Herman C. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament departments at the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
In our last article we introduced the general subject of medical technology, and gave some idea of the broad range of problems which arise because of the advances which science and medicine have made in the areas of biology and bio-medicine. While it is our purpose to discuss the moral dimensions of these problems in future articles and deal with each problem individually, we want, in this article, to lay down a few more basic and fundamental principles which underlie, in our judgment, the whole field. This article too will then serve as something of an introductory article. There are especially three points which ought to be made.
The first point that needs to be made is that much of the work done in the fields of biology, medicine, and bio-medicine is done by wicked men who do their work in the framework of their commitment to evolutionism. While this does not necessarily mean that all that these men do is wrong (they, e.g., invent treatments which can, within certain limitations, cure cancer), it does mean that we must understand their motivation and the context in which they are making their claims for the future of medicine. As we noticed in the last article, the claims which are made by modern medical technicians are mind-boggling: they claim, e.g., that they will soon be able to eradicate all disease from the human race. It is to be feared sometime that people stand so in awe at the marvels of modern medicine and medical technology that they tend not to think too much about what scientists claim to be able to do and simply take their claims at face value.
However this may be, evolutionism simply teaches that higher forms of life developed gradually over long periods of time from lower forms of life and that all organic matter (living organisms) developed from inorganic matter (non-living things).
Now this theory has a number of implications, most of which we cannot enter into now. For example, it is well to remember that evolutionism is not merely a scientific theory which is intended to explain the origin of things; it is an entire world-and-life view, which professes to explain everything; it is a philosophy of life; it is a psychology; it is a system of ethics; it is an entire unified body of thought within the context of which everything in life must be explained and interpreted. But it is an atheistic theory of life; it has no place in it for God and for His Word of divine revelation.
But there are two implications in this theory of evolutionism which have direct bearing on what we are discussing. The first is that man is nothing but a material substance. That is, evolutionism denies the fact that man has a soul. If man has come from animals, and animals from lower forms of life, and lower forms of life from dirt and chemicals of various sorts, then it stands to reason that man can have no soul which is spiritual in substance and is not composed of chemicals of various kinds. Thus all man’s ills are susceptible to medical and biological treatment of one sort or another. Mental problems are treatable by medicine and chemical analysis; wrong thinking and wrong doing are explainable in terms of chemical imbalances and misdirected electrical phenomena, etc. But what is denied is that man has a soul, and one cannot treat the soul with medicine nor operate on it with scalpel and laser beams.
The second implication of evolutionism is more serious. Scientists who are convinced of this ungodly position are also convinced that the process of evolutionism has reached a stage in which it has produced a creature who has the ability, with his hands, to take hold of the very processes of evolutionism themselves and can now control and direct these processes. To this point in evolutionary development, changes have been random, uncontrolled, and subject to the erratic whims of mere chance. It is a remarkable fact that whim and chance have produced a creature as complex as man—and this has taken literally billions of years; but now all has changed. We are no longer dependent on chance; we can now, especially through genetic engineering, get our hands on the basic processes themselves and manipulate them according to our own wishes. The result is that now evolutionism will be directed by the scientists and medical technicians who will direct these processes to produce the super-man, fashioned according to the ideas of those who are in a position to understand the intricacies of genetic manipulation.
This is a horrifying business. We will not ponder here the important question of who will do the deciding of the question concerning what really is a super-man; this is terrifying enough. Nor can we predict with any certainty what those “in charge” of evolutionary development will do with their “mistakes.” What is important and significant for our purposes is the fact that this is the stated goal of those who engage in much of the experimentation going on in the fields of medicine and biology. We ought to be aware of this; and before we praise the advances of science to the skies, we ought to consider what scientists are trying to do. This will sober us and teach us to evaluate all these astounding “successes” in a somewhat different light.
The second broad principle which needs saying is closely related to the first one. We must somehow get it out of our heads that just because something is capable of being done, it is therefore good and right. We have been conditioned by the media and the propaganda of our times to accept unquestioningly as good and proper anything which science is able to do. Whatever is accomplished is, just because it can be done, perfectly legitimate. We need never question the techniques and accomplishments of almighty science, for the very fact that science is able to do something is itself justification for doing it and automatically gives it a halo of righteousness which anyone is a fool to question.
This sort of thinking, so common today, is exactly what the scientists want us to think. They want to build about themselves a wall which no questioning or criticism can penetrate. They want to be able to do whatever they please without anyone ever asking why. They want us to think of them as above and beyond criticism, not subject, in their scientific investigations at least, to the normal rules of right and wrong, not open to questioning, not answerable to rules of moral and ethical conduct. And it seems sometimes as if they are succeeding in a remarkable way to accomplish their end.
We must be clear on this point. It is sometimes argued that all scientists are doing is uncovering the powers of creation which God has placed there and putting these powers to man’s use. They are, to use a Biblical expression, subduing the earth and fulfilling the original cultural mandate. This gives them the right to do what they do in every instance, for they are only doing what man was originally created to do. And what they succeed in doing can surely be used without question. This is very wicked reasoning and must be condemned in the sharpest possible way.
There are two things wrong about this line of reasoning. The first is that, while it is certainly true that man still uncovers the powers which God has placed in the creation and will continue to do this until the world ends, how he uses those powers is quite another question. He may discover and refine surgical techniques and these may be skills which are given him as a gift by God: but does this give him the right to use these techniques to abort babies at will? Anyone who knows the teaching of Scripture will readily see that the mere technique and skill involved does not give him the right to use this skill in murder. The fact is that man is sinful and desperately wicked. He will always use all the powers in creation and the skills given him of God in the service of sin. We do not, after all, believe in common grace. We must be careful, therefore, to ask the question not only: What is man able to do? but also: How does man use what he is able to do?
The second error of all this is that we may not conclude from man’s ability to do something the moral rightness of it. It does not follow that just because man is able to do something, this ability invests what he does with an aura of holiness and places a halo of righteousness on his accomplishment. A couple of examples will demonstrate this. Today it lies not only within man’s capability to bring about conception in a test tube, but it is being repeatedly done. Does the mere accomplishment of the technique of in vitro conception make it permissible? While some may argue that it does, this is not necessarily so. The rightness or wrongness of it has to be decided on other grounds. The same thing is true of genetic engineering. Just because it can be done and is being done, does this mean that it is right to do it? This question takes on added importance when we remember that man is not simply a collection of well-arranged genes, but is a complex creature formed by God’s hand so that he is, in all his life and development, a man with body and soul.
We must do away with thinking which ultimately leaves the scientist and medical technician above all law.
The third moral principle which must underlie our thinking about these matters has to do with the definition of what is “good” and what is “bad.” Because today’s thinking in the area of science and medicine is done within the framework of evolutionism, “good” and “bad” have been redefined in a way which is altogether out of harmony with Scripture. “Bad” according to today’s thinking includes such things as a low IQ, the birth of a child with physical and mental defects, sickness, and ultimately death itself. “Good” is a high IQ—preferably within the genius range, perfect health, no physical or mental defects, everlasting life on this earth.
Now, I for one do not for a minute believe that science will ever succeed in conquering all these “evils.” They are the results of God’s curse upon a sinful world and, because of this, they will never be eradicated. Man can never undo what God does. Only through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is all sickness and sorrow, all pain and suffering, all trouble and imperfection done away. And the full realization of this waits for the new heavens and the new earth when God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes.
But this is not the point which we are arguing here. The most basic and fundamental question which the child of God faces is not the question of improving the outward circumstances of his life, what today’s scientists call improving the “quality of life.” The basic question (and it is the word “basic” which needs underlining and that sort of emphasis) is: What is God’s attitude towards us? Towards the wicked God is angry every day. The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked. It makes no difference what the “quality” of his life is, if one refers only to life’s outward circumstances; that “quality” of life is dreadful if God looks with anger and disapproval upon the sinner. But the opposite is also true. God blesses the habitation of the just. The “quality” of life for the just man is not determined by the outward circumstances of his life, but by the favor of God. No matter what may be his way in life, he is taught by Scripture to be content; to confess that he is guided by God’s counsel and afterwards taken to glory; to believe that all things are for his good because he loves God and is called according to God’s purpose.
Concretely this means exactly that the wicked will, if they are honest, admit that riches and health, long life and superior intellect, do not bring them happiness—the quality of their life is bad regardless. The righteous man confesses that God blesses him, not only in spite of the difficult circumstances of life, but through what men called “bad” things. Every child of God who has known the fiery trial of affliction will surely agree with the Psalmist, “Affliction has been for my profit.” The father and mother who have received from the Lord a child with either physical or mental handicaps will speak eagerly of the great blessing such a child has been in their home; and if God is pleased to take such a child away, they will tell you they miss that child more than parents who lose a normal child.
The same is true of long life. Is long life a blessing (necessarily) to those who fill the nursing homes of the land? Is 90 years of age better than 70 if the last 20 have to be spent in a bed? Blessing is not upon the 90 year old just because he lives 20 years beyond his contemporaries. And the same is true of death. Death is indeed the ultimate expression (in this world, at least) of God’s wrath against sin. But for the believer death is not an enemy when the sting of death has been destroyed through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Indeed, “For to me to live is Christ.” But it is equally true that, “to die is gain.” Is it so terrible to go to heaven? And death is still the only door that leads from this valley of tears to the joys of heaven.
I am not saying with all this that we must simply let the ravages of disease work their course without seeking the help of medicine. That is another question. I am saying that these things (health, long life, escape from death) are not in themselves good. The believer, while making use, insofar as he can, of medicine’s amazing discoveries, does not look for his happiness in this world in any case. He has a home above, while here he is a pilgrim and a stranger.
It may not always be so easy to keep these things in their proper perspective, but we ought to be warned by the Word of God which tells us that God was angry with Asa because he sought not the Lord, but put his trust in physicians (II Chron. 16:12).