Research Ethics: How does ‘believing the Bible’ affect the way a scientist does science?

1237146Research Ethics: How does ‘believing the Bible’ affect the way a scientist does science?
Presented by Andrew Wood at the ISCAST Vic Intensive 2010


Andrew W Wood, BSc(Hons), MSc, PhD, is Professor in the Brain Sciences Institute at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, and Research Director with the Australian Centre for Radiofrequency Bioeffects Research. After studying physics at Bristol University, UK, he earned a PhD in biophysics from King’s College Hospital Medical School, London, UK.


As a member of an institutional human research ethics committee and a scientist whose work involves animal experimentation, I sometimes ponder how the Bible relates to research ethics. Institutional Codes of Practice for ethics in research appear mainly to be driven by a common human understanding of fairness and justice, rather than ‘application of the Word of God’ (as maybe it was in earlier centuries).

Questions which come to mind include:

  1. Does application of scripture lead Christians to views of what is ethical which are different from those of research ethics statements? 
  2. Are some topics of scientific research/development ‘off limits’ to Christians? If so, what is the role of scriptural interpretation in informing these decisions?
  3. Are some topics of research/development more deserving of endeavours (and specifically Christians’ endeavours) than others? Given a choice, what determines the ranking? 
  4. ‘New Atheists’ accuse Christians behaving unethically in, for instance, believing in miracles, ‘cherry picking’ some parts of the Bible or in the belief of the dominion of humans over all creation. How do we answer these accusations?
  5. How should scripture inform Christians, working as a part of a team in scientific endeavours, what to do, when they are encouraged to comply with such ‘dubious practices’ as data massaging, window dressing, token authoring, funds shuffling and the like?

Deciding what is ethical in science is a complex exercise. The Bible is silent on many modern technological dilemmas. I would agree with Richard Swinburne that ‘we must interpret (the Bible) in a way compatible with modern science .. as well as established Christian doctrine’. Specific Bible passages may well encapsulate our developed thinking, but appeal to these should come towards the end rather than at the start of the decision process. I will attempt to illustrate this in relation to some of the questions above.




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