Theologians, Scientists Meet on 'Green Ethics' the Two Communities Join Forces to Change Attitudes on Environmental Protection

Article excerpt

A prayer and three verses of the hymn "All Creatures of Our God and King" is not the typical opening for a meeting cosponsored by the nation's largest science organizations.

Yet the opening and the meeting itself, held here this past weekend, typify a growing effort by scientific and religious communities to join forces to head off what many see as looming environmental catastrophes - from global warming to destruction of habitats and extinction of species.

Organized by the Boston Theological Institute (BTI), a consortium of nine local seminaries and theological schools, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the conference brought together natural and social scientists, economists, environmental activists, ministers, and religious educators from around the United States.

The immediate aim was to lay the groundwork for teaching science-based environment courses at local seminaries, says the Rev. Barbara Mason-Smith, director of the Center for Faith and Science Exchange in Newton, Mass.

The need, conference organizers say, is to bring about a change in public attitudes about consumption and underpin that change with sound science.

With public opinion polls showing strong support for environmental protection, it might seem as if preaching on morality and the environment is preaching to the choir. But "there's a huge gap between saying and doing," says Jane Lubchenko, a professor of marine biology at Oregon State University, who takes over as president of AAAS in February.

Richard Lovelace, professor of church history at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, cites Vice President Al Gore's observation that what is politically possible falls far short of what is needed to reverse environmental degradation.

But, Mr. Lovelace says, it is useful to recall the clergy's role in changing 19th-century England's views on slavery. The arguments against the change included the impossibility of abolishing slavery without inflicting economic disaster and social disorder on the empire. …