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Anglican Communion Commission aims to help churches think theologically about science

15 August 2023


The Anglican Communion Science Commission members, during the meeting in Limuru, last week

The Anglican Communion Science Commission members, during the meeting in Limuru, last week

SCIENTISTS and faith communities can work together to build an understanding of the world and respond to the needs of people and planet, a development meeting of the Anglican Communion Science Commission affirmed last week in Kenya.

The Science Commission was launched at the Lambeth Conference in July 2022 (News, 12 August 2022). It elicited strong support for the proposition that scientific disciplines should be harnessed as an enabler for all aspects of mission and evangelism across the Communion, and that such a Commission could contribute towards this mission on a worldwide basis.

A shopping list of Lambeth delegates’ priorities included disputing the accusation that faith is irrational; giving young people the confidence to explore faith, scripture, and science as non-competitive sources of knowledge; the need for science to do more to develop technology to respond physically to the world’s needs; combating fundamentalist teaching; and how to integrate science into already overcrowded theological training.

Anglican bishops, scientists, and theological educators came together at the workshop under the banner of Anglican Thought Leadership Around Science (ATLAS). It was the first of three workshops which aim to gather Anglican views from the representative regions of Kenya, the West Indies, and Oceania on matters of science and faith, and to co-create priorities with the Science Commission for the decade ahead.

Themes addressed included understanding different knowledge systems, the interplay of faith and science, the ways in which science does or could contribute to the work of the Church, partnerships between science and faith communities such as the response to the Covid pandemic, and the importance of learning from indigenous communities in developing knowledge.

Time was also given to discuss the Lambeth Call on Science and Faith, which is being explored in Phase 3 of the Lambeth Conference (News, 2 June).

The workshop was facilitated by Dr Jacquie Bay, from the University of Auckland, and Dr Ednah Ojee, from the University of Nairobi, with wider contributions from the host, the Rt Revd Professor Joseph Galgalo, of the Anglican Church of Kenya, Professor Andrew Briggs, from the University of Oxford, and Dr Heather Payne, from the Anglican Church in Wales. The Communion’s theological education adviser, Canon Stephen Spencer, also supported the consultation.

Bishop Galgalo said: “A big part of our conversation has focused how the Anglican Communion Science Commission could help churches think theologically about the relationship of faith and science.

“We have explored how science is a knowledge system that is a God-given gift to help us understand and treasure God’s world. As the work of the Commission takes shape, our hope is that churches can find ways to learn from the science community in responding to human need, and offer the wisdom of faith to ethical considerations in scientific discovery.”

On her return on Monday, Dr Payne, said: “When you look at the Lambeth Calls, science in one form or another is actually an enabler for all of them. This formal research programme is very much about enablement, about starting with where people are at — gathering, in a scientific way, the evidence we need to decide which on that big shopping list are the priorities.

“That will enable us to engage with everybody worldwide and not just the loudest voices — making sure, for instance, that we hear from indigenous communities and indigenous churches. It starts with a top-down core — the Call asked people to identify a lead bishop in each province — but the whole key to it is making sure that it’s bottom-up, so that we know the leadership is leading communities from where they are.”

Dr Payne emphasised: “This is a big-picture plan. We’re asking people to develop their stories, develop their narratives as to where they think science has been used in their church life and how they’ve engaged. Some of the things on that long priorities shopping list were realistic and some probably weren’t: some of the things that people want may be outside the control of the Anglican Church.

“It’s about capability building — knowledge, attitudes, skills, and values — and how science can help serve the goals. We haven’t gone in with the kind of approach that says, ‘We know what everybody around the world needs.’ We want people to tell their stories. Then we start asking the question, how can we integrate, how do we get science and faith to meet each other?”

The findings will be analysed after the final workshop, in Melbourne in February, with the intention of producing a strong piece of evidence to take to the Lambeth Stage Three follow-up in July next year. A three-year developmental plan will follow, with implementation and evaluation in time for the next Lambeth Conference.

Dr Bay said: “From growing vaccine awareness during the pandemic, or mobilising communities in response to environmental crisis, collaboration between faith, science, and community can be of huge benefit to the common good. These workshops are showing how much impact the Science Commission could have in growing thought leadership and confidence in science among Churches of the Anglican Communion.”

Professor Briggs said: “There is so much that the Science Commission will be able to achieve for the betterment of human life and flourishing. I am delighted that so many people from around the world will be taking part in these workshops in the months ahead.”

The next workshop will take place in November, in Kingston, Jamaica.

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