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Lambeth 2022: New Science Commission launched

06 August 2022

Richard Washbrooke/Lambeth Conference

Ecological challenges were a theme of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s first address at the start of the Lambeth Conference

Ecological challenges were a theme of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s first address at the start of the Lambeth Conference

THE perception of a rift between science and faith should be laid to rest in every part of the Anglican Communion, bishops were asked to affirm in the Call on Science and Faith, which includes the official launch of the Anglican Communion Science Commission, on Saturday.

The Call speaks of the multiple dangers facing the world in the coming decade from climate change and biodiversity loss, poverty, disease, war, famine — and “the careless use of new technologies”.

Bishops were invited to “recognise within science God-given resources for the life of faith and to offer the wisdom of faith to the work of science. We call on our Churches to make this a priority, and to support and equip church leaders and scientists in partnership for such courageous and confident leadership.”

Successive Lambeth Conferences have called for the Church to engage with science and technology; but the perception of a gap between science and faith is acknowledged to have become more widespread and to be expressed differently in different parts of the Communion. “Often scientists have not been affirmed in their vocation as disciples and church leaders have not felt confident in bringing the wisdom of faith to scientific questions.”

Pope Francis and an alliance of 40 global faith leaders issued their own powerful call in October 2021 (News, 8 October 2021), as here: “Science and faith are essential pillars of human civilization, with shared principles and complementarities. We must address [the challenges we face] using the knowledge of science and the wisdom of religion to know more and to care more.”

Recognising the complicated history that science has played in many countries, the bishops will commit themselves to “welcome and enter into dialogue with science, recognising within it God-given resources for the life of faith, and to offer the wisdom of faith to its work”.

The newly launched Commission will involve a team of scientists and theologians from across the Communion. It is to be facilitated by the Anglican Communion Science Commission, which will be based in two or three universities: Oxford, Cape Town, and St Paul’s University, Limuru, Kenya, have all been mentioned (News, 28 May 2021).

This, they say, is the moment to bring a number of threads together to challenge the public perception that faith and science are in competition, and to engage support for the Commission.

Participants at a seminar in preparation for the Call explored the broad reach of scientific advances and the potential value of working alongside the work of the Anglican Communion.

They included astrophysics and the time-space continuum; the worldwide experience of the Covid-19 pandemic with its “syndemic” effects exposing and widening existing inequities; issues of poverty, famine, and sexual violence in many communities; the existential crisis in parts of the world endangered by climate change and rising sea levels.

Their basis is the Five Marks of Mission. Discussions were around removing barriers to proclamation and belief; laying rational foundations for the Christian faith and affirming the dignity of scientific vocations; using the resources of science in issues from healthcare to land, water and food security; “offering the ethics and wisdom of faith to the deployment of new technologies”.

Prominent among the most pressing and important issues they would like the Science Commission to take forward was “to fight the false accusation that faith is irrational — give young people the confidence to explore both faith, scripture, and science as non-competitive sources of knowledge about the world.”

“Science should be used to contribute to the development of the Church and to assist poor countries so that all countries should be at the same level of development,” said another. Others were concerned for pressing solutions to problems such providing clean water for isolated remote indigenous communities

Combating fundamentalist and Creationist teaching was a major concern, notably the “breeding of distrust of scientific explanation” in the 85 million Evangelical Christians being offered a literalist interpretation of the Bible.

Developing scientific literacy in the clergy and building capacity for progress was important, the participants — from all parts of the Communion — believed. Farmers “ought to be both scientists and disciples”. Scientists should be encouraged to go into schools to talk through materials such as God and the Big Bang. The value was emphasised of cathedral displays on science which had been shown to attract large numbers of people. Dialogue was urged between theologians, scientists, and environmentalists

At the morning press conference, the Rt Revd Emily Onyango, scholar, researcher, and the first woman bishop in East Africa (News, 22 January 2021), expressed her firm belief that technology “could be an ally in sorting out issues such as climate change and poverty”.

The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, who chairs the commission, said that it would “bring together bishops of the Communion with leading scientists from across the Communion, to apply the wisdom of the Church in thinking about these huge issues.

“I hope the commission will stimulate thinking and energy,” he said.

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