FiSch research in conservation science

I’m excited to tell you about a FiSch research project.  The Faith-in-Scholarship Working Group on Ecosystem Services (FiSWES) draws together fourteen Christian thinkers (mostly academics) to explore new perspectives on a specific problem.  We’ve already had two meetings in Leeds this year, with a third one planned.

Ecosystem services (ES) is a major framework in conservation science and policy at present – but a controversial one.  Essentially it’s a way to motivate conservation by analysing how humans benefit from ecosystems.  Historically, the conservation movement has relied more upon ethical appeals to the inherent value of non-human creatures, but so far that hasn’t worked well enough.  So ES talk is intended as a tool, and one especially aimed at policy-makers, who have to integrate many competing demands.

Occurrence of “ecosystem services” in titles of journal articles on Web of Science since 1995

Why get involved in this? And why do we think Christian perspectives should go beyond telling people that God loves all He has made and wants humans to reflect that attitude?

There are lots of reasons. First, we have to agree that ethical appeals aren’t working well enough, and we take our accountability to God so seriously that we want to influence people who don’t acknowledge this.  Here we will have to be shrewd – but we may find that God calls us to seek influence in particular loving, redemptive, Gospel-oriented ways.

Second, we’re concerned that the ES framework may gain too much authority and reinforce a human-centred view (Man as the definer and purpose of Nature[1]) that, arguably, is one cause of the current ecological crisis in the first place.

In view of these two points, one of our FISWES themes is to re-examine ethical frameworks for conservation.

Third, we actually want to improve the ES framework in its own right, to help it work better as the motivational tool it’s intended to be (after all, many of Jesus’ commands are quite consequentialist, like “…follow me and you will have treasure in Heaven”). Our theology tells us that God’s common grace gives value to much work of people who don’t know Jesus, while our Christian philosophy framework should lead to valuable insights. The really exciting thought here is that we may make genuine contributions that non-Christians appreciate. This is another FISWES theme, and we’re already thinking about peer-reviewed publications.

That introduces a fourth reason, which is that we believe God calls people to know, understand and work together creatively with what God has made – in submission to Jesus Christ as the world’s true Lord. That’s our vision for Christian research, and we want to explore, and demonstrate publicly, what this can look like. I know lots of other Christians seek insights from their faith in their research too, and I’m always excited talking with such people.

I’ll share another update here in due course, but if you’d like to keep up with the project through occasional emails, or discuss what we’re doing, please contact us.

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[1] The capitalisation and sexism here are intended to evoke the Enlightenment heritage of this view.

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