If the Christian God is creator of all things and revealed in Christ to be compassionate love, then how can divine agency in creation be understood considering the Darwinian assertion that biological warfare undergirds natural selection? The implications are significant for understanding Christian discipleship and ethics if indeed the human is made in God’s image with the capacity for creative or destructive “dominion” over earthly life (Gen. 1:26). To approach this challenge, Simon R. Watson turns to Philip Hefner’s The Human Factor (1993), which identifies the human as created co-creator to investigate themes of freedom and determinism in light of Darwinian evolutionary theory. Hefner’s argument exploring human purpose from a beneficence discernible in creation invites a re-examination of Victorian preoccupations with natural teleology. Inspired by Hefner’s work, Watson places Darwin’s The Descent of Man (1871) in conversation with historical and contemporary sources, from William Paley’s Natural Theology (1802) to twenty-first century articulations of Wisdom Christology by Denis Edwards and Elizabeth Johnson, to argue that theology can offer a framework of meaning to interpret an evolving nature as revelatory of a Christian God when considered through the lens of a suffering Christ and an existentially fallen creation.
Simon R. Watson, MA, PhD, has taught Christian ethics at Emmanuel College in the University of Toronto and worked as a research associate in the department of biology at York University.
Chapter 1 William Paley and Douglas John Hall: The Watchmaker God and the Crucified Christ
Chapter 2 Charles Darwin, Asa Gray, and Aubrey Moore: A Natural History of the Golden Rule
Chapter 3 Philip Hefner’s Risky Teleology: Natural Selection as the Sacrificial Means of a Free Creation
Chapter 4 Denis Edwards and Elizabeth Johnson: A Liberative Sophia
Conclusion: Discerning Christ in Creation
That Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection challenged Christianity is a truism. Too often, the response has been denial – biblical literalists – or untroubled acceptance – the majority of theologians and philosophers writing today. Simon Watson belongs to that small, but all-important third group, who see that after Darwin nothing can be the same, but that this is a tremendously exciting opportunity to rethink and reaffirm Christian faith, one that centers on a God of love who through Christ creates but extends human nature. We are no longer passive subjects, but activity involved in the unfurling universe. You may not agree, I am not sure I do, but you will come from Watson’s book with your mind buzzing with the new directions in which he points. A very exciting book!
To the list of significant reflections on the relationship of Darwinian evolution to Christian ideas about God we may now add those of Simon Watson. In this challenging and informed study, the author gives a refined assessment of the theological value of important previous attempts to rethink the idea of God after Darwin. I think expert readers, especially those interested in the question of science and theology, will appreciate the accuracy and insightfulness of this study.
Simon Watson and I are very different. He is a theologian, I am a biologist. He is a Christian, I am an atheist. Nevertheless, over many conversations, over many years, I have developed a profound appreciation of his perspective on the intersection between science and religion. In this book he beautifully demonstrates why. He presents a comprehensive account of how theologians wrestle with the facts emerging from evolutionary biology and leaves both theologians and scientists with many insights to grapple with.
This is the right book on the right topic at the right time. Watson identifies the historical roots of evolutionary theodicy within the framework of natural theology, then proceeds forward to critically engage Phil Hefner's formulation of imago Dei as created co-creator. But he does not stop there. I read this book with growing excitement as his constructive theology turns to Sophia by engaging Denis Edwards and Elizabeth Johnson. He has provided us not only with a significant contribution to the field of theology and science, but also with a valuable monograph on the problem of suffering.