The need for a theology of medicine
The resurgence of naturalistic, materialist worldviews have dominated much of modern medical practice.The Bible rejects both the ancient esotericism as well as the current belief in an ever-evolving technological materialism.
The Christian understanding of Healthcare
When the Christian faith entered the mainstream of history, there was a new emphasis on learning, teaching, knowledge, and healing. Instead of being akin to the magician, the doctor became more like the rabbi or pastor, coming alongside to care, treat, and help, rather than acting as a demi-god able to exercise power and control over a person as an aspect of nature.
Galen and Platonic Medical Philosophy
It took many centuries, however, for the pagan assumptions and esoteric beliefs of Greek medicine to be shaken off. Certainly the Greeks had a positive interest in anatomy and observation. However, Greek medical doctrines that were essentially philosophical in character dominated medicine for more than a millennium due largely to the work of Galen (b. AD 129). Galen’s father, a wealthy architect, steered his son in the direction of medicine. He went on to serve as a physician to gladiators and emperors. Amongst his noted medical views were the ideas that vital and animal spirits operated in the arteries, and that fever was due to imbalance in the four humours. He took the Platonic doctrine of a threefold division of the soul and applied it to medicine in the realm of anatomy and body functions. He sought to bring together, in a unified philosophy, anatomy and Greek logic, leading to his belief that he had an explanation for everything: “It is I and I alone, who have revealed the true path of medicine.”[i]
The Medical Reformation
It was not until the sixteenth century and the medical chemistry of the Protestant Von Hohenheim (Paracelsus) that a reformation of medicine away from these faulty premises began (though it was admittedly a very shaky start by today’s standards). Thus the stultifying homage to ancient medicine began to be cut away like a dead weight. As Porter notes, “His commitment to the discovery of truth through observation and experiment was a breath of fresh air. And it became the inspiration of the new medicine emerging in the ‘scientific revolution’ stirring at about the time of his death.”[ii] He was followed by Van Helmont who made headway rejecting the Galenic elements, humours, and qualities as empty verbiage. In the seventeenth century, the Christian doctor William Harvey went further still, demonstrating the circulation of the blood. Harvey believed in the authority of the Bible and the deity of Christ, which motivated his work. He openly acknowledged that his search for purpose in nature and use of a scientific method was the result of God’s creative wisdom and order. Modern medicine never looked back.
The Return of Naturalistic Materialism
Today, however, a naturalistic materialism that denies the creator God of Scripture has returned with a vengeance. Whilst use of a scientific method continues in medicine, no overarching purpose, order, or design is acknowledged, and no supervening moral or ethical structure guides the process of development. Instead, despite the inability of the inductive method to produce certain truth, and despite medicine’s status as an ever-changing ‘soft science,’ nevertheless the contemporary demi-gods amongst the medical elites make grand pronouncements about alleged ‘truths of nature.’ These doctrines are then applied in hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies to the detriment of people’s health – policies on gender identity, mental health, and abortion being just three critical examples. [iii] Naturalistic materialism is our dominant philosophy of medicine which today directs the killing of the unborn, the euthanizing of the elderly, the redefinition of sexuality and gender, and, increasingly, the advocacy of infanticide. [iv] Thus, people are reduced to little more than biochemical machines, produced by blind evolutionary processes and social conditioning.
Medical Implications of Naturalistic Theories
This return of Greek doctrine in the form of naturalistic evolution has led to critical medical mistakes. For example, about 98% of the DNA in the nuclei of our cells does not consist of genes. This non-coding DNA was largely written off as ‘junk,’ useless leftovers from an alleged evolutionary past. It turns out, however, that this DNA appears to play a critical role in whether or not genes are active. Molecular biologist and leading geneticist, John Mattick, stated that, “the failure to recognise the implications of the non-coding DNA will go down as the biggest mistake in the history of molecular biology.”[v]
An Abandonment of Ethics
Furthermore, without a basis for medical ethics, our technological materialism says that “if we can we will.” This means that a great gap has opened up between the science of medicine and the practice of medicine – what is practiced is often not backed by reliable science at all and we have a return to a techno-magical vision of healing. Now people demand a chemical pill to cure every ill, from viruses (which don’t respond to antibiotics) to sadness or unhappiness, and doctors are convinced by pharmaceutical companies to buy into this medicalization of society, and the ‘latest is best’ theory of medicine, prescribing ever new generations of questionable drugs.
The Way Forward
Great challenges therefore lie ahead. Just as the early church took up the task from a theological starting point, we again need to rebuild a true theology and science of medicine. Today, Christian medical professionals and doctors must recover and rebuild a biblical vision of care and healing, one that addresses the whole person, on the basis of biblical principles, solid scientific studies, and responsible research. Christian medical professionals must recover their priestly role as those who teach, treat, and care, while resisting the pagan drive to become pseudo-magicians who dole out ‘cures’ by the barrel. The Christian church needs to help Christian medical professionals to regain their place as those advancing the kingdom of God by bringing health and wholeness to people’s lives in terms of the purposes, law and design of God.
[i] Roy Porter, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997), p. 77
[ii] Ibid., p. 205
[iii] For a full discussion of the impact of materialism on medical science, see Franklin E. Payne, MD, Medical Ethics: Building on John Frame and His Work, John J. Hughes (ed.) Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John M. Frame (New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2009), pp. 802-828
[iv] As a shocking example, some ‘intellectuals’ in the medical community are now advocating the legal killing of babies after they have been born in all cases where abortion is presently permitted, based on the materialist assumption that neither foetuses nor newborns can be regarded as actual persons. See, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?, first published in the, Journal of Medical Ethics on February 23, 2012 as 10.1136/medethics-2011-100411. Available online at, www.jme.bmj.com
[v] Cited in Carl Wieland, One Human Family: The Bible, Science, Race and Culture (Georgia, Atlanta: Creation Book Publishers, 2011), p. 78