Heading into the end of 2018, it is plain to see it has been a big year in scientific research.
Let’s start out with the highlight of the year, which may be the InSight lander landing on Mars on November 26. It was the end of a journey of more than six months and 300 million miles, according to a report in the New York Times.
The prospects for the information that will be gleaned as the rover explores the red planet are tantalizing including more knowledge of Earth’s origins.
A few days earlier, humanity’s future prospects seemed to dim as a report on climate change found that impacts such as extreme weather and climate-related events threaten the health of Americans particularly among populations that are already vulnerable. Economically the damage will shave as much as 10% off the size of the American economy by century’s end, according to the report.
And then two medical documents were found online stating that a scientist in China has been recruiting couples in an effort to create the first gene-edited babies via the CRISPR technique. The aim was to eliminate a gene called CCR5 in a bid to have offspring resistant to HIV, smallpox and cholera.
The work of the Chinese scientist reportedly has been stopped by the government.
All three popular scientific topics – space exploration, climate change, gene editing – have been discussed widely in faith and science contexts.
Over the summer at the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston, the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology offered up the ultimate selfie with a Mars Rover cut out and also separately a cut out of Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who along with Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969. Youth learned about the new Mars mission and about designing rockets in the space-themed exhibit stand that drew a crowd of youth and their leaders.
Climate change has been an ongoing area of concern for many faith-based groups.
Interestingly, one of the authors of the most recent wide-ranging report on climate change was Katherine Hayhoe, who has publicly defended the report findings. A Christian, Hayhoe is slated to speak at the upcoming Goshen College Religion and Science Conference.
Covalence also recently highlighted the meeting of the Parliament of World’s Religions that focused on climate change’s world-changing outcomes in November in Toronto. One of the keynote speakers was Christiana Figueres, who is the former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. She led the Paris Climate Agreement at the COP21 conference in 2015.
Last but not least the ethical concerns over the applications of CRISPR are not new in faith and science circles. In mid-2017, Covalence looked at the evolution of the technique known as CRISPR and lectures held at the ELCA offices in Chicago on “Being the Church in the Age of Biological Manipulation.”
Gayle Woloschak, a molecular biologist and associate director at the Zygon Center for Religion and Science, expressed her concerns to the Ecumenical Roundtable on Faith, Science and Technology.
She said at the time that scientists have imposed some constraints on current research. The concern is that a person’s genetic make-up could be forever changed via CRISPR in a way that can be passed on to the next generation — thereby impacting future generations.
The intersection of faith, science and ethics is indeed a busy one. The issues presented here point to the need for people of faith not only be aware of current developments in science, but to view those developments in light of their faith commitment.
In order to gain perspective on the impact faith and science together play we often look to theologians to piece together the theological impact science and technology has on the church broadly.
It isn’t an easy task and to be fair scientists have been stepping up as well.
Earlier this year we wrote of the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion (DoSER) program and the AAAS Center for Public engagement with Science and Technology release of a booklet on facilitating dialogue between scientists and the public at large including church-goers.
In the report, Scientists in Civic Life: Facilitating Dialogue Based Communiciation, authors viewed religion as more than just a belief system that shapes how people understand science.
“Churches are communication centers where information can be shared and conversations can take place about science and technology-related issues,” they wrote.
Indeed, there seems to be plenty to discuss straight out of today’s headlines.