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Parasites and Pangloss: Robin Attfield on Evolutionary Theodicy and Environmental Ethics

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My encounters with Robin Attfield have been diverse, even though we had never met until the colloquium in his honour in Cardiff in 2009. I knew of course of his books on environmental ethics, and I was therefore delighted to be sent for review his more recent Creation, Evolution and Meaning (Attfield, 2006a). I described this without hesitation as “an important work of philosophical theology”, and noted that I was “full of admiration for the clarity of thought that underlies every part of this book” (Southgate, 2008a). I was particularly helped by his treatment of evolution and suffering, which contributed significantly to my own recent monograph The Groaning of Creation (Southgate, 2008b).

So I was delighted to receive an affirmative email from Attfield about Groaning. It's par for the course in academe that no sooner is one's own book out that another book in the same area appears immediately. A philosophical treatment of the problem of animal suffering was duly published straight after my own book. This was Michael J. Murray's Nature Red in Tooth and Claw, which I was able to ask Attfield to review (Murray, 2008; Attfield, 2009a). I will return to Murray's book later in this chapter. But meanwhile I had the extraordinary privilege, at a conference in Crete in 2008, of standing in for Robin Attfield, reading out his paper and fielding questions on the latest version of his argument on stewardship.

So I have had plenty of opportunity recently both to appreciate Attfield's work and even to pretend to be him! What I want to do in this present piece is to comment on the relation between his position on evolutionary theodicy and my own, and then consider how that difference in theological approach might be correlated with a difference in ethical emphasis.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2010

More about this publication?
  • Creation, Environment and Ethics
    Creation, Environment and Ethics aims to contribute to a critical understanding of ethics, evolution and creation, and to provide a pluralistic response to some of the most pressing issues facing the global environment today. Following the example of Professor Robin Attfield, this volume aims to reflect the diverse responses with which theological, ethical and evolutionary discourses have contributed to the broad scope of environmental philosophy and also to ongoing debates about creation and evolution. Critiques of the work of Attfield are provided by prominent philosophers, and Attfield provides a clear and thorough response to each of these critiques in turn. Some of the contributions also offer more pragmatic approaches to environmental issues such as climate change, development and sustainability.
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