Ethical, social and scientific issues discussed in Rick Sutcliffe's Ethics text and Christian science fiction
NOTE: We now have a forum where issues related to those covered in the textbook can be freely discussed.
Rick Sutcliffe's fiction and his textbook on ethical and social issues in technology are both written from a distinctively Christian point of view. For an introduction to the fiction, click here. For an introduction to Christian issues and doctrine, click here. To go to the main home page for the ethics and technology section, click here. If you want to return to the home page of Arjay Enterprises, click here.
NOTE: Comments on this page are the author's short, snappy, provocative summaries and are not intended to be complete. Full discussions of these issues require debate and careful consideration. Some of these issues are not in the text and/or only alluded to in the fiction, but are mentioned here because they seem important to others.
In a sufficiently high-technology society, numerous people gain the ability to destroy civilization. How can a technically advanced society survive itself?
If it does not have a pervasive moral code to which its people almost universally subscribe, and an effective means of detecting and policing violations, perhaps it cannot. Rick Sutcliffe's Christian Science Fiction depicts a world where just such a struggle is part of daily life.
Other Intelligent Beings
If other intelligent beings are discovered somewhere in the universe, what will it prove?
Nothing. Believers in God will say that it shows His consistency of design and character. Others will claim it demonstrates evolution is true. The two groups will continue to talk past each other as they always have. Let's hope, however, that if aliens do visit us, a generation brought up on modern video games won't simply blast them out of the sky before we get a chance to compare notes on topics like science, ethics, and God.
The third, or Industrial civilization saw much social and intellectual fragmentation. Is this going to change?
Such change seems necessary. For one thing, integration among various disciplines is a prerequisite to solving large-scale problems. For another, extreme specialization isn't as necessary in the information-based society. A worldwide information system, here called the Metalibrary, will make it possible for information to be accessed on demand, lessening the need for people to memorize as much factual material.
How does a less-specialized society provide everyone with work?
Problem solvers will always have work. Only the nature of the problems they solve will change. Robotics ensures that there will be few menial or repetitive jobs in the fourth civilization, but they will not take over all work unless we design them to do so. These considerations suggest a professionalization of work, not its elimination. In Rick Sutcliffe's CSF, one world has robots, but chooses not to use them in most cases.
Are computers good or evil? (Many other technologies could be substituted.)
Neither. They are merely tools, like chainsaws, claw hammers, scissors, or routers. It depends how they are used.
What about pornography, scams, and bomb-making information on the Internet?
All that was available long before the Internet.
What about Big Brother and privacy issues?
We've lost some privacy, to be sure, but Little Brother and Little Sister can now keep tabs on government in a way never before possible. We could debate whether the gain has compensated for the loss, but we might as well get used to the idea of living more openly and transparently. After all, The fourth civilization is premised on universal access to information.
What kind of political theory or government does the Bible support?
It teaches that government was instituted by God to control evil, particularly violence. It teaches that government and the governed have mutual duties and responsibilities (including taxes). It doesn't support any political theory, governmental structure, political ideology, or party. Christ had no direct interaction with government, but the issue of the relationship between church and state is simply not commented on in the Bible. The Hibernians in Rick Sutcliffe's CSF have no wall between the two, though the state is always the higher authority in matters of governance.
Will humans design their own evolutionary successors in the form of intelligent machines?
The real question here is: "Is the human brain a machine made of meat?" That is, can we analyze the human brain and duplicate it? If the mind were no more than the brain, the answer might be "yes." The burden of proof here lies with those who would do it, and so far, progress has been meagre. Rick Sutcliffe's Ethics text and CSF have AI characters, and readers are invited to explore the consequences of a technology he doubts will ever exist.
What are the consequences of sexual equality?
Some are explored in these books. For instance, suppose women are front line soldiers, as some are in Rick Sutcliffe's CSF. Depending on the technology available, they get blown (or cut) to pieces on occasion. Is that what you want? On the other hand, is sexual equality possible? Will prostitution, advertising exploitation, and pornography someday disappear? Why would they? Only if the majority of the population has strong moral reasons for wanting them to go away.
But we live in an enlightened age. Humankind is evolving, progressing. Surely there will be no more war.
The history of the twentieth century surely puts paid to that idea, It saw more war and more killing than ever. Since humans are fallen sinners, there will always be war. In Rick Sutcliffe's CSF, one alternate world eschews advanced technology for killing people and allows only weapons that can be wielded personally, such as swords, knives, and sticks. They also require any ruler who advocates war to lead the troops into battle. This would probably reduce the number of such leaders more than it would the number of wars.
This is one of the hottest issues of all. Do you deal with it in your book?
Characters in the ethics text chapter introductions have a discussion about abortion. Despite its association with "freedom" there are side-effects, not just for the child whose life is taken, but also for the woman. In Rick Sutcliffe's CSF, one alternate earth has a history of biogenetic war that has reduced population and fertility rates, and resulted in many stillbirths and defects. Consequently they value children highly and do not perform abortions, even when the pregnancy results from rape.
Who cares what people do in private?
The short answer is, God does, and nothing is private from Him. His plan is one man, one woman, for life, and His Word rejects every other kind of sex act as deviant or sinful. A longer and more secular answer is that society ought to care about the social and medical fallout of broken homes, promiscuity, and venereal disease. After all, everyone pays for it. On the Ortho earth of Rick Sutcliffe's CSF, term contract marriages are permitted by the state, but the social consequences for some women are none too pleasant. Their only security comes from the permanent marriages conducted only by the church. At the same time, the Hibernians are not so fixated on sex as they are on violence.
What is tolerance?
Tolerance is benign practice of acceptance that the world has to be shared with people of other beliefs and practices, even if you're sure they're wrong, provided those beliefs and practices do not extend to causing harm to others.
Shouldn't everyone have to celebrate all religious and moral ideas as equally valid?
This isn't tolerance; it requires everyone to believe religious and moral validity don't exist. It's not tolerance to deny others the voice to claim they alone are right--even if you are sure they're wrong. True tolerance permits more than just a narrow version of itself. Moreover, there can only be one God who created the universe, and such a Being has the sole right to define what is right and good. Thus, though believing in the one true God cannot be forced, believing in the wrong god, and following a wrong morality have eternal consequences. Listen up. Make your own choice. Live and die by it. Tolerate those who choose otherwise. Don't complain afterward that no one told you.
Aren't yyyy-ists tolerant and zzzz-ists intolerant? (Substitute political party or religion as it suits you).
All political and religious world views include a component of self-assurance. That is, they must believe they are right. This isn't intolerance. However, some go beyond this to exclude any opposing views from public discussion. This is intolerance. Neither the "left" nor the "right" has a monopoly on tolerance or intolerance. Indeed, at their extremes, left and right become indistinguishable.
But Christians claim that anyone who doesn't believe in Jesus Christ as their Saviour is going to hell. Isn't that intolerance?
The Bible indeed says, per Jesus' teaching, that he is the exclusive way to God. If you believe the Bible, that's what you teach. Look at it this way, though. If you believed that a person's actions were leading them toward certain death, wouldn't you have at least a civic duty to warn?
But I don't want people cramming religion down my throat.
Despite historical attempts at forced conversion, this isn't anatomically or spiritually possible. Christianity is a relationship with the living God from which there follow certain (religious) practices (not the other way around). "Good works" without the relationship can be performed by anyone for a variety of reasons. Not in the least fooled, Christ called such people "whitewashed sepulchres". Relationships come from the heart, and cannot be forced. So no one who has much of a clue about Christianity is trying to "force" anything, even a hearing. Change channels if you don't want to hear. But don't deny people with a religious message the right to speak because you don't like the message. You wouldn't find the resulting kind of society very pleasant for an outspoken person like yourself.
How important is it to be concerned with the environment?
A bird that fouls its own nest soon has nowhere to live. God told Adam and Eve to care for the earth. "Care" implies stewardship, which in turn implies responsibility and accountability. We will individually and collectively answer to God for how we have treated his good creation.
So, what about nuclear power?
Nuclear power looks like it is both much safer than any known alternative, and easier on the enviromnent than most other technologies. Like many decisions relating to science and technology, we may end up making this one for emotional rather than logical reasons.
Are hydrogen powered cars the answer to pollution problems?
This seems unlikely, unless a pollution-free means can be found to generate the hydrogen in the first place.
What is Concinnity?
Concinnity expresses the idea that all knowledge is an integrated whole-not because humankind is designing it that way, or because disparate bits and pieces are self-evolving into a well-designed tapestry (aspects of Wilson's "consilience"), but because all truth is God's truth. He designed the universe and all its knowledge in the first place as a well-sculpted, good, pleasing, unified whole for his own glory. When we integrate knowledge, we discover design connections that already exist.
What about evolution?
Small changes in lifeforms are observable over time. These are apparently caused by mutations, genetic damage, genetic isolation, and natural selection in some combination. These result in loss of genetic diversity (information loss) and lead to limited specialization. This is speciation, sometimes incorrectly termed microevolution. Macroevolution (general evolution), on the other hand, is an extrapolation of the idea of loss-inducing change into a theoretical history of progression from non-life to life and thence from single-cells to human beings via a gain of information. Time, chance, and the operation of natural processes are invoked as sufficient to explain all that exists. Taken to extremes, evolution is appealed to by some as an organizing principle for all knowledge and behaviour (logical positivism).
The Bible, science, and history fail to support such generalizations. In particular, there is neither any known means by which matter unaided by intelligence can generate information gains, nor any evidence that it ever did happen. There is also no logical connection between methodological naturalism (the very useful idea of employing empirical or scientific means to generate knowledge about the physical world) and philosophical naturalism (the metaphysical assumption that the currently observable material world constitutes the total reality). Finally, using evolution as an interpretative framework only explicates evolution itself; it really doesn't explain anything else. It is therefore an unnecessary hypothesis.
Wait. You surely don't think young earth creationism should be taught in science classes.
If we teach any metaphysical interpretation of origins, we should teach several. If we don't want any such in science, drop philosophical naturalism, and teach mutation and natural selection as information-losing means of speciation (observable) rather than as evolutionary mechanisms (philosophical presuppositions). I used to sketch the issues pro and con to my high school physics classes, then call for essays on one side or the other. I got about as many good/bad essays on both sides, and never a complaint. Don't think the exercise irreparably damaged anyone. It probably made all the students think--somewhat of a rarity in our supposedly enlightened times where many people seem content to let others do their thinking for them.
Suppose we generated life from non-life in the lab?
You mean, would the application of sufficient human power, time, energy, money, knowledge, practise, and other resources that resulted in producing that life prove that it came about by the chance operation of natural processes in the first place? I don't think so. So far no one has done anything remotely resembling this, so the point appears moot.
What about cloning?
In part, the same answer. Success in cloning means we have made use of and/or reorganized extant information. Seems to me that using the genetic code demands we ask who devised that code in the first place. The question of whether it is moral to experiment with human tissue in this way is one at least some researchers will simply ignore. But, should God allow them to accomplish this with humans, it means what? That they have generated a genetic twin. Indeed. So?
What about yyyyy? It's a more important issue than these.
Perhaps. Read the book. Maybe it's there. Send mail. Perhaps it can go in the next edition. Then again, it is my website, so (a) I get to put what I want on it, and (b) there's only so much any visitor will read on one page.
Rick's Fiction and the Ethics Text
Rick Sutcliffe's Christian science fiction contains plot elements that bring some of the issues mentioned here into sharp relief in a way that a dry textbook has a hard time achieving.
The ethics book has dialogues at the beginning of each chapter where characters in a seminar using the book as their text discuss its contents. These same characters play roles in the fiction.