Christians in Science warmly welcome Pope Francis’s encyclical “Laudato si”, in which he points out humanity’s God-given responsibility as custodians of the Earth. The stewardship of our planet is our Christian duty, and as scientists we have the tasks both of discovering how we should care for the planet, and of pointing out where we as humankind are failing in our duty.
Pope Francis’s encyclical is a reflection on the advice of the very distinguished atmospheric scientists in the Papal Academy: we have damaged the earth; we have hurt our common home. In Hebrews 10:21, we are told of “ton oikon tou theou” – the ‘oikos’ of God. This word oikos, from which we derive both ecology and economy, means ‘home’ or ‘house’. But it also carries the sense of family home, something to be cherished and safeguarded, protected, cared for. Yet that is what we are not doing.
The encyclical takes its title, “Laudato si”, from the canticle of St. Francis of Assisi, perhaps best known in English through the hymn “All Creatures of our God and King”. The early Christians acknowledged the rainbow covenant with Noah, that applied not just to all humans but to all living creatures: to all life. We must not eat the lifeblood of the planet. Humans, like biblical monarchs, are shepherds – their duty is to understand and care for the great chain of being.
Judeo-Christian belief is rich in teaching about the environment. The writer of the book of Job in the Bible was among the first to realise that the air has mass (Job 28:25). In some of the most beautiful passages ever written about our natural environment, Job encourages, even challenges us, to discover from whence came the ice, to enter the treasures of snow, to number the clouds, to perceive the breadth of the earth. For Christians, in the New Testament, Jesus challenges us to understand the winds: St Paul says all creation is groaning until we come into our own.
The Pope’s encyclical challenges all scientists who are Christian to think deeply about our views and our duty. As scientists, our environmental duty is to discover, to understand, and to advise. Christians in Science share that duty: we welcome the Pope’s powerful intervention, and support it strongly.
Prof Euan Nisbet, CiS Trustee