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Salt and light at work

Interview | Ethicist Kerby Anderson on thinking biblically about ethics

Issue: "Trailer park blues," Nov. 26, 2005

Kerby Anderson is the national director of Probe Ministries International, the husband of one wife for 30 years, the father of three grown children, and the author of books such as Moral Dilemmas, Genetic Engineering, and Christian Ethics in Plain Language (Nelson, 2005).

WORLD A title like this last one begs for questions about tough issues that begin with a challenge: "So you say you can explain the ethics of in vitro fertilization in plain language. OK, go for it."

ANDERSON Eggs from the mother and sperm from the father are mixed in a petri dish and then after a period of time the fertilized embryos are implanted into the mother. Although a few ethicists object to the artificial nature of this procedure, most Christian ethicists find the above procedure moral.

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Moral questions surface when doctors deviate from the process described above. Often doctors use a procedure known as hyperfertilization where many eggs are fertilized and only some are implanted. If these extra embryos are destroyed (or even frozen and later destroyed), this procedure raises some of the same moral questions as abortion since we are destroying embryos. Another moral question surfaces when we do not use the sperm of the husband or eggs of the wife. A sperm donor or a surrogate mother interjects a third party into the pregnancy. This affects the moral integrity of the marriage and introduces troubling legal issues (custody, legal rights, etc.).

WORLD How does a thoughtful Christian approach environmental issues differently from a non-Christian ?

ANDERSON A Christian begins by understanding that we worship the Creator not the creation. Many non-Christians worship the earth as Gaia. Christians also should understand that they have a stewardship responsibility to the environment (Genesis 1:28; 2:15). God is the owner of the world (Psalm 24:1, Job 41:11). We should care for the earth as a gardener does for an estate under his charge. The Bible is full of references to the proper treatment of the earth and the plants and animals within it (Deuteronomy 20:19-20; 25:4; 22:6).

WORLD Some moralists approach questions of pornography or video game violence as if we are naturally pure until contaminated by some media influence. What's a biblical understanding, and does that influence the steps we should take?

ANDERSON A key question is whether pornographic images or violent images in the media (TV, movies, video games) have an impact on a person's worldview. Proverbs 23:7 teaches that "as a man thinks in his heart, so is he." What we see, what we hear, what we read affects us, and I provide many studies that demonstrate this. Edward Donnerstein concludes that if you take normal males and expose them to graphic sexual violence, "they become less sensitized to violence against women, they have less sympathy for rape victims, and their perceptions and attitudes and values about violence change." Studies by the Surgeon General, at the National Institute of Mental Health, the Annenberg School of Communications, and others all show that media affect perceptions and worldview.

WORLD Some genetic engineers talk about creating human-ape combinations. How should Christians react to that theoretical possibility-and what would be the right reaction to such an individual if he/it were created?

ANDERSON Thirty years ago when I was a graduate student at Yale, one of my professors actually proposed that exact scientific experiment. At the time it was mostly theoretical, but it certainly generated lots of discussion. Today with gene splicing technology, an ape-human genetic chimera seems possible. Genetic engineering offers great promise when used to treat or even cure genetic diseases. That is part of our cultural mandate (Genesis 1:28). But Christians should be concerned about large-scale production of novel life forms. God created plants and animals as "kinds" (Genesis 1:24). The wholesale redesigning of creatures and even the creation of ape-human hybrids transcends those built-in barriers of created kinds.

WORLD Some evangelicals are having second thoughts about what formerly was a consensus on capital punishment. What is the biblical position?

ANDERSON Frequently books on Christian ethics deal only with the death penalty in exclusion of the broader issue of criminal justice. I discuss it within a chapter on crime. A key verse is Genesis 9:6- "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God, has God made man." This verse establishes the principle that murder is punished by death because of the sanctity of human life. But how should we respond to the contemporary objections to capital punishment? Critics argue that it is unfairly applied (discriminatory) or that it is ineptly applied. These concerns should be taken seriously. But notice that they are not arguments against capital punishment but rather arguments for the careful application of capital punishment.

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