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Christian Perspectives in Science seminar

Speaker: Stan Rosenberg, Executive Director, Scholarship & Christianity In Oxford; member of the Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford

Abstract: Can a Christian account of evil accept an understanding of nature as “red in tooth and claw” from the outset? At the core of Augustine’s theology, and the theological systems that shape the Augustinian tradition, is an approach to evil based on privation theory. This asserts a primal purity and a Fall subsequently corroding the original state. On the face of it, such an approach would seem to be — and is often interpreted as — the cause of decay, cataclysm, animal predation, and pain in the natural world. This view wholly conflicts with later understandings of evolutionary development. In evolutionary science, such violence is endemic; hence, so-called “natural evil” is an essential and ongoing operation in the physical and biological world. This talk challenges a commonly held view that Augustine argued for privation as the cause of physical and biological decay and so should be understood as contradictory to an evolutionary understanding. Alternatively, it presents the basis for understanding Augustine’s approach as treating natural cataclysm and violence as an original facet and essential activity in the natural world and so integral to natural history, not as a consequence of a Fall. Later interpreters who claim him as an authority in asserting that the natural world became alienated from God after the Fall, when violence and destruction were introduced into nature, have misconstrued his position. This investigation is necessary for defining whether one doing theology in an Augustinian tradition can readily support biological evolution, must reject it, or needs to alter the Augustinian approach to evil.

October 2016
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