Science in Question
written by Rev Gary Heard

Two events reported by New Scientist in recent weeks have challenged some very comfortable assumptions. The first was a report of a man whose DNA matched that collected at a crime scene at which he could not have been present. It was a match for the donor of bone marrow he had been treated with some years before. The treatment had changed the man’s DNA configuration, and challenged the notion that DNA was foolproof as an identifier.

The second incident was reported this last week. A fifteen year-old boy, born as a result of an anonymous semen donation back in the late 1980s, was able to track down and identify his genetic father, simply through the internet. The event highlighted the vulnerability of anonymous donors in light of the increasing proliferation of storage facilities for DNA information. By submitting his own DNA sample the boy was linked to other children born to the donor through his marriage. The relational implications of such discoveries are complex.

There is no doubt that scientific developments have contributed a great deal to the quality of life. But there have been some costs, not all of which have been accounted for. The innate trust in science is highlighted by the popularity of crime shows, which ‘demonstrate’ the power of mere science to solve crimes. We are continually ‘sold’ the benefits of such developments in so many fields.

But who questions the prevailing philosophy? Who raises the thorny questions which are invariably pushed to one side in preference to the benefits which might flow? One does not need to be a Luddite in order to realise that almost every scientific development has brought a cost, whether it not be realised until much further down the track.

It is one of the characteristics of the journey of faith not only to affirm that which is good, but to question it. We have much to fear from overt evil. We have more to fear from the imperfectly good, whose sinister aspect is often hidden from view – a Trojan horse whose damage is discovered far too late to rectify.

The human mind is a wonderfully powerful and creative gift. It has lifted us from this planet’s gravitational pull, allowing us to walk on the moon. Its genius has enabled us to understand the cause of disease and militate against it. Yet at the same time we are wrestling with pollution, global warming, and terrorism, which are themselves products to a greater or lesser degree of this same power.

Jesus stood between the idealists of Israel and the political machine of Rome, and questioned both sides. He did not stand between them but sought to lead them both to a higher ground. Where the voice of Jesus today? Give us courage to ask hard questions..

November 6, 2005
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