The Late Modern Body and Soul

: Charles Darwin and Karl Barth

  • Philip Chapman

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In spite of his denials Barth’s secular parables of the truth were an example of natural theology. This thesis exploits them to provide a way of connecting theology from revelation to Darwinian science. Chapter one argues that natural science cannot provide truths about things in themselves. It does offer corrigible working hypotheses about the phenomena of the physical world. The chapter expands and illustrates David Fergusson’s five fold typology of natural theology. It argues that claims about humanity, ontological ones from revelation, phenomenological ones from science, can interact constructively provided we respect boundaries between the two. Chapter two recounts how Darwin and successors into the twenty-first century offer working hypotheses of life as a physical phenomenon of which Homo sapiens is one among several million examples. It argues, however, that humanity cannot be biologically or culturally defined. Chapter three summarizes Barth’s doctrine defining humanity as elect in Christ. It defends the doctrine against Clough’s extension to cover “all flesh”. The Spirit’s action constitutes the person as “the soul of his body”. Chapter four explains Barth’s understanding that natural science concerns phenomena, not things in themselves. It argues that problems in physics and cognitive science indicate that there is no guarantee of the world’s intelligibility. That reinforces Barth’s dismissal of grand narratives. But Barth wrongly parallels theological and scientific activity. However his theology can engage with a science that makes only empirical claims. Chapter five situates Barth in a twenty-first century context. It argues that the empirical truth claims of science and the ontological ones of theology from revelation can relate to each other using secular parables of the truth. It exemplifies such parables from Darwinian science. They point to truths that theology could know but neglects. Chapter six summarizes the argument, contextualizing a theology of revelation for late modernity. Life on earth and human life within it exhibit a unity of the whole and a distinctiveness of the individual. They form a complex of relationships that are finite in time and bounded by grace. The Darwinian narrative understands the human person as a thoroughly physical entity. Natural science cannot rewrite revelation. But empirical biology points to features of human ontology that theology must not ignore.
Date of Award20 Nov 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorNeil Messer (Supervisor) & Angus Paddison (Supervisor)

Cite this

The Late Modern Body and Soul: Charles Darwin and Karl Barth
Chapman, P. (Author). 20 Nov 2013

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis