In time for distribution at the 74th General Convention in Minneapolis at the end of July, the new brochures (8 1/2" x 3 3/4") of the Episcopal Church Network for Science, Technology and Faith are ready for shipment to all Network members. Requests for extras will be promptly filled. Send name and postal address with your request to the Network convener, The Rev. Barbara Smith-Moran, S.O.Sc.
The Steering Board of the Network for Science, Technology and Faith held its annual meeting after Easter in Richmond, Virginia, at the Roslyn Conference Center. In conjuction with this meeting, the Board hosted the 2003 Ecumenical Roundtable on Science, Technology and the Church in Canada and the U.S., attended by delegations from the ELCA, Presbyterian Church (USA), Roman Catholic Church, UCC, and UMC.
Attendendees are shown in the picture below.
The treasurer's report was given and received. Milt suggest that we need to mail out a dues renewal notification at the same time each year, regardless of when individuals initially sign on as members.
John Keggi tendered his resignation as membership secretary. The Board members expressed their thanks for some fifteen years of service to build the membership and maintain the mailing list. John was one of the founders of the Network. Peter Arvedson agreed to take on these responsibilities as part of his position as Communications Officer.
The Network Newsletter was thought to be suitably "substantive." The suggestion was made that the editor begin to print profiles of a few individual members in each issue. This will begin in the next issue, scheduled for late summer. The Network Webpage badly needs to be updated and linked to the newsletter and the Executive Council ST&F Committee website. Dan Englund at the Episcopal Church Center in NYC can help with this.
Discussion was opened as to how best to serve the membership. It was decided that the best way would be to utilize the expertise and experience that they offer to make available to the Committee. This was thought to be preferable to hosting an event at the AAAS Annual Meeting, for instance, or a luncheon at the General Convention (as the Presbyterians do at each General Synod meeting). The membership poll will clarify where the expertise and experience lie, and which members are willing to be tapped as Committee consultants.
Elizabeth Sedlins and Joyce Wilding made a presentation of the mission, the work, and the organization of The Episcopal Ecological Network. Elizabeth is the EEN leader in Province 3, and Joyce is the leader in Province 4. Discussions were opened concerning how EEN and the Network for ST&F might work more closely together in the future. Elizabeth and Joyce feel that EEN could benefit from stronger input from scientists and engineers. The ST&F Board feels that its Network membership ought to be enriched with members knowledgeable in environmental fields.
The ST&F Board invited EEN to take the following steps: to become an institutional member of the ST&F Network; to serve as a conduit for obtaining and forwarding articles, papers, reviews, etc., which link environmental science/ecology and faith, providing them to the web-based resource center to be organized by the ST&F Committee (see below); to help identify one or more persons who would serve as liaison to EEN; to endeavor by other means (print, web, etc.) to keep the ST&F Board up to date on EEN activities.
Court Randall reported on the "William Pollard Project," loosely based at the School of Theology at The University of the South (Sewanee). (See the following story.)
To learn more about the Ecumenical Roundtable on Science, Technology and the Church in Canada and the U.S., consult their website at http://www.pcs.cnu.edu/~khoffman/ELCA/RT_Purpose.html
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Network member Courtland Randall directs "The William Pollard Project," loosely based at the School of Theology, University of the South (Sewanee). Pollard was an Episcopal priest and nuclear physicist who founded the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies, which he directed from 1946 until his retirement in 1974. (See Pollard in Oak Ridge Associated Universities history.) Court Randall worked for Pollard as a division head (education area and communication in environmental energy conservation area) at Oak Ridge from 1965 to 1985.
Pollard, who died in 1989, was one of the founders of the group that eventually became the Ecumenical Roundtable on Science, Technology and Faith in Canada and the U.S. Court organized a festscrift for him in 2000, in which ST&F Network Officer Robert Schneider participated.
Court wants to use Pollard as a model of a "renaissance techie" for young people. For one thing, he is writing a biography of Pollard, the scientist-priest. A second part of the "Pollard Project" will be a history of Pollard's scientific contributions, to be published by the University of Tennessee Press. Pollard is credited with the rise of science departments in 200 colleges and universities, because he opened facilities of Oak Ridge as a practicum for faculty.
A third part of the Project will be an anthology or reader, to include Pollard's Chance and Providence, which was very influential and had an impact even on Vatican thinking. Theologian John Polkinghorne has just agreed to write the introduction. In addition, Court says that he sees a website coming, and a dramatic play to be produced at Sewanee, and perhaps a documentary for television.
The Board voted its unanimous endorsement of the Pollard Project and invites any Network members who have Pollard stories to contribute, or know of possible funding sources to support this project, to contact Court Randall by email.
ST&F Network Officer Robert Schneider (records secretary), who is a retired member of the Berea College faculty, is writing a set of about twelve annotated essays on important topics in science and religion from a Christian perspective. The three essays posted are entitled "What the Bible Teaches about Creation," "Theology of Creation: Historical Perspectives and fundamental concepts," and "Does the Bible Teach Science?" Berea College has launched a webpage for this special project. Read the essays, meet the author, and write your own comments at Berea College "Science and Faith" Homepage.
The report of the ST&F Committee is included with the Executive Council's report to the 74th General Convention, meeting in Minneapolis from 30 July through 9 August. The report includes a proposed reorganized approach to the Committee's work during the coming triennium. Rather than form subcommittees to do in-depth studies of a few topics (as it did during the previous triennium), the Committee proposes to form an electronic resource center of articles, research reports, book reviews, essays, bibliographies, etc., that bear upon the faith and the faithful living of Episcopalians, in the opinion of the Committee. Each will be prefaced with a statement that draws out its significance to theology, worship, or ethics.
The Committee thinks that this electronic resource library will be of educational value to the Church at all levels, from its individual members, to parish and diocesan study and discussion groups, to diocesan and national church committees and commissions.
The text of the ST&F report may be found at ST&F Blue Book Report.
All reports to the 74th General Convention can be found at REPORTS.
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The ST&F Committee is presenting a Resolution on Food Security to the 74th General Convention, in Miinneapolis. The Subcommittee on Genetically Modified Foods, which authored this resolution, seeks to raise awareness of the broader food security context of g.m. foods, including concerns for environmental and biosafety, reduced diversity of wild and domesticated plants, displacement of small farmers in the U.S. and worldwide, and the concentrated control of commercial seed production within fewer and fewer corporations. The resolution calls for Episcopalians to support public policy and actions that foster the types of science and technology that preserve biodiversity in food production, as a reflection of the diversity of God's Creation and the roles of caring and relatedness within God's Kingdom.
The full text of the Resolution on Food Security can be found at Resolution.
The Rev. Dr. Frederic Burnham, one of the founders of what is now known as the Episcopal Church Network for Science, Technology and Faith, has announced his retirement as Director of Trinity Institute, a position he has held for nearly twenty years. Trained in the history of science, Fred has led his program to consider cutting-edge issues at the interface of science and religion. The most recent issue of Trinity's News says: "He has had a special interest in the new sciences of chaos and complexity. He believes that these revolutionary theories not only contain the foundations of a new worldiew but will also become importtant analytical tools for the Church during the 21st century."
The Network Board wishes Fred all the best in his retirement and hopes he will remain active with the Network.
The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS), part of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, has launched a new peer-reviewed journal, called Theology and Science. Volume 1, Number 1 (April 2003) features articles by Francisco Ayala, John Polkinghorne, Ted Peters, Nancey Murphy, Philip Hefner, and Willem Drees. The senior editors are Robert John Russell, Founder and Director of CTNS, and Ted Peters, President of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. Subscriptions to both the print and the electronic versions are available to CTNS members. Contact the CTNS Office for details.
Completing 18 months of study of human stem cell research, the Faith and Genetics Working Group of the Diocese of Massachusetts has issued its final report. The Working Group supports human stem cell research subject to societal oversight and regulatory constraints. It encourages broad community involvement in attempts to identify potential positive and negative effects, promises and dangers, and the nuances that accompany this line of scientific inquiry. It recognizes that the "instrumental use" of embryos for human stem cell research poses an issue of profound concern and significance to the human community, including communities of faith.
Elements of the report include:
- body of the report
- supplementary statements by five participants
- listing of biomedical ethical principles
- axioms for Anglican Moral Theology
- "Preformationist Theory: Its Persistent Influence upon Theology, Ethics, and Common Consciousness," a paper by Barbara Smith-Moran
In light of the tenets of our faith (including stewardship, persons in community), the Faith and Genetics Working Group of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts set out to identify ethical considerations that arise with the issue of proceeding or not proceeding with human stem cell research (HSCR). The report provides an account of the road traveled by the Faith & Genetics Working Group during its 18-month study in 2001-2003.
Stem cell research is an evolving area of inquiry of particular relevance in biomedical sciences. Broadly speaking, stem cell research has three objectives: 1) to elucidate the complex mechanisms of the development of multi-cellular organisms, particularly mammals and, most especially, humans. It seeks to identify and purify progenitor cells that during development give rise to the differentiated mature cells of the body, and to study how this differentiation occurs; 2) to develop technologies to utilize stem cells to regenerate tissues damaged by accident or degenerative disease; 3) to pursue genetic objectives for possible cloning of human beings or possible eugenic ends that might become introduced to human reproduction.
The first two objectives were ones given special attention by the Working Group in their study of ethical considerations. The third objective is highly controversial. It raises issues of moral boundaries concerning eugenics and human reproductive cloning, neither of which can be pursued responsibly at this time.
Important areas that pose questions for ethical consideration include:
1. The source of cells used for human stem cell research.
2. The instrumental use of embryos for research.
3. The status or standing of the human embryo.
4. The sources of human embryos for research.
5. A responsible use of language.
6. The place and role of community.
7. The place and role of social guidelines and regulations with respect to research.
8. The allocation of resources.
The full report is available at the website of the Faith & Genetics Working Group, Diocese of Massachusetts.
[For a science-literate view of what society can become when genetic technology proceeds unchecked, read Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, reviewed below.]
It's not far-fetched or even very futuristic: genetics research is being privately funded by the mass sales of irresistibly appealing pharmaceuticals and therapeutic biotechnology--aphrodesiacs, youth-restoratives, designer offspring. Runaway competition among the top players in the genetic technology field had led to the construction of huge gated, guarded, and self-contained communities for the families of each lab's staff and administation. The lab research runs on, devoid of oversight and regulation by any wider society.
The "wider society" is what lies outside the gates of these research communities. They are the so-called "pleeblands"--where the underprivileged plebes live, with their dreams of immortality and their governments that have become totally irrelevant to the forces of technology that define the future of life on the planet. And that future includes a vast array of new varieties and species of plants, animals, and microbes, most engineered with profit in mind. Think about chickens with breastmeat tumors and numerous wing and drumstick appendages for marketing to the fast-food chicken industries. Think about superviruses engineered to produce total homeland insecurity, should the need for it arise.
What looms large in award-winning author Margaret Atwood's new novel, Oryx and Crake, is the power of top scientists to impose their own values and standards--and biases and whims--upon the future of planetary life. Her protagonists are realistically drawn with typical "baggage" left from childhood experience, the hidden motives that affect all human choices. She shows us a future that is already so present that it doesn't strike us as particularly nightmarish. It's believable and entirely possible, if the governments of the world neglect to legislate regulatory protocols that pertain to all research, both publicly and privately funded. Everyone currently engaged in genethics discussions and other genetics-and-religion conversations is already aware of such a possible future. This scenario is the reason to remain vigilant and proactively sceptical of the claims of "forge-ahead science" for limitless progress and therapeutic benefit for humanity.
[Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, New York (2003). 376 pp. $26 hardcover.]