Bioethics from a Christian perspective?

I recently inherited a Bioethics course to teach to our graduating seniors and if I teach it a bit like other courses, I’d want them to engage with the best of modern Bioethics but aren’t really sure what that looks like. Often, students who attend certain Christian liberal arts universities like where I teach get get pseudo versions of reality like with evolution or cosmology of those sorts of things, but this might extend into other topics as well. I haven’t had time to try to look much up, but one of the texts for the class currently is this 2004 book which I, as a judge a book by its cover, can’t imagine is the current pinnacle of Christian bioethics nearly two decades later.

One review of the book from Good Reads:

From the first page with its uninformed allusion to Aldous Huxley to the last, this book piles and piles on the load of crap it is. It presents an avowed “Christian” perspective that has a typically limited version of God with “Intelligent Design.” It targets uninformed people to generate fear of things they do not understand. It critiques “experts” but presents itself as full of expert opinions by people with advanced degrees. Besides being outdated, it generally makes a mockery of otherwise serious biotech and bioethical issues, but is useful to read only as a study in Christian Right rhetoric.

Yikes.

So things I wonder:

  • Main theories or concepts?
  • Advancements in bioethics?
  • Potential textbooks to use?
  • Christian engagement on topic? (I personally have really only seen examples that make me cringe but I’m sure better examples exist)
  • Most important topics for Christian’s going into various scientific or medical fields to explore?
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I’m pretty confident that some of the talks at ASA 2022 - American Scientific Affiliation (asa3.org) would qualify, but those ones haven’t been uploaded yet. The abstracts would likely be findable.

At a recent conference you mean?

Yes. This was the one at the end of July/beginning of August. They have some of the talks online, and are working on getting the others available.

It seems to me that the principle purpose of such a course must be to lay out and explore the ethical questions that have arisen (and might arise) because of advances in biology and medicine rather than trying to give answers. You probably cringe so much because you are expecting a standard of objectivity employed by academia and there are few who even believe there is such a thing as objectivity in ethics.

Even I who argue that there is such a thing as objective ethics to be found in the scientific evidence of harm done to human beings either individually or socially, have to admit that this is fairly rare and difficult to find. This is especially going to be the case on the entirely new ethical questions which have arisen because of advances in biology. And that means that for the near future, at least, most answers to these questions are going to be subjective and thus largely a matter of personal choice.

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A pretty broad topic, as there are a lot of areas related to bioethics in addition to what I am most familiar with which is more the medical and end of life stuff; For graduating undergrads, would want to hit on some of the research ethics and informed consent issues, Probably a little history with some of the ethical failures in the past, notably Henrietta Lack, and the Tuskegee syphilis study. Ethics of genetic engineering etc. especially with IVF issues. I asked around a little in a physician group, will add any suggestions they may have for texts, though am sure you have googled those as well.

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Great point! I wonder if in your context (a Christian college), it would be reasonable to present this book as a mainstream perspective, but also bring in a secular book --even Haidt’s (Russell Moore used it yearly) to help with discussion. I remember in undergrad that just reading more than one perspective really helped me to think independently. Allowing your students to discuss both of them also helps them communicate better with those who don’t agree with them. I appreciate your approach, which emphasizes respect.
Thanks.

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I loved Colson. Truly.

He was a revanchist, a recidivist, backsliding to the point of neo-Fascist. Did he convert at all? From what to what?

In 2009, Colson was a principal writer of the Manhattan Declaration, which calls on Christians to defend the sanctity of human life, traditional marriage and religious freedom. …

In recognition of his work, Colson received the prestigious [desperately self congratulatory] Templeton Prize for progress in religion in 1993, donating the $1 million prize to Prison Fellowship.

Matthew, what are the library and staff like at your school? It’s possible you have some great people to work with and help support your research. I just looked at your library’s list of databases, and you have many that would probably be helpful. Some are ebook collections, which vary widely depending on what the individual libraries select for their patrons to be able to access. But usually, librarians are looking for a range that includes excellent materials.

There’s a link on the library’s web page called “Ask a Librarian” where you can chat online live with a librarian, if that is more comfortable or convenient for you.

I have also been in touch recently with some larger seminaries, some associated with Ivy League schools, who were very helpful in a different direction of research that touched on Christianity.

Colson’s book looks typical for what you will find coming from the popular Christian presses, particularly the non-academic branches.
And actually, you could probably use it, if you wanted to present a variety of views and give your students the opportunity to evaluate why stuff like Colson’s, which probably has an index to scripture references in the back, is problematic. Christian students, raised in church cultures that don’t question what Colson is promoting, are probably ill-equipped (like many of the rest of us) to argue for a different position.

Sometimes there are some very fine titles coming from academic side of Christian publishers. Unfortunately, they don’t receive a lot of attention outside of academic circles.

Really, though, check with your librarians.

So frustrating, humans are. Get some stuff so right and so much so wrong.

I have one excellent person in mind, someone I know, and I will get back to you tomorrow. I’ll also ask around.

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Yeah I wouldn’t try to lay out how anyone should think about things.

I would imagine there have been advancements in bioethics and some core ideas that form some kind of consensus, even if people disagree on how to implement them.

How did you go about evaluating the principle of harm reduction is relatively rare and difficult to find?

Okay, You might be interested in Jeremy Waldron, a Christian and professor of philosophy at NYU School of Law. He’s a member of my church and is the nicest guy you’d care to meet. He’s taught some wonderful classes at church, including a series on the history of religious toleration.

You can read more about him here: Jeremy Waldron

He has written about human dignity and other topics, and has spoken out against hate speech, torture
and drone warfare .

In 2015 he delivered the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh

Lectures 5 and 6 of the series might be of particular interest to you.
These Gifford Lectures became a book,
One Another’s Equals: The Basis of Human Equality

(I haven’t read the book, but I did listen to the lectures.)

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Thank you, I’ll be sure to check this out. Anyone know of some standard secular texts. Maybe @T_aquaticus?

Usually extremely helpful.

I do wonder about this approach. I wouldn’t normally walk students through say Answers in Genesis articles on cosmology or evolution as if they are an alternative perspective, I just teach them real science. I tried once to use an AiG book when looking at geology and it was so wrong and/or misleading I gave up partway through the one class. So should I do the same thing with bioethics? Just put up all the views as if they have equal merit and let the students decide? I do try to keep things fairly opened ended and do present a variety of ways to look at Scripture and what people’s main arguments are, so maybe that’s similar. I don’t do it for scientific topics though.

I’m not suggesting it, really. You have to do what works for the requirement of the curriculum, etc. And also what works for you. Honestly, I was grasping at straws how one might use something like Colson’s (or any popular level Christian published book or article). I agree with you that it’s probably more productive to focus on the real deal!

Good heavens! No! Not if they’re undergrads, for sure! Many of them will need a purgative before they can even consider something more critically demanding than what they learned in church or church culture.

All that being said, I often feel like I am incapable of addressing issues (in my case maybe social justice issues or comprehensive history) that are contentious, because people have 80 verses to back up their bad thinking, and I’m speaking about discrimination based lending for federal-backed loans, for example. You know what I mean?

I think this sounds like a good direction.

The podcast with Jane Goodall touches a little bit up on it and how it relates to animal welfare as well.

One of the current debates I see popping up, and I don’t know anything about it, is the bioethics of electric
vehicles and are the batteries ultimately better or worse than fossil fuels.

Within the food industry and environmentalist movements I see debates on is GMO crops that are displacing native food crops in other countries better or worse. The belief is that as these corporations come out with these seeds and nations buy these seeds, their traditional food sources begin to fade away since it sometimes takes more time or money to grow them. So this engineered crop profits more causing farmers to dedicate more land to it and so smaller farmers trying to grow traditional crops often get displaced.

There is also a blurry line because consumerism, science and ethics with things like just because modern technology makes coffee very convenient, all the water that goes into making it can severely deplete the sources in some places in these countries.

Sometimes when wanting to get someone thinking about these things it’s more of a impact on emotional arguments and not necessarily scientific arguments. You don’t want to be dishonest, but its sort of like trying to argue animal abuse is bad from a scientific chart showing hormone levels vs someone seeing a dog cowering, peeing and whimpering. So that may be something to consider as well. Showcasing testimony of victims affected in addition to just philosophically and scientific arguments.

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It is just that the reactions to my claim that this is a source of objective ethics which has given me the impression that applying scientifically established harm to questions of ethics isn’t so well developed. But perhaps that is a matter of my own fields of study and lack of familiarity. If I had studied law perhaps I would have a very different impression. After all, I would expect the law in free countries to try to limit itself to what can be objectively established as harmful. That would suggest that this is more well developed than this subjective impression.

A great suggestion.

A sideways look at electric vehicles relates to blind and visually impaired (VI) people. My daughter (VI) is becoming a bit more independent getting around in (small) cities, and has learned to listen for traffic. She’s pretty good. Electric cars are way too quiet. Like almost silent. She can’t hear them. She can’t tell what way they are going.

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You might want to toss ‘bioethics’ into the search page of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (https://plato.stanford.edu/). There is also the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy which does have a specific article on bioethics (Bioethics | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Both are peer reviewed, both have bibliographies.

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