On the origin of love: Darwin and theology

Charles Darwin

In Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love, feminist theologian Sr Elizabeth Johnson CSJ sets out to show how Christian theology can speak productively with Darwin's theory of evolution.

Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love, by Elizabeth A. Johnson (Bloomsbury Publishing)

- By Melissa Jones, National Catholic Reporter.

This book begins with the question, 'What is the theological meaning of the natural world of life?' The importance of nature in cosmic existence is something that theologians have only recently begun to examine seriously, but scientists have been at it for centuries. Why not, then, look to science to find insights that can be considered from a theological perspective?

Johnson's book is a sustained dialogue between science and theology, and she notes that although each discipline answers different questions, both are bearers of important truth about the world. Her specific dialogue partners are Darwin's On the Origin of Species and the Nicene Creed.

She accepts the theory of evolution that was described in On the Origin of Species as a scientifically demonstrated interpretation of the natural world. She embraces the Nicene Creed as a narrative of divine engagement. It is a bold move, but one that sparks fire to the heart and the imagination.

On the Origin of Species describes a natural world where the tree of life is constantly in flux, with unimaginable potential for growth and change. The creed and resulting Christian theology describe the tree of the cross as a point at which the ineffable God, who has come physically into this created world, redeems and unfolds the unlimited potential of all of created matter. In the creed, we have the creator, the vivifying spirit, and the redeemer of creation.

Johnson's descriptions of Darwin and his ideas give the scientist humanity and depth. We see not the modern-day caricature, but a man whose love for the natural world was so great he spent his entire life focused on studying its origin and variations. We see a scientific ascetic, seeking truth as diligently as any monk.

She brings Darwin and his ideas to us most completely by providing an excerpt of his great book:

'It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.'

Johnson unloads the argumentative baggage stacked over the years, and shows that Darwin's work was not a direct assault on religion.

Read full article: Science and theology both reveal splendor of our natural world (National Catholic Reporter)


With book on God and Darwin, Elizabeth Johnson gets her voice back (National Catholic Reporter)


Ask the Beasts: Spirituality and the Evolving Earth: Elizabeth Johnson CSJ delivers the Evelyn Underhill Lecture in Christian Sprituality (Front Row/Boston College Magazine)

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