My project will focus on recent biological accounts of morality—especially those propounded by psychologists of various stripes—that purport to refute or render irrelevant theological accounts of ethics. I will implement a jointly scientific, philosophical, and theological critique of such work and then illustrate how theological ethics can positively appropriate the valid facets of these empirical studies of morality. This project is timely and significant because the advocates of a strictly biological account of morality have, over just the last five years, achieved broad public recognition. Yet few moral theologians have provided any guidance for either professional or lay theologians who are challenged by such work. By developing a critical-but-not-dismissive, constructive-but-not-fawning response to these biological studies, I will therefore model a form of science-engaged theology that is appreciative without being uncritical. My explorations will address whether science makes belief in God obsolete, whether evolution explains the normative dimension of human nature, and whether biology alone can explain morality. I will teach a graduate-level course on Evolution and Ethics at Notre Dame, host public lectures by several prominent theologians and philosophers who address biological views of morality, write four articles related to my focal themes, draft a book manuscript that engages four of the most broadly influential advocates of a narrowly biological account of morality, and share the fruit of research at several conferences and academic lectures. I anticipate that these activities will help inspire professional and lay theologians to practice a critical-yet-constructive engagement with the sciences. I also hope to cultivate a network of academic theologians who are interested in joining a long-term cohort in which they will assist one another in doing excellent theology that addresses particular sciences in a disciplined manner.
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