A letter asking Church of England Synod members to endorse the Church’s Routemap to Net Zero and urge all areas of the Church of England to divest from fossil fuels before COP27 has been sent to all Synod members ahead of Synod in York this Friday.
The letter, which was emailed to all 467 members on Tuesday 5th July 2022, is reproduced below.
Dear Member of Synod,
York Synod: Routemap to Net Zero Carbon and divestment from fossil fuels
I am writing to you, and all members of Synod, on behalf of Christian Climate Action, for two reasons:
To urge you to vote in favour of endorsing the Routemap to Net Zero Carbon 2030 motion being debated at Synod in York this Friday 8th July.
In the words of Archbishop Justin, ‘Climate change is the greatest challenge that we and future generations face’. Scientists are telling us that we have very little time left to act if we want to give ourselves reasonable change of avoiding the worst impacts. Of course, vulnerable communities around the world are already experiencing the ravages of climate change first and worst’.
The challenge of Climate Change needs reasonable action not extreme action resulting in disruption and damage. Nor affecting people’s livelihoods.
In UK emissions been dropping since 1990 with the shift from coal, more efficient engines, insulation. From an 80s perspective this is amazing, but there is a long way to go. There are several hurdles.
There is an inevitable lag by industry as changes take years to effect. There is also the danger of simply exporting industry overseas so emissions get recorded there and not by British consumers.
A major problem is the lack of understanding by Joe Public, who often does not grasp the issues, nor how each person must change habits. Protest probably slows this down.
We are pleased that back in 2020 the Church of England agreed to work toward Net Zero by 2030. It is now important that the routemap that will get the Church to Net Zero is endorsed and put into action as swiftly as possible. Not only will this reduce the Church of England’s emissions, it will also act as prophetic statement and an inspiration to the wider world.
There are many questions about Net Zero 2030. There seems to be a blind acceptance that renewables are the answer, but many are expensive and inefficient. This could lead parishes into bankruptcy. See later comments on renewables.
Many of the suggestions for insulation, efficient lighting are vital and should have been encourage years ago and are separate from Net Zero.
As well as voting in favour of the motion we would encourage you to speak in favour of it during the debate on Friday afternoon to help ensure it is passed.
Beyond Synod, we would also encourage you to do everything within your power to implement the route map in your local context. The motion calls on every Diocese, Cathedral, TEI, school, office and the top 20% of energy-consuming churches, to agree a programme of action to achieve net zero with a clear time frame based on the routemap.
We also note that the routemap does not include the Pensions Board or the Church Commissioners and that they are both aiming for Net Zero by 2050. Whilst the Pensions Board expects to achieve this 10-years early, this is simply too late.
According to Professor Sir David King, Former Chief Scientific Advisor: ‘We have 4-5 years to put in place everything to manage civilisation for the next millennium’.
King is pro-nuclear, which some object to. His views on Peak Oil in 2010 are now totally out of date as there is no peak.
Yes, things need to be put in place, e.g. increased nuclear, alternative energies, insulation and other mitigatory measures, but to ditch fossil fuels before these are ready to take over will cause untold suffering as many will not be able to afford energy. Blind appeals to renewables doesn’t help.
There is no connection between the routemap and King’s warning.
We would encourage you to do anything you can to push for the Church Commissioners and the Pensions Board to move their targets forward to 2030, so as to align with the rest of the Church of England.
2. To ask you to urge all sections of the Church of England to commit to divest from fossil fuels as a matter of urgency.
The burning of fossil fuels constitutes 86% of carbon emissions and is the key driver of climate change.
This is an over-estimate as this diagram shows. It also omits to point out how fossil fuels are used apart from fuel
Agriculture, Forestry and Land Use directly accounts for 18.4% of greenhouse gas emissions. The food system as a whole – including refrigeration, food processing, packaging, and transport – accounts for around one-quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. We look at this in detail here.
(The figure of 184% for agriculture excludes use of energy, and it lists what these are.
In May 2021, the International Energy Agency’s Executive Director said: ‘If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year’.
This is one person’s opinion and not the general view. No mention of alternative energy and that these are not yet in place.
And in March this year UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres commented it was ‘Madness to turn to fossil fuels because of the Ukraine war.’.
A disembodied quote adds little. What alternatives did her suggest?
Yet fossil fuel companies including Shell and Exxon Mobil are currently spending over £100 million per day on exploring new oil and gas. They are continuing to reap the rewards of unabated exploration and production, while falsely promoting the idea that they are investing a significant percentage of their capital on renewable energy.
This may seem a vast sum, but mineral exploration is incredibly expensive. It is expenditure to keep reserves as they are and not declining. One reason for the present high prices of gas/oil is the cutting back of exploration for the last decade.
NB all scenarios include use of fossil fuels beyond 2040 hence need exploration to provide sufficient oil and gas
The evidence against continuing investments in Shell in particular, is mounting. It is apparent that in March of this year Shell took advantage of cheaper Russian oil prices resulting in a public outcry.
They have since been accused of using an ‘accounting trick’ to continue buying Russian oil secretly. In addition, we believe that many of the clergy and laity of the Church of England would find it deeply uncomfortable knowing that the Church is profiting from Shell’s ‘highest quarterly profits since 2008’ in March in the midst of a fuel and cost of living crisis..
To say these are the highest quarterly profits since 2008 is both absolutely true and totally misleading and duplicitous. It is distortion by selective truth rather than the whole truth.
Now consider this chart of Shell’s quarterly profits since 2008.
It is a duplicitous argument. Note the almost wipe-out of profits in 2020, drop in 2009 and 2016. It is dishonest not to point that out. Further, any following energy issues would have known this, unless they operated on a Conscious bias.
These actions do not appear to be aligned with your Responsible Investment policy established around the two principles of “Respect for People” and “Respect for the Planet”.
It is heartening that 12 Church of England dioceses have, in recent years, divested from fossil fuels and made public commitments not to reinvest. However, 13 dioceses continue to invest in fossil fuels and the Church Commissioners and Pensions Board are thought to collectively hold investments of c.£55m in fossil fuel companies.
We understand that the Church Commissioners and Pensions Board intends to divest from fossil fuel companies that are not ‘Paris Agreement complaint’ by the end of 2023. However, on their current trajectory, it is highly unlikely they will become Parris Agreement compliant between now and then and time is of the essence on this issue.
Why should we believe CCA, with its record of disruption and Conscious Bias? It is imperative that anyone commenting on this claiming to put forward an ethical argument that they must be fair and truthful in their descriptions. CCA has failed badly.
Every day we fail to take the necessary action results in more impacts around the world and more deaths.
Hard evidence is needed for this statement and claims that every extreme weather event can be put down to climate Change are rejected by most climate scientists. Don’t forget some of the worst flooding in the Lake District took place in the 18th century!!
However there are loads of things we can be doing apart from divestment and Net Zero 2030. (see Net Zero by Dieter Helm).
Rather than stopping commuters getting on the Tube for work, there is much the churches can encourage and do;
Reconsider transport, ( I had to smile that at a recent Chapter Meeting when Net zero was discussed, two incumbents drove three miles in their Land Rovers! To be smug, I cycled.)
Use of water, from economy to water butts
Ways in which one keeps warm. This is now very hard for any on a limited income e.g. a pensioner relying on State Pension.
Judicious planting of trees, peat restoration (no mention by churches?) not to mention biodiversity.
Food; the sources need considering
And fun things; I grow rowans from seed to give away. This can also challenge people to think.
We have urged both the Commissioners and Pensions Board to consider the points made above in conjunction with Paris Agreement compliance in their upcoming review of fossil fuel investments.
We urge you to use your influence to encourage the church to divest from all fossil fuels ahead of COP27 in Egypt in November to demonstrate the prophetic voice of the Church for the young, the most vulnerable and the poorest and in the face of the destruction of God’s Creation.
These are emotive arguments, but first CCA needs to put its own house in order, considering both their disruptive activities and Conscious bias of their statements.
Total divestment from fossil fuel companies would allow the Church and the Archbishop in particular, as he did so eloquently concerning refugees, to speak more clearly on how large fossil fuel companies supported by government are contributing to the increase in global temperatures. It is only by divesting entirely, that he and the Church would not be exposed to the easy criticism from the media that comes from still having investments in oil and gas.
Really. It is only some of media eg Guardian
Perhaps this should also involve total avoidance of fossil fuels! and everything dependent on them;
Mains Water supply, which uses Chlorine which made by a process using natural gas.
Hospital and medical equipment not only PPE Having had a big operation this year I see how much material from fossil fuels used either in equipment, medicines, ppe, dressings etc
Internet! Mobile Phones, PCs Vast energy (generated from fossil fuels is used.)
Fertilisers from Haber/Bosch process. If this is stopped there would be mass starvation
How build renewables without fossil fuel powered machinery ehg turbines on or offshore
Obtaining minerals for “electric revolution”. To effect the electric revolution double the amounts of Copper, cobalt nickel Lithium and rare earths would be needed. This is an impossible mining problem. (I was employed as a mining and exploration geologist for copper.)
They make several omissions;
There is no mention of nuclear energy, which is a no-no to groups like friends of the Earth and Green Peace. Note the mess Germany is with energy having closed down nuclear.
And then theproblems of renewables; they are dependent on wind and sun. There is no backup eg batteries when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind blow. Many assume, wrong, that battery backup is already here. It is not.
When no wind in winter coal power stations have to be switched on!! Also gas-fuelled power stations are at full blast.
Yes , there is a conflict of need to reduce emissions drastically AND tokeep the lights on. If the lights are not kept on, as they may not be this winner, many will suffer and too many will die.
Renewables will not keep the lights on, thus hardship of every kind results.
This is the danger of green ideology
Christian Climate Action
Christian Climate Action is an ecumenical community of Christians supporting each other to take meaningful action in the face of imminent and catastrophic anthropogenic climate breakdown. We are inspired by Jesus Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit.
This is rather arrogant and super-spiritual implying those who disagree are not proper Christians. This has been said on more than one occasion.
I go with Paul2 Cor 10 vs7
Following the example of social justice movements of the past, we carry out acts of public witness, nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience to urge those in power to make the changes needed.
This is a simplistic appeal as it was not case with anti-slavery and other issues eg 19th century.
What is called Non-violent action is often appalling behaviour, disruptive the lives of others e.g blocking roads, stopping workers travelling by tube to work
As this only came out yesterday I felt a rushed job was better than no job and given time my case would be better – and better expressed.
How can a leading coal economist become such a guru for green issues and alternative and small-scale technologies?
That is the legacy of E F Schumacher (16 August 1911 – 4 September 1977). Migrating from Germany from 1950 to 1970 he was Chief Economic Adviser to the National Coal Board, Yet this leader of old, polluting technologies became the prophet for the opposite and his legacy is his opposition to nuclear energy and various green groups named in his memory. Whether acknowledged or not he has had a great influence in Green Britain! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._F._Schumacher
I came across his work in the 70s as I read Resurgence and The Ecologist, as his name often came up. I admit to lapping up his ideas. To my surprise I found that he lived in my home town of Caterham in a lovely house opposite our school playing fields. For four years I cycled past his house every day on the way to school and then for another four years after that saw it from our geography, history and science blocks. Two of his sons were several years ahead of me in school and mother taught one of his daughters maths. Yet I knew nothing about him when at school when he was advising the National Coal Board.
After 1970 he seemed to change his economics to small scale projects and upped his opposition to nuclear energy. On the former he was influenced by visits as an advisor to Burma. I shall return to nuclear energy. That was music to my ears and most environmentalists of the day. He published his ideas in the book Small is Beautiful in 1974, which I got in paperback form some years later.
The subtitle of Small is Beautiful is a study of Economics as if People Mattered. I won’t go into that , but it is behind much of the small-scale arguments of the last 40 years, including Intermediate Technology. It is a classic of the 70s and significant in the whole green movement. But I will focus only on his views on nuclear energy.
Chapter 8 would shock many today, where he expresses his regret that so many coal mines were closed down in the 60s, despite have enough reserves. Thatcher continued in the 80s and Scargill criticised her for it. Scargill could see how the coal industry was being closed down, despite there being plenty of coal. All this was before the serious air pollution from coal was fully acknowledged and before an understanding of climate change.
Chapter 9 of Small is Beautiful is entitled Nuclear Energy – Salvation or Damnation?. EFS goes for the latter, where perhaps purgatory might be better!! The lecture was given as the Des Moeux Memorial Lecture “Clean Air and future Energy” in 1967. When discussing the lecture for his book in 1973, he points out the change in perception on nuclear energy. In 1967 most were in favour but the tide had turned by 1973, and though he does not say it because of the activities of the Sierra Club, the new Greenpeace and others. EFS was just one who added his pennyworth in this lecture. My own memory is that nuclear energy was seen as good thing from the fifties and by the 70s all environmentalists were opposed to it for its horrific potential dangers.
He claimed ” Of all the changes introduced by man into the household of nature, large -scale fission is undoubtedly the most dangerous and profound.” He then says that the building of power stations, whether based on coal, oil or nuclear (note that as yet gas was not used), are decided on economic grounds rather than the ‘social consequences’ which may result from the curtailment of the coal industry, which was in full swing in the 60s. The social consequences were unemployment and destruction of communities, which occurred in all old mining villages and towns. I witnessed them in Wigan and Chirk in the 70s and 80s. What was over-looked he claimed was the ‘incredible, incomparable and unique hazard for human life’ of nuclear energy. To buttress his arguments he used the example of nuclear weapons and their extreme destructiveness. He then describes the radiation and points out there is no safe way of storing “used” material as it will radioactive for ever.. Arguments still used today.
On p116 he notes the problem of air and water pollution (with coal burning being implicit), but says there is a ‘dimensional difference’ and ‘radioactive pollution is an evil of incomparably greater’ dimension’ than anything mankind has known before.’ and rhetorically ‘What is the point of insisting on clean air, if the air is laden with radioactive particles?’
This claim was very plausible in the early 70s and carried many with them, including Tony Benn. It convinced most environmentalists, including myself.
According to EFS the change came in February 1972 with the government report Pollution; Nuisance or Nemesis? The report expected nuclear to produce 50% of electricity by 2000. They highlighted the chief concern – which was the storage of radioactive waste which was forever.
EFS concluded “No degree of prosperity could justify the accumulation of large amounts of highly toxic substances which nobody knows how to make safe.” That has been the cry of environmentalists ever since.
EFS’s arguments against nuclear energy have been held by groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth ever since, who were very successful in their propaganda. I can’t criticise them as I totally swallowed the lot and was anti-nuclear. However they swung opinions against nuclear, which now produces only 20% of electricity in Britain.
More humorously Friends of the Earth had a yellow tea shirt with the words The only safe fast breeder is a rabbit. We bought one, partly at that time I was a curate in a Lancashire church and the vicar, my boss, was always telling us we should have children ASAP! He was not a nice, cuddly vicar!! Many parishioners were aware of this, so my wife turned up to parish events in the T-shirt! I left a few months later and then worked under the nicest vicar ever. We had our first child in that parish, and he and his wife were godparents. He was my unofficial mentor for 25 years. The Church of England can be quite Jekyll and Hyde.
One of EFS’s main themes was the danger of nuclear energy and how it was far worse than anything other form of energy. He was aware of pollution but did not consider the horrific air pollution from burning coal as totally disastrous. He could have noted the Clean Air Acts of the 50s after the great smog in London and the frequent pea-souper fogs. I think the last pea-souper was in 1963 which almost reached our house in Caterham and probably equally close to EFS’s house half a mile away and a lower altitude. The accumulated death-rate from coal over the years is immense and still is so in many parts of the world. So how does nuclear compare?
Accident rate from nuclear power.
As soon as one mentions nuclear weapons as EFS did in his lecture, pictures are conjured up that an accident in a nuclear power station would be like Hiroshima, first in its blast and next its radiation. So;
nuclear, no thanks!
Any accident creates great media interest, specially when creative writing takes precedent to fact. The three most well known are Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011. The resultant deaths were none at Three Mile Island, possibly one at Fukushima. Chernobyl was serious with 28 killed on site, 34 others and up to 4000 from cancer. The whole area of the disaster zone was evacuated. here is a list of all accidents from Wiki. Fukushima was no Hiroshima as one person was possibly killed and the death and injury was caused by the tsunami and not a nuclear accident. Many of the reports on Fukushima have been very creative!!
Chernobyl terrified many but compared to coal it was less lethal, as fatalities from coal are simply individuals who die one by one from air pollution but the table from this New Scientist article puts it into perspective. If you include deaths of miners then that ran at 1000 pa from 1873 to 1953 in Britain, which includes the Gresford disaster of 1934 which killed 266. This was just one of several.
This New Scientist article considers the relative death rates of various forms of energy per TWh. Brown Coal includes lignite which is used in Germany to replace nuclear and nuclear power stations were shut down after Fukishima.
Compared to coal nuclear is a very safe energy – and one of the safest. I find it difficult to understand why EFS gave the lecture as it shows an extreme Unconscious Bias – or was it Conscious? However he set the tone for the next half century (or supported it) and his perspective and that of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth has become accepted wisdom for a half century of environmentalists – though some like me repented.
In November 2021 there were strong voices for nuclear energy at COP26, but others counteracted as did the activist scientist Michael Mann, commenting on twitter.
Friends of the Earth has been consistently anti-nuclear since 1971 , as has Greenpeace.
Both are also opposed to GMOs and Fracking, presenting their arguments with Conscious bias. In turn they influence most green groups in Britain and elsewhere, resulting in calls for divestment (keep it in the ground) rejection of nuclear energy and a total conviction that renewables can provide all energy needs in the immediate future. They cannot..
At COP26 there was a grudging acceptance by many that nuclear needed but Greenpeace retained its opposition of 50 years.
At COP26 some environmentalists slightly, and grudgingly, softened their opposition to nuclear energy as did Andy Lester of A Rocha in an interview with the evangelical TWR (Trans World Radio) https://youtu.be/aUzbpWGuGuU
It is a shame that a Christian environmental group should take such a negative attitude, though Lester regards nuclear as acceptable only in the short term to be rid of fossil fuels. Christian environmentalists often sing from the Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth hymnbook and do not wish to listen to other viewpoints. Hence the carious churches’ studies on energy, climate change etc do not allow any breadth of opinion , beyond “keep it in the ground”!! He did not like being challenged either!
However some Climate campaigners like Mark Lynas and James Hansen have accepted that nuclear is needed to tackle climate change. At least some environmentalists recognise that if we are serious about tackling climate change, we need nuclear power as part of the solution.
Nuclear Energy is like tree planting. The best time was decades ago, and the next best time is today.
I was disappointed when I found that EFS, whom I almost revered in the 70s has left a flawed legacy, which has led both to the energy crisis of this year and the growing issue of climate change. Throughout the continent of Europe , as well as Britain, green NGOs have stymied the development of nuclear energy – and throttled it in Germany, and due to hatred of gas, it has meant an increased use of coal.
It comes as a surprise to many that clergy can be members of a Trades Union.
I joined after a problem with the bishop and since then have twice used the Union to sort out a problem. Both went my way but I know I got a black mark.
This article sets out the case for clergy being in a union. It also, by implication, implies that clergy, especially in the Church of England, need to be employed, rather than office holders so they have proper employment rights (and duties).
The Church of England has been marred by a large number of cases of sexual abuse, many of which were swept under the carpet in the past. They have suddenly come to light.
As well as that there have been many cases of spiritual abuse, which is clearly much harder to define. That can merge into straight bullying.
Victims include parishioners and clergy junior to others who are shoved around by hierachy or their immediate bosses in a parish, whether as curate or team vicar. I can give examples where the issue was left unresolved and victims expect to man up and get on with or allowed to disappear. It can be complicated by perpetrators lying.
This has been a long running sore in the life of the Church of England and few have had the nerve to blow a whistle.
This blog highlights several vital issues and hopefully will make an impact
On 12th September the controversial Bishop Spong died at the age of 89. I’d known of him for decades and in the 80s he helped at a wedding at a Welsh church where the vicar was a very conservative evangelical, which gave us a smile.
As someone who is fairly conservative and orthodox I have never been partial to Spong with his extreme liberal views almost throwing out every item of the Christian faith for a progressive faith. He is a person whom people either loved or loathed. Spong raises many issues and especially the absurdities of extreme fundamentalism, but throws the baby out with the bathwater. I will not give a general assessment of him but focus on one issue.
That issue is his understanding of Charles Darwin and the effect of his science on the Christian faith. Way back in the 1990s he explained some of the reasons why he rejected “orthodoxy” and much hinged on Darwin. He claimed that until 1859 all Christians believed in a literal Genesis and then with The Origin of Species Darwin torpedoed that making it totally untenable.
Probably most people would agree with Spong on that and it has been the received view among most who consider themselves educated. In his book and TV series of the 1980s The Sea of Faith Don Cupitt came out with same arguments. Many thought it wonderful, but his history had a bit to be desired! A similar view comes out in older church histories and among writers of popular science, including Richard Dawkins.
I never kept the article where I read Spong’s views on Darwin but at some lectures in 2018 he repeated the same line. These were lectures he gave at the Chautauqua Institution and reported in The Chautauquan Daily – their official newspaper.
“On Tuesday in the Hall of Philosophy, Spong explained how Darwinian and Christian values came to divide the Christian faith in his lecture titled, “The Assault of Charles Darwin and Why the Christian Church Retreated before Darwin.” Spong continued Week One’s interfaith theme, “Producing a Living Faith Today?”
Here is what the report said of his lecture, when he dealt with Darwin. It all sounds so familiar
One of the scientists who pushed the status quo was Charles Darwin, who Spong called the second “obsession of the church.”
Darwin began his work in 1831 when he got a job as a naturalist on a five-year survey voyage around the world on the HMS Beagle. It took him 25 years after the trip, but Darwin claimed his place in history when he released the Origin of Species.
The book sold out immediately and raised questions that had previously been debated, but were never analyzed from a perspective like Darwin’s. Christians did not welcome these findings with open arms, Spong said.
“The war was on,” Spong said. “Darwin was now an enemy to the Bible, as the Bible was interpreted literally, and he was an enemy to the church in the way (Darwinism was) interpreted theologically.”
In an attempt to set the record straight, a debate took place in 1860 between Thomas Huxley, a biologist and an avid defender of Darwin’s, and Samuel Wilberforce, the bishop of Oxford and an advocate of biblical literalism. Wilberforce resorted to ridicule and at one point asked Huxley which side of his family was descended from apes. Wilberforce won the debate, but Spong said it was not enough to earn him a lasting legacy.
“Sam Wilberforce was hailed as a hero, but what’s interesting is that heroes don’t last forever,” he said. “He was very popular in his lifetime, but his reputation has faded.”
After the debate, Darwin’s theories made their way into the bloodstream of western civilization. At first, evolution was taught in small, private settings, but as it began to gain momentum in 1910, the Christian Church decided to tackle the issue head on.
A group of Presbyterian divines proposed a series of pamphlets on the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Once the project received funding, more than 500,000 were sent out each week. As time went on, the pamphlets became more popular, and by the 1920s, every church in the world was divided over being classified as fundamental or modernist.
“You can’t force truth into popularity,” Spong said. “Darwin seemed to have the truth, and after a while, these fundamentals of the Christian faith did not seem fundamentalistic after all.”
The Presbyterian leaders published five fundamentals all Christians were required to believe in order to identify as Christian. Among them were the ideas that the Scriptures are the infallible word of God and human beings are created perfect but fell into sin. Spong said those fundamentals were too similar to the myths of the religion to survive.
“They were so absurd, no one in the academic world would give them credibility,” he said.
The problem facing modernists, on the other hand, was that they knew too much to be fundamentalists, but did not know how to be Christian, Spong said.
“That is reflected in the world today,” he said. “The major mainline Christian churches are all in a frantic of political decline. The fundamentalistic churches are strong, but they are also declining. The world is catching up, and fundamentalism is not a viable option any longer.”
The fall of these ideals caused a rise in Darwin’s ideals. At that time in history, there was no longer a medical school in the western world without a foundation built upon Darwinian principles, and hardly a science department in the United States that was not embracing evolution. That was until the public school system implemented “creation science,” Spong said, designed to be a fair alternative to Darwinism. Although creation science is not taught in public schools anymore, Spong reminded the audience it was not that long ago that former President George W. Bush endorsed it.
“Bush wanted people to be fair, to have a chance to voice an opinion,” Spong said. “He thought you could decide by majority vote what truth is. It doesn’t work that way.”
After Bush’s endorsement, the U.S. Supreme Court declared creation science unconstitutional.
“By virtue of its own strength and integrity, Darwin became stronger and stronger,” Spong said. “There is hardly an educated person in the western world who does not accept Darwin’s point of view as truth.”
Spong asked why Christians fought so hard when they knew they were wrong. The answer, once again, was Darwin.
“There was something about Darwin that challenged not just the Christian story, but the way in which we told that story,” he said. “Darwin said there was ‘no perfect creation,’ but the church said we were ‘created perfect and then all fell into sin.’ You can’t fall into sin if you are not perfect to start with.”
Spong acknowledged how difficult it can be to accept the similarities humans have with the apes, but in a time where millennials check “none” for their chosen denomination more than the rest of the other options combined, he believes the dialogue has to continue between Darwinism and Christianity in order for the faith to survive.
“I think we have a wonderful faith,” he said. “Not the only faith, but a wonderful faith. And we have to work hard to make it live in our generation, and I think we can.”
[Clearly this is an account of what Spong said and not his actual words. However from what I’d previously read what Spong himself wrote on Darwin, it seems to be an accurate and trustworthy account. Thus as I have no reason to doubt its authenticity I shall treat as Spong’s views of 2018, which are similar to those he held two decades earlier.]
On the surface this seems reasonable and historically accurate both with regards to Darwin’s life and work and the effect on the Christian church.
But it is not!
As he started in 1831 he could have mentioned that Darwin receieved the letter inviting him to join the Beagle after a few weeks geologising in Wales with the Reverend Professor Adam Sedgwick of Cambridge.
Rev Adam Sedgwick, father of the Cambrian system. Susan Darwin had a crush on him.
Sedgwick was one of the great Anglican clergy-geologists. He was one of the most significant geologists to elucidate the Lower Palaeozoic and Devonian from 1831-1845. But, horror of horrors, he was also an evangelical. Now what was an evangelical doing as a professor of geology and doing fundamental work. Like most evangelicals of his day i.e. before 1859, he had no problems with geological time and did not see it as destroying his faith. He was very scathing about those who rejected geology and tried to insist on a literal Genesis. Here deal with some of his spats, which are quite funny too.
It’s a pity Spong did not know about Sedgwick and his many Christian geologists! And so he dug a bigger hole;
“The war was on,” Spong said. “Darwin was now an enemy to the Bible, as the Bible was interpreted literally, and he was an enemy to the church in the way (Darwinism was) interpreted theologically.”
My question to Spong is simple. Who in the churches interpreted the Bible literally? For 40 years I have tried to find some examples and beyond slave-holders in the Southern States and other nuts, I am still wandering around in the wilderness looking for one.
Quite simply, virtually no Christians with a modicum of education in the 1860s took Genesis 1 literally and denied geological time. I think that is slam dunk against Spong. I’ll now go slam dunker and gently point out that Samuel Wilberforce was not a biblical literalist.
Bishop soapy Sam Wilberforce
He was a competent amateur scientist and while at Oriel College , Oxford in the 1820s he went to William Buckland’s geology lectures for three years running. (The attendance records are in the Oxford museum. From my brief study of it, he was the only one who went every year.)
Buckland checking out glacial Striae at Rhyd Ddu in Snowdonia 1842. Buckland introduced ideas of an Ice Age to Britain
Rev William Buckland giving a geological lecture at Oxford
His review of the Origin in the Quarterly Review is competent scientifically and is similar to what most scientists would have written in 1860. Wilberforce was no literalist and no fool, but was a rather soapy bishop! Spong could have mentioned Christians who accepted Darwin from 1859 including the evangelical Rev H B Tristram, Charles Kinsgley and others. Read this for the British scene from 1859
Spong next dealt with The Fundamentals of 1910 “At first, evolution was taught in small, private settings, but as it began to gain momentum in 1910, the Christian Church decided to tackle the issue head on. A group of Presbyterian divines proposed a series of pamphlets on the fundamentals of the Christian faith.” Really! Head on? Many may know the series of brown paperback booklets called The Fundamentals. So much for taking Darwin/Evolution head on. One or two articles did, but most which dealt with Darwin or Genesis at least accepted geological time and in the case of James Orr, evolution as well. Spong simply had not doen his homework and was woefully inaccurate. So much for saying, “They were so absurd, no one in the academic world would give them credibility,” In fact many had academic credibility from competent conservative scholars, but some were not. Spong cannot have studied the background or content of these leaflets. If anyone was absurd it was Spong!
He continued “Darwin said there was ‘no perfect creation,’ but the church said we were ‘created perfect and then all fell into sin.” When did the church say that? Some fundamentalists did, and still do, say that but they are not the church but just a small part!
He ought to have known that humans ARE apes, and thus have similarities with all the other apes. A lack of biological knowledge here.
So what should we say about Spong’s encounter with Darwin?
Most obvious is that he has adopted a popular and extreme form of the Conflict Thesis of science and religion and out- whites White. To claim that the church was literalist in 1859 is simply completely and utterly false. Just to take the Anglican church, the vast majority of clergy had accepted geological time, and thus a non-literal Genesis way before 1859. In fact a higher proportion of Church of England clergy in 2021 are literalist than in 1860.
The best that can be said is that his confirmation bias to buttress his understanding of Christianity is to assume what he claims. This is simply not scholarly and is a very shoddy way of presenting an argument. Sadly others like Don Cupitt have done the same but he did (mis)quite contemporary authors! I agree with Spong on how awful Young Earth Creationism is in every way, but we need to ensure that what he say about others is accurate. He does not.
In 1998 Spong nailed his 12 Theses to the internet and Rowan Williams dismembered the lot with simplicity and clarity.
Williams exposes the shoddiness and wrongness of all his arguments both theological and ethical. I don’t need to repeat Rowan’s arguments.
On the positive side Spong is good at raising questions and especially those which come as a result of being swept up in fundamentalism. But he is not so good at understanding and tilts at the non-existent strawmen of ultra-fundamentalism and includes all the mainline orthodox in his tilting. His dealings with Darwin are just that. His ideas may resonate with those escaping from fundamentalism, but for the rest of us (who often have serious questions about our faith) he provides nothing of merit and an easy target for a hatchet job.
What Bishop Spong gives is not a new and progressive Christianity for a the 21st Century but an incoherent and muddled rejection of the faith. Sadly some would disagree with me and Rowan Williams!!
I loath the old Sunday School pictures of Jesus portraying him as a white wimp in a nightie. I cannot stand Holman hunt’s painting either.
It’s far too sentimental.
Too often Jesus is/was portrayed as white ( and often wimpish) overlooking the fact that he was a middle easterner and thus had a dark complexion. When living in Apartheid south Africa I enjoyed pointing out that Jesus wasn’t white and would have been classified in one of the varieties of nie-blanke. Not all aprecciated it!!
In this blog Ian Paul discusses contemporary views, especially in the light of BLM. He does it well but not all will like it – for the opposite reasons my comments on Jesus’ colour in South Africa were not liked. He is critical of those who wish to make Jesus out to be black. He was not and we may say God wisely chose Jesus to be an intermediate shade, thus representing all people of whatever ethnicity or colour.
How far should the church look to the standards of society to guide its own moral stance? Recently Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, did just that on marriage and sexuality saying that the church should let the world set the agenda. This is music to the ears of progressive Christians and discord to the so-called conservative. Here Bayes lays out his views in his address to the MoSAIC group . He says “want to see a gender-neutral marriage canon,” in Canon Law, which would make it difficult for any priest to oppose same-sex marriage. Perhaps those who do, would have to quit.
It is a dangerous thing to let the world set the agenda and the early church did not do that on matters of sex as Ian states. As the unknown author of The Letter to Diognetus memorably wrote;
They share their food, but not their wives Diognetus 5 vs7
This has been a rallying cry for decades but ultimately dissolves any Christian claims into the contemporary zeitgeist. At least Barth and Bonhoffer did not do it in 1934 Germany.
Read his blog as it is one of his best and I suppose anyone who agrees with Ian must be one of the many varieties of -phobe, if not all.