sexuality’ that encourages readers (mostly youths and young adults) to explore their own sexuality.

The FAQs used the Kinsey Scale that originated from Alfred Kinsey, a controversial sex researcher who argued that human sexuality is fluid and therefore cannot be neatly classified as either heterosexual or homosexual. This theory has been refuted by a number of studies that show that human sexuality is not as fluid as Kinsey would have us believe. They indicate that the majority of adults are distinctly heterosexual while a small minority has homosexual or bisexual tendencies.

The National Council of Churches of Singapore flagged this with the authorities. Unfortunately, the reference to the Kinsey Scale has not been removed from the FAQs and the document still promotes a version of the Kinseyan theory of sexuality.

Christian civil servants should try to prevent the publication of materials for public consumption if there is cause to believe that they are either based on dubious science or promoting liberal theories about sexuality.


Christian politicians play an important role in preventing the normalization of homosexuality in society. For example, in 2007 when the status of Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalizes male homosexual sex was discussed in Parliament, a number of Christian (and some non-Christian) MPs argued against its repeal.

In his speech in Parliament Christopher de Souza argued that a ‘repeal of 377A will not merely remove an offence. It is much more significant than that. Because of the concept of negative liberty, the removal of section 377A puts homosexual lifestyle on par with heterosexual life. It is to accord both lifestyles a sense of parity’.

De Souza goes on to show the undesirable consequences that the promotion of this lifestyle would have on marriage, spousal rights, adoption, and education. Christian politicians must have the courage to make such arguments even in the face of domestic pressures and global trends.


Much more could of course be said on this important subject. What is offered here is merely a sketch of how Christians at various levels and playing different roles can respond to this threat.

However, Christians must always assert their influence in a civil and respectful manner. Ours is a religiously and ideologically plural society that is subjected to numerous influences. In this multicultural and multi-religious context, the Christian position on this issue (on any issue for that matter) is often reduced to one viewpoint amidst many conflicting and competing opinions.

The church, however, must never be cowered by this. She must always speak the truth clearly, courageously and without compromise. But she must always do so with gentleness and love. But above all, the church must pray for those in authority so that they may always seek the welfare of the nation and not simply act for the sake of political and economic expediency.

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


Loving Obedience

October 2018 Pulse

At the beginning of the 19th century, the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley declared that obedience is the “bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth, “for it makes slaves of men, and of the human frame a mechanised automation.”

A child of the European Enlightenment, Shelley waxed eloquent in echoing the disdain of many of his contemporaries over the suffocating authoritarianism that obedience sardonically implies.

As the late Roman Catholic theologian and indefatigable essayist Fr Richard Neuhaus puts it: “… obedience became a dirty word already in the 18th century Enlightenment, when it was frequently construed as meaning ‘blind obedience’ – a stifling and unthinking conformity to authority.”

This attitude still holds sway for many in our society today.

Obedience, however, is one of the most important themes in the Bible. In Scripture as well as in the theological and spiritual tradition of the Church, obedience is understood as the most appropriate attitude and response of the believer to God.

Now, it is imperative that we achieve a clear understanding of what the Bible has to say about this important virtue. This is because the biblical concept of obedience is radically different from secular accounts and the doctrines of other religions, such as Islam.

In the Bible, faith and obedience are intricately interwoven with each other. The obedience of the Christian flows out of his faith (trust) in the God whose extravagant love is demonstrated in the giving of His Son for the salvation of the world. Paul highlights the relationship between faith and obedience in the expression “the obedience that comes from faith” in his letter to the Christians in Rome (Romans 1:5, NIV).

So inseparable is faith and obedience in the Bible that the German Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, could aver that “only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”

In the Bible, obedience is not only joined with faith; it is also joined with love. Christian obedience should never be understood as a contractual transaction or as slavish adherence to a set of rules and regulations. Rather, obedience is always an expression of responsive love on the part of one who has received the undeserved but generous love of God.

The profound relationship between love and obedience is portrayed repeatedly in Scripture. Jesus said to His disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). And John, the Apostle of Love, wrote to the Christians in his community: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3).

The Christian obeys not because he is forced or coerced. The Christian obeys because he loves. He loves because he knows that he is being loved.

Christian obedience, therefore, can never be reduced to crass legalism. It is rather the sure and concrete proof of our love for God.

Understood in this way, Christian obedience is never a chore or a burden. “His commandments”, wrote John crisply and incisively, “are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3b). The Spanish theologian Ignatius of Loyola has put it plainly: “It is not hard to obey when we love the one whom we obey.”

As an expression of gratitude and love, obedience brings exceedingly great joy to the Christian. The obedient Christian lives a doxological life – a life that reverberates with praise, a joyful life that honours God.

Finally, it is by obeying the Word of God and by bending our wills to His that we become truly free. It is by yielding to the will of the Creator that we are gradually being transformed from inauthenticity to authenticity.

Secular thinkers like Shelley often mistakenly regard this paradox as some pious mumbo jumbo at best, or a silly contradiction at worst. For them, we are truly free only when we are not bound by the fetters of dogma or morality that are imposed from outside.

Only the sovereign individual, they insist, is truly free.

But the sovereign individual is a myth. So is the freedom that he purportedly enjoys. In truth, the person who rejects God in the name of freedom and self-determination is in the state of delusion and ‘un-freedom’.

To put it forthrightly, as the Bible does, the person who chooses disobedience instead of obedience is in bondage. He is “a slave to sin” (John 8:34).


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

罪恶还是犯罪? – 论道德立法



许教授在他的文章中讨论了一系列广泛的问题。 它们包括了与同性性行为的罪恶与犯罪的概念、性取向的科学证据、法院的角色以及宗教在法律辩论中的地位。

然而,在我看来,许教授的文章中充斥着许多扭曲的泛泛之论和以偏盖全的陈述,这些陈述有可能造成误导。所以, 我希望在这篇简短的文章中讨论其中一些问题。


许教授认为,对于同性恋行为,人们必须区分罪恶与犯罪。 他与前司法部长(Walter Woon)都认为,鸡奸或许被某些宗教视为罪,但却不应被国家视为犯罪行为。

从表面上看,这一论点似乎非常具说服力。 但是,仔细审查的话,这种构建课题的方式可能具有误导性,因为它无法带出道德与法律之间的深刻关系。 虽然道德与法律之间存在着区别,但彼此间也存在着一种错综复杂的关系,不应该被如此轻描淡写的带过。

首先必须说的是,一个社会的法律体系是建基于该社会的道德观。 因此,我们可以说没有道德观就没有法律。

这种道德观念部分表达于地方的法律中,对任何社会的福祉都至关重要。 正如Lord Patrick Devlin在其题为“道德与刑法”的文章中所说:“社会意味着一个思想共同体; 如果没有政治,道德和伦理上的共同意念,任何社会都不可能存在。”

法律的制定就是因为它们具体表达了一个社会的道德观念,即它对是与非的理解。 这个命题是不言而喻的,并不需要额外的补充和辩护。


杀人被视为是一种犯罪行为,因为社会认为执意夺走另一个人的生命是错误的。 同样的,强奸是一种犯罪行为,因为社会认为对妇女或男人的性暴力是一种在道德上应受严厉谴责的可恶罪行。


换句话说,它们是为了反映我们社会所应建基的共同道德信念和承担而制定的。Lord Devlin会说这些法律是为了表达“社会的构成道德”。



在2014年IPS进行的一项调查中,78.2%的受访者表示反对同性恋生活方式,72.9%反对同性婚姻。 在最近的IPSOS(2018年)有关377A条文调查中,55%的受访者不赞成废除这条法律,只有12%希望将其删除。

李总理在2014年接受BBC的采访中说,377A条文的存在与否是“社会价值观的问题”时,正是表达了这点。 若借用Lord Devlin的说法,这条文在刑法中的存在是对“社会的构成道德”的阐释。

但是,必须强调的是,法律与道德之间的关系是相互关联的。 这意味着社会价值观纵然能够塑造法律体系,立法者也同样可以对社群的社会习惯施加影响。

这对377A条文来说也是一样。 正如Christopher de Souza在2007年国会辩论中简明扼要地指出:



新加坡基督教全国教会理事会(NCCS)非常了解这一点。 它最近的声明表示其所关注的,是废除377A条文“将鼓吹并导致这种同性恋生活方式的正常化,这将进而带来不良的道德和社会后果。”

罗马天主教会大主教William Goh也理解维持现状的重要性。 在他的牧函中,他写道:

我认为在目前情况下不应废除S377A。 这是因为,接受同性恋行为为一种社会规范,对于我们家庭的稳定,子女的福祉以及对共同利益的风险所带来的可怕后果将是长期性且不可逆转的。

道德与法律之间的关系是复杂的。 它拒绝许教授在他的文章中所提出的简单二分法。


在他的文章中,许教授略略提到了美国最高法院在Lawrence v. Texas的标志性的裁决,认为对鸡奸的定罪是违宪的。 他引用法官Anthony Kennedy的话说:“请愿者有权要求他人尊重他们的私生活。 国家不能通过将私人性行定为犯罪来贬低或控制他们的命运。”

我们无需被现代法学中有关法律在公共和私人道德领域的角色的辩论所阻碍。 然而,许教授似乎与Kennedy法官一致建议,成年人的私人性行为应该是不受法律约束的。

即便一般情况是如此,但也有一些明显的例外。成人乱伦就是一个令人信服的例子。 正如新加坡刑事法典376G条文所明确规定的,成年人之间的乱伦性关系,即使是双方同意并且是私下进行的,仍算为一种罪行,并可判处监禁。

2012年,“海峡时报”就报道,有一名24岁的女子就因与父亲发生自愿性行为被判处12个月的缓刑,并被令去看精神科医生。 她的父亲则因乱伦被判处三年徒刑。

这意味着并非成年人之间的每一种私人性活动都超出了法律的管辖范围。 因此,许教授有责任说明为什么他认为法律不该侵犯私人性关系的论点只适用于刑事法典377A条文而非376G条文。

在著名的Hart-Devlin辩论中,Lord Devlin有力地辩称,如果私人行为对社会的道德构成威胁的话,就不能免于公共制裁。 英格兰和美国原先的鸡奸法就是基于这个道理。


在他的文章中,许教授声称虽然科学家不知道什么决定了性取向,但他们“倾向于根据生物学理论,接受基因因素”。 他坚持科学家并不将性取向视为一种选择,给予人一种科学界已就此问题达成共识的印象。


从20世纪90年代开始,已进行了大量的科学研究,尝试寻找同性恋的生物学基础。 但是这些研究未能确凿的表明同性恋取向是由基因因素决定的。

事实上,这些研究恰恰指向相反的结论。 例如,最初由John Michael Bailey和Richard Pillard于1991年进行的双胞胎研究,随后被许多其他科学家复制就显示了,生物学并不能决定同性恋倾向。

在《科学人》杂志的一篇文章中,William Byrne得出结论,认为Bailey和Pillard的研究“显然挑战了一个简单的基因假设,并强烈暗示环境对性取向有显着贡献。”

这一结论得到了Peter S. Bearman和Hannah Brückner于2002年以及Niklas Långström在2010年进行的关于双胞胎的广泛研究的支持。

在他们于2016年发表在新亚特兰蒂斯期刊(The New Atlantis)题为“性与性别:生物,心理和社会科学的调查结果”,Lawrence S. Mayer和Paul R. McHugh得出以下的结论:

有关性取向其中一些最普遍的观点,如“天生如此”的假设,根本没有科学根据。 的确,该领域的文献描述了非异性恋者和异性恋者之间一小部分生物学上的差异,但这些差异不足以预测性取向。

Jeffrey Satinover在他的著作《同性恋与真理政治》一书中就写道,“硬科学远无法对同性恋提出完整的解释,更不用说将其简化为基因决定论了。”

即便科学迄今仍未能证明同性恋存在着生物学决定性的因素,同性恋游说者还是不断的使用“科学”来推动他们声称同性恋取向是天生且不可改变的主张。 许教授似乎是不加批判的接受并传递这类的表述。


1974年,美国精神医学学会(APA)从DSM(II)中公布的病理性精神病清单中删除了同性恋。 修订后的判决书指出,“……同性恋本身就是性行为的一种形式,就像其他形式的性行为本身并非精神失常一样,因此并不列在失常的术语中。”

然而,这种改变并不是由于同性恋取向的基因或神经学基础有任何新的科学证据的结果。 正如Ronald Bayer在其题为《同性恋和美国精神病学:诊断政治》(1987)一书中清楚地表明,这一修订乃是APA里头的同性恋游说者的政治压力。

Bayer写道:“最终的结果不是基于理性所带出的接近科学真理的结论,而是一种被时代的意识形态所推演的行动。” 因此,Albert Dean Byrd和Stony Olsen能宣称“基于政治原因,疾病的耻辱已经完全消失”。

Charles W. Socarides在其1992年题为“性政治与科学知识”的文章中警告说,APA的决定:





“我会恭敬地提醒他们[基督教和回教领袖们],”许教授写道,“新加坡是一个世俗国家。 它不是基督教国家或回教国家。 实施这些宗教的教条并不是国家的事情。” 他继续强调新加坡乃是政教分离,“教会领袖和回教领导人应尊重这种分离”。

许教授的语调是傲慢和大家长式的。 他认为新加坡的宗教领袖们都必须接受他关于宗教与国家之间正确关系的指导。

认为像NCCS这样的宗教团体发表声明,就因为他们希望国家强制执行他们的教条是一种荒谬的看法。 当NCCS就一个问题发表声明时,它并不是试图将其世界观强加于社会,或将新加坡转变为基督教神权国家。 其目的仅仅是帮助其成员教会理解其组织在该特定问题上的立场。




在过去的几十年里,NCCS就各种问题发表了一系列声明,包括安乐死,器官交易和同性恋。 理事会之所以发表这些声明,是为了教育和指导基督徒,及谋求共同利益,而不是将其观点强加于他人。

理事会了解新加坡是一个多元宗教的社会,没有一个宗教可以在社会和道德问题上独断独行。 但同样地,也没有个人或少数群体可以向大多数人强加他们对性行的看法。

有关公共道德问题的辩论,如377A条文,宗教的立场尤为重要。正如李总理所说,这与“社会价值观”有关。 只要宗教人士及其社体是我们社会的一部分并致力于后者的蓬勃发展的话,他们就有权提供对这个问题的观点。

在这种对话中排除信仰团体就是否认他们在我们多元宗教社会中的合法地位。 事实上,我们甚至可以这么说,在这种辩论中查封宗教声音是对协商民主精神的侮辱。 它与我们一直在努力建设的包容性社会是背道而驰的。



例如,在最近刑法典的审查中,内政部和律政部安排了特别会议会见了宗教领袖,以征求他们的意见。 事实上,内政部和律政部长尚穆根甚至分别与不同的宗教团体会面以解释审查的必须并征求他们的意见。

与许教授不同,新加坡政府承认世俗社会不应在公共道德问题上行使霸权。 它认识到,在这些问题上,必须寻求并认真对待宗教团体的观点。 这与多元宗教的新加坡特别相关,因我国有80%以上的人口都信奉宗教信仰。


谢正金博士是新加坡三一神学院周福兴基督教教义教授,并“思潮” 基督教公共研究所的神学与研究顾问。




A Sin Or A Crime? – On Legislating Morality

(Click here for Chinese version)

October 2018 Pulse

On September 24 (2018), The Straits Times published an article by Professor Tommy Koh entitled ‘Section 377A: There is a difference between a sin and a crime’. This article was written in the wake of renewed debate in Singapore on Section 377A, sparked by the recent decision by the Indian apex court to repeal Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

Both the ‘repeal’ and ‘retain’ parties have organised online petitions to garner support for their positions. Several prominent public figures, including Koh, have jumped into the fray and expressed their support for its repeal. The National Council of Churches, the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church and the Islamic Authorities have issued official statements arguing against the repeal.

In his article, Koh discusses a wide range of issues. They include the concepts of sin and crime in relation to homosexual sex, the scientific evidence for sexual orientation, the role of the courts and the place of religion in debates on the law.

However, Koh’s article, in my view, is riddled with a number of distorting generalisations and sweeping statements that have the potential to mislead. I hope to address some of them in this brief article.


Koh argues that with respect to homosexual acts a distinction must be made between a sin and a crime. Sodomy, he asserts – in agreement with former attorney-general Walter Woon – may be seen as a sin by some religions, but it should not be regarded as a crime by the state.

On the surface, this argument may seem quite compelling. But upon closer scrutiny, this way of framing the issue can be misleading because it fails to capture the profound relationship between morality and the law. Although there are distinctions between morality and the law, there is also an intricate relationship between them that should never be trivialised or ignored.

It must be said at the outset that the entire legal system is in some profound sense based on the moral vision of a particular society. Thus we can say that there can be no law without morality.

This moral vision, expressed in part in the laws of the land, is absolutely vital for the well-being of any society. As Lord Patrick Devlin has famously put it in his essay entitled ‘Morals and Criminal Law’: ‘Society means a community of ideas; without shared ideas of politics, morality and ethics, no society can exist’.

Laws are made because they bring to concrete expression the moral sensibilities of a society, that is, its understanding of right and wrong. This proposition is so self-evident that it requires very little elaboration or defence.

A few examples would be sufficient to illustrate this.

Homicide is a crime because it is wrong to intentionally take the life of another human being. Rape is a crime because society deems sexual violence on a woman or a man as a morally reprehensible offence that should never be countenanced.

The recent review of the Penal Code also brings this out very clearly. New laws pertaining to marital rape, the protection of minors from sexual predators and crimes against the vulnerable are made because they uphold the moral vision of our society.

In other words, they are put in place to reflect the shared moral convictions and commitments on the basis of which we want to order our society. Lord Devlin would say that these laws are there to give voice to ‘society’s constitutive morality’.

Incidentally, in all of the examples cited above, what religion (in this case, Christianity) calls sins, the state also regards as crimes punishable under the law.

In relation to section 377A, we must therefore ask what is the moral stance of the Singapore public on the issue of homosexual intercourse and lifestyle.

In a survey conducted by IPS in 2014, 78.2 per cent of the respondents said that they were against the homosexual lifestyle, and 72.9 per cent were against same-sex marriage. In the recent IPSOS survey (2018) on section 377A, 55 per cent of the respondents were not in favour of the repeal of the law, while only 12 per cent wanted it removed.

PM Lee is surely right when he said in a 2014 BBC interview that the status of section 377A is a ‘matter of society’s values’. To use Lord Devlin’s expression, its presence in the Penal Code is an articulation of ‘society’s constitutive morality’.

However, it must be stressed that the relationship between the law and morality is a reciprocal one. This means that while societal values can shape the legal system, the lawmaker can also exert influence on the social habits of society.

This applies to section 377A. As Christopher de Souza has succinctly put it in the 2007 debate in Parliament:

A repeal of section 377A will not merely remove the offence. It is much more significant than that. Because of the concept of negative liberty, the removal of section 377A puts homosexual lifestyle on par with heterosexual lifestyle. It is to accord both lifestyles a sense of parity.

In other words, the repeal of this piece of legislation can gradually result in significant changes in the ‘constitutive morality’ of our society (Devlin).

The National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) understands this very well. Its recent statement expresses its concern that the repeal of section 377A ‘would result in the normalisation and promotion of this [i.e., homosexual] lifestyle, which in turn would lead to undesirable moral and social consequences’.

The Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church, William Goh, also understands the importance of maintaining the status quo. In his pastoral letter, he writes:

I am of the view that S377A should not be repealed under the present circumstances. This is because, by accepting homosexual acts as a social norm, the dreadful consequences for the stability of our families, the well-being of our children, and the risks to the common good will be long-term and irreversible.

The relationship between morality and the law is complex. It defies the simplistic dichotomies suggested by Koh in his article.


In his article, Koh briefly alluded to the landmark ruling by the United States Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas that the criminalisation of sodomy was unconstitutional. He cited Justice Anthony Kennedy, who said that: ‘The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The state cannot demean or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime’.

The debate concerning the role of the law in the spheres of public and private morality in modern jurisprudence need not detain us. However, Koh seems to suggest, in concert with Justice Kennedy, that private sexual conduct of consenting adults should be off limits to the law.

While this may generally be the case, there are notable exceptions, adult incest being a compelling example. As section 376G of Singapore’s Penal Code makes clear, an incestuous sexual relationship between adults, even if it is consensual and conducted in private, is an offence punishable by imprisonment.

In 2012, The Straits Times reported that a 24-year-old woman was sentenced to 12 months’ probation for having consensual sex with her father and ordered to see a psychiatrist. Her father was sentenced to three years imprisonment for incest.

This means that not every private sexual activity between consenting adults is beyond the reach of the law. The onus is therefore on Koh to show why the argument that the law should not intrude on private sexual relations applies to section 377A and not to section 376G of the Penal Code.

In the famous Hart-Devlin debate, Lord Devlin argued persuasively that private acts should not be free from public sanction if they pose a threat to society’s morality. The sodomy laws of England and America were originally made in part on the basis of this reasoning.


In his article, Koh asserts that while scientists do not know what determines sexual orientation, they ‘favour biologically based theories, which point to genetic factors’. He maintains that scientists do not view sexual orientation as a choice, giving the impression that the scientific community has achieved consensus on the matter.

This, however, is not the case at all, and to make such sweeping and unqualified statements is surely to mislead.

From the 1990s onwards, a slew of scientific studies have been conducted to find a biological basis for homosexuality. These studies have failed to show conclusively that homosexual orientation is determined by genetic factors.

In fact, these studies suggest the contrary. For example, the twin studies, originally conducted in 1991 by John Michael Bailey and Richard Pillard and subsequently replicated by many other scientists, show quite conclusively that biology does not determine homosexuality.

In an article in Scientific America, William Byrne concludes that the Bailey and Pillard study ‘clearly challenges a simple genetic hypothesis and strongly suggests that environment contributes significantly to sexual orientation’.

This conclusion is supported by the extensive studies on twins conducted by Peter S. Bearman and Hannah Brückner in 2002 and Niklas Långström in 2010.

In their wide-ranging report on sexuality published in 2016 by The New Atlantis entitled Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences, Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh conclude:

Some of the most widely held views about sexual orientation, such as the “born that way” hypothesis, simply are not supported by science. The literature in this area does describe a small ensemble of biological differences between non-heterosexuals and heterosexuals, but those biological differences are not sufficient to predict sexual orientation.

‘[H]ard science’ writes Jeffrey Satinover in his book Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, ‘is far from providing an explanation of homosexuality, let alone one that reduces it to genetic determinism’.

Although science has hitherto failed to demonstrate that there is a biological determinant for homosexuality, gay lobbyists have repeatedly used ‘science’ to advance their claim that homosexual orientation is innate and immutable. Koh appears to be uncritically parroting that narrative.

In his article, Koh also mentioned the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

In 1974, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed homosexuality from the list of pathological psychiatric conditions published in DSM (II). The revised verdict states that ‘… homosexuality per se is one form of sexual behaviour and, like other forms of sexual behaviour which are not themselves psychiatric disorders, is not listed in the nomenclature of disorders’.

This change of status, however, was not the result of new scientific evidence for the genetic or neurological basis for homosexual orientation. As Ronald Bayer has clearly shown in his book entitled Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis (1987), this revision was made due to political pressure by the gay lobbyists within APA.

‘The result’, writes Bayer, ‘was not a conclusion based upon an approximation of the scientific truth as dictated by reason, but was instead an action demanded by the ideological temper of the times’. Albert Dean Byrd and Stony Olsen could therefore declare that ‘The stigma of a disease was gone due to politics’.

In his 1992 article entitled ‘Sexual Politics and Scientific Knowledge’, Charles W. Socarides warns that the APA decision

… remains a chilling reminder that if scientific principles are not fought for, they can be lost – a disillusioning warning that unless we make no exceptions to science, we are subject to the snares of political factionalism and the propagation of untruths to an unsuspecting and uninformed public, to the rest of the medical profession and to the behavioural science.

This is a story that is not widely known and needs to be told.


We turn finally to Koh’s remarks on the role of religious communities in the debate on section 377A.

‘I would respectfully remind them [Christian and Islamic authorities]’, Koh writes, ‘that Singapore is a secular state. It is not a Christian country or a Muslim country. It is not the business of the state to enforce the dogmas of those religions’. He goes on to stress that in Singapore, there is a separation between religion and the state and that ‘Church leaders and Islamic leaders should respect that separation’.

Koh’s tone is condescending and paternalistic. He assumes that the religious leaders in Singapore need to be tutored by him on the proper relationship between religion and the state.

To suggest that religious bodies like NCCS issue statements because they want the state to enforce their dogmas is ludicrous. When NCCS makes a statement on an issue, it is not trying to impose its worldview on society or to transform Singapore into a Christian theocratic state. Its purpose is merely to help its member churches to understand its position on that particular issue.

It is therefore extremely unhelpful for a public figure like Koh to politicise the statements that the Council issues for the purpose of guiding Christians on social and moral issues in this melodramatic fashion. In fact, such a suggestion coming from him may sow the seeds of suspicion and distrust that can compromise the fragile social harmony and cohesion that we have worked so hard to achieve.

In reminding the religious authorities that in Singapore there is a separation between religion and politics, Koh is implying that they have no right to comment on section 377A.

But the institutional separation between religion and the state, enshrined in the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act of 1990, does not banish religion altogether from the public square. Neither does it prohibit faith communities from commenting on moral and social issues that affect their members.

In the past few decades, NCCS has issued a number of statements on a variety of issues including euthanasia, organ trading and homosexuality. The Council made these statements to educate and guide Christians, and for the sake of the common good – not to impose its views on others.

The Council understands that Singapore is a multi-religious society and no single religion can pontificate on social and moral issues. But in similar vein, no individual or minority group can impose their views on sexuality on the majority.

Religion’s input is especially important in debates on issues pertaining to public morality, like section 377A, which as PM Lee has so clearly said, has to do with ‘society’s values’. Insofar as religious people and their communities are part of our society and are committed to the latter’s flourishing, their views have a right to be heard on this issue.

To exclude faith communities in such conversations is to deny them of their rightful place in our multi-religious society. In fact, we can go so far as to say that censoring religious voices from such debates is an affront to the spirit of deliberative democracy. It flies in the face of the inclusive society that we have been trying so hard to build.

To steer public discourse by silencing religious voices instead of encouraging an ever-greater inclusivity is to fuel a new and insidious form of intolerance.

Thankfully, the Singapore government does not share Koh’s perspective. Instead of excluding religious communities, it has made every effort to seek their views and feedbacks on important issues.

For example, in the recent Penal Code review, the Ministries of Home Affairs and Law organised special meetings with religious leaders to obtain their comments. In fact, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam even took the trouble to meet up with the different religious communities separately to explain the reviews and solicit their views.

Unlike Koh, the Singapore government recognises the secular state should not exercise hegemony on matters of public morality. It recognises that in such matters, the view of religious communities must be sought and taken seriously. This is especially pertinent to multi-religious Singapore, where more than 80 per cent of the population professes religious affiliation.

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

Populism and Democracy

October  2018 Pulse

In his op-ed article published in The Straits Times (11 October 2017), Jonathan Eyal examines the problem with referendums in the wake of the one conducted in Catalonia, Spain. While some have hailed referendums as the highest form of democracy, others see it only as an instantiation of mob rule.

One of the practical problems with referendums, Eyal correctly points out, is that ‘it tends to reduce highly complex matters to a binary “yes” or “no” answer’. The reductive aspect of referendums makes them a valuable tool for the rising political trend that we have been witnessing in America and Europe, namely Populism.

Numerous articles have been written to warn of the dangers of populist rhetoric and the tendentious political culture it engenders. Appealing to base instincts and social angst, populist rhetoric sacrifices intellectual rigour and careful deliberation on complex issues for the sake of quick solutions and instant gratification.

Populism jettisons public-spirited dialogue and compromise the common good. It creates the naïve but harmful division between the ‘virtuous people’ (those who stand with the majority) and ‘the dangerous other’ (those who hold a contrarian view), thereby forcibly polarising society.

Populism also polarises by arousing prejudices and encouraging misconceptions through the epistemic silos it creates that ignore those facts and arguments that may serve as counterbalances to the visceral fervour or ideological vision of the masses. Populism therefore is in this sense not interested in arriving at the truth.

Eschewing the subtleties of a truly democratic culture, populism promotes a superficial and anaemic version of majoritarian politics, which can easily become a form of tyranny. Populism subverts democracy in the name of democracy.

I have argued elsewhere that Christianity does not favour or commend any one political system, not even democracy. However, Christianity upholds rationality, justice, compassion and the dignity and value of every human being. Thus, Christianity would deem a particular version or practice of democracy laudable if it promotes these values.

In his famous social encyclical of 1991, Centesimus Annus (‘Hundredth Year’) Pope John Paul II, who played a pivotal role in the collapse of Communism in Poland, discussed democracy at length. ‘Authentic democracy’, he writes, ‘is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of a human person’. The Roman Catholic Church, John Paul II maintains – and here Protestants can readily agree with the pontiff – values democracy because it fosters citizens’ participation in public life.

But the democratic process must be guided by truth, especially moral truth, the pope insists. ‘[I]f there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity’, he argues, ‘then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power’. Events in the twentieth century, he notes, have shown that ‘a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly-disguised totalitarianism’.

The rise of populism has engendered a political culture that is especially susceptible to the dangers that John Paul II warns about – if not a ‘thinly-disguised totalitarianism’, then different shades of demagogy and irrationality. Perhaps this is the reason why deliberative democracy, which was once dismissed as being a touch too idealistic, is making a comeback.

Deliberative democracy, championed by conservative philosophers and politicians like Edmund Burke and more recently Roger Scruton – is a political philosophy that is primarily concerned with improving collective decision-making, especially on important issues that affect society at large. It insists that the democratic process must be rational and that it must involve as many citizens as possible.

Deliberative democracy is a form of participatory democracy where participation in collective decision-making goes beyond the mere casting of votes. It is a political system or culture that recognises the rights of anyone who is subjected to a collective decision to participate in what some writers have called ‘consequential deliberation’ about that decision.

Consequential deliberation’ suggests that the viewpoints of the participants – especially those of the ‘common man’ (i.e., non-expert) and those of minority groups – are taken seriously. Furthermore, it implies that their viewpoints will in one way or another shape the deliberative process and possibly influence the decision itself.

Deliberative democracy (or argumentative democracy, as Rowan Williams termed it in a recent lecture in the Netherlands) requires participants in the conversation to engage with the arguments and viewpoints presented with an open mind. It requires a willingness to listen to and engage with alternative views. It requires participants to be fair-minded and to recognise the merits of the arguments of fellow citizens whose views are different from their own.

In other words, deliberative democracy urges the electorate to take a more matured approach to decision-making, one that requires patience, fairness, understanding and even mutual accommodation. It is a stark contrast from the kind of politics where protagonists simply refuse to budge from their position, regardless how persuasive and sensible the alternative view might be.

Deliberative democracy insists that the complex issues that we face cannot be resolved by the ballot box. Neither should the results of the vote be seen as the final word on a particular issue.  Deliberative democracy insists that these issues can and should be revisited when necessary and our position on them can be changed or modified as a result of the deliberation.

Critics of deliberative democracy have pointed out its shortcomings ranging from its epistemological assumptions to its practicality. For example, while the democratic virtues of the mini-publics are generally acknowledged, how deliberation can be scaled up so that these mini-publics can be properly linked to broader discourses remains a practical problem.

Despite these weaknesses deliberative democracy is a better approach to decision-making than populism.

The Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw once said, ‘Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve’. Deliberative democracy, while by no means perfect, will in some ways prevent modern society from short-changing itself.

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

Non-optional Option

September 2018 Pulse

In his book Dispatches From the Front, the Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas describes a commercial produced by the National Association for Retarded Citizens. The film begins with a couple standing in a dark room and looking into a crib, the contents of which are kept from sight.

Then the young mother looks up and into the camera and says, “Don’t let this happen to you. Our baby was born retarded. Our lives are crushed and we do not know where to run. Do not let this happen to you. Get prenatal counselling. Help us eliminate retardation.”

Whatever good intentions the Association may have in producing this commercial, it conveys the disturbing message that the best way to eliminate retardation is to terminate the retarded – an inevitable conclusion however we may choose to interpret the commercial. As Hauerwas points out, “We can care for cancer patients by trying to alleviate their cancer without destroying the patient, but you cannot eliminate retardation without destroying the person who is retarded.” However, this is clearly an approach that Christians could never accept.

Sadly, modern society has become so bewitched by utilitarian ethics (in its various guises) that it is no longer perturbed by its twisted moral logic or shudder at its frightful social consequences.

Throughout its history, the Church has always extended its service and care to the most vulnerable in society in ways that are truly self-sacrificial and counter-cultural. This is because Christians recognise the equal dignity and worth of every human being and seek to uphold and demonstrate the unconditional love of God.

In Western Christianity, this vision of the Church is encapsulated in the notion “the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable”.

Unfortunately, many Christians fail to understand this statement. For many, the term “option” suggests a particular course of action that one may choose to take or not to take. It therefore follows that to say that a course of action is an option is to suggest that it is optional.

It is thus imperative that we clarify the meaning and intent of the expression “preferential option for the poor and vulnerable”.

“Preferential” simply means that the needs of the poor and the vulnerable should come first. The expression “poor and vulnerable” refers to society’s weakest and neediest members – the elderly, the terminally ill, unborn children, and all victims of oppression and injustice.

This, however, does not suggest that the poor and the vulnerable are more valuable in the eyes of God. As the liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez makes clear, “God has a preferential love for the poor not because they are necessarily better than others, morally or religiously, but simply because they are poor and living in an inhuman situation that is contrary to God’s will.”

What about the word “option”?

Here, “option” does not merely refer to choice. Rather, it has to do with a fundamental commitment.

As Prof Dr Jacques Haers puts it, “option” in this context refers to “the desire, the will and the ability to struggle in close connectedness with the suffering people against the evil that causes pain and exclusion”.

The Catholic theologian Karl Rahner asserted that while serving the poor and the vulnerable does, in a sense, involve a choice for Christians, it is never optional but a moral requirement.

Thus, for Christians, serving the poor and the vulnerable is a non-optional option. It is a moral imperative and a noble duty. In obeying this imperative and performing this duty, the Christian truly images or mirrors the God he worships, the God who always reaches out to the needy.

In fulfilling this moral requirement, the Christian stands in solidarity with the vulnerable in society by being a ‘neighbour’ in the biblical sense. Here, solidarity demands that the Christian takes concrete actions to alleviate the sufferings of the vulnerable, clearly illustrated by the story of the good Samaritan. As expressed by the eminent ethicist Henk ten Have, “Solidarity is not a pious intention, but shows itself in supporting a specific cause.”

The preferential option for the poor and the vulnerable is not a moral requirement for Christians only. It is the responsibility of every member of human society.

As Pope John Paul II puts it, “A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members; and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying”.

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

Nanotechnologies and Ethics

September 2018 Pulse

Imagine creating robots so small that they are able to swim swiftly through fluids like blood to a specific destination to deliver medicine to treat a cancerous tumour. Such nanorobots would not only negate the need for invasive procedures; they would also make possible delivery of medical payloads that is so precisely targeted that it would significantly reduce the side effects of the drugs.

This (and many other mind-blowing applications) is the promise of nanotechnology, a new category of technology that involves the manipulation of materials or molecules at the scale of 1 to 100 nanometres. A nanometre is one-billionth of a metre.

Here is how one journalist describes a nanometre: ‘If a nanometre were somehow magnified to appear as long as the nose on your face, then a red blood cell would appear the size of the Empire State Building, a human hair would be about two or three miles wide, one of your fingers would span the continental United States, and a normal person would be about as tall as six or seven planet Earths piled atop one another’.

Although the study of nanoparticles can be traced to 1914 when Richard Adolf Zsigmondy used an ultramicroscope to investigate colloidal gold and other nanomaterials, it was only recently that scientists are able to manipulate, use and even produce them.

The current applications of nanotechnology are already quite staggering, covering areas as diverse a medicine, air quality control and energy efficiency. For example, in the field of medicine, nanoscale silver is being used as an antimicrobial agent in the treatment of wounds. Nanotechnology is also being used to increase the efficiency of fuel cells and solar cells, while reducing the costs.

Some nanotechnology products have already been commercialised and made available to the general public, often at a speed that has caused disconcertion among some commentators.

As Patrick Lin and Fritz Alhoff note: ‘These nanotechnology products are quickly entering the marketplace today, from stain-resistant pants to scratch-resistant paint to better sports equipment to more effective cosmetics and sunblock’.

Transhumanists like Williams Sims Bainbridge and Raymond Kurzweil have welcomed nanotechnology with much enthusiasm because of their firm belief that the technology would one day be so advanced that it could save human beings from illness, ageing and even death. Some transhumanists even envision the day when the human species itself with be transformed into something much more superior, free from the encumbrances and limitations it currently experiences.

The speed with which nanotechnology is developing and the scope of its applications has led some ethicists to worry that ethical reflections have lagged behind, and perhaps are even unable to catch up with the science. To be sure, there is a paucity of rigorous ethical discussion, and scientists and ethicists alike have not always greeted the new-minted ‘nanoethics’ with enthusiasm.

The good news, however, is that ethicists wrestling with the problems tossed up by this rapidly developing science need not start from scratch. As Mette Ebbesen, Svend Andersen and Flemming Besenbacher have rightly argued, ‘a number of ethical aspects of genetics, biotechnology, and environmental science parallel ethical issues in nanotechnology’.

Following Tom Beauchamp and James Childress, they insist that principles such as respect for autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence and justice can help ethicists navigate the complex labyrinth of ethical and social issues associated with nanotechnology.

Be that as it may, there is still an urgent need to directly address the ethical and social concerns that are specifically tied to this new technology and its applications.

One serious concern has to do with the uncontrolled proliferation of self-replicating nanosystems that may in the long term irreparably harm the ecosystem as it spreads in the environment. In addition, nanobots that malfunction and could no longer be controlled or even detected could not only cause untold damage to the environment but also endanger human lives (K. Eric Dexler’s famous ‘gray goo’).

The dual-use nature of nanotechnology means that products that are meant for therapeutic applications can also be used for biological warfare and terrorism. Although this is a common issue for many technologies, in the case of nanotechnology the problem is much more complex and magnified (pun intended).

The list can easily be expanded.

In an important document on the ethical and social issues raised by nanotechnologies, UNESCO identifies several other peculiarities associated with nanotechnology, broader issues to which serious consideration must be given.

The first has to do with the fact that the ramifications and consequences of nanotechnology are global, affecting ‘even countries and societies that are not participating in nanotechnology as researchers, producers, or consumers’.

And the second has to do with the fact that nanotechnology will most certainly increase the inequalities that already exists between developing and developed countries, what some commentators have described as the ‘nanodivide’.

Although Ebbesen et al are right to point out that the issues addressed in nanoethics and general ethics related to technology bear some familial resemblances, there is still a need to think outside the box and anticipate novel scenarios when it comes to this new technology.

To do this scientists, ethicists and policy makers must not only learn to ‘problematise’ nanotechnology. They must also learn to ‘fictionalise’ it, that is, imagine possible utopian or dystopian futures in relation to this technology. As M. L. Brake and N. Hook note: ‘Science fiction helps to train our intellects to accept our imagination as a useful tool within science’s “toolbox”’.

Because the social and ethical issues associated with nanotechnology are immense and complex, scientists and policy-makers should not be too quick to commercialise nanotech products.

Engagement with the public involving as many sectors of society as possible is not only desirable; it is imperative. This is because the social ramifications of nanotechnology – positive or negative – can potentially impact everyone, users and non-users alike.

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

Body Dynamics

August 2018 Pulse

One of the most interesting concepts peculiar to Methodism is ‘connectionalism’, a neologism coined to describe how the Methodist Church is ordered and organised.

At the practical level, connectionalism refers to the ways in which Methodist churches support each other by sharing their resources – pastors, leaders, and financial support – so that they may fulfil their common mission to spread the Gospel. Seen in this light, this concept points to the symbiotic relationship between different local congregations.

Connectionalism, therefore, is the way in which the unity of the Methodist Church is made manifest. Some have described it as an aggregate model of unity where different groups – local conferences, Annual Conferences, ministry networks – are denominationally bound together in a network of relationships.

While this practical aspect of the concept is generally well understood, more attention must be directed at its theological foundations. As Methodist historian Russell Richey has rightly observed: “Seldom unpacked theologically, this practical and practiced ecclesiology can be an extraordinary resource for self-understanding and for Christian unity, but only if Methodists think about it seriously.” (emphasis added)

Connectionalism should not be seen merely as a pragmatic arrangement, an ecclesiastical polity that is practically appropriate but not in any way theologically grounded. Rather, it expresses what the Church in essence is, and what it should always strive to be. Put in slightly more technical terms, the concept points to the Church’s ontology, its very being.

The most important image of the Church in the New Testament that helps us to understand the essence of connectionalism is the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). Once a believer puts his faith in Christ and is baptised, he becomes a member of what theologians like Augustine of Hippo call Christ’s mystical body (Latin: Mystici Corporis Christi).

The believer becomes a member of God’s universal (‘catholic’) Church by becoming a member of a particular church, for example Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church, through baptism. The believer’s vertical fellowship (Greek: koinonia) with God results in his horizontal fellowship with God’s people, the Church.

The body of Christ metaphor portrays the members’ communion with one another in a relationship of love, mutual responsibility, and interdependence, with Christ as their Head. Each member is equally important (1 Corinthians 12:14-20), and the relationship obtained by the power of the Holy Spirit is such that “if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Now, the metaphor ‘the Body of Christ’ is used for the local church as well as the universal Church. This means that the local church should never be regarded simply as merely a part of the larger Body of Christ – the local church is the Body of Christ in the fullest sense, regardless of its numerical size.

Nowhere is this more clearly stated than in a paper titled ‘The Church: Local and Universal’ by a joint working group of Roman Catholics and Protestants. In paragraph 14, we read: “The local church is not an administrative or juridical sub-section or part of the universal Church. In the local church the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church is truly present and active.”

However, although complete in itself, the local church also participates in God’s universal Church. Conversely, the universal Church (which stretches across space and time) may be said to be a communion of particular churches.

Here communion must be understood theologically and not simply from the standpoint of organisation or affiliations, formal or otherwise. This means that the universal Church must not be seen simply as a sum of particular churches, a web or federation of churches.

Thus when we speak of the universal Church as a communion of churches, we are pointing to its essential mystery.

As the Roman Catholic document on communio ecclesiology puts it: “…the particular Churches, insofar as they are ‘part of the one Church of Christ’, have a relationship of ‘mutual interiority’ with the whole, that is, with the universal Church, because in every particular Church ‘the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and active’.”

As a neologism, ‘connectionalism’ is at first blush admittedly clumsy and theologically unsuggestive. It gives the impression that it is only of practical – administrative, organisational, utilitarian – import.

But when the concept is unpacked theologically, connectionalism expresses the very essence of the Church, its mystery. It points to the Church’s organic unity.

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

The Politicisation of Science

August 2018 Pulse

The Swedish meteorologist working in the UK, Lennart Bengtsson, is without doubt one of the most respected climate scientists in the fraternity. In April 2014, Bengtsson joined the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a think tank that raised questions concerning the current ‘consensus’ on climate change based on data.

Bengtsson pointed out that climate change predictions that are based on computer models might not give the true picture of the actual state of global warming. ‘Since the end of the 20th century’, he said, ‘the warming of the Earth has been much weaker than what climate models show’.

Note that Bengtsson did not deny that global warming was occurring. He merely raised the scientifically valid question about the accuracy of model simulations and pointed out that observational results have differed.

Shortly after raising this issue, Bengtsson faced the ire of the climate community for challenging the prevailing orthodoxy. He came under such unbearable pressure from his colleagues that he was forced to resign from the think tank.

‘I have been put under such an enormous group pressure in recent days from all over the world that has become virtually unbearable for me’, he writes. ‘If this is going to continue I will be unable to conduct my normal work and will even start to worry about my health and safety’.

He adds: ‘Colleagues are withdrawing their support, other colleagues are withdrawing from joint authorship, etc. I see no limit and end to what will happen’.

The politicisation of science is an inevitable fact, argues Roger Pielke in The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics. Politics is enmeshed in many of the hot-button issues raised by the biological sciences, including evolution, stem cell research and protection of endangered species.

‘The only time you can stay above the fray is when you are a grad student’, says Pielke in an interview. ‘The minute you have to file a grant proposal with NSF or NIH, you’re in the realm of connecting science with the world outside of science’.

That science should be the candidate for politicisation should not surprise us. In the modern world, scientific authority is replacing religious authority, and the pronouncements from the scientific community have achieved the status of dogma. ‘The scientists have spoken’ appears to be an updated version of ‘This is the Word of the Lord’.

Science has ventured beyond the laboratories and exerted its influence in almost every aspect of society. Science has pontificated on how parents should raise their children, how relationships should be conducted, how we should have sex and what food we should eat.

In an age of moral relativism, as politicians find it more and more difficult to justify their agendas and ideologies by moral arguments, science has become an invaluable ally. The authority of science is asserted surely but subtly in our habits of discourse across the disciplines.

For example, with regard to climate change, Sir David Read, the vice-president of the Royal Society, is reported to have said: ‘The science very clearly points towards the need for us all – nations, businesses and individuals – to do as much as possible, as soon as possible, to avoid the worst consequences of climate change’.

The profound significance of the definite article before the word ‘science’ must not be missed. As Frank Furedi puts it, ‘“The Science” is a deeply moralised and politicised category’. Science is hailed as an authority that demands almost unquestioning submission.

The politicisation of science is an extremely complex and multifaceted phenomenon.

One the one hand, we have politicians commandeering scientific evidence – albeit selectively and at times even dishonestly – to advance their own political agendas. On the other, we also see scientists jumping on this bandwagon and aligning their scientific findings to certain ideological commitments.

Politicians and scientists could respond to the same published research in dramatically opposing ways, depending on which side of the political fence they happen to be situated. A case in point is the 2003 paper published in Climate Research that argued that from a millennial perspective climate changes in the 20th century are unremarkable.

Advocacy groups comprising politicians and scientists who oppose the Kyoto Protocol on climate change praised the paper as a sterling example of ‘sound science’. But the groups that supported the Protocol immediately denigrated it as ‘junk science’.

This example makes it painfully clear that issues like global warming are no longer of just scientific concern. They have become political causes. As Kim Holmes observes, ‘Political activism has so penetrated the science of climate change that one can barely tell the difference between a United Nations conference of scientists on global warming and a rally of political activists lobbying governments to adopt controls on carbon emissions’.

To make matters worse, there is also considerably bullying going on in the scientific fraternity. Those who dare to question the findings and conclusions of the majority or contradict the prevailing orthodoxy are sometimes humiliated and ostracised.

Such baneful attempts to shame and shun dissenters go against the spirit of science, which encourages open inquiry. But it shows just how politicised science can be in our modern world.

It should be noted that both the political right and left are guilty of the politicisation of science, even as they blame each other for this crime. So, if as Pielke points out the politicisation of science is a fact of life, what should our response to this state of affairs look like?

For the Christian, both science and politics are moral activities that should be carried out in the service of the truth. While the politicisation of science cannot be entirely avoided, one should nonetheless always strive for an ever-greater objectivity and truthfulness.

To begin with, scientists should be more self-conscious of their political commitments and scrupulously avoid conflating science with ideology in a way that is misleading.

In addition, scientists should also make it clear to the public when they are engaged in advocacy. And instead of merely championing a particular cause, scientists should clarify how the data allows for a variety of policy choices.

Pielke and others have argued that both scientists and politicians must understand the difference between politics and policy. The political perspective is necessarily narrow, limiting the range of alternatives as it pursues a particular agenda and desired outcome.

However, as Pielke explains in an article entitled, ‘When Scientists Politicise Science’, ‘For science, a policy perspective implies increasing or elucidating the range of alternatives available to decision-makers by clearly associating the existing state of scientific knowledge with a range of choices’.

One way in which science can be depoliticised, Pielke suggests, is to ‘ask scientists to participate in the process of connecting science with policy alternatives, to explicitly consider what alternatives are and are not consistent with scientific understandings in relation to different valued outcomes’.

Finally, both scientists and politicians need to achieve a more realistic appreciation of the possibilities and limits of science. Sobriety is the best response to scientism’s distorting portrayal of science and its alleged omnicompetence.

A sober appreciation of science would lead us to conclude that although science is helpful in many ways, it can never be the sufficient basis for solving the world’s problems. By itself, science cannot even resolve political debates on important issues.

To accord science with the competence it does not in fact possess and to use it for political ends is to court disaster for the human community.

As Daniel Kemmis perceptively argues: ‘… the repeated invocation of good science as the key to resolving complex ecosystem problems has itself become bad science. What is infinitely worse is that this bad science is all too readily made the servant of bad government’.


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

Back to the Basics

July 2018 Pulse

The last three decades have seen a slew of books on basic Christianity. A simple search on would yield titles like Christianity 101 (1993), Basic Discipleship (1992), and Christianity: The Basics (2014). These books receive their inspiration from their celebrated predecessors, namely, C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity (1952) and John Stott’s Basic Christianity (1958).

The main purpose of these books – as their titles reveal – is to state as succinctly as possible the fundamentals of the Christian faith and its most essential tenets. Their intended readers are either people who are interested in Christianity but are mystified by the varied accounts, or young Christians who wish to get a handle on the faith they have recently embraced.

These books, therefore, have a significant role to play in the spiritual and theological formation of young believers who wish to acquaint themselves with the doctrinal terrain of Christianity. But the habitual return to the basics may prove enlightening and refreshing even for more mature Christians.

What constitutes the basics of Christianity, its non-negotiable essence, is an important and inescapable question. How does one go about distinguishing the essential bits of the Christian faith that must be ‘canonised’, and the rest that should consequently be regarded as theological opinions that can be subjected to discussion and disagreement?

These questions must be carefully considered. This quest can go disastrously wrong if it is guided by false assumptions and alien canons.

In the early 20th century, a formidable group of German theologians led by the eminent Adolf von Harnack sought to recover what they described as the “essence of Christianity”. They wanted to repristinate a Christianity which, in their minds, had been distorted by Hellenistic philosophy.

To cut a long story short, Harnack and his followers began to peel off the husk of the ‘Hellenised’ theology of the Church in order to recover the kernel, namely, the simple teachings of Jesus Christ and His early followers.

The results of Harnack’s research were presented in a series of lectures in the University of Berlin in 1899 and 1900, and subsequently published as What is Christianity? (Das Wesen des Christentums) in 1901. This book, which is the modern re-statement of the essence of Christianity, became the inspiration for liberal theology in the 20th century.

Rejecting what he considered to be the metaphysical accretions of the historic creeds of the Church, Harnack maintains that the essence of Christianity has to do with the universal fatherhood of God, the universal brotherhood of man, and the ethic of love.

Harnack’s project is instructive because it shows us how not to look for the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

Christianity’s essence cannot be sought by severing Scripture from its authoritative interpreter, the Church. Neither can it be sought by privileging the modern scientific worldview over the theological vision of the Church that was informed and shaped by Scripture itself.

In other words, to understand the essence of the Christian faith, one needs to take with utmost seriousness the very things that Harnack had rejected as farcical and redundant.

One needs to return to the historic ecumenical creeds of the Church – the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Chalcedonian Definition – for they are, to use Luther’s fine expression, the “ground upon which the Christian Faith is laid”.

In the creeds, wrote Luther, “you find the whole essence of God, his will and his work beautifully portrayed in few but comprehensive words”.

Basic Christianity, as presented by the creeds, has to do with non-negotiable truths about God and the world that the Word reveals, like the triunity of God, the incarnation of the second person of the Godhead, the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, the final judgement, and eternal life.

Going back to the basics of the faith should never be regarded as an exercise of simplifying the faith, as some writers seem to suggest. It is never reductionist. Rather, it is an attempt to discern the fullness and wonder of God, who in His revelation remains incomprehensible.

In returning again and again to the essence of the faith, we are brought ever deeper into the boundless and inexhaustible mystery of the One who is Love.

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