As I continue to develop this outline of a brief theology of nature, I thought it would worth highlighting a common alternative to the misstep I identified in the previous post — ie. attempting to read off the natural teleology (purpose and design) of things from what seems natural and obvious.
The common alternative to this alternative — which is equally inadequate — has been dubbed the protological fallacy. It involves focusing on the beginning of the incomplete project of creation as the source of a pure, untainted natural teleology.
A number of factors confound this move. To begin with, I’ve often wondered why people who do this almost inevitably privilege the opening chapters of Genesis as the ‘literal’ creation narrative (not only relegating other narratives — e.g., in Job and some of the Psalms, to the status of ‘mere poetry’ — but also failing to reckon with the significant differences between Genesis 1 and 2).
What’s more, even the access Genesis 1-2 gives us to God’s original purposes for His world is unavoidably mediated to us by a document and in a language that doesn’t participate in this (imagined) original purity. That is, we only ever see it through the lens of the Fall.
Of course, we might try to correct this distortion with a kind of negative theology. Trouble is, all we end up with is a ‘negation of the negative’ not something positive and concrete. Further, any negative theology is implicitly anchored in a positive vision which tells us what we should (and should not) negate. And we always must ask what generates this positive anchor.
All of which is a long way of saying that we need to read the opening chapters of Genesis in the context of the entire Bible story — especially its centre: the kingdom of God inaugurated in Jesus. As Hill recognises, ‘it is only the final vision of the Kingdom of God revealed in Christ that enables us to see the picture that governs the whole of the moral life.’ (The How And Why Of Love, p 123)
Christ’s kingdom is the consummation of creation, and the definitive unveiling of its natural telos. It is thus to this kingdom that we must look to develop our theology of nature.
As a result, an adequate theology of nature will be thoroughly christological.