Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Scientific Breakthroughs and Timeless Moral Boundaries

Over the last few years, science-related news has included much coverage related to the creation of “synthetic cells.” Of these, researchers in Maryland and California are said to have developed a hybrid type of bacteria called Mycoplasma mycoides. This newly engineered bacteria results from scientists implanting strands of DNA into another, different bacteria from which the original DNA had been removed. The “new” resultant bacteria package began behaving as if it had originated naturally. Oxford University ethics professor Julian Savulescu commented, "This is a step towards ... creation of living beings with capacities and natures that could never have naturally evolved.”

Indeed. On a number of levels, such scientific “accomplishments” amount to pushing nature toward things unnatural. Some of the news coverage included journalists asking persons if they thought that such research was an example of, “man trying to play God?”

One’s answer to that question should be tempered by the fact that that while the creation of hybrid bacterias is admittedly complex work, the scientists are, after all, merely manipulating existing material. Scientists still haven’t truly started from scratch and brought anything into existence ex nihilo.

But the real concern should be over the ethical implications of such research. Savulescu remarked that such experiments and their results are, “creaking open the most profound door in humanity's history, potentially peeking into its destiny.” The prospect of new life forms being developed is unsettling enough. Of great significance are two realities, that: (a) such scientific powers are being honed in an age when man’s moral sensibilities seem to be at their most diminished. And (b) these scientific “advances” are coming about in the age of global terrorism and amidst political instabilities throughout the world.

Here in America, most individuals aged from childhood up are polarized by discussions over what is right and wrong. As debate over values perpetually increases, the practice of virtue seems to correspondingly decrease. In a self-contradictory twist, the assumption that there are no absolute moral truths has become dogma for many Americans.

Our nation might be well served to reflect on the fact that the moral code originated from God. Some of history’s best and brightest thinkers (such as Augustine and Aquinas, not to mention America’s founders) believed that ultimate moral truth exists, can be known, and originated from God. In his book The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis gives historical documentation that all cultures throughout history have recognized a basic, common moral code of what was right and wrong. The Christian scriptures (such as Romans, chapter 2) also tell us that mankind knows what is morally right, even though he may earnestly give himself over to what is morally wrong. Man has known the moral code, even when he did not always follow the moral code.

The reason that this ubiquitous moral code is not open for revisions is because God’s nature (or essence) does not change. Remember that God is eternal. Morality⎯ reflective of Who God is⎯ likewise, does not change. The question becomes “To what degree is my aversion to the moral code an offense to the One Who handed down the moral code?” Opposition or indifference to “natural law,” i.e. “morality,” is actually a rebellion against the Lawgiver.

The human ethical problem is a sort of militant autonomy⎯ the desire to live independently of God. In previous times, we called this sin, and most had no problem admitting their own share in human culpability. Today, many impose their own standards over God's standard, and set themselves up as their own moral judges. American culture of 2010 all but shouts: "Since God's way cuts across the grain of our own wants and desires, we’ll disbar God, and replace Him with a Law-giver that may be tolerated more easily...ourselves.”

Commenting on the potentials of the hybrid bacteria, Dr. Venter said, “We are entering a new era where we're limited mostly by our imaginations.” I would submit that we’d better be limited by something more than just our imaginations. When operating apart from solid moral grounding, the human imagination has inflicted some grisly things on the world. Let’s hope that today’s cutting-edge laboratories don’t create biological armaments, which wind up equipping modern libertines to set new benchmarks in human suffering.

Some say that such scientists are “playing God.” But before doing that, modern science would have to recognize that there is One! Whatever the scientists are doing, let us pray that the results are ultimately handled only by those who live within standards of absolute morality and who recognize the value of human life.

About Alex McFarland
Author, educator, and speaker Alex McFarland has spoken in all 50 states and internationally. He is the founder of Truth For A New Generation, the nation’s largest conference on apologetics and evidence for the Christian faith.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Uh Oh! Your Kilogram is Shrinking

Suppose that you ordered an expensive custom bowling ball online, and you want to know if it really weighs seven kilograms like the ad promised (Hey. . . it could happen). How could you determine the actual weight of your rare bowling ball? You would weigh it on an accurate scale, of course! How would you know that the scale is accurate? Scales can go out of adjustment and be wrong, you know. Scales used in science and in commerce are kept accurate by calibration. In other words, the scale-maintenance-people test the readings on scales by seeing if they match up with some unchanging, know-to-be-exact quantity of weight.

In the late 1800's, scientists in Europe agreed on what the exact weight of a kilogram is. A small weight (composed of the metals platinum and iridium)- which equalled one kilogram- was named the "International Prototype Kilogram" and was safely stored away. It is said that every 40 years, scientists from various countries are allowed to take this IPK out for examination. In measuring their own countries' kilograms against the ultimate standard for what a kilogram weighs…. the scale and science boys can keep things honest.

"Look ma! I handled the kilogram!"
I can see how it would be a big deal to handle the IPK. I mean, think about it: Any old scientist could use generic scale in the lab down at the local high school. But how many people ever get to see the scale or touch the weights that all other weights are measured against?

It reminds me of being in high school back at Southeast Guilford where I attended in rural North Carolina. There was this little scale back in science lab. It was painted sort of white and black, and had a pan on one end for weighing things like milky quartz rocks, stinky sulphur powder, or the small brain that my teacher (Mr. Helms) removed from a dead rat. The scale had with it a cool set of little gold colored weights with it. We would carefully balance the scale, and perhaps observe, "Wow! A two gram brain… that must have been one intelligent rat!" Had we not had those little counter-weights, our pursuit of scientific knowledge (or rat brain weights, at least) would have been impossible.

In 2007, it was announced that after one hundred uneventful years, the IPK kilogram didn't seem to weigh the same as it had. When scientists had their regular, "let's get the official kilogram out of the box so we can say we handled it" time, a disturbing discovery was made. Supposedly, the IPK was off. Not much- but enough for scientists to be alarmed. Somehow, the weight of the International Prototype Kilogram had changed. The scientific community was asking, "So how do we really know what the ultimate standard for a kilogram is?"

Theories were tossed about: Had the scientists in the late 1800's measured wrong? Had the metal object somehow lost some of its mass? Were our modern, computerized scales more accurate than previous scales- or less- and therefore giving a weight that conflicted with the old familiar kilogram amount? So far, no single answer has been agreed upon. But uncertainty about the weight of a kilogram didn't make gas any cheaper, or cause the price of a one liter bottle of water to go down! (A liter of water weighs one kilogram).

An unchanging standard
The Bible is like that IPK, only better. The Bible is the standard for goodness, morality, virtue, knowledge about God, and the truth about salvation. The Bible is our measuring stick- our ultimate standard by which right is affirmed and wrong is exposed. But the Bible is different from the IPK in two ways: Choice and change. Humans didn't arbitrarily decide to make the Bible the ultimate standard; In His grace God revealed His Word to the human race. And regarding change…. In this ever-transient world, it is good to know that there is something that will last forever, impervious to the tides of time and culture- The Bible, God's Word.

About Alex McFarland
Author, educator, and speaker Alex McFarland has spoken in all 50 states and internationally. He is the founder of Truth For A New Generation, the nation's largest conference on apologetics and evidence for the Christian faith.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Why Are Evangelicals Surrendering on Homosexuality?

Exodus International, a 37-year-old ministry helping people overcome homosexual behavior, announced it is closing down yesterday on the same day its president, Alan Chambers, issued a public apology to those who have been hurt by its efforts.
"We're not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people, but a new generation of Christians is looking for change—and they want to be heard," shared Tony Moore, an Exodus board member. The question must be asked: Is this the Bible's approach to dealing with same-sex attraction and activity?

Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary told Baptist Press "Sadly, it appears that this rethinking has resulted in something like a surrender to the cultural currents of the day." Indeed, in a year when the Boy Scouts of America have changed policy regarding gay members and conservative Republican politicians are announcing a public embrace of same-sex marriage, many are concerned that the historic Christian view of marriage and family is in jeopardy.

A look at both social science research and Scripture affirms the ideal design for family, marriage and sexual ethics. A 2012 University of Texas study conducted an, "Analysis of 3,000 Americans raised in, 'different types of family arrangements.'" The study found that, "...A person is more likely to get molested in a household led by two lesbians than in a traditional two-parent household. They are also more likely to have STD's, to identify as a homosexual, to be on public assistance, to have thoughts of suicide, and to have been forced to have sex unwillingly."

US census data confirms study done by Mark Regnerus, leader of the New Family Structures Study: "Kids raised by homosexual parents are more likely to suffer from a host of social problems. Among them are strong tendencies, as adults, to exhibit poor impulse control; suffer from depression and thoughts of suicide; need mental health therapy; identify themselves as homosexual; choose cohabitation; to be unfaithful partners; contract sexually transmitted diseases; be sexually molested; have lower income levels; drink to get drunk; and smoke tobacco and marijuana."

Biblically, Jesus made clear his view of marriage and sexuality. When asked about divorce and remarriage, he noted, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate" (Matthew 19:4-6).

This affirmation of Jesus regarding the marriage relationship of Adam and Eve—one man and one woman in lifelong marital partnership—represents the view of Christianity's founder and the history of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Those who argue for evangelicals to accept and embrace "marriage equality" propose a redefinition of family in direct conflict with the religious teachings of the Bible.

How are evangelical Christians to respond to this latest "surrender" to same-sex activists? First, we must continue to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). This teaching from the apostle Paul provides the proper perspective of standing firm in one's belief without resorting to name-calling or animosity toward those who embrace unbiblical alternatives.

Second, evangelicals are called to live pure lives as an example to others. Much of evangelical Christianity's credibility has been tarnished through unloving attitudes toward those different from us, whether gay or otherwise, high rates of divorce and infidelity among Christians and other visible contradictions between faith and action. Those who oppose biblical beliefs need to both hear and see a message of light from those who claim to follow Christ.

Third, Christians should consider it a privilege to stand firm for truth that others oppose. The apostle Peter instructed, "It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil" (1 Peter 3:17). Many do and will oppose the biblical view of family. We should not be surprised, but rather expect opposition and even consider it an honor that others would attack us for standing for biblical truth.

These days, opposition to God's revelation on sexuality comes well packaged, impressively marketed, and with the endorsement of celebrities and cultural icons. Must formerly trustworthy organizations to capitulate simply to placate the demands of well funded idealogues? Should this daunting cultural tide against truth and morality force Christians to betray their convictions? Should the souls of millions be imperiled because we resign ourselves to tell people what they simply want to hear? The answers must be, "No, no, and no!"

While same-sex marriage activists will continue to mobilize to pursue their particular agenda, the priorities of Christian believers are clear—to love the Lord and to love others. This includes a clear stand for God's truth as related to sexuality and marriage, communicated in a gracious, civil manner, as Christians seek to oppose the redefining of morality in our time.

About Alex McFarland
Author, educator, and speaker Alex McFarland has spoken in all 50 states and internationally. He is the founder of Truth For A New Generation, the nation's largest conference on apologetics and evidence for the Christian faith.