Paul Allen, How to Renew Natural Theology


Paul AllenPaul Allen

Natural theology is best conceived as a discourse that deliberately precedes faith, rather than consisting of a set of stand-alone arguments about the existence of God. Historically, the focus on the order of the world has been viewed as yielding demonstrable evidence for divine providence over creation, yet this tradition has faced a variety of stringent critiques since the early modern period. This paper will draw together an alternative tradition of natural theology that begins with human desire in order to show that nature is most plausibly interpreted to mean that God is the creator of the world and that faith in God is reasonable, responsible, and loving. The paper will discuss four things: a) scriptural references to ‘natural’ human desire; b) the telos of scientific investigation as coherent with faith; c) Bernard Lonergan’s contribution to the issue; and d) the evolutionary basis of sin/guilt that suggests an Augustinian, theological interpretation.


Paul Allen is Professor of Systematic Theology in the Department of Theological Studies at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. He teaches introductory courses to theology as well as specific topics such as the Trinity, Christology, religion and politics and graduate courses on theological method, political theology, and theological anthropology. He has served on university committees and has been a fellow of the College for Diversity and Sustainability. In matters of public interest, Allen has contributed to debates such as the role of the state in Canadian schools. He has served on the Executive of Montreal's English Speaking Catholic Council which worked in concert with other groups to support the Jesuit Loyola High School in the lead up to the landmark 2015 Supreme Court of Canada's decision in its favor, overturning the Government of Quebec's mandate that the school teach religion exclusively from a non-Catholic perspective. He has also played an advocacy role in defending private Canadian religious colleges and universities and their institutional academic freedom. He is the author of Theological Method: A Guide for the Perplexed (2012), Ernan McMullin and Critical Realism in the Science-Theology Dialogue (2006), and co-author of the textbook Catholicism and Science (2008). He is the author of a number of book chapters and journal articles in venues such as Heythrop Journal of Theology, Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, and the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly. He is presently writing a monograph entitled Creaturehood: Sin, Science, and Theological Anthropology, as well as co-editing a volume on Saint Augustine and social issues.


Tom McLeishTom McLeish

Professor Tom McLeish, FRS is Professor of Physics at Durham University. His research has contributed to the new field of “soft matter physics,” a field in which he works with chemists, engineers, and biologists to study relationships between molecular structure and emergent material properties. This work has also included biologists, with whom Professor McLeish developed statistical mechanical theories for the self-assembly of biomolecular fibrils and thermal mechanisms for signaling in protein binding (“allosteric” signaling). His current research includes physics-inspired models of evolution and he is currently the principal investigator of a renewal bid for the United Kingdom “Physics of Life” network, to be funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). He has also served as the leader for large academic-industrial collaborations, which McLeish argues enrich fundamental science as well as they generate commercial value. His other academic interests include the framing of science; society and science policy, including his recent collaborative study of narratives about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China); and science history, especially his recent interdisciplinary project re-examining scientific treatises from the 13th century. He is the author of Faith and Wisdom in Science (2014) and Let There Be Science (2017), works that articulate a theological narrative for the debates in science and theology and which were inspired by his work in science policy and public science. From 2008 to 2014 he served as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at Durham University and currently serves as Chair of the Royal Society’s Education Committee. He has been a Reader in the Anglican Church since 1993 and is a trustee of the John Templeton Foundation.

Free and open to the public. Reception following.

This event is part of the interdisciplinary conference The Quest for Consonance: Theology and the Natural Sciences. It is made possible by support from the Templeton Religion Trust, John J. Reilly Center, Nanovic Institute for European Studies, Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, Department of Theology, Department of Physics, and Department of Philosophy.