Listen: Dr Chris Mulherin in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty.
Climate research is the latest example of science being questioned by some in the name of religion. However Dr Chris Mulherin says that science and faith are not in opposition. He says that climate science helps inform Christians about responsible stewardship.
Christianity and science inform each other
Dr Mulherin is a philosophy lecturer, Anglican minister and Executive Director of ISCAST (Christians in Science and Technology). He says there should be a healthy, interactive relationship between science and Christianity. ISCAST is unapologetically Christian while also recognising the value of science and technology. The organisation describes itself as being ” …deeply engaged in exploring how Christianity and science inform each other…. for the benefit of humankind.”
In fact, Dr Mulherin says, there is no need for faith and fact to be seen as incompatible or in some way at war with each other.
“Science gives us an insight into God and the world he created. As long as knowledge is used in ethically and morally responsible ways science and technology are a gift that can benefit humanity and the planet,” he says.
While most mainstream Christian religions accept the science of climate change, some Christians have fervently opposed the idea that climate change is real.
Dr Mulherin thinks that for some people (Christian or not) there is an element of confirmation bias in climate change denial. “We look at things we would like to be true and don’t look at things that challenge that view,” he said.
Dominion or stewardship?
Chris Mulherin says differing views of stewardship or dominion (based on Genesis 1:26 and 28) can influence what people think about issues like climate change.
Dr Mulherin disagrees with a version of dominion theology he characterised as “God has given us the planet to use, to have dominion over. Some people might think well it’s just a resource to be used, [rather than] investing a lot in preserving the planet, Jesus is going to come back again and why not use it up?” He argues this would be a misunderstanding of the notion of dominion.
Genesis tell us that all of creation is good. According to Dr Mulherin our responsibility is to be good stewards, “caring for the planet”.
“You either go that utilitarian line where you just use [the environment] or you think there is something intrinsically good about the creation, not just human beings but the whole thing, and therefore because it is intrinsically good it ought to be cared for appropriately.”
“I think we are reaching the point where it is quite clear human beings are not caring appropriately for the planet, and now that we know that we have a responsibility to do something about that,” Dr Mulherin said.
God’s works and God’s word
He argues that science has for thousands of years been uncovering the beauty of creation and giving glory to the creator.
“Christians have used the metaphor of the two books of God: the book of God’s works, which is creation and the book of God’s word, which is the Bible. We need to make sure we pay attention to both of God’s books because they both reveal the hand of God. That is a harmonious view of scientific practice. It’s a view that says scientific practice – exploring the creation – is glorifying to God. That’s how many Christians who are scientists understand what they are doing. All truth is God’s truth, therefore they don’t fear exploring the natural world and seeing what they find.”
The way Genesis is read is a significant cause of conflict for some, but Chris Mulherin believes it does not need to be.
“If you think Genesis is telling us about dates and lengths of time and the order of sun, moon and stars – in other words, if you think it is giving us a scientific account – it’s going to fall into conflict with science,” he says.
Most biblical scholars, according to Dr Mulherin, while believing the beginning of Genesis conveys the truth that God made all of creation, don’t understand it to be scientific literature.
He says the Bible has many different types of literature, from Revelations to the Psalms, Wisdom literature and the Gospels.
“It’s quite obvious that the Gospel accounts are meant to be taken literally. Jesus rose from the dead according to the Gospel writers. It’s not metaphorical language that they use and Paul makes that clear in 1 Corinthians 15 [when] he says if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead then we Christians are of all people to be pitied.
“But that’s not the way other parts of the Bible are written and that’s not the way the beginning of Genesis is written. The conflict is not necessary. But if you think being faithful to the Bible is being faithful to, for example, a seven [24 hour] day creation then you really do have a conflict on your hands,” explains Dr Mulherin.
“I work with a large number of eminent scientists around the country and around the world who are utterly committed Christians and also committed to mainstream science. It denigrates them and their faithfulness to say that you are not a serious Christian unless you believe in seven day creation.”
Climate change is a social justice issue
Chris Mulherin believes that the most important reason Christians should believe the science and act on climate change is related not to biblical or theological debates but the call by Jesus to do one thing above all else – to love your neighbour.
In fact a recent report by Caritas Australia, Turning the Tide, examines how climate change will increasingly our Pacific neighbours who are some of the poorest, most isolated and under-resourced nations in the world.
“One of bad reasons for ignoring climate change is that it is a social justice issue. The reality is that most Australians are going to be fine for the next 100 years. It is us that have benefited from the energy revolution of the last 100 years. The cost is going to be paid by those who are poorer and by those who are lower – literally closer to the sea – like the Pacific islands. So it’s a social justice issue. It’s caring for our neighbour.”
- Tropical disease researcher, Dr Swapna Johnson on Open House: “The more I understand science the more I understand God.”
- Astronomer, Dr Fred Watson, can see the hand of God at work in the universe.
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