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Commission set up to boost Anglican Communion engagement with science

24 May 2021


Part of the new Covid-19 display in the medicines-and-communities galleries at the Science Museum. The museum re-opened on Wednesday of last week

Part of the new Covid-19 display in the medicines-and-communities galleries at the Science Museum. The museum re-opened on Wednesday of last week

THE relationship between Anglican theology, identity, and reason makes the Church “uniquely placed” to build bridges between science and faith, the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, has said.

Dr Croft co-chairs a new Anglican Communion Science Commission (ACSC), which was announced last Friday to promote and resource “courageous and confident spiritual leadership in issues involving science” within the Communion.

He said on Monday: “The commission is a remarkable opportunity to strengthen the confidence of church leaders across the globe in dealing with the key issues of the age from a scientific perspective (including the pandemic, the effects of climate change and of new technologies) and to build the confidence of bishops in speaking from the Christian faith into the scientific questions of the next decade.”

Dr Croft, who was a member of the House of Lords Select Committee on artificial intelligence (News, 27 April 2018), continued: “Anglicanism is uniquely placed to build the bridges between science and faith because of the place Anglican theology and identity give to reason alongside scripture and tradition in forming and shaping our faith. We hope that by bringing senior scientists and bishops together across the world in creative dialogue we can help bridge some of the divide between faith and the sciences to the benefit of each community.”

The Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba, who is the other co-chair, agreed. “As one who enjoyed studying science to undergraduate level, I have never seen any incongruence between science and faith,” he said on Monday. “In fact, life is science, and science is life. Life is a precious gift from God, and so is science.

“Like any discipline or vocation, science can be misused. Where we have done this, we lament and repent of it. All, especially those of us from the household of faith, need to celebrate science when it is used in a loving way, providing solutions to human problems. We give glory to God for science and hope that in Covid-19 times it will continue to be life-giving and faith-inspiring.”

The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, the Rt Revd Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, has invited scientists, theologians, and bishops from around the world to serve on the commission; and the Archbishop of Canterbury has asked fellow Primates to nominate a bishop as their provincial representative at the Commission’s conferences.

Among the commissioners already appointed are the chief executive at the Health Professions Authority in the Turks and Caicos Islands, Dr Derrick Aarons; the Head of Virology at the University of Ghana’s Department of Medical Microbiology, Professor Kwamena Sagoe; and a consultant paediatrician and senior medical officer for the Welsh Government, Dr Heather Payne.

Theologians who have agreed to serve on the commission include the former Vice Chancellor of St Paul’s University, Limuru, in Kenya, the Revd Professor Joseph Galgalo; the Associate Professor in New Testament Studies at the University of Oxford, the Revd Professor Jennifer Strawbridge; and Professor Andrew Briggs, of Nanomaterials at the University of Oxford, who is the commission’s convener.

As part of their scoping research, Professor Briggs and the team have conducted interviews with bishops and scientists around the world. Dr Croft explained: “We found very different approaches to science and faith in different continents: in some places, a post-colonial distrust of science; in others, a divide between science and faith; in others, a very low confidence in dealing with the sciences on the part of church leaders.

“What was very clear, however, was that science-related issues were rising up the agenda of the Church all over the world: first, because of climate change, which can only be understood and combated with the aid of science; second, because of the questions raised by new data-driven technologies, and, third, because of the global pandemic.

“It’s clear from this early scoping work that the first task of the commission will be to listen to these different perceptions of science and to build greater confidence in the Church engaging with these questions, building on our core Anglican inheritance.”

The commission is to be formally launched at the 2022 Lambeth Conference, and is to hold its first conference shortly afterwards. A series of videos exploring the relationship between science and faith — a key topic of Lambeth ’22 — were published on the conference website last week.

In the introductory video, Archbishop Welby describes science as a gift to humanity, notably in the development and production of Covid-19 vaccines around the world. “It is scientific advance that has lifted so many people out of poverty. It is scientific advance that has enabled the world to feed itself. It is widespread science that has enabled us to produce vaccines at a speed that even five years ago — a year ago — would have been thought unimaginable.

“It is science that has begun to give us a big picture of our place in the world. It is science that has driven our consciousness of the danger to the world from climate change — and what we can do about it in the future. In all these things, it is science which has been a gift to human beings.”

He continued: “But the reaction of the Church has, for many years — and many centuries, one might say — been very cautious about science, and remains so today. Or there is fear. We talk about human beings playing at being God, we talk about loss of control, of changes to DNA. We talk about all kinds of things that lead to people being frightened.

“And particularly, as we move and look forward over the next ten or 20 years, if we think it has been quick so far, as President Reagan used to say: ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet.’ That is a reason why Christians need to be both knowledgeable and able to ask questions and think about science.”

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