“Theological Anthropology”

What is the meaning of this dubious concatenation? I’m not sure but am sure that it should be bracketed with scare quotes at all times.

I first became aware of “theological anthropology” while browsing the Evolution of Religion website, which is a Templeton funded project devoted to finding God’s plan in evolution. Here is the announcement for several nicely funded fellowships at Princeton in which scholars are to devote themselves to the discovery of God’s design in evolution:

The Center of Theological Inquiry welcomes proposals to explore how the explosion of new research in evolutionary biology, psychology, and anthropology is challenging and changing our understanding of human nature and development, not least in relation to religion and theological accounts of the human condition. Our field of inquiry encompasses these evolutionary and human sciences, theological anthropology, practical theology, psychology of religion, religious studies, and the history and philosophy of science.

There’s more than a bit of mumbo jumbo here but the project boils down to this: now that the Creation account of human evolution has been disproven and Intelligent Design been exposed as fraud, it is our job to interpret evolution through a theological lens; to wit, because God designed evolution and foresaw everything, there are no accidents and everything is adaptive.

Sounds like a horrible way to do science and search for the truth.

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4 thoughts on ““Theological Anthropology”

  1. Marika

    I don’t think ‘theological anthropology’ means what you think it means. Confusingly, it’s generally used within theology to mean ‘theological accounts of what it means to be human’ rather than ‘let’s do anthropology in a way that conforms to our pre-existing theological ideas’.

  2. Cris Post author

    I am aware of this older or traditional usage, though I have been encountering it recently among a group of scholars who are heavily engaged with evolutionary theory and evolutionary anthropology. These scholars do traditional looking kinds of research and publish their results as if disinterested and without disclosing their a priori commitments. It’s a sneaky business, all in all, and one has to do some digging to discover these commitments. Examples include Matt Rossano, Michael Blume, and Dominic Johnnson. In paleontology, Simon Conway Morris is doing similar things.

    All are theistic evolutionists, and therefore they read the evolutionary record (including human evolution) as a matter of God’s design. The Templeton Foundation is of course funding this kind of research, and Templeton is committed to theistic evolution, which encompasses this new usage for “theological anthropology.”

    I don’t have a problem with anyone doing the more traditional theological anthropology which you mention, or even the “newer” kind I note above. I do have a problem with doing the new kind without a full disclosure of prior commitments. It is misleading and the results are not disinterested.

  3. Marika

    All of which is fair enough; but in that case shouldn’t you be encouraging ‘theological anthropology’ as a term which makes explicit the role of theology in the anthropology which is being done?

  4. Cris Post author

    I suppose I should but hadn’t given it enough thought! I periodically express my exasperation with these people but I’m up against the billion dollar Templeton funding machine, and because everyone loves their grants, it’s tough rowing against this stream.

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