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Biomimicry: Design inspired by creation

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God designed the world so that natural systems produce no waste. One organism's waste is another organism's food. This is God's cradle-to-cradle design. What if humans were able to unlock the mysteries of God's design of nature so that the things we manufacture and produce for human flourishing also create food for other organisms instead of creating waste that sits in landfills or is incinerated? How much more sustainable would our lives be? How much better would we be at managing our impact on creation? These are central questions behind an area of environmental sustainability called biomimicry.

Biomimicry is an emerging discipline that studies nature's best designs and then imitates those designs and processes to solve human problems. After all, God has already provided a model for us to follow. And God's creation can serve as an appropriate measure of the quality of our innovations while also serving as a credible guide. Therefore, we can look to creation not simply to discover what we can extract from it but also what we can learn from God's design.

Do we really need another book or conference on "environmental stewardship?" The case has been made ad nauseam that Christians ought to lead conversations about "caring for the environment" and that we are a "bad witness" by not being involved in initiating those discussions. The stewardship conversation can help make a case for why we should care, but stewardship does not tell us what we should actually do. It does not move us beyond stage-one thinking. Biomimicry is a good area for Christians to serve as leaders in design so that what we produce simultaneously is good for human flourishing and blesses creation.

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Environmental stewardship is not a battle against the "liberals," "tree huggers," "atheist environmentalists," and "evolutionists," it's an opportunity to lead by designing our environments with a conscious emulation of God's genius. In the book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, Janine Benyus describes what such leadership could look like:

"In a biomimetic world, we would manufacture the way animals and plants do, using sun and simple compounds to produce totally biodegradable fibers, ceramics, plastics, and chemicals. Our farms, modeled on prairies, would be self-fertilizing and pest-resistant. To find new drugs or crops, we could consult animals, and insects. . . . Even computing would take its cue from nature, with software that "evolves" solutions, and hardware that uses the lock-and-key paradigm to compute by touch"

In other words, we would look to God's good creation and His design of natural systems to direct our innovation and production for food, buildings, automobiles, furniture, clothing, toys, and so on. God shows us what works and what lasts. Innovation inspired by creation is beyond the rhetoric of conservation or preservation; it gets to the heart of co-creation. Creation not only gives a sense of the normative standards for conduct but also wisdom to live well (Proverbs 1:22-23, 8:4, 22-23, 27-30; Job 38-41). In the book Creation Regained, theologian Albert Wolters reminds us that "the Lord teaches the farmer his business. There is a right way to plow, to sow, and to thresh, depending on the kind for grain he is growing" (Isaiah 28:23-29). The Lord also teaches us how to design.

Sadly, with the rise of modernism and industrialization, even Christians have forgotten the advantages of consulting God's design in nature for wisdom on best principles for how we should make things. Because we are God's representatives on earth, we are cultivating creation where God left off and we must try our best to make our waste food for something else in the short-term. After all, that's how God designed his world and biomimicry can guide our role in it. It's time to move beyond stage one.

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of Liberating Black Theology. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.

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