Report on the Conference on

Faith, Science, and the Future

Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios

  1. The   Question of Follow-up
  2. Science for Peace
  3. The Moratorium on the Further Use of Nuclear Power
  4. Science, Technology and Sustainability
  5. Emerging Theological Issues
  6. The Name of our Sub-Unit

In presenting the official summary report and recommendations from the 1979 World Conference on Faith, Science and the Future, as prepared by the Working Committee on Church and Society in its Stuttgart meeting of May-June 1980, may I, as Moderator of the Conference and of the Working Committee, be permitted to make the following remarks to supplement what has already been stated by Professor Enilo Ajakaiye and Professor Jonathan King

The full report in two volumes, entitled Faith and Science in an Unjust World is already in your hands. So is Document No. 10 which is a draft report from the Working Committee to this Central Committee, which will be revised in the light of the comments from this Committee, and published in the form of a study pamphlet, with discussion material added, for use in small groups in local situations.

I want to highlight six points about the Conference and the follow-up.

1. The Question of  Follow-up--Competence in the Churches and Ecumenical Bodies

In the year since the Conference, local, national, and regional ecumenical bodies generally appear to have some difficulty in dealing effectively with issues it raised, and this for two reasons: first, they often do not have staff persons or offices competent in these rather new fields; second, Christians who are competent on these issues are often in a somewhat marginal relationship with the churches. They have to be drawn into the church-sponsored discussion and this will be done only when the leadership of the churches acquires sufficient information and interest in the area of discussion. The follow-up process of the Conference, if properly handled, can draw a wide spectrum of Christians now on the fringes of the Church into a closer fellowship.

2. Science for Peace

The Science for Peace Resolution was not initiated by the organizers of the Conference. It came spontaneously from the floor of the conference which conceived of it as a major request for significant action by the WCC Central Committee itself. The World Council can render a major service to a humanity frightened and harassed by the threat of a nuclear war. The resolution demands “extraordinary action on an emergency basis,” because the magnitude of the peril is unprecedented, and the conscience of humanity has to be aroused through “a more striking style and a higher visibility to the programme” (Document no. 10, p. 52). It calls for a “a direct approach by the WCC and the member churches to the leaders of the nuclear powers; action to inform the people of the world of the facts of the present crisis; a special appeal to members of the scientific community to recognize their own responsibility for the continuation of the arms race and to act to challenge the current trends.” The Working Committee for Church and Society asks for (1) a public statement from the WCC Central Committee at this session, (2) the convening of an international public hearing where authoritative witnesses can be cross-examined in an effort to assess the present situation, (3) the setting up of a panel of leading scientists, statesmen, peace-minded military experts, and religious leaders to advise the WCC and the churches, (4) inauguration of a World Day of Prayer and Action to prevent nuclear war.

This is a cri-de-coeur from the Christian scientific community. I trust that this Central Committee will respond with equal sincerity and fervour as well as with wisdom.

3. The Moratorium on the Further Use of Nuclear Power

One of the most debated actions of the Conference, and certainly the most widely reported in the press, was the recommendation directed to national governments, to “immediately introduce a moratorium on the construction of all new nuclear power plants for a period of five years; the purpose of this moratorium is to encourage and enable wide participation in a public debate on the risks, costs and benefits of nuclear energy in all countries directly concerned.” This action was and remains controversial. Indeed our Working Committee had great trouble in agreeing on the two pages in Document no. 10 concerning the implications of the action taken. While some believe that the position taken follows from earlier WCC Central Committee positions, others argue that it represents a decisive tilt away from considering nuclear fission as an option.

The first reactions in our churches to the proposal of a moratorium have been very diverse. But it has challenged more churches to take up this issue. The recommendation (page 51 of Document no. 10) of the Work­ing Committee is in two parts: (a) that the churches be encouraged to study the Energy Report from the Conference and (b) that a report on these further deliberations be made to the Central Committee in 1981.

4. Science, Technology, and Sustainability

What often masquerades as science, especially in the human sciences seems often to carry a large ideological content. Economics is the best example, sociology is another. What is taught as the science of economics in many of our academic institutions seems tuned to the ideological assumptions of the dominant group in society. The Conference was convinced of the need for new Christian thinking about political economy especially from the standpoint of ecological and technological sustainability, but it didn’t get very far in its own debates. We faced the familiar impasse between economists from the poor countries who fear that the concern about sustainability will be used to keep their economies poor and the economists from the rich countries concerned about the growing pressure on world resources arising from the continuing emphasis on economic productivity. The Conference plenary debate on this issue between Prof. C.T. Kurien (India) and Prof. Herman Daly (USA) has been widely reported in the press. The Working Committee on Church and Society is convinced that the discussion and reflection on this point must continue and that a further follow-up encounter between economists and technologists of different viewpoints would be helpful. On pages 56 and 57 of Document no. 10 we outline the purpose of such an encounter.

5. Emerging Theological Issues

I have kept the theology to the end, not because it is less important but because, on the contrary, our Working Committee considers it the most important. Three sets of conceptual problems we regard as central to the issue of faith and life in a world shaped by science and technology:

  1. the nature of reality and the relation between God, humanity and the rest of creation

  2. the nature of knowledge, the ways of knowing reality—in science and in faith & worship

  3. the ways of changing reality and the nature of our Christian ethical responsibility.

The first may be called the ontological question (or the question of being) and the second the epistemological question (or the question of how we know what is). Our cultures and civilizations are based on certain fundamental ontological and epistemological assumptions about the nature of reality and about the available ways of knowing and dealing with that reality. Please do not consider these theological questions too remote. They point to the stuff of which our common deepest beliefs about life is made, whether we be Christians or not, and they are the basis of our ethics. It is our hope that Church and Society and other sub-units, especially Faith and Order, will work together on these issues.

1. On the nature of reality, three positions seem to have emerged:

  1. The neo-reformed position, exemplified by theologians like Charles West and Gerhard Leidke, “a theology of solidarity in conflict between humanity and the natural world” qualified by a theology of responsible human stewardship of nature;

  2. The Process Theology position exemplified by Charles Birch in which God, humanity and world are together in process of fulfillment in cosmic history; and

  3. The Eastern Orthodox theological position in which humanity stands between God and His creation, participating in both, and transfiguring the world to become a manifestation of the glory of God.

These are not three water-tight positions. There are many common elements. The WCC can help encourage the dialogue between these different positions, as a means to enlarge our understanding of their implications for the Christian mission today. The key questions are these:

  • What is the relation between humanity and the rest of creation? To what extent are they integral to each other, and to what extent to be distinguished?  How does the redemption in Christ affect both?

  • How can the world have “secular autonomy” if its very existence is always contingent upon the word and will of God? What are the practical consequences of whatever answer we give to this question?

2. On the second major question—the epistemological one about the ways of knowing in science and faith, even more fundamental issues seem to be implied. Again three positions seem to emerge:

  1. Science is capable of yielding all knowledge necessary for humanity, and there are no other reliable ways of knowing—this is the basic position of Marxism and some forms of western positivism and liberalism.

  2. Science deals with material reality, but faith or religion deals with spiritual reality; each should be autonomous in its own realm and not interfere with the other. Many Christians seem to be acting out of this position.

  3. The scientific way of knowing is a particular perception of reality created by a particular culture; its perceptions are operationally valid and useful, but neither totally objective nor fully proved; the regularities and predictabilities we find therein point to some reliable structure of truth in the order of creation, but we need the assistance of revelation to find ultimate meanings within it; neither scientific knowledge nor revealed understanding is perfect or final. Both in science and in faith, we see only through a glass, darkly.

Again we need to intensify dialogue between these three positions.

3. How do we see “the good” and change reality in accord with the good that we see? The third major set of questions seems to be the one so far least explored. No positions have emerged, since discussion has not proceeded that far. Only some questions for starting the discussion can be mentioned.

  1. What is the relation between technological and political economic power, and spiritual power (e.g., the power of prayer to change reality, to heal, to love, etc.)? Is it possible to achieve some kind of balance between these two kinds of powers, or do we have to adjure the one to develop the other? Have the magnitude and newness of technological power so impressed us that we pay only lip-service to the other kind of power?

  2. What are the conditions for moving toward a civilization in which technological power is controlled by a just structure of political-economic power, and both by a widely diffused and nondominant beneficent spiritual power? (i.e., not clericalized, centralized into an ethical, spiritual elite.)

  3. Is there a fourth kind of demonic power which literally bedevils all three levels of power—technological, political-economic and spiritual? How do we assess the nature of evil? How do we develop the power to fight against evil at all three levels, and to grow in the power of the good?

Mr. Moderator, these are tentative and clumsy formulations of some deep issues at the heart of our civilization and of the future of our existence as humanity. It is our hope that these questions will be highlighted at the next Assembly in Vancouver. If that is to be done, a lot of work will have to be done between now and the next Assembly.

6. The Name of our Sub-Unit

We are a bit troubled on account of the name of our sub-unit. Once upon a time, especially before Uppsala, 1968, we did deal with a very wide range of Church and Society issues. But then development-justice concerns found a separate portfolio in the Commission on the Churches’ Participation in Development. Racism was taken up by the Program to Combat Racism. Our major concern became that of seeing the role of the Church in a civilization based on modern science and technology. That is what we have tried to do since 1968.

But people still expect us to take up all sorts of Church and Society issues, since that is the name of our sub-unit. Can you help us set the machinery moving to a name closer to what we are doing—like Faith, Science and Society, or more simply Science and Society? That would clarify our work and allow us to stave off the exorbitant demands on our very limited staff time.

Moderator, the reports of the MIT Conference and of the Working Committee on Church and Society are respectfully submitted to the Central Committee.

                                August 14, 1980   (anticipation, No. 28, Dec. 1980)