line in sand“If God does not exist, then everything is permitted.”  –Dostoevsky’sThe Brothers Karamazov

But if God does exist, what, exactly, is permitted?

It seems that Matt Drudge is doing much of my work for me lately. In the past two weeks, I’ve seen no less than five articles on issues related to transhumanism, robotics, and the digital life pop up on The Drudge Report’s homepage. These articles have led me to my first genuine, post-Christmas thought/struggle/argument. At what point exactly does scientific work move from a naturally human response grounded in joyful discovery to a point of arrogance and violation? Consider the tension from these polar positions.

We can safely assume that God gave human beings the ability to expand their intellectual capacities for the purpose of seeking out that which we do not know. A child is not content to have the intellect of a child and, therefore, interacts with the world around him, absorbing information at an astonishing rate. God did not ‘upload’ all the information in the world into the child at birth. Things must be experienced. They must be discovered. I suppose there are people who choose to isolate themselves from all things new as a way to preserve a worldview that is safe and untouched—but society (even Christians) would quickly dismiss such action as degenerate, if not outright impossible. Men and women, at a primal level, are beings that are constructed, in part, to be creatures that both take in the world and act upon the world.

“God did not ‘upload’ all the information in the world into the child at birth. Things must be experienced. They must be discovered.”

Yet, it may be equally obvious that our innate desire to discover the uncharted waters before us also lead to our own demise. With discovery comes a certain measure of violation—not in a pejorative sense, but as a simple reality that the object of our fancy may not actually be better for our observation. The examples here are manifold. Europeans span the Atlantic to a new land, they claim the beach for their own, then ask, “Who are these people?” Scientists unfold the great mysteries of the genetic code—an astonishing discovery of epic proportions—then set their efforts toward cloning Dolly the Sheep. Should some secrets be kept secret?

Am I suggesting that we just outright stop scientific discovery? Of course not. Besides, blanket statements like that don’t contribute to the ongoing debate and conversation about what constitutes ethical behavior in the increasingly turbulent waters of the West. And I’m also not so foolish as to think that I’m breaking new ground in this discussion. Galileo, according to some of his accusers, was attempting to bring down an entire theological and philosophical framework from his observations on planetary movement. Shoot, how long would it take you to find an article accusing Christians of being ‘anti-science?’ 30 seconds? 15?

galileo

I think, however, that a bold voice must come from thoughtful Christians who are willing to converse with the culture, saying consistently and without apology that any exploration—scientific, philosophical, theological, whatever—should find its genesis in a disposition of humility, conversation, and deep reflection.

The voice is necessary precisely because, in a world without God, no scruples need exist about such discoveries. The non-believer arranges his/her life in accordance with the primary biological need to do two things: 1) survive, and 2) have sex. Vast amounts of money are poured into the coffers of the science industry to create a synthetic form of salvation which helps them accomplish the former. To put it plainly, the world is trying to figure out how to live forever—because such a discovery is only thing that alleviates the horror of dying, the omnipresent uncomfortability (to put it lightly) with non-existence. As to the latter, well…

And this becomes the battlefield. On one side stand the Christians (and other faiths, to be fair), who rightfully declare that humans have a God-given dignity that should not be violated, and therefore we are obligated to treat issues of life with the highest degrees of humility and caution. The Christian goes so far as to say that some research is not allowed on the basis of our subservient creaturely status; we are not God. And since God does exist in this system, certain things are NOT permissible.

“The Christian goes so far as to say that some research is not allowed on the basis of our subservient creaturely status; we are not God.”

On the other side, a godless culture is hard-pressed to escape the flawed and limited structures of our bodies, diligently seeking new ways to prolong the human experience, whether it be through artificial resurrection, ongoing digital consciousness, or the obsession to eliminate all forms of pain or harm to the body. Those that stand in the way of this new transcendence, this salvation, are truly threats indeed, for such threats (Christians) are blocking the evolution of a species that may just be, in fact, destined for some type of immortality. The stakes are high because death is coming, one way or another.

conversation3I have few answers for those of you who are wrestling with this issue with me. I feel the great need for Christian universities to train young biologists, chemists, psychologists, business men and women to be equally competent in their vocational fields and their ability to articulate a Christian way of being within those fields. I am also drawn, more than ever, to a commitment to teach the art of the intellectual fight – both to my kids (my students) and my kids (my actual kids). Fighting right means listening right. And listening is both an empathetic exercise and a humbling experience.

Perhaps that is the answer: to listen. There are moments when we need to shut up and brace ourselves like men—not my words here, but God’s. Job 40-41 is the story of a God at the end of his rope. He tells Job, essentially, that all power belongs to him; a man has not all the answers nor will he. “Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook?” (41:1)

Overcome by God’s divine authority, Job smartly replies, “No plan of yours can be thwarted … Surely I spoke of things I did not understand.” A relief. After all, God is not caught unawares of the human urge to violate his domain by resurrecting life, in whatever form it comes. This is not to say that we, as Christians, remain silent and docile as the culture runs roughshod over our deepest concerns, but rather to say that God, in his sovereignty, stands where he always stands as he looks at the designs of man: On the throne AS GOD ALMIGHTY. Hopefully, we’ll have the good sense to shut up and listen when we’re straying from the sunny beaches of joyous discovery to the perilous lands of God’s sole domain.

watermark

© Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.