Lecture analyzes connection between biology and theology
Kathryn Marshall | Thursday, October 30, 2014
Notre Dame theology professor Celia Deane-Drummond examined the connection between theology and biology Thursday evening in her lecture “Tracing Common Ground in Biology and Theology: Caritas and the Drama of Kinship” as part of Saint Mary’s College theology lecture series, hosted by the Center for Spirituality.
Deane-Drummond, who holds doctoral degrees in both plant physiology and theology, strove to bring a dynamic understanding to a static web of life, which is why she titled the lecture the drama of kinship, she said. The relationships between other species and humans is a dynamic one of which are reminded every day, she said.
“The interaction between these two very different subject areas [theology and biology] makes for some creative thinking,” Deane-Drummond said. “It’s not that they’re the same necessarily, but that they engage us in ways that make us think anew. And that to me is exciting.”
The first portion of the lecture focused on the biological side of caritas, or love. In biology, altruism is used to describe sacrificial interrelationships between animals. However, this concept is a biological problem, Deane-Drummond said.
“Darwin’s theory of evolution is a theory of natural selection, and it selects those that survive,” she said. “It’s about the conservation of genes. And so therefore, why would any being sacrifice itself for another?”
By looking at Homo ergaster, an ancestor of Homo sapiens, who lived 1.5 million years ago, scholars can better understand the evolution of compassion, Deane-Drummond said. The being suffered from too much vitamin A, however, other Homo ergasters had to deliberately act with compassion to keep it alive. In this way, biology and compassion are linked, she said.
Deane-Drummond then looked at biological issues through a theological lenses. Within discussions of love, biological altruism is not necessarily endorsed by theologians because of its focus on self-interest, she said.
Theologians prefer a love that includes multiple forms of love, as seen in the biblical books of Luke, John and Revelations, Deane-Drummond said. This understanding of God’s love enables one to better understand the love within humans since we are made in the image of God, she said.
However, love in theology and biology has a few differences, she said.
“For biologists, the goal is always meant to be in terms of natural selection, and it doesn’t have a particular purpose other than survival,” she said. “Even the cooperation is for the survival of the group … whereas the theological perspective of love have the Kingdom of God in view.”
However, these differences just increase humanity’s ability to link the two together, she said. While love and cooperation may differ between the natural world and morality, both forms of caritas have similar foundations, she said.
“Caritas is grounded in friendship and love of God, which then overflows. … It is also infused by divine grace which takes humans to new possibilities in loving others beyond the biological tendencies,” Deane-Drummond said.
Saint Mary’s junior Allison Danhof said she felt the lecture exemplified the way Saint Mary’s women think.
“It’s important to view the world from a variety of perspectives to develop a well-rounded understanding of life,” Danhof said. “[Deane-Drummond’s] speech showed how two different perspectives can come together to create a unique picture.”
The lecture concluded the Saint Mary’s College Center for Spirituality fall lecture series, a series that encouraged all people to draw connection between theology and biology, Michelle Egan, associate director of the Center for Spirituality, said. The series aimed to connect theology to the sciences, she said.
“Theology that is intellectually responsible must be deeply engaged with all the sciences, including biology, in order to address questions about God, creation and humanity,” Egan said.