Thursday, 31 May 2012

Pro-euthanasia activists gear up for fresh assault on Parliament

The next six weeks are shaping up to be very busy on the euthanasia front as pro-euthanasia activists gear up for a new assault on the media, the courts, the medical profession and parliament.

On 19-22 June three Judges in the High Court will hear the joined cases of two men with conditions resembling locked-in syndrome who are seeking to change the law.

Tony Nicklinson is arguing that the principal of necessity should allow a doctor to end his life without fear of prosecution for murder, and/or that the current laws interfere with his Article 8 right to his private life.

‘AM’ (‘Martin’) is also arguing under Article 8 and wants the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the Solicitor’s Regulatory Authority and the General Medical Council to make clear in advance the extent to which solicitors and doctors could assist his suicide.

If these cases were to be successful the legal safeguards currently in place to protect vulnerable people from exploitation and abuse by those with a personal interest in their deaths would be significantly eroded.

According to research, the vast majority of people with locked-in syndrome are 'happy' and adapt to living with their condition, but you can be sure that this will not be a message you will hear from the media when these two cases are in the spotlight in a few weeks time.

The Annual Representative Meeting of the British Medical Association takes place in Bournemouth on 24-28 June. Usually at these meetings we see an attempt by doctors linked to Dignity in Dying (DID), the former Voluntary Euthanasia Society, to move the BMA to a neutral position on legalising assisted suicide and/or euthanasia. This year will probably be no exception.

The following week on 4 July DID is planning a mass lobby of Parliament to drive their views home to our legislators. This will coincide with a day conference where celebrities will address supporters. Their glossy propaganda inserts are spilling out of commercial publications; they are spending hundreds of thousands; and clearly believe this is their year.

In the winter edition of their supporters’ newsletter, they told their supporters that they were drafting a new ‘Assisted Dying Bill’ following which they would begin a ‘consultation period’ timed to fit with their mass lobby.

We haven’t seen the draft bill yet but when it comes it will almost certainly follow the same lines as those suggested by the ‘Falconer Commission’ (ie. assisted suicide for mentally competent adults with less than twelve months to live).

The controversial Commission, which reported in January this year, was conceived of by DID and paid for through one of their patrons, celebrity novelist Terry Pratchett. Given that 9 of the 11 supporters were already committed to legalising assisted suicide it was no surprise when it delivered its conclusions.

Over the last year DID have been fundraising for a new assault on parliament and had income of nearly £1 million in 2011. They have also been recruiting new patrons to back their cause and now have 47 sportsmen, actors, entertainers and other celebrities on tap to endorse their brand.

DID have failed twice before to legalise assisted suicide; with the Joffe Bill in 2006 and the Falconer amendment in 2009.

They also suffered a drubbing in two parliamentary debates earlier this year but on past record this will not deter them in continuing to feed the media with new high profile cases and celebrity endorsements to advance their case. So don’t be surprised when it happens.

I’ll keep you up to date with developments as (and before) they arise.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

There are few things more horrifying than the slaughter of innocent children

BBC Radio Four led on the Syrian massacre this morning describing it in graphic terms as the ‘deliberate mass killing of children’ who ’were murdered one by one’.

The story was also one of the top three on the BBC website earlier today along with the account of six children dying in a house fire in the north of England.

These would have been the top two reports had it not been for Mitt Romney gaining the Republican nomination for the US presidential elections yesterday.

There are few things more gut-wrenching than the death of children but these two stories have grabbed the media spotlight mainly because of the particular circumstances involved.

It now appears that most of the 49 killed in the village of Taldou were summarily executed, with UN observers claiming that many of them had been killed by close-range gunfire or knife attacks.

And there are now questions being asked about whether the fire that resulted in the deaths of six siblings in Derby may have been started deliberately.

Every child’s death is a tragedy but there are few things more reprehensible than the killing of children by adults. Children are rightly seen as amongst the most vulnerable and defenceless members of society and deserving of special protection.

It is therefore not surprising that Western governments are acting quickly at the highest level to expel Syrian diplomats and impose sanctions and the police are giving high priority to investigating the Derby fire for which the children’s own parents are now suspects.

Whether or it turns out that the Syrian government was directly involved in the latest atrocities, or whether or not the parents are charged with starting the fire, it is nonetheless deeply ingrained in the human psyche that public authorities have a duty to protect the vulnerable and that the strongest advocates for children should be their own parents.

It is for this reason that I find the relatively low prominence given to the 2011 abortion statistics also published yesterday profoundly bizarre.

The BBC report highlights the fact that 34% of the 189,931 women having an abortion last year in England and Wales had had one before and most newspapers note the fact that repeat abortions now make up 36% of the total, over a third.

The Independent further notes that for the first time last year more mothers had abortions than childless women. 51% of women undergoing abortions already had at least one child.

Other press reports give more detailed analysis with most reproducing the figures highlighted by the Press Association.

But as far as I can see no one has yet commented on the fact that 98% of the total are funded by the NHS through tax revenues and also that 98% were carried out on mental health grounds (see section 2.9 of report).

As I have pointed out before, this latter 98% are also technically illegal as there is no evidence that continuing with an unplanned pregnancy poses any greater risk to a mother’s mental health than having an abortion.

And yet doctors continue performing them regardless while government, police and the crown prosecution service stand idly by and the major abortion providers justify it as necessary.

There is no one more vulnerable, more innocent and being killed in greater numbers than the unborn child. Each year around the world there are 42 million abortions, against only 57 million deaths from all other causes except abortion.

And in Britain there have already been over 7 million abortions in the 45 years since the Abortion Act was passed in 1967.

It is understandable that people are shocked and outraged by child deaths in Syria and Derby.

But the fact that we can barely raise an eyebrow at abortion in Britain is a chilling testimony to our astounding spiritual blindness and breath-taking hypocrisy.

189,931 unborn children died in England and Wales last year – under their mothers’ instructions, at the hands of doctors and paid for by tax payers’ money. And parliament, police and prosecution service did nothing.

If the Syrian massacre was the ‘deliberate mass killing of children’ who ’were murdered one by one’ then what was this?

Sunday, 27 May 2012

How atheists (don't actually) answer serious questions on twitter

I have previously posted on the reason Christians don’t express their views about sex on twitter.

But what happens if, instead of making statements, we ask serious questions?

Yesterday morning, after 24 hours of on and off discussion answering questions posed by atheists about origins, history and language (you can see the discussion storified here) I asked two serious questions as follows to see how they themselves might respond:

1.How do you explain the fine tuning of the universe?
2.How do you explain the fact of 116 distinct language families?

I received just about 60 replies in the next three hours from some of the atheists who follow me on twitter and have categorised them into five main categories.

Here are over 50 of them (I have omitted many retweets and some conversation between themselves to which I was copied in):

Dismissive disdain and patronising putdowns (19)

21h Shane McKee ‏@shanemuk
@drpetersaunders don't be stupid, and go look it up. @Dragonblaze@theslicer

8h Shane McKee ‏@shanemuk
@drpetersaunders a tenner says your silly questions are a/ already answered, b/ non-questions, c/ properly unknown. @dragonblaze@theslicer

8h Shane McKee ‏@shanemuk
@drpetersaunders origins of languages a matter of debate, but Babel is a fairy story. Not in the frame. At all. @dragonblaze@theslicer

9h Kees Engels ‏@KeesEngels
@drpetersaunders @Dragonblaze @shanemuk @TheSlicer And neither do you. But instead of research, you plug the gap with God. Typical ...

10h Harpindon Groomsmill ‏@And_TheRest
RT @shanemuk @KeesEngels Oh no! Looks like genetic evidence comprehensively DISPROVES @drpetersaunders's naive view...

10h Dragonblaze ‏@Dragonblaze
@shanemuk It's selective blindness. They believe all the other stories are made-up, except their fave ones. @drpetersaunders @TheSlicer

10h Kees Engels ‏@KeesEngels
@shanemuk @Dragonblaze @drpetersaunders @TheSlicer Carlin made a nice joke about that ;) - look for 'divine plan'

10h Shane McKee ‏@shanemuk
@Dragonblaze I think @drpetersaunders doesn't give humans enough credit for inventing stories. His is a #HarryPotter god.@TheSlicer

10h Dragonblaze ‏@Dragonblaze
@shanemuk It's selective blindness. They believe all the other stories are made-up, except their fave ones. @drpetersaunders @TheSlicer

10h Kees Engels ‏@KeesEngels
@shanemuk @Dragonblaze @drpetersaunders @TheSlicer Carlin made a nice joke about that ;) - look for 'divine plan'

10h Shane McKee ‏@shanemuk
@Dragonblaze I think @drpetersaunders doesn't give humans enough credit for inventing stories. His is a #HarryPotter god.@TheSlicer

10h Dragonblaze ‏@Dragonblaze
@shanemuk Though when asked to demonstrate, they always refuse. And I'd so like Ayers' Rock in the park nearby.@drpetersaunders @TheSlicer

10h Shane McKee ‏@shanemuk
@KeesEngels Oh no! Looks like genetic evidence comprehensively DISPROVES @drpetersaunders's naive view of #Bible!@Dragonblaze @TheSlicer

10h Kees Engels ‏@KeesEngels
@shanemuk @drpetersaunders @Dragonblaze @TheSlicer There were never less than 22.000 individuals, even at its worst bottleneck event

10h Dragonblaze ‏@Dragonblaze
@shanemuk No, he can't - and he's using the water in pothole fallacy even in the question. @drpetersaunders @TheSlicer

10h Shane McKee ‏@shanemuk
@KeesEngels: @drpetersaunders did say only 8 ppl were alive 3200 years BC. *He* can't explain genetic diversity. @Dragonblaze@TheSlicer

10h Shane McKee ‏@shanemuk
@Dragonblaze: @drpetersaunders can't explain fine tuning: - he's just an apologetics regurgitant.@TheSlicer

10h Dragonblaze ‏@Dragonblaze
@drpetersaunders Which theory would you prefer - excluding Babel fairy tales, of course. @KeesEngels @shanemuk @TheSlicer

11h Shane McKee ‏@shanemuk
@drpetersaunders there is NO evidence rooting human lingo to the Genesis myth. You are being silly. @dragonblaze @keesengels@theslicer

Mockery and mutual self-congratulation backslapping (9)

Kees Engels ‏@KeesEngels
@anarchic_teapot @Dragonblaze @shanemuk @drpetersaunders@TheSlicer "We will resume rotation shortly. Thank you for your patience."

Dragonblaze ‏@Dragonblaze
@anarchic_teapot Lol - funny indeed. @shanemuk@drpetersaunders @TheSlicer

8h Shane McKee ‏@shanemuk
@0100110010110 @drpetersaunders @dragonblaze @theslicer it's because he thinks if atheists can't answer, Jeeebus wins by default.#nutjob

8h Invincible Truth ‏@0100110010110
@shanemuk @drpetersaunders @dragonblaze @theslicer He thinks he's got the smoking gun here eh? lol

8h anarchic_teapot ‏@anarchic_teapot
@Dragonblaze @shanemuk @drpetersaunders @TheSlicer Sudden vision of huge "SITE UNDER MAINTENANCE" sign in sky instead of sun...

8h anarchic_teapot ‏@anarchic_teapot
@shanemuk That one is hilarious. @Dragonblaze @drpetersaunders@TheSlicer

8h Shane McKee ‏@shanemuk
@0100110010110 @drpetersaunders @dragonblaze @theslicer it's because he thinks if atheists can't answer, Jeeebus wins by default.#nutjob

10h Kees Engels ‏@KeesEngels
@shanemuk @NewHumanist @drpetersaunders I laughed :)

10h Kees Engels ‏@KeesEngels
@drpetersaunders @Dragonblaze @shanemuk @TheSlicer *plague

Incredulity that these are even serious questions (3)

9h Invincible Truth ‏@0100110010110
@drpetersaunders @shanemuk @dragonblaze @theslicer Why do pose this question to atheists?

8h Shane McKee ‏@shanemuk
@drpetersaunders why does "116 language families" even matter? Languages evolve. No surprises there. #duh @dragonblaze@theslicer

9h Aribert Deckers ‏@aribertdeckers
@drpetersaunders @Dragonblaze @KeesEngels @shanemuk@TheSlicer Even whales and birds and monkeys have language. SO WHAT!? It is evolutionary

Irrelevant counter-questions and counter-comments (16)

9h Dragonblaze ‏@Dragonblaze
@drpetersaunders Do you know *exactly* what causes autism?

9h Aribert Deckers ‏@aribertdeckers
@drpetersaunders @Dragonblaze @shanemuk @TheSlicer BWAH!!! The question religiots can't answer: If god created the world, who created god?

10h Dragonblaze ‏@Dragonblaze
@KeesEngels Jesus promised believers can literally move mountains, but I've yet to see that happen. @shanemuk @drpetersaunders@TheSlicer

9h Aribert Deckers ‏@aribertdeckers
@drpetersaunders @Dragonblaze @KeesEngels @shanemuk@TheSlicer Didn't dawn on you that the eye was invented several times INDEPENDENTLY?

10h Dragonblaze ‏@Dragonblaze
@shanemuk Frankly I have major difficulty in taking anyone who admits belief in witchcraft and demons seriously @drpetersaunders@TheSlicer

10h Kees Engels ‏@KeesEngels
@Dragonblaze @shanemuk @drpetersaunders @TheSlicer "God answers prayers" "Prove it, pray for anything" "It doesn't work like that"

10h Shane McKee ‏@shanemuk
@KeesEngels yes - these are standard tropes for Near Eastern gods like Baal, YHWH, Marduk etc. @Dragonblaze @drpetersaunders@TheSlicer

10h Dragonblaze ‏@Dragonblaze
@shanemuk Yep, like stopping the sun in the sky (or the earth from spinning) w/o anyone noticing the disaster. @drpetersaunders@TheSlicer

10h Kees Engels ‏@KeesEngels
@shanemuk @Dragonblaze @drpetersaunders @TheSlicer Also, he doesn't exactly come across as a subtle individual#deathofallfirstborns

10h Shane McKee ‏@shanemuk
@Dragonblaze furthermore, if @drpetersaunders & @TheSlicer don't like YHWH's "finely tuned" universe, they think they can ask for changes!

10h Shane McKee ‏@shanemuk
.@Dragonblaze YHWH is constantly tinkering, fixing *non*-fine-tuned mistakes in his universe. He's like Zeus. @drpetersaunders@TheSlicer

10h Kees Engels ‏@KeesEngels
@shanemuk @drpetersaunders @Dragonblaze @TheSlicer Oh no! Now what will he use to explain what he doesn't understand?

10h Shane McKee ‏@shanemuk
@Dragonblaze worse than that, the fake god of the bible doesn't match a god who sets up finely balanced params. @drpetersaunders@TheSlicer

10h Christian Values 4UK ‏@CV4UK
"@drpetersaunders: @Dragonblaze @shanemuk @TheSlicer"Peter explain how a lottery winner has the same numbers as are drawn out?

10h Kees Engels ‏@KeesEngels
@drpetersaunders @Dragonblaze @shanemuk @TheSlicer Funny how YOU accuse US of constantly asking questions. You avoid answering like the pest

11h Shane McKee ‏@shanemuk
@drpetersaunders explain the fine tuning of your fake god.@dragonblaze @theslicer

Possibly serious replies (4)

9h Kees Engels ‏@KeesEngels
@drpetersaunders @Dragonblaze @shanemuk @TheSlicer Ah, a challenge. I will answer them all, but will you accept my replies?

9h Dragonblaze ‏@Dragonblaze
@drpetersaunders I don't precisely care if you're on the Moon. We can't answer because nobody knows for certain. @shanemuk@TheSlicer

10h Dragonblaze ‏@Dragonblaze
@drpetersaunders ṣani têmi, ultu Twitter alak! Right after you translate that. I'm not a physicist. @shanemuk @TheSlicer

11h Shane McKee ‏@shanemuk
@drpetersaunders "116 families" - you are misinterpreting this.@dragonblaze @keesengels @theslicer

Twenty questions atheists struggle to answer

For my answers to the questions below see the following links:
Questions 1-6
Questions 7-11

For others' answers see here

Earlier this week I was involved, on and off, in a wide-ranging 24 hour twitter conversation which has been storified by Dr John Cosgrove under the title ‘Creation, Evolution and Gosse’.

It covered such matters as the origin of man, the evolution of language, the dating of early civilisations and the historicity of the genealogies and the flood narrative in the book of Genesis.

As is usual most of those involved were atheists who follow me on twitter and regularly mock and ridicule my commitment to Christian faith and values.

Again, as is usual in these discussions, it was primarily atheists asking the questions and me giving answers whilst they tweeted my responses with great delight to their followers with accompanying comments such as ‘facepalm extravanganza’.

On Friday night and Saturday morning I asked in return two questions (2 & 7 in the following list) which thus far none of them has attempted to answer despite posting around sixty responses to me in the intervening period whilst I was off-line.

This, in my experience, is the usual response by atheists nowadays in keeping with Richard Dawkins’ recent call to them not to engage in discussion but rather to ‘ridicule and show contempt’ to Christians and their beliefs.

Anyway, I said yesterday that I would post a list of twenty questions that, in my experience, atheists either won’t or can’t answer. So here is an initial list below. There are many more.

I am not, in posting these, saying that atheists have no answers to them, only that as yet in over forty years of discussion with them I am yet to hear any good ones.

Coherent responses are welcome in the comments column below (See my own responses to questions 1 to 6 and 7 to 11).

Twenty questions atheists struggle to answer

1.What caused the universe to exist?

2.What explains the fine tuning of the universe?

3.Why is the universe rational?

4.How did DNA and amino acids arise?

5.Where did the genetic code come from?

6.How do irreducibly complex enzyme chains evolve?

7.How do we account for the origin of 116 distinct language families?

8.Why did cities suddenly appear all over the world between 3,000 and 1,000BC?

9.How is independent thought possible in a world ruled by chance and necessity?

10.How do we account for self-awareness?

11.How is free will possible in a material universe?

12.How do we account for conscience?

13.On what basis can we make moral judgements?

14.Why does suffering matter?

15.Why do human beings matter?

16.Why care about justice?

17.How do we account for the almost universal belief in the supernatural?

18.How do we know the supernatural does not exist?

19.How can we know if there is conscious existence after death?

20.What accounts for the empty tomb, resurrection appearances and growth of the church?

Friday, 25 May 2012

What’s wrong with the General Medical Council’s draft guidance on ‘Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice’?

The General Medical Council (GMC) is currently consulting on a range of new guidance to doctors.

Overall there are no less than nine separate documents up for discussion.

The most contentious and controversial of these is ‘Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice’ (PBMP), which deals with issues around faith discussions within a medical consultation and conscientious objection.

The review is crucially important because, once finalised (definitive guidance will be published in November), these nine documents will be the basis on which doctors are judged and those who breach the rules will be at risk of disciplinary proceedings and losing their medical registration.

The consultation is part of the on-going review of the GMC’s core guidance Good Medical Practice and is open to anyone who wishes to comment on the issues raised. It opened on 18 April and closes on 13 June so there are less than three weeks of an eight week consultation period left to respond.

So the time to respond is now.

You can respond either directly online via the GMC website (you will need to register) or by filling in an emailable pdf covering all nine documents to send to the GMC (Note that you must type directly into this form and cannot cut and paste an answer from another document!)

CMF’s recent comments on the 2008 draft of 'Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice' are available on the CMF website.

However the new 2012 draft for consultation has been substantially rewritten and builds on the latest draft of ‘Good Medical Practice’ which, ironically, has not yet itself been published.

It states that ‘we don’t wish to prevent doctors from practising in line with their beliefs and values, as long as they also follow the guidance in Good Medical Practice’ but also makes it explicit (p4) that in situations of conflict ‘we expect doctors to be prepared to set aside their personal beliefs’.

This means in essence that when there is any conflict, 'Good Medical Practice' trumps the doctor’s conscience.

The main points to note about the new draft ‘Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice’ are as follows:

1.Whole Person Medicine

Although the guidance addresses the importance of ‘adequately assessing the patient’s conditions, taking account of their history (including the symptoms, and psychological, spiritual, religious, social and cultural factors)’ there is very little if anything on the relationship between personal beliefs and health or of the importance of practising holistic care which addresses these issues in practice.

Instead the emphasis is on not expressing ‘personal beliefs (including political, religious and moral beliefs) to patients in ways that exploit their vulnerability or that are likely to cause them distress’ or, alternatively, not ‘allowing your personal views to affect your professional relationships or the treatment you provide or arrange’ (based on paragraphs 54 and 60 of ‘Good Medical Practice’).

2.Sharing personal beliefs

There has been further tightening of restrictions about sharing personal beliefs. The guidance now says (para 13) that:

‘During a patient consultation, you may talk about your own personal beliefs only if a patient asks you directly about them or if you have reason to believe the patient would welcome such a discussion. You must not impose your beliefs and values on patients, or cause distress by the inappropriate or insensitive expression of them. You should keep the discussion relevant to the patient’s care and treatment and, as with disclosing any personal information to a patient, you must be very careful not to breach the professional boundary that exists between you, and must continue to exist if trust is to be maintained’.

It is hard to see how this will not lead to a greater number of vexatious complaints. Surely it would have been sufficient simply to have said that any sharing of personal beliefs must be done with permission, sensitivity and respect and with the patient’s best interests foremost. Trust is after all best built through openness and compassion.

3.Abortion and Artificial reproduction

The draft guidance notes (p3) that ‘in some areas the law specifically entitles doctors to exercise a conscientious objection’. It amplifies in a footnote that ‘in England, Wales and Scotland the right to refuse to participate in terminations of pregnancy is protected by law under Section 4(1) of the Abortion Act 1967’.

It further clarifies, in a footnote to Endnote 5, that this includes ‘care which is necessary preparation for performing a termination’. It also confirms (P3 footnote) that ‘the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 prevents any duty being placed on an individual to participate in any activity governed by the Act’.

By offering some further clarification about preoperative care for abortion this is a slight improvement on the 2008 draft.

4.The obligation to refer

The guidance says (p5) that doctors ‘may choose to opt out of providing a particular procedure because of (their) personal beliefs and values’ and must tell the patient (p8b) ‘that they have a right to (see) another practitioner who does not hold the same objection’.

If it is ‘not practical for a patient to arrange to see another doctor’ then there is a duty to ‘make sure that arrangements are made – without delay – for another suitably qualified colleague to advise, treat or refer the patient’.

So it appears that there is actually a duty to participate in procedures to which a doctor might have a conscientious objection by referring patients for them. Many doctors would see this as complicity or ‘participation’. Duties should surely end with informing patients of their right to see another doctor but without the obligation to refer, especially with regard to abortion.

This clause was recently the result of a successful legal challenge(1) by doctors in New Zealand when guidance similar to ‘Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice’ was issued by the New Zealand Medical Council. The Council's proposed guidelines were held to ‘overstate the duty of a doctor with conscientious objection, by failing to give adequate recognition to the ability of that doctor to decline to provide the service requested’.

As a result the guidance has never come into effect in New Zealand. It is not inconceivable that doctors might bring a similar case here.

5.An absolute duty to participate in 'treatment'

For the first time the guidance states that there are two procedures to which doctors have no right to conscientious objection, namely ‘providing gender reassignment’ (P5 footnote) and ‘providing contraception to unmarried women’ (Endnote 2). It justifies this stance on the grounds that these procedures are ‘only sought by a particular group of patients (and cannot therefore be subject to a conscientious objection)’ under the Equality Act 2010.

It is not clear why a similar argument does not apply to providing male circumcision for religious or cultural reasons as this is also sought only by groups who are supposedly protected under the Act. The GMC appears to be applying the law here in an inconsistent way and may well also be opening itself up to potential legal challenges in the future. It might be argued that very few doctors are involved in gender reassignment anyway and those who are, given that it is a specialised field, would not wish to exercise conscientious objection.

However it is likely that the clause on gender reassignment will be interpreted to include everybody in the referral and treatment pathway and potentially many GPs. Similarly, most doctors do not have an objection to prescribing for unmarried women but there are some who do and argue their case strongly on grounds of protecting the patient’s best interests. And there are circumstances where most doctors would hesitate to prescribe, especially if they were concerned about sexual coercion or abuse.

But the thing which is perhaps most concerning about this new absolute duty to ‘provide’ certain ‘treatments’ or ‘procedures’ is that it seriously undermines a doctor’s professional judgement and conscience. Doctors simply should not be forced to do things they believe are morally wrong, clinically inappropriate or not in a patient’s best interests. Reasonable accommodation should be made. The GMC should be upholding conscience, not eroding it.

The consultation questions

The GMC is asking doctors six yes/no questions about the draft guidance and for each of these gives options of answering ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘not sure’ as well as leaving space for comments.

The consultation deals only very superficially with the issues raised by the guidance, misrepresents to some extent its real contents and doesn’t ask specifically about the things which raise the most concerns. It also does not invite comments on how the text should be specifically reworded to address concerns doctors might have.

The six questions on 'Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice' are found on pages 26-29 of the emailable pdf. If you are only responding to this document (the pdf deals with all nine) then you need only fill in these pages and the personal details and survey from page 41. The questions (with preamble) are as follows:

Consultation Questions

Personal beliefs and medical practice was first published in 2008 in response to enquiries from doctors and others on issues in this area. We asked for views about the current guidance earlier this year (February 2012) before we redrafted (see CMF’s comments on prior draft). Now we’d like to know what you think about this draft guidance.

1 Do you think it’s helpful to have guidance on this topic?

The guidance provides more detail about what doctors should do if their beliefs conflict with carrying out particular procedures, or giving advice about them. Currently we allow doctors to withdraw from providing all arranging treatments or procedures on the grounds of conscience, whether or not this is covered by legislation.

2 Do you think this is a reasonable position for us to maintain?

At paragraph 5, we explain that gender reassignment is only sought by a particular group of patients who have ‘protected characteristics’ as defined in the Equality Act. Gender reassignment can not be withheld because of doctors’ personal beliefs, without breaching the Act.

3 Is the guidance on gender reassignment clear? If no or not sure, please say why.

4 Are there any references to supporting information we could include to make the guidance more helpful to doctors?

5 Is the guidance clear?

6 Do you have any other comments on Personal beliefs and medical practice?

I would encourage all doctors, and anyone else with an interest, to respond to the consultation.

Once the guidance is set in stone it will be the standard all doctors are judged against.

1.HALLAGAN And Anor V MEDICAL COUNCIL OF NZ HC WN CIV-2010-485-222 [2 December 2010]

Five keys to understanding history

I was interested to see this five point outline on the ‘heavenly worldliness’ blog for an understanding of Revelation 5.

I have inserted some additional random thoughts of my own and a scripture or two after each point.

1. God is sovereign over history

I’ve just returned from the European Leadership Forum in Hungary (600 participants from 40 countries) where John Lennox was doing the main Bible readings on the book of Daniel. A central theme is that God is sovereign over history and the rise and fall of nations:

‘the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes’ (Daniel 4:25)

The message of Daniel is that fire doesn’t burn, lions don’t bite and kings don’t reign unless God allows them!

2. Jesus is the key to history

History is all about God the father bringing all things together under the authority of Jesus Christ. Daniel 2 depicts a giant statue seen in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and revealing four great world empires represented by gold, silver, bronze and iron (Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome) which were succeeded by and replaced by the Kingdom of God inaugurated by Jesus Christ. Soon this will be all that there is.

In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands —a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.(Daniel 2:44, 45)

‘all things have been created through him and for him’ (Colossians 1:16)

3. Redemption is the focus of history

The one and sole purpose of history is redemption. God, through Christ's death and resurrection, has done everything necessary for us to return to him in repentance and faith. He is now calling out of all nations a people to be his own to share all eternity with him.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)

4. The church is the aim of history

History will come to an end when Jesus Christ returns to claim his bride, the church.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Revelation 5:25-27)

5. The glory of God is the climax of history

The climax of history will come when all evil is vanquished and the new heaven and new earth have come. At that time all creation, which is presently groaning longing to achieve its destiny, will praise and glorify God for all eternity.

To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever! (Revelation 5:13)

Is this your own understanding of history and what life is all about? If not I pray that God will make it clear to you. If so, I pray that you might live in the light of these glorious truths each and every day from now on as we await Christ’s return.

Let these wonderful truths motivate, strengthen and encourage you as you seek to glorify him today.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

British Muslims launch new petition to oppose same sex marriage

The Muslim Council of Britain,the umbrella body representing Britain’s Muslims, has today launched a petition opposing the government’s proposals to change the legal definition of marriage.

Based on the highly successful Coalition for Marriage petition (C4M), which has so far gathered over 500,000 signatures, ‘Muslims Defending Marriage’ is supported by key voices in the Muslim Community.

The petition reads as follows:

‘I disagree with the government’s proposed re-defining of marriage. I fully support the long-standing legal definition of marriage as the voluntary union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others.’

The campaign website, which is modelled on that of C4M, calls on Muslims signing to spread the word, respond to the government consultation on same-sex marriage and to contact their MPs.

It carries supporting videos from Farooq Murad, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Maulana Madani, Chairman of Mosques and Imams National and Shaykh Haitham, Chairman Muslim Research and Development.

Farooq Murad, the MCB’s Secretary General said today: ‘We have launched Muslims Defending Marriage (MDM) as we felt we had a duty to defend the meaning of marriage, guard its sanctity and protect the welfare of children’.

He added, ‘Other faith communities have already taken steps to evidence the strength of feeling in favour of keeping marriage intact. It is imperative that the Muslim community does all it can to contribute to this because we have a sacred duty to stand up for marriage and to support those, of whichever faith, that are doing so. We are aiming at mass participation from the Muslim community on an issue that will have such far reaching consequences for everyone.’

The MCB says that it stands opposed to discrimination in all its forms, including homophobia. The purpose of this campaign is to stand firm for the true definition of marriage, as with other faiths, Islam recognises marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

It is calling upon concerned citizens to respond to the government’s 12-week consultation on its proposals for same-sex marriage. The deadline for submissions to the consultation is 14 June 2012.

This latest move will put more pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron to delay and possibly abandon his quest to legalise same sex marriage.

In recent days three cabinet ministers have added their voices to a growing number of back bench conservatives who have already signalled their opposition.

In response David Cameron yesterday offered a free vote on the Government's plans but Downing Street stressed again this week about the Government’s determination to get it onto the statute book before the end of the parliament.

See also

Series of 24 articles on all aspects of same sex marriage debate
Ten Reasons why same sex marriage should not be legalised

Islam, Judaism and Christianity – which one, if any, is true?

If we take the three main theistic religions - Islam, Judaism and Christianity - one of which is believed broadly by almost half of the world's population - we find they have several striking similarities.

All share belief in an all knowing, all powerful creator God who made the universe.

All share belief in a judgement and an afterlife
- in angels and devils
- in scriptures and prophets
- in a similar ethical code

All share belief that God has intelligibly revealed his will in the course of history and strikingly all began in Middle East and trace themselves back to a common ancestor Abraham who once lived in what is now Southern Iraq.

The similarities are astounding - but there are profound differences too - and the most striking difference between them is in their beliefs about one person Jesus Christ.

The traditional Jewish view is that Jesus was a sorcerer and a false prophet who led people astray and died on a Roman cross.

Muslims see him as a prophet of God who spoke God's word who didn’t die but was taken up to heaven by God whilst still alive.

And Christians believe that he was God himself visiting the planet in human form who died on a cross and rose from the dead.

Now clearly these three beliefs about Jesus can't be equally true - because they are mutually exclusive. But they are also subject to historical enquiry. Either Jesus was God or he wasn’t, and either he died and rose again or he didn’t.

So it would make sense that if we want to know which theistic religion is true - if any - it makes sense to focus first on Jesus Christ.

Some atheists think that Jesus never existed - but in fact apart from the four biblical historians accounts there is substantial evidence for his existence from contemporary Roman and Jewish historians like Tacitus and Josephus. We know that the records we have passed down are historically reliable - because they were written by eyewitnesses and because we have very early written copies from which we can decipher the original text with a high degree of accuracy.

Other atheists think that he was just an ordinary man about whom a myth was made - but worshippers and critics alike who lived at the time did not disagree about the quality of his moral teaching or the fact that he performed astounding miracles: miracles which demonstrated power over disease, people and the forces of nature.

Some like to domesticate Jesus Christ into nothing other than a great moral teacher - but the claims which he made about himself, make such a belief unsustainable.

Someone who gave great moral teaching but also claimed that he...

Created the world
Existed before time began
Was the source of all truth
Never made a mistake
Would be executed and then rise from the dead
Would judge the whole world
And…was in fact God himself

…would not be simply a great moral teacher.

If his claims were false he would be either a deceiver or a lunatic and if his claims were true he would of course be what he came to be.

Of course it was for just these claims - and not his teaching nor miracles - that eyewitnesses tell us Jesus was executed by the Roman authorities by being nailed to a wooden cross.

Many people think that Christianity is an ‘arrogant’ religion - and in the sense that it claims to be the truth - as all religions do - this is true.

But, according to the eyewitnesses, these claims were made by Jesus himself - and if Jesus really was God visiting the planet in human form demanding allegiance from us human beings - then I'd suggest that to accept the fact and act accordingly is actually to act in humility not in arrogance.

The height of arrogance would rather be to ignore God's clear call in a world that belongs to God.

As Christians - we believe on the basis of the evidence - the evidence of Jesus Christ and history and the evidence of the change that coming to believe in him has made in our lives – that:

1.Jesus is God and will judge all of us and determine our ultimate destiny in heaven or hell
2.He came to earth on a rescue mission which involved dying on the cross and rising from the dead to ensure that if we respond in the appropriate way we can face judgement after death with confidence

My hope, if you are not currently a Christian, is that you might have the humility to accept the possibility that these beliefs might just be true and to examine the evidence.

You may currently be sitting on the fence and that’s fine. I wouldn’t expect you to make any commitment unless you became convinced on the basis of the evidence that Christianity was credible enough to commit yourself to. But the question is ‘are you prepared to look at the evidence?’

Personally I don't think that that is arrogant to ask you to consider evidence that may have huge implications for your future.

It’s surely no more arrogant than giving a hearing to a doctor who claims to have some wonderful new cure for some disease you might have a hearing. It may well be in your best interests and at very worst isn’t going to do you any harm.

So how about it?

Friday, 18 May 2012

If God were to become a man, what kind of man would we expect him to be?

When we run discovering Christianity groups in university, enquirers are astounded to learn just how much historical evidence for the life of Jesus there is - not just in the writings of first and second century historians like Pliny, Josephus, Lucian and Tacitus - but also in the New Testament documents themselves.

There is page after page of eye-witness accounts, full of the most meticulous historial detail - not just allowing us to date the events with accuracy - but telling us many historical facts about the period that can't be gleaned from any other source.

Look for one example at Luke 3:1,2:

'In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar - when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod Tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene - during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John...'

The natural political events and God's revelation are inextricably linked by those who actually saw it happen. Unlike almost all other religious writing, in the Bible we see the supernatural utterly enmeshed with real historical events.

The author of John’s Gospel, in the first chapter, lays out the central astounding claim of Christianity – that the God who created and sustains the universe became a human being.

'The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth'

Literally God the Son, the Word, who we read about in the first 13 verses of John’s gospel - the Word who was God (v1), who was with God from the beginning (v2) and who created the world (v3) – this ‘Word’ literally put on human flesh, enfleshed himself, wrapped himself in human flesh.

He took on our human existence in all its frailty and visited our planet in human form.

Furthermore John leaves us in no doubt as to why he wrote his gospel:

'These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,and that by believing you may have life in his name.' (John 20:31)

John, in talking about Jesus’ glory, is saying that Jesus Christ was absolutely unique as a human being; and that this uniqueness pointed to the fact that he must have been God – the creator and sustainer of the universe - in the flesh.

This is an astonishing statement, but if we accept the possibility that God could actually become a man, then what kind of man would we expect him to be? More importantly how does Jesus Christ measure up?

Josh McDowell, in ‘Evidence that demands a Verdict’, has suggested that we would expect to see the following things:

First, if God became a man, he would have an unusual entry into life . We find exactly this in the virgin birth.

Second, if God became a man, we would expect him to be without sin. Jesus challenged others to find him guilty of sin and no-one was able to answer.

Third, if God became a man, we'd expect him to perform astounding miracles, and we find that the gospel accounts are full of them: he heals deaf, blind and paralytics; he calms storms, walks on water and turns water into wine. According to eyewitnesses Jesus healed diseases for which even today there is no treatment, instantaneously, irreversibly and unambiguously, convincing the most sceptical of his critics. No-one doubted that they were happening.

Fourth, if God became a man, we'd expect him to speak the greatest words ever spoken. People responded to Jesus is amazement. 'How did this man get such learning without having studied'. 'No-one ever spoke like this'. Psychiatrist James Fisher has written:

'If you were to take the sum total of all the authoritative articles ever written by the most qualified of psychologists and psychiatrists on the subject of mental hygiene - if you were to combine them and refine them and cleave out all the excess verbiage - if you were to have these unadulterated bits of pure scientific knowledge concisely expressed by the most capable of living poets, you would have an awkward and incomplete summation of the Sermon on the Mount.'

Fifth, if God became a man, we would expect him to have a lasting and universal influence. Why is it that all religions try to accomodate Jesus somehow, to find a place for him? In the words of historian Kenneth Latourette, it is simply because Jesus life is the most influential ever lived on this planet.

Sixth, if God became man, we would expect him to satisfy the spiritual hunger in man. Millions can testify that Jesus Christ has filled the spiritual vacuum in their lives; that his promise in John 6:35 that those who come to him will not thirst or hunger is true.

Finally, if God became man, we would expect him to exercise power over death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the best attested historical fact in all of antiquity; over 500 witnesses to his rising from the dead. It is the only explanation for the empty tomb, the dramatic change in the disciples and the spread of the early church.

Jesus fits all the criteria. Many say that the greatest miracle of all is the resurrection; but I think CS Lewis was right when he said that the great miracle is the incarnation, the one we read about in John 1:14 - the Word becoming flesh.

It explains all the others - if you can accept the incarnation, the idea that God could become human, then all other aspects of his life follow naturally - walking on water, healing the sick, feeding the five thousand, turning water into wine - all the miraculous elements of Christ's life which we find so difficult to accept even the resurrection itself present no problem at all.

They are exactly the sort of things we would expect to happen if God chose to visit the planet as a man.

New Church of England Evangelical Council statement on marriage explodes popular modern heresy

The Church of England Evangelical Council has published a statement on marriage which is well worthy of study.

The St Matthias Day Statement (14 May 2012) is an update of the 1995 St Andrew’s Day Statement on homosexuality and seeks to help Anglicans understand their church’s teaching in the area of marriage and sexual relationships and its relevance today.

It does so by providing a five-fold summary of that teaching based in Scripture and Anglican tradition under the following headings:

1 – God’s love and call to love
2 – God’s Word and Church
3 – God’s gift of marriage
4 – God’s grace and call to holiness
5 – God’s people united in and by God’s word

As would be expected the statement takes a very high view of Scripture and is unambiguous about taking the whole of Scripture seriously.

I was particularly struck by the principles in section 2 which need far wider promulgation, especially 2b which addresses a major heresy in the church today.

The essential flaw of this heresy is that it tries to affirm ‘God is Love’ (I John 4:8) whilst ignoring ‘This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments’ (I John 5:3).

The commandment to love our neighbours (Exodus 19:18) cannot be used to justify sexual sin.

But this notion, popularised by Joseph Fletcher the founder of situation ethics in the 1960s, is now endemic in sections of the church and is doing tremendous damage.

In fact President Obama fell into a similar trap last week when he attempted to use Jesus' golden rule to justify same sex marriage.

Like most heresies it emphasises one biblical truth to the exclusion of another. This is how the St Matthias Statement handles it:

2a. The authority of the Church to decide its own actions is limited by the word of God in Holy Scripture.

2b. The Church is not free to use certain parts of the Bible, such as the commandment to love our neighbours, as a justification for setting aside teaching contained in other parts of the Bible, such as the rejection of same-sex sexual activity.

2c. The Church therefore does not have the authority to introduce any form of marriage that differs from the form of marriage authorised and commended in Holy Scripture or to commend sexual behaviour forbidden by Holy Scripture.

But don't stop here. Take time to read the whole St Matthias Statement for yourself. It is eminently worthy of study by evangelicals and non-evangelicals alike.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Nursing must rediscover its Christian roots if compassion is to be revived

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Conference is to be told today that new nurses should be judged on their compassion not just their skills.

Sir Keith Pearson, the NHS Confederation chairman, is due to address the Royal College of Nursing's (RCN) annual conference in Harrogate.

He is one of the authors of a critical report into standards of care for older people and is expected to call for big changes in the way staff are recruited.

‘The Commission on Improving Dignity In Care for Older People’ has already made a series of recommendations to improve standards in hospitals and care homes in England.

It was set up following a series of critical reports into elderly care that highlighted some cases where care by front-line staff - including nurses - had failed.

The call for a culture change in nursing is most welcome. This fresh emphasis on rediscovering compassion in nursing is essential but nursing also needs to rediscover the spiritual roots that gave it compassion in the first place.

Modern nursing was born in the nineteenth-century, in no small measure due to the work of Christians like Elizabeth Fry and Florence Nightingale.

Their revolution in the practice of nursing also included making it a more socially acceptable pursuit for women.

Their response to the Christian call to care for the sick and educate neglected children provided the templates for modern daily hospital nursing. Florence Nightingale (pictured above) also encouraged better hygiene, improved standards and night-nursing, as well as founding the first nursing school.

Nurses gained professional status at the end of the century, largely thanks to the work of another Christian nurse, Ethel Bedford Fenwick, with the majority of nurses being inspired to serve by Christian ethics.

Many missionary nurses such as Mother Teresa and Emma Cushman have worked tirelessly, bringing hygiene and Western medicine to the four corners of the globe.

These nursing pioneers found their personal motivation in the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. It grew out of their own passionate personal commitment to him.

You can't create compassion in a vacuum. It has to be motivated by a worldview which supports it and many modern nurses do not have such a worldview and so lack the passionate commitment to sacrificial care that pioneers like Fry and Nightingale possessed in such measure.

Nursing needs to rediscover its Christian roots or the present crisis in care will continue.

Assisted suicide deaths increase by 40% in one year in Washington State

The number of Washington state residents who died of physician-assisted suicide rose to 70 in 2011, up from 51 in 2010 and 36 in 2009, when the state’s Death With Dignity Act took effect.

The Washington State Dept. of Health reported in May that 103 patients requested and received lethal doses of medications from 80 different physicians in 2011.

In addition to the 70 who died after ingesting lethal drugs, 19 died of natural causes. An additional five died, but it is unclear whether they took the drugs. No reports were received for the remaining nine patients, indicating that they were still alive at year’s end.

The vast majority of the terminally ill patients who received life-ending drugs feared loss of autonomy, dignity and ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable.

More than 90% were white, and 75% had at least some college education. Nearly 80% of the patients had cancer, said the report.

Seventy-one patients in neighbouring Oregon died of physician-assisted suicide in 2011. Since 1998, when Oregon’s first-of-its-kind law took effect, 753 patients in Oregon and Washington have died with physicians’ aid.

Just last month I highlighted the huge increase in deaths from assisted suicide in Oregon and Switzerland of 450% and 700% respectively over ten years as further evidence of the incremental extension that inevitably follows any change in the law. Washington is now showing the same pattern with almost a 100% increase in two years.

Assisted suicide thankfully remains illegal in Britain and we see only a small trickle of 15-20 Britons per year going to the Dignitas facility in Zurich to end their lives.

But with an Oregon- type law we would see 1,200 deaths annually.

It is no wonder that over 100 attempts to legalise assisted suicide in other US states have failed over the last 15 years and that Oregon and Washington remain the only states to have legalised the practice on the basis of a referendum.

Earlier this month Georgia became the latest US state to ban it.

Mum beats lung tumour after refusing to sacrifice her baby to save her own life

There is an inspiring story in the Daily Mail this morning about a 21 year old mother who beat cancer after refusing to sacrifice her unborn child.

Daniella Jackson was diagnosed with a tumour in her left lung shortly before discovering she was pregnant and refused doctors' advice to abort her child so they could operate on her.

After a difficult pregnancy she gave birth to healthy girl and then had an operation to remove the tumour along with half her lung. According to the Metro report, the tumour was a carcinoid, a slow-growing tumour with a good outcome relative to other lung tumours.

Carcinoid lung tumors generally have a better outlook than other forms of lung cancer. Persons with carcinoid lung tumors have an overall 5-year survival rate of 78%-95% and a 10-year survival rate of 77%-90%.

A year on, she is the proud mother of Rennae – her second child – and has been told that she is free of disease.

A devout Roman Catholic, Miss Jackson has said that aborting her child was never an option because of her strong faith: ‘I was always determined to have my baby. I felt such a close bond with her, I couldn’t let her go.’

Abortion to save the life of the mother makes up a miniscule fraction of the 200,000 abortions carried out each year.

In the UK it was reported in 1992 that in the first 25 years of the operation of the Abortion Act 1967 only 0.013% of all abortions were performed 'to save the life of the mother' and it is even questionable whether many of these required such radical action. The 2009 Abortion Statistics for England and Wales do not record any on these grounds.

Usually when the mother's life is at risk from an ongoing pregnancy, the baby is at a viable age and so can be saved simply by bringing forward the time of delivery. However on very rare occasions doctors may say it is necessary to terminate an early mid-trimester pregnancy (13-22 weeks) in an emergency in order to save the life of the mother.

But it is so rare that many obstetricians will not see a case personally in a lifetime of practice.

Even Alan Guttmacher, former President of the pro-abortion US Planned Parenthood Federation said as long ago as 1967:

'Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through pregnancy alive, unless she suffers from a fatal illness such as cancer or leukemia, and if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save life'.

In fact, women with cancer will often forgo chemotherapy, and in this case surgery, for the sake of the baby.

Daniella did not know whether she would survive from her illness, but such was her love for her baby that she was willing to take the risk and if necessary lay down her life for her. Now she has the joy of caring for and treasuring her daughter and seeing her grow up. One day maybe, at the other end of life, it will be Rennae caring for Daniella.

I wish Daniella and Rennae all the best in their life together and pray that the strong faith in God and self-giving love that has led both to Rennae’s birth and Daniella’s survival will continue to grow.

Reading their story has encouraged me and I hope that by sharing it this testimony will be equally an encouragement to others to rejoice at how precious human life is and to thank God for his faithfulness and self-giving love in sending Jesus to lay down his life for us because he couldn't let us go.

Jesus said, ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’. And he demonstrated that love by going to the cross to pay the price for our sins, so that he could share not just this life, but all eternity with us. He loved us that much.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Why the whole Bible speaks with the authority of Jesus Christ himself

Many people today are willing to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, even as the Son of God, but are unable to accept the authority of the Bible, the world’s most read book.

But in fact it is Jesus himself who, by his teaching, underlines the authority of the Bible.

Following Christ involves following his commands. The ‘law of Christ’ referred to in such Scriptures as John 13:34-35, 1 Corinthians 9:21 and Galatians 6:2 involves bearing one another's burdens, loving each other as he has loved us.

But whereas these verses summarise beautifully the substance of the teaching Jesus gave first-hand, we cannot therefore conclude that the rest of Scripture is unnecessary. Jesus expands this core of moral teaching throughout the Gospels and particularly in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7). But he also endorses the whole of the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Jesus and the Old Testament

Jesus put his stamp of authority on the Old Testament. He treated its historical narratives as straightforward records of fact. Interestingly the stories that are the least acceptable to the 'modern mind' are the very ones he seemed most fond of choosing for his illustrations (eg. Abel (Mt 23:35), Noah (Lk 17:26-27), Jonah (Mt 12:39-41)). He repeatedly quoted it as the final court of appeal in debates, not only with his earthly opponents but with the Devil himself (Mt 4:1-11) He believed its prophecies were fulfilled in him (Lk 24:44) and used them as proof of his claims to be the Messiah (Jn 4:25-26; Mt 16:20) and he obeyed its ethical teaching (Mt 5:17-21; Mt 23:23; Jn 8:46).

Jesus commanded his disciples to obey the teachers of the law in so far as they were faithful to the Law of Moses (Mt 23:2-3), and said that anyone who broke one of the least of the Law's commandments and taught others to do the same would be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven. Not 'the least stroke of a pen' is to disappear from the Law until 'heaven and earth disappear'. In fact his disciples are expected to go beyond mere observance of the letter of the Law to fulfilment of the very principle of love upon which it is based (Mt 5:17-20). So for example, in the eyes of Christ, hate and lust are to be regarded as seriously as murder and adultery (Mt 5:21-22, 27-28). Jesus had a very high view of the Old Testament.

Jesus and the New Testament

Jesus also commissioned the writing of the New Testament. We can be confident that what the Apostles recorded was what Christ said (Lk 1:3; Jn 20:30-31; 2 Pet 1:16), not only because they were eyewitnesses of all that he said and did but more importantly because he personally commissioned them and gave them the authority to teach in his name (Mt 28:19-20; Gal 1:11-12; Mt 16:18-19; 18:18). The fact that what is recorded in the New Testament is the testimony of eye-witnesses means that we can be confident that there were not errors of a 'Chinese-whisper' type that have crept into the text.

We have not only the apostles' testimony themselves that what they wrote were the words of Christ but also Christ's own testimony that he would enable them by means of his Holy Spirit (Jn 14:25-26) to 'teach them all things', 'remind them of everything he said', 'take what was his and make it known to them' and 'guide them into all truth' (Jn 16:12-15).

It is true that we are now ‘saved by grace through faith’ (Eph 2:8,9) and 'not under (Old Testament) law but under grace' (Rom 6:14) but this does not mean that we are thereby free of moral responsibility. Under the New Covenant, God's laws are written on our hearts (Je 31:33; Ezk 36:25-27) and we are now enabled and exhorted to live 'according to the Spirit' (Gal 5:22-24). In other words , while our goodness or righteousness is 'by faith' (Rom 1:17) the evidence of the genuineness of our faith is that we perform good works (Jas 2:26) by being conformed to Jesus Christ and following in his footsteps (1 Jn 2:6).

The Sufficiency of the Bible

The Bible is God's Word to us, coming to us with the very authority of Jesus Christ and given in order that we may 'be thoroughly equipped for every good work'. It is sufficient (2 Tim 3:16,17). The Bible accordingly contains very stern warnings about adding to or subtracting from what God has already revealed (Dt 4:2; 12:32; Pr 30:6; Rev 22:18-19).

A logical corollary of this is that we should share Jesus' own high regard for the Scriptures. We will want regularly to hear, read, study and meditate on what God has revealed in the Old and New Testaments so that our thoughts and actions will be increasingly in line with those of Jesus himself.

Adapted from my previous piece 'The Authority of the Bible' in CMF's 'Turning the Tide' Series

Monday, 14 May 2012

Guest Post - Dr Shane McKee fights back on PGD

Last night I posted a blog with the rather provocative title 'Geneticist claims that weeding out embryos with severe genetic abnormalities is "a tremendous blessing and a wonderful thing"'.

It featured consultant geneticist Dr Shane McKee's recent 4thought interview on pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

Shane (pictured) is a consultant geneticist and self-styled 'Christian Atheist' in Northern Ireland with whom I frequently spar on twitter. One of our previous twitter dialogues (twebates) is available on this site.

Today Shane asked me if I would post his email reply on this blog which I happily do. I have agreed not to reply yet....

Dr Shane McKee replies

When did I say I supported abortion up to 40 weeks? I do not "support abortion" - I recognise that there are circumstances in which a family may decide that the best course of action is not to continue with, or initiate, a pregnancy that will result in a child with a devastating congenital disorder.

For you to bring Klinefelter and XYY etc into the mix just shows your ignorance of paediatrics and genetics. You can leave your childish blog post up there unaltered if you wish; it says a lot more about you than it does about me or my medical colleagues, who are trying to help families faced with terrifying prospects and agonising decisions. These people are real, and they mean a lot more to me than you, with your blinkers, can ever appreciate.

And, yes, if you needed a kidney, I would still give you one. But if I had 100 8 cell embryos, I would unhesitatingly disaggregate them and genetically re-engineer them or whatever in order to, say, treat a child with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, or a young mother with Huntington's Disease.

Because an embryo is not the same as a person; it is not a "disabled individual"; it is not a "person". An acorn is not an oak tree. A map is not a journey, nor is it the destination.

So I dare ya. If you have an ethical atom in your brain (for it is in the function of that tiny organ that your humanity - which I fully acknowledge - resides), post THIS email as a post on your blog. Don't add your little italic comments - leave it for your readership to do that in the thread below. You can start to respond after 5 comments.

Are you man enough to do that?

Who Is Jesus and how can he be 'the Only Way' to God?

We now live in a 'global village', a multi-faith society where exclusive claims may offend.

Many adherents of other faiths are prepared to recognize Jesus as a great teacher, prophet, leader and reformer - even perhaps as one way to God.

Are we not then being arrogant, intolerant and narrow-minded by suggesting he is the only way?

First we must admit that the world's religions do have many things in common - they all recognize a spiritual dimension and have broadly similar moral codes. But closer examination also reveals a multiplicity of differences - for example compare the teaching of the world's six major faiths (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism) on the nature of God, life after death, creation, sin and salvation. They cannot all be right!

Perhaps all contain aspects of the truth. Maybe. But if one is true in an absolute sense, then it follows logically that none of the others can be also. It's one or none.

Christianity makes three distinct claims with which no other religion agrees:

1.The deity of Christ ie Jesus is God (Jn 1:18)
2.The authority of the Scriptures ie The Bible is the Word of God (2 Tim 3:16)
3.Salvation by grace through faith (Eph 2:8)

Each of these claims is rooted in the teaching of Jesus and the apostles - a denial of any is a denial of Christianity.

That Jesus is the only way is asserted by Peter, Paul and indeed Jesus himself. (Acts 4:12; 1 Tim 2:5; Jn 14:6). Whoever does not believe in Christ stands condemned (Jn 3:18). Whoever acknowledges Christ will be acknowledged by him on the day of judgment (Mt 10:32; Lk 12:8) but whoever denies him will be denied (Mt 10:33, Mk 8:38; Lk 9:26; 12:9; 2 Tim 2:12). Anyone who is not for Christ is against him (Mt 12:30; Lk 11:23).

The exclusive claims of Christ are based on the teaching that he is himself God. This is directly stated in at least eight passages of the NT. (Jn 1:1-2; Jn 1:18; Jn 20:28; Acts 20:28; Rom 9:5; Tit 2:13; Heb 1:8; 2 Pet 1:1) and strongly implied in others (Mt 1:23; Jn 17:3; 5; Col 2:2; 2 Thess 1:12; 1 Tim 1:17; Jas 1:1; 1 Jn 5:20).
Furthermore Jesus said and did things that in the Old Testament only God said and did.

1.He called himself - 'I AM' (Ex 3:14 cf Jn 8:58; 6:35; 8:12,24; 11:25; 14:6; 18:5; Mk 14:62)

bridegroom (Is 62:5; Jer 2:2; Ezk 16:8 cf; Mk 2:19f; Jn 3:29; Rev 19:7)

shepherd(Ps 23:1; 80:1; Is 40:11; Ezk 34:15 cf; Jn 10:11-16)

the first and the last(Is 44:6; 48:12 cf; Rev 2:8; 22:13)

Others called him -Lord (Heb=YHWH, Gk=Kyrios)(Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3; Phil 2:11; 1 Tim 6:15; 2 Cor 4:5)

2.He accepted worship - (Mt 4:10 cf; Mt 2:2,8,11; 14:33; Mk 5:33; Jn 9:38; Mt 28:17; Lk 24:52)

3.He created the world - (Gn 1:1; Ps 33:6,9; 148:5 f cf; Jn 1:1,3; Heb 1:2; Col 1:16;)

4.He existed before his birth (Jn 17:5; Jn 1:1)

5.He forgave sins - (Is 43:11,25; 45:21 cf; Mt 1:21; Mk 2:7-10; Lk 7:48; Acts 4:12; 5:31)

6.He said he would judge the world - (Is 5:16 cf; Mt 25:31-46; Mk 8:38; Jn 5:22-30; 2 Thes 1:7-10)

We can tell from the reactions people had to him, that there was no doubt about what he was claiming. They either worshipped him (Mt 14:33; 28:17; Lk 24:52; Jn 9:38; 20:28) or accused him of blasphemy (Mt 26:65,66; Mk 2:7; 14:63,64; Lk 22:70,71; Jn 5:18; 8:5,8; 10:33; 19:7). He was killed because he claimed to be God.

Given the NT's unequivocal claim of Jesus Christ's divinity we cannot say that he was merely a great moral teacher, since a great moral teacher would not lie about his own identity. There are only four options open to us in considering a man who claims to be God: either he is a liar, a lunatic, a legend or the Lord.

Someone who deliberately lied about his identity would be a demonic deceiver and trickster. Someone who falsely believed himself to be God and told others so would be a deluded lunatic. The third option is that he never existed, or that his followers misinterpreted and distorted what he said, in other words that the story is a legend. Or finally we could conclude that he was who he claimed to be - the Lord.

As Christians, we assert on Jesus’ own authority that he is both God the Son and the only way to God.

But what do you think?

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Geneticist claims that weeding out embryos with severe genetic abnormalities is ‘a tremendous blessing and a wonderful thing’

A consultant in genetic medicine has said that he believes new technologies that enable doctors to search out and discard human embryos with severe genetic disease are ‘a tremendous blessing and a wonderful thing’.

Dr Shane McKee made the announcement this week on Channel Four’s 4thought programme as part of a debate on the use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

Judging by rapid responses on the Chanel Four website most viewers seem to agree with him.

Dr McKee’s announcement comes a week after news broke of a new test for discovering chromosomal abnormalities in embryos.

Chromosomal anomalies are known to be the single most common cause of miscarriages. Historically, about 50% of miscarriages were thought to be due to abnormal chromosomes.

However, now that pregnancy is detected earlier and we know that miscarriage is more common than previously thought, it is now suspected that the percent of miscarriages due to chromosome abnormalities is actually higher than 50%. Extra copies of chromosomes 15, 16, and 22 are often seen in miscarriages.

However, children with an extra (third) chromosome 13, 18, 21, X or Y frequently are born alive.

While those with extra 13th and 18th chromosomes die in childhood (Patau and Edwards syndromes), many with an extra 21st chromosome (Down’s syndrome) and many of those with extra X and Y will live into adulthood and have fulfilling lives.

A transcript of Dr McKee’s talk is below with my comments added in italics.

Dr McKee on Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis

What we’re trying to do is to offer families the chance to do what they feel is ethically right. I’m Shane McKee. I’m a doctor in genetic medicine and I regard the technological advances that we’ve made over the past ten to fifteen years as being a tremendous blessing and a wonderful thing that we can bring to bear to try and help individuals and families either affected with, or at risk of, severe genetic disorders to live and reproduce as normally as possible.

>> Dr McKee is talking about the technique called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) where human embryos are produced by in vitro fertilisation and then examined for chromosomal or other genetic abnormalities in a laboratory. Those judged to be abnormal are then discarded and only normal embryos are placed back in the uterus. He regards this as a ‘tremendous blessing and a wonderful thing’. Many embryos with genetic abnormalities do not survive pregnancy of course but many also do as people with a range of disabilities. Some of these are severe resulting in death during childhood but many others live on into adulthood.

I think it’s very important to make a distinction between the efforts that we make to try and prevent a child being born with a severe genetic disease and the notion that we are somehow against disabled people.

>> Dr McKee has to say this but in fact what he is advocating is selecting out and destroying disabled people at the embryo stage so that they never have a chance of being born. So when he talks about ‘preventing a child being born with genetic disease’ what he really means is weeding out the affected individual after fertilisation but before implantation. Many disabled people would see Dr McKee as discriminating against them and making judgements about the value of their lives which he has no right to make.

Whenever you think about families who are already faced with the problem of looking after a disabled child, if you introduce another disabled child into the equation, a second or a third, then that is an added burden on that family and it actually detracts from the care that they are able to offer to the first child or the second child.

>> This is of course true. Caring for one severely disabled child can be a huge challenge. Caring for two or three is an even greater one and families with disabled children need huge support. But Dr McKee does not make it clear that the solution he is advocating involves actually ending the lives of these disabled individuals at the embryo stage. In other words, the burden on families is relieved by killing those who are perceived to be creating the burden. Caring for the sick and dying is surely a far more compassionate option and societies will ultimately be judged on the way they treat their weakest members. To say that human lives which create a burden for others can be justifiably killed is to establish a very dangerous precedent indeed. It also ignores the many positive effects that those with disabilities have on society.

So I think it’s very important that we put this all in context. If you were trapped inside a burning in vitro fertilisation clinic and you had a four year old child in one room and you had a vatful of embryos in another room I think most people would save the child first.

>> It is true that most people do believe that children are more important than embryos but this is a false analogy. Dr McKee is not talking about saving a child over an embryo. He is actually advocating destroying embryos that have abnormalities and ensuring that they never have the chance to live.

And that’s because I think innately we know that a child is of more value than the egg that leads on to a child.

>> Note the subtle sleight of hand here. In the last paragraph Dr McKee was talking about embryos. Now he is talking about eggs. No one would argue that an unfertilised human egg is a human being. But many people take the view that an embryo (produced by a sperm fertilising an egg) is an early human being and has a right to life.

In fact I would find that the reduction of the value and the joy of human life down to something that you could fit inside a single egg cell as to be something slightly demeaning.

>> Again the sleight of hand with reference to egg and not embryo. But Dr McKee is actually not advocating destroying eggs but embryos. The human embryo is not a potential human being but actually a human being with potential, a potential child or adult. The only difference essentially between a human embryo and you or I is nutrition and time because all our genetic attributes are already present in the embryo. Furthermore, the human embryo’s value should not be based on its age or size – these are not morally relevant characteristics – but on the fact that it is human.

What Dr McKee does not say of course is that as well as supporting the destruction of abnormal human embryos he also supports abortion up until the time of birth for ‘serious’ congenital abnormalities. He also believes that fetuses under 22 weeks gestation are 'not people'. That is because he judges the worth of a human being on the basis of its capacity for sensation, communication and awareness. Embryos and foetuses by this reckoning are not actually persons with rights. Those who do not accept Dr McKee’s unstated presuppositions about the value of life before birth will also not concur with his conclusions. Dr McKee would, for example, not agree to the Declaration of Geneva which requires that doctors ‘maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception, even against threat’.

For an alternative view on disability see this video which has gone viral on the internet with over 7 million views

Friday, 11 May 2012

Is the Bible reliable? A brief overview of the most common objections.

The Bible is actually a collection of 66 different books written by over 30 different authors in three continents in three languages over a period of 1,500 years which has been carefully complied from reliable copies of the original manuscripts (hand-written documents).

Christians believe that the Bible is both divinely inspired and an accurate record of God’s dealings with man. But many people today question its accuracy. This questioning usually boils down to one of four main questions as follows:

1.Did the events described really happen in the way the eyewitnesses claimed they did?
(Are there errors of fact?)

If the eyewitnesses did not relate the events as they originally occurred, then there are only two possibilities. Either they were mistaken or they deliberately lied.

Individuals may suffer from errors of perception but not whole groups. Unlike the 'revelations' of contemporary cult leaders many of the events described in the Bible were witnessed by more than one person. On examining the accounts we find a remarkable degree of consistency. Consider for example the parallel histories in Kings, Chronicles and the Prophets, the biography of Jesus in the four Gospels or the 500 who were said to have seen Christ after the resurrection. (1 Cor 15:6)

On the other hand would the authors deliberately lie? According to historical tradition, eleven of the twelve disciples of Jesus met a violent death on account of their belief in his resurrection. Would they really have put themselves through such suffering for a faith they knew was false? (1 Cor 15:15-19; 2 Cor 11:23-29)

2.Did the story change before it was written down?
(Are there errors of verbal transmission?)

Many people in our 21st century world of internet, email and word-processing believe that verbally transmitted information could never remain uncontaminated. But an examination of the way stories are passed on in contemporary non-literate societies quickly puts paid to this kind of cultural arrogance. Oral traditions are composed in easily memorable format and are constantly repeated and checked. Some early Muslim converts have memorised over 6,000 verses of the Qu'ran accurately! The capacity of the human memory is astounding as any mother who has read to her children knows.

Despite this, there was no chain of verbal transmission before much of the Bible was committed to writing. The words and deeds of Jesus were clearly recorded by eyewitnesses (2 Pet 1:16; 1 Jn 1:3, 19:35) or at least by those who carefully interviewed them (Lk 1:1-3). The meticulous detail in some of the observations proves their authenticity (Jn 19:34-5; 20:6-7).

3.Is what we have now what was originally written down?
(Are there errors of written transmission?)

Scribes who copied Scripture were meticulous in their attention to detail. One has only to look at old manuscripts like the Book of Kells in the Dublin Trinity College library, or some of the scrolls in the British Museum to see the truth of this. Even if we doubted this fact there are enough early copies of both Old and New Testament documents to show that they have not been changed over the course of time. Entire copies of the New Testament in Greek dating from the 3rd and 4th centuries (Codex Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus) can be viewed today. Some of the earliest fragments (eg John Ryland) date from the lifetime of those who knew the apostles personally. Until last century the earliest Old Testament in Hebrew which we possessed was the Massoretic Text (cAD900). However, the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered at Qumran in the 1940s, (which contain parts of every Old Testament book save one) are 1,000 years older and virtually identical.

When comparisons are made with other documents of antiquity the Bible documents stand alone in terms of authenticating evidence. We know about Julius Caesar (whose existence no-one doubts) from less than a dozen copies of the original documents, the earliest of which post-date his death by 1,000 years. By contrast there are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts alone of New Testament records of the life of Christ and his apostles surviving from the first few hundred years after he walked the streets of Palestine (For more detail on this see here and here)

Apart from the New Testament documents, early Jewish and Roman literature also makes mention of Christ: his teaching, miracles, crucifixion under Tiberius and even the three hours darkness at the time of his death. (see Tacitus, Lucian, Josephus, Suetonius, Pliny and Thallus).

Archeological discoveries have repeatedly confirmed that those who wrote the Bible were consummate historians of the first order. (eg Ezra 6:13-16; Lk 3:1-2)

4.Are there contradictions?

Those who make reference to the 'thousands' of contradictions in the Bible are usually unable to name one. Most genuine contradictions can be attributed to minor errors in hand copying of individual letters or numbers (eg 2 Ch 36:9 cf 2 Ki 24:8) or to verses being taken out of context (eg Mt 7:8 cf Pr 1:28). Others arise when the same story is told from the perspective of different observers (eg Lk 24:1-2 cf Jn 20:1) This is what we would expect. If serial witnesses in court give identical testimonies, one might suspect that the evidence has been fabricated.

Some contradictions may seem at first difficult to account for, but can be explained satisfactorily (eg Judas's mode of death Mt 27:5 cf Acts1:18 and Jesus's genealogy Mt 1:6-16 cf Lk 3:23-31.) Apparent contradictions confirm rather than cast doubt on the Bible's authenticity. They would be carefully edited out in a fake. The fact remains that there is not a single error in the Bible which casts doubt on any significant historical biblical event or doctrine. Whilst accepting that there will always be mysteries, there are reasonable explanations for virtually all the so-called contradictions (See 101 cleared up contradictions)

Throughout the last two thousand years the Bible has withstood vociferous criticism with flying colours.

In my experience those who are most vocal in questioning it reject it, not because of the above reasons (these are just smokescreens!) but for one of five reasons:

1.Hearsay. They have never looked at it but have heard that others reject it.
2.Presuppositions. They believe that miracles cannot happen and because the Bible describes miracles it must therefore be false.
3.Science. They think the Bible makes claims which have been disproved scientifically.
4.Morality. They reject the Bible’s moral teaching especially about sexuality.
5.Personal. They are unwilling to accept the personal implications of the Bible’s teaching.

Adapted from an article I wrote for CMF’s Confident Christianity series

Some Online References for further reading

1. Complete List of 127 New Testament Greek Papyri
2. The historical reliability of the New Testament
3. Complete List of 322 Greek New Testament Uncials (Sections of NT written in majuscule letters on parchment or vellum)
4. Manuscript evidence for superior New Testament reliability
5. 101 cleared-up contradictions in the Bible
6. The Bible's manuscript evidence
7. New Testament miniscules (Sections of NT written in a small, cursive Greek script)
8. Complete List of 2,882 New Testament Greek miniscules
9. List of Hebrew Bible manuscripts
10. List of major textual variants in the New Testament

11. Ten misconceptions about the New Testament Canon 
12. Ten facts about the New Testament Canon every Christian should know