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Science and the Bible, part two

Posted in: Articles, Blog, Theology

In the second of a two-part blog, Operation Noah’s Chair, Rev Darrell D. Hannahconsiders the Bible and its relationship with science. Read part one.

The Bible must be approached on its own terms, not ours. That means, to choose just one of the more important implications, we must read the Bible remembering that it was written in a very different historical context from our own. When I was a PhD student, I remember a conversation I had with a member of my church. She had heard I was pursuing doctoral studies in the New Testament. She said something like, ‘You are just the man; I have always wondered about this.’ She picked up a Bible and turned to first chapter of Genesis and read to me,

And God said, ‘Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.’ So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault ‘sky’. (Genesis 1:6-8, NIV)

She then turned to me and asked, ‘what is this “vault”‘? I began to explain that the common view in the ancient near east held that the world consisted of three levels, a flat earth, surmounted by a dome, which was the sky, and subterranean sea, which led down to the underworld. A pained look came onto her face and she said, ‘But, it isn’t true!’ She knew that the world was a globe spinning in space. 

The Bible was not written in a historical vacuum. Nor did God, in a Star Trek manner, beam the authors of the various books of the Bible out of their historical context and into ours when they wrote. Rather, they wrote assuming their context – just as all human writers have since time immemorial. The author of Genesis had no conception of the world as a globe spinning in space as it revolves around the sun. He (it was probably a ‘he’) did understand that all things owe their existence to God and that God, unlike many of the ancient near eastern myths, did not find creation a struggle. God simply spoke and creation flowed into being. To compel our scientific understanding of the world into conformity with the ancient near eastern assumptions of the biblical authors is to take the Bible on our terms not on its. It reflects not so much a reverence for Scripture, but an unwillingness to let go of our presuppositions and to appreciate the difference between the biblical world and our own.

Finally, the Bible makes clear in a number of places (e.g., Ps 8; 19; 104; Romans 1:18-23) that creation itself reveals to us something of the majesty and character of God. Theologians refer to this as ‘general revelation’, as opposed to the specific revelation contained in the Scriptures and, above all, in the Person of Christ. General revelation can never reveal as much to us of God as does the Bible and Jesus. Nonetheless, the Bible takes seriously the idea that creation reflects the beauty and faithfulness and wisdom of its Creator. As a masterpiece of the Supreme Artist, it bears, as it were, his signature. Science, as the study of creation, witnesses to this Artist by investigating his masterpiece. To refuse to see in scientists – and climate scientists – prophets of our age is to deny this central biblical doctrine. 

Darrell is the rector of All Saints parish church, Ascot Heath. An American, Darrell moved to the UK in 1992 to pursue a doctorate at the University of Cambridge, in Christian Origins, and has lived here ever since. He moved into full-time parish ministry, in 2008, after academic posts at the universities of Sheffield, Birmingham and Oxford. 

Read part one

Want to learn more? Tenants of the King is a Bible-based, Jesus-centred small group study resource from Operation Noah. It is designed to help you and your church consider what the Bible has to say about today’s climate crisis.

Science and the Bible, part one

Posted in: Articles, Blog, Theology

In the first of a two-part blog, Operation Noah’s Chair, Rev Darrell D. Hannah, considers the Bible and its relationship with science.

Operation Noah’s concise theological statement Climate Change and the Purposes of God (CCPG) likens climate scientists to Israel’s prophets who spoke uncomfortable and disturbing truths which the Old Testament kingdoms of Israel and Judah did not welcome. The framers of CCPG and the rest of us at ON manifestly place a high premium on science. After all, our strapline is: Faith-motivated. Science-informed. Hope-inspired. There are, however, some Christians who remain deeply suspicious of science. For them, modern science is the implacable enemy of faith. Especially in the United States – but not just there – one encounters the idea among certain Christians that beginning with the theory of evolution modern science made a decisively wrong turn in direction. Such Christians not only reject human and animal evolution, but the consensus among geologists concerning the age of the earth, the consensus among geneticists concerning the age and shared ancestry of humans and much else besides (Why creationism bears all the hallmarks of a conspiracy theory).

It is not surprising that among such Christians, concern for the environment tends to be negligible at best. Having dismissed the evidence for evolution as error inspired by Satan, there is little reason to pay attention to the scientific consensus for the current climate crisis. 

While I am not a scientist and not competent to comment on any scientific consensus or theory, I have no doubt that the root of the problem lies not so much with science but with the view of the Bible embraced by such Christians. Wishing to take the Bible seriously and to stand with it – even if that means standing against the rest of the world – when modern science and the Bible are presented as being in opposition, they naturally choose the Bible: science must be wrong. 

Having dedicated most of my adult life to the study of the Bible, I am convinced such Christians do not take the Bible too seriously. Rather, they do not take it seriously enough. For example, Christians who dismiss evolution and climate change tend to read all the different books of the Bible in the same way. A moment’s reflection will show how mistaken an approach this is. We don’t read a book of history the same way we read a collection of poetry; we read a Mills & Boon novel with different presuppositions and expectations than a biography of a major historical figure or even a science fiction novel. In the same way, to read the Psalms just as one reads the historical books of Samuel and Kings would not reflect a serious engagement with the Bible, but instead a superficial approach. Or to read the Gospels or the apocalyptic books, Daniel and Revelation, with the same expectations that one reads the erotic poem that is the Song of Songs (or Solomon), would only lead to serious misunderstanding.

When paying attention to the clues in the text of the different books of the Bible, and even to different portions within those books, it becomes clear that the Bible contains a number of different genres. Nowhere among the various writings that make up the Bible do we encounter a work of ancient science – to say nothing of modern science! More importantly, if we give careful attention of the text of Genesis, it is clear that its first eleven chapters differ in genre from the rest of the book. While in Genesis 12–50 we may be dealing with a kind of family history, in Genesis 1–11 we are dealing with something more like saga or myth (understanding the term ‘myth’ not as a lie, but as a story by which the ancients made sense of and interpreted their world). To read the creation story or the account of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden as scientific or historical accounts is to ignore clues the text of Genesis gives as to how they should be read.

Darrell is the rector of All Saints parish church, Ascot Heath. An American, Darrell moved to the UK in 1992 to pursue a doctorate at the University of Cambridge, in Christian Origins, and has lived here ever since. He moved into full-time parish ministry, in 2008, after academic posts at the universities of Sheffield, Birmingham and Oxford. 

Read part two

Want to learn more? Tenants of the King is a Bible-based, Jesus-centred small group study resource from Operation Noah. It is designed to help you and your church consider what the Bible has to say about today’s climate crisis.


If young people were decision makers

Posted in: Articles, Blog

When world leaders decided to postpone UN climate talks for a year due to the pandemic, young people, recognising the urgency of the climate crisis, decided not only to hold their own, online conference but also to see if they could improve on the original plans. Josh Tregale reports.

Between the 19th November and 1st December over 330 youth delegates representing over 140 countries took part in Mock COP26. An online youth led event filling the void left by postponement of COP26. I have had the privilege of working as an Event Coordinator for Mock COP26 since September. We had speeches from high profile public figures including the COP26 President, UN Youth Envoy, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, the High-Level Climate Action Champion for UN climate talks, scientist, economists and youth activists. All of the content from Mock COP26 can be viewed online on our YouTube channel www.youtube.com/c/mockcop26.

The conference mirrored some of the processes of COP summits although some changes were made to increase inclusivity and accessibility. Mock COP26 had a particular focus on the Global South who are on the front line of the climate crisis yet contribute the least to cause the problem. 72% of our delegates were from these countries and their votes were weighted above those from the Global North. Like with COPs the event ended in a global statement, declaring what actions and policies the youth delegates would commit to if they were the political leaders. The statement can be read at www.mockcop.org/treaty and it includes 18 policies ranging from climate education to the protection of indigenous land rights, Nationally Determined Contributions and Physical and Mental health.

I am so pleased with how the conference went, we had an estimated media reach of 98 million people and 5.4 million impressions of the #MockCOP26 hashtag on Twitter alone. The next challenge of Mock COP26 is to campaign for world leaders to listen to our ambition and push for more action ahead of COP26. It is crucial that as Christians we engage in policy, we are called to be ‘wise stewards of the earth’ and it is the rules and commitments of countries that have the most impact on stewarding the earth.

Please pray that world leaders listen to what young activists are calling for and that they raise their ambition ahead of COP26. The recovery from the pandemic has the potential to leave a lasting legacy and signal a new phase in our commitment to the preservation of our God’s creation and those who live in it.

www.mockcop.org

Josh Tregale was an Event Coordinator for Mock COP26

At the crossroads of climate change

Posted in: Articles, Blog

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement. Shilpita Mathews and Josh Evans consider our progress, and lack of, in implementing the agreement.

Photo by Justin Luebke on Unsplash

‘Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back and it is already doing so with growing force and fury,’ were the remarks of UN Secretary General, António Guterres, in a speech entitled State of the Planet, last week. This is a sombre tone as the world marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement on the 12th of December. As we look forward to the UK hosting the COP26 conference in Glasgow in November 2021, there is a need for urgent climate action. 

We are not on track to meet the global 1.5°C target

Despite the progress made, there is an ambition-implementation gap when it comes to emission reductions. Global commitments, fall short of meeting 1.5°C, with Climate Action Tracker (CAT) calculating that in a best-case scenario, net zero pledges could lead to warming of 2.1°C by 2100. However, they also show that this estimate has dropped from 3.5 degrees in 2009 with 0.5 degrees of this in the last year alone as a direct result of climate emergency and net-zero declarations.

Further commitments are required by governments

Photo by Paddy O Sullivan on Unsplash

While the UK has committed to reducing emissions by 68% by 2030, this remains below the 70% reduction required to meet Paris targets projected by Sir Nicholas Stern, the author of the landmark Stern Review on the economics of climate change. Moreover, the UK’s current Covid recovery stimulus spending is behind other European countries when it comes to a just and green recovery.

Concerningly, there remains a stark contrast between government spending on programmes like  ‘Gear Change’, promoting cycling and walking ( £2 billion), and continued spending on road building (£27 billion) as well as £12.8 billion on fossil fuels annually. This indicates ambitious 2030 targets are needed to prevent catastrophic consequences, as the UK announces its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) this week.

Delaying action will impact the poorest countries the most

Meeting Paris commitments in a cost-optimal way will require a global reduction in emissions by 40%–50% by 2030. Research show that delayed action will lead to additional costs and may lead to the failure of the Paris Agreement as a whole. These costs will be borne disproportionately by developing countries. For instance, South-East Asia will face more extreme impacts than other regions, with 600 million to one billion people in Asia living in areas with a nonzero annual probability of lethal heat waves by 2050.

Rich countries have an obligation under the Paris agreement to provide $100 billion a year to help developing countries limit pollution and adapt to climate change. However, recent UK aid budget cuts, from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income, jeopardise this.

Divestment makes economic sense

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Net zero targets outline a hopeful trajectory for planet earth and a worrying message for anyone deeply invested in fossil fuels.  Stranded assets could become a reality faster than anyone has previously predicted. There are economic gains to be made as entire economies orient themselves to net-zero pathways. Yet, the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI), a project launched by the Church of England and supported by several Churches, found in its 2020 State of Transition Report that none of the major oil companies are aligned with the Paris Agreement targets.

The climate crisis demands urgent action

We are at the crossroads of climate action. In the lead up to COP26, there are many ways citizens and churches can hold the government accountable:

  • Support the Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill, which Operation Noah has recently endorsed. The CEE Bill’s aim, according to Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International, is to demonstrate ‘the path needed to avoid the catastrophe outlined by the United Nations… it is farsighted, aiming to protect those at risk now and in the future.’ Young people are leading the call to action. For instance, ‘climate education at every level of formal education, tougher ecocide laws, stronger regulation on air quality and banning the offshoring of emissions’ were some of the many demands made of the UK government by young activists at a global Mock COP26 event recently.
  • Divest! Our calls for government to do more carry more weight when we have our own house in order. The church has a unique moral voice that still carries weight in 2021. Its potential can be realised if it can call on the UK government with integrity to make ambitious agreements at COP26 a national priority. For this reason, churches must divest from fossil fuels now before this golden opportunity to use a platform to bring God’s kingdom passes us by. The reasons for doing this are outlined in Operation Noah’s Bright Now report Church investments in major oil companies – Paris compliant or Paris defiant?
  • Go Net Zero. Many churches are increasing their climate ambitions, as seen in the recent Scottish Episcopal Church vote to go net zero by 2030, which was welcomed by Operation Noah. Their announcement follows on from the Church of England’s announcement in February of this year.
  • Declare an Emergency. Tearfund is encouraging and assisting churches to declare or recognise a climate emergency.

From plans outlined in the USA by the incoming Biden-Harris administration, to China’s recent climate targets, there is much to be hopeful for. Yet, as Guterres reiterated, ‘the targets set at Paris were always meant to be increased over time.’ The world needs urgent action if we are to address the climate emergency.  As we look ahead from Paris, the UK needs to make the most of its impressive diplomatic networks to orchestrate a similar united approach in 2021.

Shilpita Mathews is currently Strategy Lead at YCCN  and serves in the student ministry of her home church, All Souls Langham Place in London.  

Josh Evans was part of the Pilgrimage2Paris in 2015 and is currently Campaigns Lead at YCCN.

Climate Crisis Book Reviews

Posted in: Articles, Blog

Operation Noah board member, Nicky Bull, writes a short review of every book she reads. Here she shares her reviews of a number of books she has read in the last two years which we think will be of interest to Operation Noah supporters.

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Falter: Has the human game begun to play itself out? (Bill McKibben)

This is a fairly terrifying book as it tells it like it is with regard to the effect that we are having on the climate of our planet. What I wasn’t expecting was the inclusion of a section detailing what McKibben sees as the other major threat to the ‘human game’: the further development and implementation of artificial intelligence (AI). None of this makes for comfortable reading and yet there is an underlying hope that seeps through – a belief in the ability of humanity to make sufficient changes and turn things around if only we can keep alive a vision of what it really means to be human. The rapid growth in the use of sustainable and renewable energy, and the rousing of public opinion displayed in non-violent direct action are the two threads that give the author some optimism in what would otherwise be a bleak future.

No One is Too Small to Make a Difference (Greta Thunberg)

Photo by Aslıhan Altın on Unsplash

This slim volume, an easy read in a single sitting, contains the texts of Greta’s addresses given in the course of less than a year to some of the most powerful people in the world, as well as to mass gatherings of concerned citizens. This diminutive Swedish schoolgirl goes straight to the heart of the climate crisis and to the flawed economic systems that are reacting too little and too slowly in addressing the damage that we in the privileged and wealthy countries of the global north are inflicting on the planet that supports all life. She is saying what we should have been saying for decades.

Losing Earth: The Decade We Could Have Stopped Climate Change (Nathaniel Rich)

I have no reason to doubt the details in this book, charting the progress or otherwise of climate change awareness and action between 1979 and 1989 in the USA – and I suspect that there were similar scenarios being played out to at least some extent in other countries across the developed world, where we are all so dependent upon energy from fossil fuels. It is a salutary tale, and in many ways a deeply depressing read, but a really important one. However, the Afterword is crucial and does contain some tiny germs of hope, with its recognition that despite all the corporate lobbying, the activities of environmentalists, and the politics, this global existential problem is actually an issue of morality and of recognising our responsibility to our fellow human beings – and to those yet to be born. That the younger generation are doing much better at this is at least some cause for hope.

Say No to Plastic: 101 Easy Ways to Use Less Plastic (Harriet Dyer)

A really handy little guide that would be especially useful for anyone just beginning to look at how to reduce their use of plastic in response to concerns about the chemicals and particles it produces when degrading. It is now well known that these contaminate our oceans and that there is a huge volume of waste plastic being shipped across the globe where it potentially has even more damaging effects than it would in our own landfill sites. Only a small proportion is effectively recycled and we urgently need to reduce our use by finding, or reverting to, good sustainable alternatives. There are a few rather outlandish ideas – to make up the count? – but on the whole this little book contains sensible and practical advice.

On Fire (Naomi Klein)

In her most recent book Klein uses lectures and addresses that she has given since 2010 to chart the climate crisis and to reinforce her case that what is needed is a Green New Deal. Her arguments are very persuasive and I only briefly lost sympathy when she criticised Nathaniel Rich’s Losing Earth for its analysis that a major problem in tackling climate change is ‘human nature’. Klein prefers to see big corporations and governments as the problem – and she is not wrong to do so – but they are run by people and while their greed, power-hunger and desire to dominate are hugely problematical they are surely aspects of human nature, and perhaps an exaggeration of traits that many of us possess? However, both authors agree that part of what is needed is to recognise the ‘villains’ and to take action if climate catastrophe is to be averted.

Time To Act (Christian Climate Action)

This is a really good little book and would be a particularly good read for anyone who is unsure about exactly what Extinction Rebellion and their faith-based members stand for, and why they do what they do. But for someone who has followed XR’s story, both in the media and talking to friends who are involved, there was nevertheless a lot here that was new and interesting. The book is a compilation of contributions from a range of different people – some are sympathetic onlookers, some seasoned activists and a few are among the ‘arrestables’; these are testimonies of concern, compassion and hope and I highly recommend their stories.

The Case for the Green New Deal (Ann Pettifor)

I confess that much of the detail of this book went over my head – I can scarcely begin to understand the intricacies of high-level economics or global finance. However, the central message – which I heard direct from Pettifor at a talk last year – is that system change is possible and is absolutely necessary if the world is going to succeed in tackling climate change. As the book’s title suggests, Pettifor makes the case for the Green New Deal as being proposed in both the UK and the USA and there are a number of places in the text – written, of course, before this year’s pandemic began – where what she says comes across as prophetic.

The Future We Choose: Surviving the climate crisis (Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac)

I think this is a really important book. Co-authored by the former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, who was the driving force behind the Paris Agreement, it is in almost equal measure terrifying and hopeful. With a clear description of the probable consequences if we fail to reach net zero global carbon emissions by 2050, balanced by the possible scenario if we can succeed in reaching that goal, this book should surely be read by everyone in positions of influence and power in the world. The prospects are not great at present but the authors nevertheless champion optimism and action as the way forward – and they reiterate the message of Greta Thunberg and others, that everyone can make a difference.

Climate Chaos and the Global Green New Deal (Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin)

I have read a number of things about proposed ‘green deals’ but this book was the first to make it absolutely clear how vital it is that plans to tackle the climate crisis are global in scope and not restricted to the current major emitting nations. It is a relatively short book, and presented in a question-and-answer, conversational format that is accessible and not at all heavy going, despite the complicated issues discussed. The two extremely distinguished authors bring differing perspectives and are talking out of the US context but the overall conclusion is very plain, and urgent. While the prospects for global cooperation on anything might not have looked great a year ago, the Covid-19 pandemic has provided some degree of optimism: it is all too easy to see how a failure to act, on the part of any nation, leaves the whole world vulnerable.

Operation Noah joins call for 10-point plan to get UK to net-zero

Posted in: Articles, Blog

Operation Noah is one of 70 organisations who have, today, launched a 10 -point plan designed to get the UK on track to net-zero emissions whilst also showing global leadership ahead of hosting the United National climate summit, also known as COP26, this time next year.

Last month the Prime Minister confirmed that the government will take action to achieve 40GW of offshore wind by 2030, more than enough to power every home in the UK. This was set out as the first point of a 10-point plan for a ‘green industrial revolution’. The full plan will be laid out before the end of this year. In the meantime, a number of NGOs working on climate change has set out our own 10-Point Plan.

The ten points include the UK taking on its fair share of effort to keep global temperatures rises to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, investing in domestic energy efficiency and heat pumps which will help us move away from using gas to heat homes, fully decarbonising our power system and ambitious targets for nature restoration. All ten points are set out in this document.

The time to act is now

Actions taken now by governments to respond to the current health crisis and rebuild our economy will have an impact for generations to come. Decisions taken today will determine whether we succeed in our goal to protect the people, places and life we love from the climate crisis. We can limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, halt and reverse the decline of nature and eradicate poverty, or we can lock in pollution and inequality for generations.

Next year the eyes of the world will be on the UK as it hosts the UN Climate Summit, COP26. This is an opportunity to deliver a strong global lead on climate action. The best way to show this leadership is to put resilience at the heart of our economic recovery by accelerating the transition to net-zero, restoring nature and supporting the most vulnerable at home and overseas.

The 10-point plan is part of the Climate Coalition’s campaign for the government to deliver an economic recovery that sets us on a path to a cleaner, greener world that works for everyone.

Read The Green Recovery Plan

Sign ‘The Time is Now’ declaration

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