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SRT at 50 : Giving Thanks

SRT at 50 : Giving Thanks

Monday December 21 2020

In the last part of the series marking the 50th anniversary of the Church of Scotland SRT, Dr Murdo Macdonald looks back – and forward – at the life of the unique project.

For many years, I kept a diary. Each December, I would go back and read the entries for the year just finished. It was interesting to be reminded of issues which had been prominent at times during the preceding months, and to recall forgotten incidents and encounters. It was also a good opportunity to reflect on and give thanks for God’s provision and guidance
during the days gone by, and to look to the future in the year about to begin.

This 50th anniversary year has been a similar time of reflection for the SRT. As we have looked back on the past years, we realise that there is much to give thanks for. It has been fascinating to see that some of the threads and issues which were prominent back in the 1970s – such as the sources we derive our energy from – remain relevant today. Some episodes – the nuclear accident in Chernobyl, the creation of Dolly the sheep - still resonate in the public consciousness. Others have, almost inevitably, fallen by the wayside: who now
gives much thought to the radiation emitted by mobile phones?

A dominant theme of our age, that of climate change, has been central to much of the work
that the SRT has been engaged with in the last few decades, and it is clear that, as the
Church of Scotland moves to be a nett carbon-neutral organisation, the development and deployment of technology to facilitate this will be key. However, in order to be successful, we will all need to play our part.

The prescience of the 1969 General Assembly in establishing the SRT, with the remit to help the church to engage with ethical issues in science and technology, is clear - perhaps never more so than in the situation in which we currently find ourselves. As we seek to deal with the global pandemic, the Society, Religion and Technology project sits at the nexus of many of the issues that we face today. As our ability and opportunity to mix with others is curtailed, we have been forced to reflect on what society actually means, and how we, as people of faith, can encourage communities to thrive despite the restrictions imposed on us.

The church, at both the national and local level, has clearly faced a steep learning curve, as online services, Zoom Kirk session meetings and pastoral care at one remove have become the norm rather than the exception. Virtual baptisms are probably still a step too far for most of us; however, despite the challenges, we again realise that we have much to give thanks for.
Many of us have been encouraged that housebound members of congregations have been able to engage with online worship services, and there is evidence that significant numbers of people who wouldn’t normally attend a church service have been willing to do so via Facebook or Zoom. The question is: how do we as a church best take advantage of the opportunities this affords us?

And what of the future? What ethical dilemmas might advances in science and technology present our brothers and sisters in the Church of Scotland of 2070 to wrestle with? Many of the technologies which we take for granted today could hardly have been imagined when the SRT was established back in the 1970s; the pace of advancement has taken even those within the field by surprise. As an undergraduate student of molecular biology in the 1980s, I could
scarcely have imagined that my children will probably have some level of opportunity to edit the genes of their children. Does this power to so fundamentally alter another human being put us in an inappropriately god-like position?

In thinking about writing this piece celebrating the 50th anniversary of the SRT, I found myself reflecting on the year of Jubilee. In Leviticus 25, God gives instructions to the people of Israel to set aside every 50th year to observe a special year – to reflect on what has gone before and to look to the future trusting in him. In 2020, a year like no other, God similarly calls each of us to take time to give thanks for the past, and to look to a future guided by him.

Dr Murdo Macdonald is Policy Officer of the Church of Scotland SRT.

SRT at 50: a year-long series marking the 50th anniversary of Church of Scotland SRT (Society, Religion and Technology).

SRT Milestone: Lynne McNeil looks back at the history of the project
No Time to Waste: Dr John Francis on nuclear weapons
The Great Unmentionable: Dr Murdo Macdonald considers end of life issues
The Challenge Ahead: the Rev Dr Alistair Donald on artificial intelligence
Battlefield Robots: the Rev Dr David Coulter on the rise of AI in warfare
The Strength of a Seed: Ruth Bancewicz looks at churches engaging with science
Faith and Evolution: Eric Priest asks whether faith and evolution are in harmony
Jesus and the Natural World: Andrew Torrance says the natural world is not its own independent reality
Augustinian Questions: the Very Rev Dr Angus Morrison considers the thoughts and writing of St Augustine on science and faith
Surveillance and Social Justice: Eric Stoddart explores surveillance in daily life
With Scorching Heat and Drought: Adrian Shaw