Prof. Bob White FRS

Bob White

Abstract

I first discuss the reasons given in the Bible for why we should care for the Earth, and then discuss the impacts of, and some of the possible Christian responses to ongoing global climate change.

The Bible is suffused with underpinning core statements that God created the universe and all that is in it; that the material creation is good (though now marred by human sinfulness); and that God upholds and sustains it continually. Though God is involved in his creation in an ongoing sense (he is immanent in it), he also exists separately outside it (he is transcendent), so we should never worship creation rather than the creator. The Bible asserts that humans are created 'in God's image', and that our chief task is to glorify and worship God: part of that worship is to care for (to 'steward' and to 'rule') the world in which we live. Because of human sinfulness, all creation is now 'out of kilter' with how it was meant to be, so that task of stewarding the earth is hard work and is sometimes a struggle - but we are to use our God-given abilities, our scientific and technological insights, and our love first for God and then for others in fulfilling this commandment.

However, the story does not end here, because God became incarnate in this world in Jesus Christ and through him has redeemed the world. The Bible is clear that in the fullness of time, the universe will be re-created in the 'new heavens and new earth'. These are pictured as real physical places that will rebuild the perfect creation but without the effects of human sin. So the stewardship work of Christians in this present world should prefigure our worship in the re-created world, which carries that certain hope of future perfection with it.

The issue of global climate change faced by humanity is one where Christian values can play a key role in our response. The lifestyles of people in one part of the world and their production of greenhouse gases impacts directly on environmental conditions throughout the rest of the world both now and for many decades into the future. Inevitably, it is people in the low-income areas, who are living nearer to the threshold of environmental disaster from crop losses, from storms and flooding, or from heat-waves or disease, who are least able to cope with rapid climate change. Love for neighbour impacts directly on the imperative of Christians to be active in environmental care and to develop lifestyles of sustainable consumption.

Brief biography

Professor Robert (Bob) White is Professor of Geophysics in the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge (since 1989) and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1994. He is also a Fellow of the Geological Society, and a member of the American Geophysical Union and several other professional bodies; he serves on numerous of their committees. He leads a research group investigating the Earth's dynamic crust: in particular the way in which enormous volumes of volcanic rock are produced when continents and oceans rift apart. He has organised fieldwork and supervised 41 PhD students at Cambridge, many of whom are now prominent in academia, industry, government and education. His work at sea has taken him to the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans and his research group is currently investigating the internal structure of volcanoes in Iceland, the Faroes and the Atlantic continental margin. His scientific work is published in over 300 papers and articles.

Bob is Associate (and founding) Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, and a director of the John Ray Initiative, an educational charity that works to develop and communicate a Christian understanding of the environment. Since 1988 he has been a Fellow of St. Edmund's College, Cambridge, prior to which he was a student and Research Fellow at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

Personal webpage

Interviews on YouTube with Prof. Bob White and Dr. Nick Spencer on Global Warming and sustainable living.

Selected books and publications in religion and science

  • Nick Spencer & Robert White (2007): Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living, SPCK. Order online.
  • D. A. Alexander & R. S. White (2004): Beyond Belief: Science, Faith and Ethical Challenges, Lion, Oxford, 219pp. (This is a general introduction to science and religion: see particularly chapter 8 which deals with the Earth and environmental issues.)
  • Robert White (2006): A burning issue: Christian care for the environment, Cambridge Paper vol. 15, no. 4, 4pp. Available free from www.jubilee-centre.org/cambridge_papers/.
  • The John Ray Initiative has a good set of briefing papers and presentations on environmental issues available free online.