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Ethics and the Christian Geologist

Kurt A. Bogner

Consider the following stories. In 1991 a dispute arose between the EPA and the National Water Well Association (NWWA) concerning the amount of payment for a national mapping system of ground-water resources project done by the NWWA for the EPA.1 Rather than take the case to litigation, the NWWA agreed to pay $203,273.50 to the EPA. In addition, the executive director and the finance director of the NWWA resigned.

In a 1990 issue of Ground Water, an article described a case of data falsification and scientific fraud perpetrated by a hydrologist with the United States Geological Survey.2 A review board discovered that this individual "did knowingly falsify scientific data and forge colleague review memoranda", "had falsified scientific data for his Ph.D.", and "forged letters of reference as part of an application for a faculty position."

In 1993 a headline on page 1, of the business section of the Denver Post read, "CH2M Hill accused again."3 The subheading read, "Ex-worker said he was told to lie." The article reported that the company had come "under fire in a March report by the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general for $40 million of questionable charges, including Denver Nuggets tickets and a $15,000.00 office party."

Finally, while working on an underground storage tank closure project, the president of the company for which I previously worked showed up on site. We had just finished removing the overlying concrete and were preparing to excavate the tank. The president talked to the project manager who was performing the excavation. When the project manager returned to the excavation, I asked what the president had to say. His reply shocked me: "Take a couple of loads of dirt out (for disposal) so that we can turn a profit on this project." The president's own words demonstrate that the motive was money. Since the excavation had barely gotten started, it was unknown whether there was any contaminated soil which would need to be disposed of.

As Christian geologists, we have a big responsibility. As Dr. Young has pointed out, "Christian faith also dictates the ethics of our scientific work. We need to exercise humility, patience, honesty, openness, and integrity in our geological work."4 Three out of the seven purposes of the ACG deal with the area of ethics. Purpose 2 is "to promote the integrity of geology as a scientific discipline." Purpose 3 is "to investigate the ways in which Christian faith and geology bear upon one another." Finally, Purpose 5 is "to develop avenues of witness to non-Christian geologists." Three key words in these purposes are integrity, faith and witness. As Christian geologists, we are called to be salt and light in the professional world.

Christian Geologists as Salt

The most important characteristic about salt is that it preserves. Christian geologists are called to be salt in two ways. The first way is obvious - that is not participating directly in unethical practices. The second way is to oppose or stand in someone's way when they are engaging in unethical behavior. The situation with CH2M Hill provides an example for both of these. The article states that a former employee "accused a supervisor of ordering him to lie to federal investigators probing whether the company overcharged the government's Superfund program." By lying the employee was a direct participant. When someone is standing in the way of another's sin, the only two options are to go around the person or to give up on the sinful course of action. By refusing to lie, the employee would be standing in the person's way by giving him a chance to give up or by allowing him to proceed and to incur the consequences of his actions.

Christian Geologists as Light

I just received a letter from my brother in which he mentions a quote from an unknown author: "Preach Christ at all times; if necessary, use words." Christian geologists are also called to be light by setting an example. Whether in an office setting or out in the field, there are numerous opportunities to set an example-either positive or negative. Setting an example can be seen by what we hang on our walls, the way we talk or don't talk about others, the quality and attitude of our work, and the kind of jokes we participate in. A Christian in my church, who's from southern Ohio, always says, "We're the only Christ some people will ever see." Many of our geological colleagues do not attend church or read their Bible, so we are their only avenue to seeing Christ. This is one reason I firmly believe that all Christians are called to "full-time Christian work"-there is no such thing as a Christina in part-time Christian work. Dr. Young summarizes this point well: "We are also God's image-bearers. We are God's representatives. In a sense, the Christian geologist is God's representative before both non-Christian geologists and non-geological Christians."5


In closing, let me add a few warnings. First of all, I am not implying that Christian geologists are above unethical behavior. We are all prone to the same temptations. More than once I have said something or done something in a way that damages my credibility as a Christian. Anytime a Christian brother or sister, or an unsaved person points out an inconsistency in our lives, we have an opportunity to repent. To dismiss an unsaved person's observation is to further destroy our integrity and credibility.

There is also a cost involved in being ethical. Part of the cost is living with the disappointment at seeing the lack of justice. The prophet Jeremiah had the same complaint: "You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with You about Your justice: why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?" (Jer. 12:1). The wicked, at least in this life, seem to get away with their evil deeds. Take for example, the case of the U.S.G.S. individual mentioned at the beginning. The article continues, that the individual

".....resigned from the U.S. Geological Survey under duress and was not prosecuted."2 Mental stress, or any other extenuating circumstances, never excuses anyone from sin and its consequences. By letting him off the hook, the U.S.G.S. reinforced his sinful ways and reinforced his independence from God, and in doing so, is leading him away from an opportunity to repent and storing up for him the wrath of God. The article concludes, "Subsequently, he was able to find immediate employment in the private sector prior to the effective date of his resignation."2 This conclusion is a sad commentary on the values prevalent in our world today.

There are other potential costs of being salt and light in the workplace. These costs can include the loss of contracts, position, or even one's job. However, if we, as Christian geologists, do not take a stand and serve as the salt and light that God has called us to be, the cost is even greater, for our personal witness and the reputation of the body of Christ is at stake. Perhaps our best deterrent can be found in 2 Samuel 12:14: "By this deed you have given the enemies of God an opportunity to blaspheme."


1. Letter to NWWA Members, dated April 23, 1991.

2. "A Case of Scientific Fraud" in Ground Water, Jan.-Feb., 1990, vol. 28, no. 1, p. 155-156.

3. The Denver Post, Business News section, date unknown.

4. Young, Davis A., 1991, Geology and Faith in Contact: THE NEWS!, Spring 1991, p. 3.

5. Young, Davis A., 1991, Geologic Integrity: THE NEWS!, Fall 1990, p. 2.

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