A Personal Reflection on COSAC 2018

A personal reflection on COSAC 2018
Richard Gijsbers, March 2018

A personal reflection on COSAC 2018

Richard Gijsbers

This was my eighth Conference on Science and Christianity (out of the eleven we have had) and what a journey it’s been!  Alister McGrath on the Bankruptcy of Scientific Atheism, Simon Conway Morris on Christianity and the Origin of the Species, Sam Berry on Christianity and nature, Nancey Murphy on Disenchantment, George Ellis introducing us to complexity and emergence, and so it flowed.

This year’s conference featured Jennifer Wiseman speaking on “The Heavens Declare…”. It was in the same tradition of the past COSACs: an international keynote speaker, presentations by ISCASTians representing a range of sciences, lots of discussion and everyone catching up with each other.   

But it was different also: It was

  • larger: over 160 people attended!
  • fuller and busier: more than 40 presentations.
  • younger: more than 44 students contributing and thrashing things out with their peers and elders.
  • Newer: with many for whom this was their first COSAC bringing enthusiasm and excitement that there were people exploring all sorts of dimensions of science and Christiainity.
  • more diverse: 30% were women (a small number but growing!) and 8% from outside Australia.  The presentations also included more from than just the physical sciences (including two from economists posing as scientists!)

Over 92% of those surveyed thought COSAC was either excellent or very good.  Most of the comments related to the diversity: age, gender, cultural background, and theological tradition.  For many this was celebrated.  For others there was more we needed to do.

In summary, from my perspective:

  • Involving younger delegates was great.  Chris Mulherin drove this vision hard and it bore fruit. My thanks to the students and young people who came and contributed, as well as to the older ISCASTians who listened, shared and (perhaps) learned from them. This was my #1 highlight!
  • The program was packed.  Many appreciated this as it meant a wider range of topics.  Others wanted more time for networking, changing over, and just chilling. 
  • We need to develop an agenda that deals with female and non-WASP topics.  This has bugged us for years and it is not for want of trying.  We need to try some more. At least the complaints mean that there are those there who notice this.
  • Theological and ecclesiastical traditions other than for evangelical protestants, particularly in our worship and reflections.  It would be tragic (I feel) if we ended up worshipping separately to provide for this diversity.  Is it possible to have a satisfying ecumenical service? 
  • Coping with Young Earth Creationism. All too often YEC is presented as “all or nothing”, and yet so many feel that it is both poor science and poor theology.  We grieve at the way this debate is conducted and many on both sides have been hurt.  ISCASTians are not blameless either.  We say we offer a “theological safe space” for people to present their thoughts free of ostracism but this does not mean that vigorous debate will not occur.
  • The keynote speakers set the tone marvellously! Jennifer’s lectures and those wonderful images of galaxies and nebulae! Enough said. Ken Freeman, Peter Harrison, Jonathan Clarke.  My thanks to each of you.

ISCAST (and COSAC) is continuing to evolve but as long as scientists (both eminent and run-of-the-mill), stand up and say: “I am a Christian”, no one can say that you cannot be a scientist and a Christian at the same time!