HOME                   ABOUT RSE SYMPOSIA PRESS GALLERY TEXTS CONTACT
    Themes
Overview
The Black Sea
Committees
Common Responsibility
Common Ground
Action Plan
Itinerary
Themes
Presentations
Conclusions
Donors
Photos
Press
Outcomes


Dr Laurence David Mee

The three challenging papers in this theme presented the
triad of religion, science and the environment from three
different perspectives: those of a renowned Christian theologian;
a concerned scientist dedicated to communication with the
general public; and a Muslim with a profound knowledge of
international institutions and their role in contemporary
society. The three papers did not attempt to be comprehensive
in their analysis but, taken together are highly effective
in opening the door to a significant re-evaluation of the
linkages between science and ethics today.

Metropolitan John of Pergamon's vision of the partnership
which must be forged between science and religion in order
to protect the environment, is a powerful and challenging
statement. He examined the dichotomy between religion and
science, considering science as a child of theology. Some
scientists might differ from this perspective, regarding Hellenic
philosophy as underpinning the reasoning of both 'mother and
child', but certainly religion successfully nurtured early
science. Most importantly, the author questioned the mechanistic
approach of a science which offered the illusion (also to
quote Descartes) of 'enjoying, without any effort, the fruits
of the earth and all conveniences she may possess'. He extended
his criticism to religion which often presents God as ordering
humankind to dominate the earth. Metropolitan John examines
the way science and theology are moving in convergent paths
in their consideration of the natural environment: seeking
a holistic approach; searching for a common path between anthropocentrism
and ecocentrism; examining the subjectivity of scientific
observation and the links between culture and science. He
proposed practical ways to continue on this pathway: through
fostering the continued development of environmental ethics,
perhaps with an international institute of eco-ethics; by
encouraging scientists to seek motivation from the understanding
of the wider context of their work within our real world;
and by developing a new common language on the environment
which embraces spiritual and material realities.

David Suzuki presented the vision of a scientist.
He reviewed his personal enlightenment, from 25 years work
as a research geneticist to current interests in the native
peoples of the Canadian Pacific Islands. Science, he says,
is strong on descriptions but weak on prescriptions because
our ignorance is so vast. Traditional and holistic world-views
have been debased by our short term and utilitarian thinking
and unwillingness to listen to those peers who suggest a harder
path for human development. Most environmental scientists
will agree with his analysis though may have reservations
about the presentation of some of the details. For example,
though the level of fragmentary information is an assault,
many would argue that the antithesis, a society denied access
to information, would be tantamount to a return to obscurantism.
Similarly, though global governance (at the service of global
economics) puts added pressure on ecosystems, it has diminished
the threat of global warfare and offers some hope for solving
the awesome environmental problems we have created. Perhaps
those who govern are also victims of the deeper problem afflicting
our society which is well described by Dr. Suzuki, the lack
of love and security in our social and natural environment.

Sadruddin Aga Khan examined personal and institutional
responsibility, primarily from the Islamic perspective. He
explained how the teachings of Islam exhort stewardship and
caring for nature. It warns against disturbing the balance
of nature or wasting its produce and creates a strong ethic
for sustainability.. The author described the 'new values'
which have permeated western and eastern cultures, placing
emphasis on money and conspicuous consumption. He discussed
the impact of globalisation, which diminishes diversity and
leads to 'discord and disparity'. The world lacks institutional
and legal tools to protect the environment from this new phenomenon
though new voices on the international stage are calling for
change.

It is interesting that all three papers referred to the issue
of authority. Metropolitan John talked of the prestige
and respect of science displacing the authority and prestige
of religion. David Suzuki, on the other hand, lamented
that a group of 1,600 scientists, including half of all Nobel
prizewinners, was ignored by the media as they warned of irreversible
environmental destruction. For Sadruddin Aga Khan,
the faiths can speak to their believers with more authority
than conservationists. The preoccupation with who has the
authority may be misleading. Science is a powerful but imperfect
tool used by those who destroy, protect, exploit or nurture,
and the values and ethics of scientists stem from the same
sources as those of all members of society, though the responsibility
of scientists may be greater. Human attitudes and values arise
from wisdom and knowledge, often based upon the respect for
peers, but supplemented by personal experience. The current
arrogance of those who still deny the need for ethics and
a change in current life styles is fuelled by our extraordinary
but unsustainable efficiency in capitalising nature's resources
and the deepening global inequality in human society. For
many, authority is in the hands of those who offer a message
of plenty, whether they be scientists, religious leaders,
salespersons, politicians, stockbrokers or media moguls. The
challenge for religion and science is how to convey a message
of truth and spirituality into the soul of a society enjoying
an irrational pathway towards its own destruction.

Presentations
Science and the environment: a theological approach (The Most Revd Metropolitan John of Pergamon)
A scientist's approach (Professor Dr David T Suzuki)
Personal and institutional responsibility (HH Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan)

Back