This story of Christian scientists working together illustrates part of the core vision of Church Scientific.
Back in December 2014 at an international ecology conference, I realised that one controversial topic was coming up again and again. “Ecosystem services” is a framework for motivating nature conservation by looking at measurable ways that humans benefit from ecosystems. Having shot to prominence in 2005 with the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, by 2014 it was a ubiquitous buzzword. It’s controversial because it embodies a utilitarian ethic that overlooks the traditional conservationists’ focus on our duty to care for nature, intrinsic value, rights of other organisms, etc – and because it’s closely allied with economics (putting monetary values on all the functions we can think of for ecosystems).
As I met a few Christian colleagues, it occurred to me that a Christian working group might bring some fresh thinking to this area. So a few weeks later, with support from Faith-in-Scholarship, I contacted about a dozen Christian colleagues in ecology, interested philosophers and theologians, to ask if they’d join a working group to look at Christian perspectives on the ecosystem services framework. Most were keen, and our first workshop came together in Leeds. We began with a devotion on Psalm 104 and moved on to look at contemporary thinking, and ideas for how to move it on.
We came up with four different issues to work on, reflecting the group’s interests. One was a low-hanging fruit: we wrote a reflection on the “services” of Psalm 104 and posted it on a blog. But the one that really developed momentum was about engaging with the literature and developing an improved classification scheme. 18 months later, I found myself at an ecological conference in Rome to give a short talk about our developing ideas. These were based on our member Andrew Basden’s strategy to affirm, critique and then enrich the paradigms we inherit – a kind of “creation – fall – redemption” model of research.
And who should I bump into at breakfast in my budget hotel one morning – but the editor of a high-ranking reviews journal… When I told him what I was presenting he sounded very interested – and invited me to send in an outline in case they might publish something from our group. And so it was that, after many tense months of our hopes rising and falling, eventually, last month, we had an Opinion piece published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution. (It’s free at this link until 11 May.) This article lays out our affirmation and critique of the ecosystem services framework, followed by our suggestion of a more holistic, more democratic approach – which we call the ecosystem valuing framework.
We give God the glory for how He led us to this point, which no-one predicted. And we hope it will give other Christian researchers confidence in forming intentional fellowships of research to enrich the ideas around us. Since our God revealed in Jesus Christ is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of the cosmos, I’m convinced that Christian thinking can enhance academic research.