TED Talks Worth Talking About | Robert Full On Engineering & Evolution, and Missional Tinkering

Posted on July 1, 2008


For some reason, there is a perplexing and tense relationship between people of faith and the topic of evolution. In this talk by Robert Full (one of the most fun and fascinating talks I’ve seen at TED), the two cross paths at an unusual term used by Full in his talk, the same term titling this post by Johnny Baker on Tinkering. (Marko’s response to Baker’s post).

The word? TINKERING.

Here, I offer some thoughts regarding our philosophies around faith, evolution, and ministry altogether.

The two main questions posed by Marko and Johnny Baker are:

How can we contextually live out the gospel by coming alongside “tinkerers” and assist them with tinkering tools that move them (or, to use less forceful terms, allow them to move) toward the gospel? (Marko)

Can we view religion as a cultural resource? (david lyon raises this question in his book jesus in disneyland) i.e. are we prepared to take the risk of putting the insights, treasures, liturgies, theologies, etc. out there for people to weave into their lives as they tinker? and how might we go about this? (Johnny Baker)

Robert Full, in this TED talk said,

Evolution works on the “just-good-enough” principle, not on a perfecting principle…You can absolutely never, because of history, start with a clean slate.  Organisms have this important history. Really, evolution works more like a tinkerer than an engineer.


I suggest, perhaps provocatively, that evolution just may be God’s gift to humanity, and to the universe. And just maybe we find evidence of this, not only in the natural biological world, but also in the metaphysical and theological world.

As I have watched, listened, read, and thought much about the popular conflict between theism and evolution, I am coming more to the conclusion that both secularists and the religious fail to recognize the true brilliance of evolution. Secularists fail to recognize the supernatural possibilities of the fantastic nature of the process, and the religious fail to recognize the natural, sensible, observable realities of our world. Yet, it becomes more and more undeniable that in every aspect of life, in every part of our observable universe, there seems to be this principle of “change over time” (i.e. “evolution”).


And it is this “tinkering” that happens in biological, cosmological, and theological arenas (and disciplines) that allows for life to become more complex, more beautiful, more intricate…and simply better. Tinkering is everywhere. It is what allows engineers to find better, faster, more efficient designs. It is what allows doctors to discovery better cures. And it is what allows theologians and people of faith to find better theologies and dogmas. We ought not be ashamed nor scared of this tinkering, but embrace it. Why? Well, perhaps for even more provocative reasons. Because this process naturally selects the best of all the worlds.

I invite reflections.

Posted in: Religion, TED, Worldview