News and Articles
6 October 2017
Bioethics, the Bible and the Beatles
Throughout my career I carried out research on DNA and the workings of genes, topics that still interest me greatly. It has been a real privilege to uncover some of the beautifully complex and intricate mechanisms used by cells in ‘managing’ and copying their genetic material. But there is another dimension. As our knowledge of genes grew and our ability to manipulate DNA became ever more sophisticated, so ethical concerns which had for many years been present in the ‘background’ now came very to the fore. Thus for me, Bioethics grew from being one of the things in which I was interested to being a major part of my teaching and research at Exeter University, while I continued for a long time also to lead my DNA research group. Indeed, I believe that science practitioners should have a role in informing our bioethical thinking because they know what is actually possible.
However, Bioethics is concerned with more than genes and DNA and thus my interest in the subject has taken me on a journey through philosophy, ethical theory, sociology of science, beginning and end-of-life issues, animal-based research, drug discovery, environmental issues (I have always had a keen ‘amateur’ interest in ecology and a passion for nature) and climate change.
The word ‘ethics’ embedded in Bioethics of course implies that there may be morally right and morally wrong courses of action. Now, I am not for one minute claiming that Christians have a monopoly on moral awareness. Nevertheless we are always challenged in questions of morality as to what is right according to the Bible or to the virtues that Jesus exhorted us to embrace and exhibit. This means loving all members of humankind and above all, loving God. So far, so good but now we run into problems: the teachings of Jesus and of the Biblical writers contain almost nothing that we can directly relate to the ethical issues raised by modern biological and medical science. For the most part we just have virtues and principles to apply rather than specific ‘instructions’.
Maybe, in the words of the Beatles, ‘we can work it out’, perhaps ‘with a little help from our friends.’ However, as we try to work it out, we find that different Christians come to different conclusions – and at that point, in respecting each other’s views, ‘all you need is love.’
John is our 4th guest at Real Lives - you can hear his story on Friday 13th October, from 7.30pm - 9pm.