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

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.

About VIA



  1. tim

    there is no evidence of “true” evolution though!!! i do not have a problem with change..but i want to see evidence that a dog changed into an elephant or visa versa. the Bible is correct to divide the species into “kinds”. there is no evidence that this rule of “kinds” has been disproven or replaced. no evidence whatsoever. i reapeat once more to invite anyone to provide me with any evidence of true evolution …there is NO evidence of such a thing. please ..do not send me speculations or faith (in evolution) based concepts or ideas. neither provide evidence of mutations or variations of a “kind”….ive seen it. i want to see missing links! one kind turning into another kind …evidence of that please. it does not exist. there is only ONE reason man wants evolution to be true. to remove GOD from the universe. then, maybe once we are free of the concept of God…we will have the resulting excusal from accountability to His rules of conduct. history shows us time after time the effects of that misguided endeavour. they want it so badly they will squeak out the most ridiculous theories and then try to propose “evidence” of the most ludicrous sort. i just don’t get it… a group of men “copy” “nature” with materials that are not his..make a robot..and say “see, there is no God” .. its like an unappreciative child saying to his mother “where did these cookies come from? they just popped into existance”..being a father myself..i would rather hear…”gee Dad, thanks for the cookies..they are really good. now what would happen if i added raisins, Dad?”…i dont know son..but go ahead and experiment..and have fun doing so…and by the way son..you’re welcome.

  2. VIA


    Thank you for your comment. There are, however, several problems with what you suggest and presuppose.

    1) I’m not sure what you mean by “true” evolution. The kind of “dog-to-elephant” change (which you could be referring to ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny-RECAPITULATION THEORY) has been widely rejected by virtually all biologists. I would suggest revisiting a definition of evolution, perhaps here and reconsider what “kind” of evolution we are actually talking about.

    2) There are two possible examples of “missing links:” the “fishapod” and “archaeopteryx.” Now, both are controversial as to what form they are, and there is a lot of dispute about them. But even though this is comment form, you don’t even address them or make an acknowledgment of their existence or the controversy surrounding them. My question would be, what would you accept as authentic evidence? Your tone sounds like you’ve opted out of any evidential possibility, thus falling into the trap of dogma rather than thoughtful engagement with the issue.

    3) Given that many evolutionary biologists (and cosmologists, and physicists, etc.) are theists, your statement “there is only ONE reason man wants evolution to be true, to remove GOD from the universe,” is just an ad hominem remark, somewhat patronizing and simply wrong. True, there may be a few who fall into that category, I’ll give you that. But suggesting this is the only reason is dishonest.

    4) I will say that you are correct that the Bible’s reference to “kinds” (מנים) also refers to “species.” But, I do not see how that is opposed to evolutionary biology. Is it not possible that what is being studied, ARE THE “KINDS,” and the brilliance of God’s design in the universe is the functionality, and abilities to “change over time,” to adapt, to become more and more brilliant and beautiful? This is actually the poetic structure of Genesis, that over the course of days, the Creation becomes more intelligent, more complex, and more beautiful. Think about day one (light), day two (expanse), day three (land, and seed bearing plants), day four (luminaries), day five (animals, birds, creatures), day six (humanity). You see a poetic progression of complexity even in the Genesis account. NOW, I’M NOT SAYING THIS IS EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY! But I am saying that the pattern of the Biblical narrative has similar characteristics, and we should not polarize the science of evolutionary biology against the Biblical creation narrative a priori.

    By the way, many scientists dothank daddy for what they study. Francis Collins is one example. I hope this is helpful, and I commend it to you with respect. Additional discussions can be found at the Templeton Foundation. (My post here).

  3. tim

    studies available: the irreducible mechanism (e.g. the human knee joint). plus information on critical characteristics. should be enlightening to the open minded. i wonder, will there be comments AFTER researching these two facts?..or will there just be angry rebutts based on fear and ego? there IS only ONE reason man wants evolution to be true. to remove GOD from the universe. then, maybe once we are free of the concept of God we will have the resulting excusal from accountability to His rules of conduct. history shows us time after time the effects of that misguided endeavour. man wants it so badly he will squeak out the most ridiculous theories and then try to propose evidence of the most ludicrous sort. the kicker? the above two facts (irreducible mechanisms etc) are but a grain of sand compared to the voluminous info available disproving evolutionary theory.. will anyone here be willing to take the challenge and read about those two subjects above? and then somehow…be able to do what the greatest scientists in the world have failed to do? explain them in evolutionary terms, thus disproving the idea of ID? and please, lets not waste time with non-critical characteristics…tiresome dribble at best.
    2. then why bring them up? 2a. why waste time on controversy when there are incontravertible proofs?? makes no sense to me. 2c.my children have tried “evidential possibilities” when trying to get their way about something too!!
    3. the biologists that may be “theists” but remove ID from the equation? refer to original comment.
    4. creation is not a being..therefore it holds no intelligence so can not become more intelligent. poetry is beautiful but inapproprite to the scientific facts and this discussion. mixed metaphors..im lost. how has the weeping willow become more beautiful? how has “creation” become more beautiful? the first being who was capable of thinking the weeping willow was beautiful was errant in his thinking? the first juicy melon tasted like rancid feces? i am incapable of following this line of reason. it escapes me completely. so.. I believe that there is an “intelligent” being and He created all things. including order and the rules neccessary to accomodate limitless living beings of varying intelligence. the incessant march toward removing Him is not poetic. Why would we do it? What do we “gain”? this: self engrandisment..and the idea of:oh boy Mom’s gone !!! I am a GOd unto myself. thats the historical desire of man.

    4. “progression of complexity”..im not an educated man..but, when i look around? the dog is the same, the cat, the spider, the lion, the tiger, the bear, …the only thing that is progressing toward complexity is the self delusions of man. the words are bigger..the ego is bigger…the letters next to the name are longer…but its the same old man. same old tired desire to usurp God..nothing has changed in all of recorded history. man thinks too highly of himself…ego…that is the basis of evil and its observable effects..throughout history.

    finally, do i think that God designed limitless possibilities into His creations? Yes. Did He program into the infinite potentials and wonders His own removal? By man??
    sorry ..but to borrow a developing complexity from my kids: LoL

  4. VIA


    I appreciate dialogue, but as a family member of mine told me once when discussing this very same issue, “look, you’re just not going to convince me otherwise.” It seems that you’re taking the same stance.

    I have no quarrels with your right/privilege of positioning, and I believe that God has given us the ability to come to hold strong convictions (which are good). But God has also given us the ability to reason, think, process, converse, dialogue, and discover more about the world around us. That includes the ability to be self-critical of our own dogmas and opinions. My hope for all of us (part of the reason for the original post) is to value those latter things more than valuing a prideful positioning on subjects like this.

    When the conversation devolves into ad hominem remarks, condescending tones, and dismissive statements like “why waste time…,” then, in some ways, that question is ironically apropos. The debate cannot continue with someone who has decided that what they believe is true, no matter what; that they have convinced themselves there is no “other,” and that they know better. It is ironically a positioning of pride and ego that is deeply ingrained in that person more than of those whom they argue have the ego and pride. I find this hypocritical and close-minded to both the created order discoverable through science, and the very God that created that order and our ability to discover.

    In other words, we have much to learn, not so much to convince.

    Michael Behe’s concept of Irreducible Complexity, though compelling, has not been widely accepted as a substantiated theory, especially since there is actual evidence that organisms can develop and “evolve” over time using the mechanism of adaptation. In fact, you even mention that you have no problem with “change,” (presumably referring to this kind of adaptational change within a species) and Irreducible Complexity actually flies in the face of the kind of change that you’re willing to accept. There seems to be some cognitive dissonance here.

    (I’m unsure of your “critical characteristics” reference in the midst of this conversation)

    Then, your question of “why waste time on controversy when there are incontrovertible proofs??” is again condescending and illuminates your unwillingness to be rational and thoughtful about the subject. This is not an argument against evolution. This is a statement of bias. Again, back to the question of “what evidence are you willing to accept.” And in spite of your desire to couple that with a child’s conniving, “evidential possibility” is a suggestion of rationality, not moral manipulation.

    Your statement “creation is not a being…therefore it holds no intelligence” is a bit perplexing to me. You believe that God created us, and we are clearly a major part of the Creation, yet you say “creation holds no intelligence.” I think I get what you’re attempting to say, that because the created order does not ontologically hold personhood, it cannot think in the same intelligent ways as a person does. I would agree with that. But that was not what I was arguing.

    I actually loved your statement “poetry is beautiful but inapproprite [sic] to the scientific facts and this discussion.” This is actually a main contention of mine. Why is it that so many creationists use Genesis as a science text when it is ancient Mesopotamian Creation Narrative? I think what you’ve stated here is one of the foundational points that must be considered. From it, we must conclude then that the Bible tells us things that science cannot, and vice versa. My usage of the Creation narrative in the argument, is to point out, in a text that is accepted by both parties, to suggest the possibility of allusion. I agree, however, strongly to the point that Genesis is quite inappropriate to the scientific facts. (See my post on EXPELLED)

    Finally, if you do believe that God designed limitless possibilities into His creation, I do not understand the animosity toward (and complete dismissal of) the possibility of any developmental complex mechanisms such as evolution. I am not saying that evolution is “true,” but that it is our responsibility, as people, and especially as those who claim to follow an ultimately intelligent Creator, to be intelligent and rational about these issues and not simply dismiss them for monolithic, philosophical reasons. Why dismiss the possibility?

    Again, I commend the Templeton Foundation documents to you, and hope that this exchange has met you with the due respect to your arguments by being clear and precise in seeking understanding.


  5. tim

    oh, i forgot …DOGMA…
    when i sit with a group of at risk teens..and delve into the source of rebellion..its always interesting to note that they start out as repulsed by rules and dogma. well son ..is this your girlfriend? do you love her? do you spend time with her? do you think about her all the time? “yes” to all. well then you want rules and “dogma”. “what?” well son, do you want her to cheat on you with another guy? would you like to be strolling through the park one evening and a gang attacks you and rapes her and stabs her 20 times in the chest? do you want her arrested for drugs and sent to jail for a few years? “hell no”. you want rules and dogma then. “right” well how about this son? you are at the beach with your friends and a hot blonde girl starts flirting with you and invites you to be intimate with her? now do you want rules and dogma? (there is usually a pause).
    please understand..the above is a very condensed version of what actually takes place..but i think any person with basic intelligence and ability to reason..gets the point. these relatively uneducated, unsophisticated, unlettered, kids do, at least. we ALL want dogma and rules ( yes yes yes..i know..dogma is a bit different than rules..there is a part of the definition which is a bit negative..i got it) we ALL want dogma and rules..until it is inconvenient to us personally. you know..at that moment dogma and rules infringe on our selfish desires? of course i should point out that the rules i am referring to are the ones that God has communicated to us. not What Jeffrey Dommer or Stalin or Hitler or Gacey or Caligula, or Darwin, or Sponge Bob thinks should be the rules. nope..the ten commandments will suffice. simple..not easy.

    my tone? a little bitter or militant? good. it IS a war, afterall. people are trying to denegrate and remove my Father from existance. of course im going to speak up for Him. “did you see that one guy honey..when i said ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny? he looked like a deer in the headlights!!! hahaha. i won that one, didn’t i honey.”
    i happen to know that in the end?..my Dad “wins”…and all the verbosity in the universe, and all the debating skills, and all the letters behind our names will be ineffective on that “day”.
    Free Will. that was the greatest gift and the greatest source of deliniation ever devised. i can only attempt to imagine when evil is removed from the equation by God…the developing complexities that await those that chose correctly.

    in conclusion..do i expect anything less than attacks for what i “suggest and presuppose”? compared to Jesus Christ and others like Him..im a filthy rag.. they slaughtered He and His “kind”…so, no.. i dont expect anyting less.
    regardless of the tone..i do hope that all will choose God. maybe even Sponge Bob !

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