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Autism: A Christian Perspective

  • Posted on March 3, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Faith is transformative. When you develop faith in something, your faith transforms who you are, how you see yourself, how you see the world, and what you do. The stronger your faith becomes the more transformative it becomes.

I am a Christian. I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I believe He took upon Himself earthly flesh in order to be a living example unto us and in order to sacrifice Himself for our sins. I believe human beings are fallen: Fallible, corrupted, and imperfect. I believe human beings, at least in our earthly forms, are finite: All our abilities are limited, including and especially our abilities to observe and understand the world around us. I believe we are capable of greatness, for good or for evil. And I believe that evil is a real force in this world that affects us all.

These beliefs transform me continually. They shape how I see the world and they shape how I see my fellow human beings. Yet, I also believe in the freedom of mind, the freedom of thought, the freedom of belief (especially, but not exclusively, religious belief), and the freedom of speech.

I am a Christian, but I don’t expect you to be a Christian. I look at the world around me and see a multitude of beliefs and I am content. One of the beliefs I see is a conviction in science. There are people who believe in science the way I believe in God. I can’t do that. For one, according to my faith, that would be idolatry. For two, science is a man-made discipline, which according to my faith means it is finite, fallible, corruptible, imperfect, and limited.

The irony I see is that these beliefs are reinforced by science itself. Scientists have demonstrated their finite abilities to observe and understand the universe. They have proven themselves to be fallible every time they correctly apply the scientific method to reach a conclusion, which is later disproven by yet another application of the scientific method. Scientists have recognized the corruptibility of their discipline, whether intentional or unintentional, which is why they use double-blind studies—so their assumptions, predispositions, and inclinations are not as likely to influence their results. Scientists recognize the imperfection of their discipline—at least, they used to—which is why they call their conclusions theories, signifying that a proven theory is the best they can do to explain a given set of variables to the best of their abilities within their current limitations. Scientists recognize—at least, they used to—that theories have a nasty habit of being disproven and reconfigured over time. While I don’t understand advanced physics, I do know there are active (i.e., not disproven) theories that directly contradict each other alive in physics today. As per my limited understanding, these conflicting theories work to explain current observations and have mechanical application, but that they require a unifying theory that does not exist yet. I am, however, much more familiar and comfortable with the conflicting theories that abound in social sciences, like psychology and sociology.

Science provides us with a limited and imperfect way to understand the world we live in and the universe in which our world resides. As such, I respect it. But I do not, cannot, and will not put my faith in science.

Now, if this was a treatise against science, I would point out how inconsistent it is with scientific methodology and principles to assert that man-made global warming, i.e. climate change, and human evolution from animals are facts. A fact is something that we know actually exists, because it has been observed to have happened. We have NOT observed man-made global warming and we have not observed human evolution from animals. We have, however, observed facts which support the theories of man-made global warming and human evolution from evolution. The fact that even scientists have made these erroneous assertions is further evidence that science itself is corruptible.

But this is not a treatise against science. This is a post about autism. Really, it is. You see, science (i.e. doctors) tell us that autism is a disorder: The implication is that there is a “correct” order for a human brain to be in and that autism isn’t it. Science will tell us that autism can and should be cured. Science will tell us that people with disabilities are broken and that science can fix them.

My Christian faith tells me something else. My Christian faith tells me that my children were knitted together by God in the womb. My Christian faith tells me that the inherent people my children are is exactly who God made them to be, which is not to say “perfect,” because we’re all fallen. But, and this is a big BUT, God does not make broken people. Now, it’s true that people have free will and people have a tendency to break each other for their own sick purposes, but that’s a whole other thing having to do with abuse, neglect, and other forms of man-made trauma. The point is that my Christian faith tells me to love and accept my children as they are, to raise them up to be, to the best of my abilities, the people God wants them to be, and to treat them with charity, which is love not donations.

My faith also tells me that God can heal. Jesus Christ healed the sick, the infirm, the lame, the blind, and even the dead. According to my faith, I believe that if God healed my children they would still be autistic in the sense that there neurology would be profoundly different from “normal,” but that their neurological differences would no longer be a source of aggravation, discomfort, and frustration for them. Science, on the other hand, tells us that if my children were healed, then they would be normal.

Now, I know and freely admit that there are Christians who have a very different perspective from my own. This is a Christian perspective; not the Christian perspective. I also know there are scientists who have a very different perspective than the one, which in my experience is still dominant, which I’ve presented here—I salute you! I also know that I am just as limited and fallible as the rest of humanity and acknowledge, quite freely, that I very well could be wrong. But I also know that I’ve spent over a decade studying, praying, exploring, questioning, and informing my beliefs. I’ve tested this by everything I know and everything I’ve learned and I am confident that, within my own limitations, I can do the best for my children, for our society, and for the world by sharing my beliefs with others. It is only by sharing that we can instruct, edify, admonish, correct, and uplift one another. And we all need that, whether we know it or not.

Science and Ethics

  • Posted on October 18, 2013 at 10:00 AM

This post is a continuation or expansion of last Friday’s post, A Scientific Link. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

If you’re a consumer of science fiction, then you’re familiar with the way writers ask “what if” questions in order to explore possible consequences of scientific endeavors. To get a big dose of this, you can watch Fringe.

Basically, science is amoral—not immoral, meaning in violation of moral principles or wrong, but amoral, meaning without morality or not concerned with right or wrong. Legally, we try to assert morality into scientific endeavors by limiting what scientists are allowed to do. Individual scientists may bring their own morality to bear on their work. However, science as a discipline is amoral. It’s about curiosity and testing theories, not about whether or not something should occur.

Therefore, we can look to science to answer “how” questions, like “how does this work” or “how do we do this;” but, we cannot look to science for the answer for “what” questions, like “what should we do” and “what shouldn’t we do.”

When it comes to autism and science, we’ve reached the point where we need to focus less on “How does this work?” and “How do we do this?” Instead, I propose that the primary question we should ask is, “What should society/scientists be allowed to do to peoples’ brains?”

In scientific terms, the brain is the storehouse of memory, thought process, and other components that make up personhood, like personality and emotions. We know that people with brain injuries, stroke, and Alzheimer’s, for example, can undergo significant changes in how they express who they are, because these conditions impact their brain.

Yet, when it comes to autism and other neurological disorders, there are many people in our society who claim the right to seek a cure due to the disruptiveness of the behaviors people (i.e. children) with autism exhibit. They seem to ignore the implications of messing with a child’s brain. By curing someone of autism, for example, you will need to fundamentally change how their brain works, which involves fundamentally changing their brain, which involves fundamentally changing who they are—or, at the very least, how they are able to express who they are.

On the surface, when you’re talking about people profoundly limited by their autism, this may seem like a good thing. I know how it feels to want your child to talk. I know how it feels to want your child to be able to be “more himself,” by taking away the frustrations that make him act out. So, yeah, I get it.

At the same time, I don’t. Because the kind of cure that could impact autism isn’t going to function at the surface of things, it’s going to have a dramatic impact on a person’s brain—if it works at all. In other words, it’s not going to make a child “more himself;” it’s going to change who that child is. It’s going to change the way he (or she) processes information. It’s going to change the way he (or she) experiences the world. It’s going to change the way he (or she) thinks, and probably what he (or she) thinks about and remembers, what those thoughts and memories mean to him (or her), and who knows what else.

Basically, one of the working theories is that autism occurs because of a combination of overabundant and underabundant neural pathways. If you start to mess with those pathways, then you are going to change who the person is, just like a stroke will change who someone is or at least how he or she is able to express who his or her own personhood.

I’ve read enough about tiger moms and other dysfunctional families to know there are parents out there who would love to be able to forcibly re-write their child’s brain to make their child who they want their child to be. I don’t see the potential “cure” for autism as being any different. The question then is: Should parents (or doctors or guardians or anyone) have that right? Does society have the right to rewire someone’s brain to make them more socially acceptable?