Barely a month goes by without an announcement of a new development in biotechnology. The challenge for Christians is to keep abreast of such advances and respond biblically. In Life in our hands, biological scientist John Bryant and doctor/pastor John Searle attempt to outline some of the issues at stake, and explore how Christians can make balanced ethical decisions.
The book is based on the London Lectures in Contemporary Christianity, given by Bryant in 2002, and seeks to tackle a huge range of topics related to biotechnology: from genetically modified crops to the Human Genome Project, and prenatal diagnosis to the genetic enhancement of embryos. In each case, they provide an extensive and helpful overview of the science, then a brief review of the ethical literature - both Christian and secular - before formulating a Christian response.
The authors also include several useful chapters at the beginning of the book exploring the state of contemporary bioethics, particularly Christian ethical decision-making, and whether or not the use of biotechnology falls within the our remit as stewards of God's creation. The biblical concept of man being made in the image of God (see Genesis 1:26-27) is fundamental to the Christian perspective on many of these technologies, as Bryant and Searle point out. However, their detailed explanation and defence of evolutionary theory rather detracts from their exploration of this important theme.
Many of the ethical principles discussed in Life in our hands have been debated at length, both within the Christian community, and more widely, and the authors expound a few views – particularly regarding the beginning of life and the status of the embryo – which may not sit comfortably with some CMF members. However, the book provides a useful overview of biotechnology as it stands today, whilst the authors repeatedly make reference the lack of biblical proof texts to apply to many of these technologies. Instead they, write:
'All these questions represent real human dilemmas. Even if we believe that we know what we would do, we must not assume that other people – even those who share our faith – will reach the same answer. The church community needs to support in a non-judgemental manner those who are dealing with such dilemmas: listening and, if asked, providing advice.' (p131)