Engineering, Ethics and Christianity (Continued)
Principle 2 The Protection of Human Life
Following on from what we said above about this perspective of God creating the world at large and also creating man in His own image, Christianity expresses the sanctity of human life in strong terms. Violence and abuse of human beings by other human beings is specifically prohibited in the Bible. The Bible does not deny the existence of such abuses; in fact, it points out that the reason why such things occur is because of what it calls the sinfulness of man. In other words, man has turned away from God and opted for a life of independence, deciding for himself what is right and wrong. And it was that chosen independence from God that has produced envy, fighting, social violence in all its forms, murder and warfare. We can see this in Genesis 4, which describes the murder of Abel by his brother Cain and the subsequent chapters speak about violence filling the earth.
Because of this reality, God made it clear to His people that human life was valuable and should be protected. You may have heard of the 10 commandments. These were specific commands given to the Jewish people, but they have become the foundation of common law in many Western countries, at least those that have been influenced by Christianity. The 6th commandment is “Thou shalt not kill”. Once again here we have expressed the sanctity of human life and the need for social laws that protect it. There are other commands in this list that sanction care for fellow human beings including the 8th - “thou shalt not steal” and the 9th - “thou shalt not bear false witness”. In other words, people are guaranteed the right to possess private property and not have it stolen by others and also, truthfulness and integrity are required in God’s law.
If we look at the IPENZ Code of Ethics, the very first principle is that:
* Members have a duty of care to protect life and to safeguard people.
And the second reads:
* Members shall undertake their duties with professionalism and integrity and shall work within their levels of competence.
These principles are explained as taking reasonable steps in your work to minimize injury or suffering that may result to others and assessing potential dangers in the construction, manufacture or use of your projects or products. Also, you should ensure that your recommendations or opinions are honest, objective and factual, and that you are functioning within your level of expertise and competence - that you are not making hazardous guesses, in other words. From the Bible’s perspective, that would be bearing false witness about yourself, and possibly endangering human life.
Just to give you an example of the way in which this principle was worked out in ancient Jewish society, there is an interesting command in Deuteronomy 22:8 that reads:
“When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof.”
Now I’ve no idea what sort of engineering challenge this would be or what sort of load you would want to put on this parapet. But the point was that they had flat roofs and they would entertain people on them, in much the same way that we would use a balcony or a deck. And there is a specific provision here for human safety so that people don’t fall off and hurt themselves.
So again, these statements in your own Code of Ethics are in fact expressed clearly in the Bible. And I would say that ethically speaking, the validity of these principles arises from biblical truth. We come now to the third principle, which I want to express rather provocatively.
Principle 3 The Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rules?
We have just said that in human society things are sometimes not what they ought to be. There is violence and abuse of others. People do act with a lack of integrity and often this is because of the personal desire to prosper at the expense of others. Now there is nothing wrong biblically with making money. As we have seen, the 9th commandment guarantees the right of
people to possess private property. The 10th commandment even forbids me to desire your possessions for myself. But the problem is, given this propensity of us human beings to be selfish and abuse others, sometimes the pursuit of money and personal pleasure gets in the way of other
considerations so that they are obscured or overridden. It is a fact of life that any and every project you undertake will involve money. Someone will be paying for your services - most likely businesses or wealthy individuals who want to get the job done and these are the sort of people who know how to get the job done and what makes money for themselves and their clients.
It is right at this point that you might find a clash of interests. What say the money for the project does not go far enough? You would like to make sure that all the safety regulations are met, but there is a pressure on the funding and you may be asked to cut corners. You are employed. You want to get paid for the job - you want to reach your own financial goals. Will you risk losing a contract because you cannot put your name to a report that overlooks minor safety regulations?
What say your client comes back to you and says that he can go to engineer B down the road and he will design the same building with half the wall thickness and much less steel reinforcing? Again, the pressure comes on for you to trim down your specifications because you don’t want to lose the contract.
“He who has the gold makes the rules”? Well, that may be the way that things happen sometimes, but if you are going to maintain your own standards of professional integrity, you must beware of that particular “golden rule”.
Remember: “All that is gold does not glitter.” Money is not everything. As Jesus put it in Mark 8:36, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”
Final Consideration: The Bible’s Solution to the Problem
I can’t give a lecture like this without also speaking about the Bible’s solution to the problems that we have spoken about. It is true that the Bible does not mince words and it gives a clear explanation of the reasons why we human beings have problems in our society and in our personal lives. But it does not stop there. It goes on to say that God Himself has done something about this. The New Testament speaks about Jesus as having been sent by God into the world as the Saviour of the world, the one who stood in man’s place and took upon Himself the punishment for human sin. Working hard is important and good; having a good career and using your talents is important. Christianity has a strong work ethic associated with it. But even if you have the best career in the world will not help you on the spiritual level and in your own standing before God.
This is precisely why Jesus said “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul”. In this context, He went on to say: “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me and for the gospel will save it.”
I hope this lecture on Ethics and Christianity has been useful to you. You have a good Code of Ethics in the IPENZ principles. As I’ve pointed out, those principles have their foundation in biblical truths and commands. So take note of that code and keep it in mind as you do your work. I wish you well in your engineering career.
Dr Michael Flinn is the Minister of the Reformed Church of Bishopdale-Dovedale.
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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / email@example.com / revised July
2000 / Copyright 2000