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Dr. David Robinson Appointed Post-Doctoral Fellow in Theology and Science

May 29, 2018
"that focus on public engagement is one of the many reasons I’m proud to take up this role."

Regent College is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. David Robinson as Post-Doctoral Fellow in Theology and Science, effective from August 1, 2018 to July 31, 2019. 

Regent College’s Academic Dean, Paul Spilsbury, welcomes the appointment, noting that Dr. Robinson joins Regent College as part of the three-year initiative to advance conversations about the relationship of theology and science at the College and beyond, made possible by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation:

"I am delighted that Dr. Robinson will be joining our faculty in this role. He brings a wealth of expertise, not just in theology and science, but in how these disciplines intertwine with ethics. I have no doubt that his presence will bring a depth of insight that will truly enrich the conversation about theology and science at Regent.” 

Dr. Robinson succeeds Dr. Ashley Moyse, who leaves the position for a new role at Oxford University.

David Robinson completed his doctoral work at the University of Edinburgh in 2017. While completing his Ph.D., David also worked as Postgraduate Conference Convener for the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics (U.K.), and as a Tutor and Guest Lecturer at New College. Concurrently, he maintained ties to Regent as a Distance Education Instructor. Alongside his academic work, David has worked in Anglican and Episcopal ministry since being ordained in 2009, serving congregations in both Ottawa and Edinburgh. His upcoming book, Christ and Revelatory Community in Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Hegel, will be published in June with Mohr Siebeck.

We spoke with Dr. Robinson about his passion for theology and science, and his plans for the Fellowship. 

Regent College: Why do you find the relationship between theology and science important to explore?

Dr. David Robinson: There are many reasons I could give here, but I’ll focus on the point that Christian theology gets us thinking about relationship itself in profound and creative ways. This is important, because we are regularly given options for how theology and science are related. For example, we might be told that they are in conflict or that they are just entirely independent ways of knowing. There are other possible “models” as well, such as dialogue or even integration.

But once you’ve begun studying Christian theology, you’ll recognize that such a taxonomy has its limits. Take the doctrine of the two natures of Christ. The Chalcedonian creed tells us of a relationship that is clearly distinct (“without confusion”) and yet utterly inseparable. As I show in my new book, thinkers like Hegel and Bonhoeffer see Chalcedon not only as a creed to be believed, but as a new way to think.

Now, if you’re studying science and theology at Regent, you’ll have heard Ross Hastings talk about “coinherence.” He’s doing this kind of work, taking a theological concept and using it to recast the way we think about these two disciplines. I appreciate that kind of creative approach, because it helps to challenge the myth of an eternal conflict between theology and science. Unfortunately, people often resign themselves to one side of that opposition. I’ve known scientists who have given up the Christian creed, in large part because of their vocation. I also know believers who are deeply suspicious of a given scientific consensus because of their conviction about how God works in the world. There is often a good desire for distinction in such choices, and sometimes conflict can be productive. But we don’t have to settle for a one-sided resolution.

Can you tell me a little about what your work will be in the coming year for the Templeton Grant?

Well, the first thing to say is that the Interface public lecture series begins in September and we’re very excited to have Alister McGrath and Sarah Coakley as our headliners. One of my first jobs will be to prepare to host their visits to the College. Ashley Moyse, my predecessor in the role, has done great work in laying the groundwork for the series. 

Second, the grant involves the launch of an Interface website. This will feature lectures by Regent faculty, such as Jens Zimmermann and Bruce Hindmarsh, as well as some of our students’ projects. With “Interface,” both the lecture series and the website, our public engagement really expands.

Third, I’ll also be involved in the delivery of two courses. In the Winter term, Ross Hastings and I will be co-leading a seminar. We’re still developing the syllabus, but we’ll be sure it picks up on the important work of our Interface lecturers. We are also setting up a summer school course that will feature a leading scholar working at the intersection of science and theology.

And you’ll also be doing some personal research as part of this grant? Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Sure. As a brief background, in my doctoral project I worked closely on the ethical implications of origin accounts. Both Hegel and Bonhoeffer were fascinated by what our origin stories meant for how we perceive others, whether human or animal. As Lutheran thinkers, it’s part of their tradition that there were certain social “orders” for life woven into creation. That could be taken in problematic directions, such as when an origin account is used to divide humanity into “races.” But there remains something valuable here: a view that nature is endowed with forms of cooperation.

Working from this background in philosophy and theology, I’ll be engaging more closely with the biological sciences over the coming year. I’m delighted to have Sarah Coakley coming to Regent because she has done significant work in this area, particularly by identifying how life has emerged through acts of cooperation and altruism. She’s presenting a growing scientific challenge to the notion of a merely “selfish” drive behind life as we know it.  

I can add that I have a related interest in the question of how we can hold to a certain “ideal” relationship for science and theology and yet still do justice to the history of these disciplines. I’m influenced by the work of Peter Harrison, who has shown that “science” and “religion,” at least as we typically think of them, are pretty recent inventions. So if we’re going to claim a harmony between them, as many Christians do today, we have to recognize that the boundary lines have often been different. 

Could you tell me your background in studying the relationship between theology and science?

Doing my doctoral work at the University of Edinburgh was a great experience in this area. My supervisor, David Fergusson, modelled a way of doing systematic theology that was seriously engaged with the sciences, and it was a privilege to work with him on his book Creation. While there, I also delivered lectures on early Greek natural philosophy, particularly the thought of Aristotle, and tutored a course on the varieties of atheism. My role with the Society of Christian Ethics involved conference work on the ethical implications of science and technology.  

The relationship between science and theology has been a longstanding interest of mine. When I was an M.Div. student at Regent, I took the course in Christianity and Science, taught then by Loren Wilkinson. The essay I wrote was a critical assessment of the Intelligent Design movement. Those studies were pretty important to my work as a pastor, because I found that the theology-science relationship matters to many people at the level of their everyday commitments. So since my graduation back in 2008, I’ve appreciatively followed Regent’s work with Templeton, particularly given that one of the early initiatives involved training pastors at this intersection. That focus on public engagement is one of the many reasons I’m proud to take up this role.

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