Beyond 'Design': Evolutionary Biology and a Theology of Preservation

Speaker(s): David Robinson, Loren Wilkinson
Date: Fall 2018
Length: 1h23m
Product ID: RGDL4802BI

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 This is a Interface Lecture Series talk given during the fall of 2018.

During the industrial revolution, it became popular for theologians to draw an analogy between human mechanisms and God's original "design" of nature. They could not have foreseen the scale on which humans would alter the natural world, such that scientists propose that we now live in a geological epoch named the "Anthropocene." The cumulative effect of human designs is such that the extinction of species has become a more pressing concern than debates about their origin, leading prominent biologist E.O. Wilson to appeal for a new alliance between science and religion to stem the loss of creation's diversity. It is also time to more thoroughly examine whether human "designs" were the right model for divine action to begin with. This lecture revisits the nineteenth-century context of William Paley's famous argument that the precise functionality of nature leads us to infer a divine designer, as well as Charles Darwin's critical response in On the Origin of Species. Such an exercise allows us to diagnose the theological risks in the movement from human to divine design. It also helps us to see how critics of a "design" argument often end up mirroring it negatively - and so remain in its thrall. The criticism of natural theology has to run deeper, however, if we are to meet the ethical challenge of "the Anthropocene." Our interpretations of nature are conditioned by our own artificial schemes, as Darwin's were. We therefore turn to an early twentieth-century theological criticism of natural theology, presenting Karl Barth's and Dietrich Bonhoeffer's accounts of how God preserves the creature as a continuation of creation "out of nothing." Their work has significant implications for how we discern the natural, while also providing a basis for new alliances among those who bear the image of a preserving God.

The lecture was followed by response from Dr. Loren Wilkinson.

Interface offers lectures, articles and other resources that probe and preserve the relationship between theology and science, working toward healing the breach between these disciplines as they have taken shape in our late modern age.

The John Templeton Foundation

Interface has been made possible through the John Templeton Foundation. The Foundation aims to advance human well-being by supporting research on the Big Questions, and by promoting character development, individual freedom, and free markets. The Foundation takes its vision from its founding benefactor, the late Sir John Templeton, who sought to stimulate what he described as 'spiritual progress.'

See All Audio by David Robinson Loren Wilkinson

David Robinson is the Post-Doctoral Fellow in Theology and Science at Regent College for 2018-19. This role follows the completion of his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology and Ethics at the University of Edinburgh in 2017. David's research focuses on the intersection of evolutionary biology and theology, particularly the question of how natural causation is described vis-u00e0-vis divine providence. His interests also include the philosophy of science and criticisms of natural theology in the 19th and 20th centuries.nDavid is the author of Christ and Revelatory Community in Bonhoeffer's Reception of Hegel (Mohr Siebeck, 2018), which is based on his PhD thesis. The book includes material on Bonhoeffer's and Hegel's use of the Genesis account of creation and fall in their portrayals of emergent human consciousness. Selected chapters and other essays have been published in Modern Theology, Scottish Journal of Theology, Studies in Christian Ethics and Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics. nDavid has previously lectured at the University of Edinburgh and has presented at conferences including the Society for the Study of Theology (UK) and the International Bonhoeffer Congress. While completing his PhD, he worked as Postgraduate Conference Convener for the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics (UK) and as website host for Kathryn Tanner's 2016 Gifford Lectures, 'Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism.' nAlongside his academic work, David has worked in Anglican and Episcopal ministry since his ordination in 2009, serving congregations in both Ottawa and Edinburgh. This role has included teaching Christian ethics as an Associate Tutor with the Scottish Episcopal Institute.nDavid lives in Coquitlam with his wife Jolene, who works as Marketing and Communications Manager for Jewish Family Services, and their three-year-old daughter Naomi.

Loren E. Wilkinson is retired as Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies & Philosophy at Regent College. Previously he served as Associate Professor in the Department of English at Seattle Pacific College and Fellow at the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship. He is editor of Earthkeeping in the Nineties: Stewardship of Creation, and co-wrote Caring for Creation in Your Own Backyard with his wife, Mary Ruth.

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