Shadow Sophia: The Evolution of Wisdom is the second volume of Celia E. Deane-Drummond’s Evolution of Wisdom series. While the whole series tackles the evolution of wisdom throughout the history of humanity, volume II looks specifically at the dark side of wisdom—“the distortion of practical wisdom and its repercussions” (vii). The purpose of the “via negativa,” as Deane-Drummond puts it, is to uncover the complexity of wisdom by exploring what it is not. Building upon Paul Ricoeur and Thomas Aquinas, she ventures to demonstrate how the distortion of wisdom, shadow sophia, distorts both our relationship with God as well as the other virtues. Instead of relying on pure philosophical argument to accomplish this task—a methodology she deems inadequate—Deanne-Drummond uses insights from evolutionary biology, the social sciences, and neuroscience, providing a robust interdisciplinary analysis.
Deane-Drummond begins with an exploration of original sin that places due emphasis on Augustine of Hippo, particularly the merits and failings of, and motivations for, his conceptions of original sin and guilt. She concludes that the controversy between Augustine and Pelagius was a “sad episode in the history of the church and left a legacy that still lingers in the church today” (36). The apparent inadequacies of Augustine’s thought merit the continued search for an account of evil and its origins that is more palatable to the modern intellect. While I agree that Augustine’s theology of original sin is reactionary and likely tainted by his former Manicheanism, I do think Deane-Drummond dismisses him (in roughly three pages) too quickly, leaning primarily on biblical exegesis to do so. In other words, she takes for granted that her readers will promptly reject Augustine’s theology of original sin because of his poor exegesis. Perhaps she is right about this; however, dismissing his account requires more substantial philosophical engagement and consideration. Furthermore, even if we set aside his doctrine of original sin, the broader Augustinian framework merits exploration, given what we now know about epigenetics and the generational transference of trauma.
In chapter 2, Deane-Drummond introduces the more palatable account she promises by turning to Paul Ricoeur’s notoriously impenetrable analysis of evil. Ricoeur helps her to position a discussion of particular vices and their gradual evolution in human history, which we find in subsequent chapters. However, Ricoeur is dropped after the second chapter and not discussed again until the final remarks, despite several opportunities to reintroduce his central ideas—on the aporia of evil, the temptation towards rationalization, and the evil of evil—that would nicely connect chapter 2 with those that succeed it.
The rest of the chapters (excluding the last, “The Search for Shadow Sophia”) cover the traditional seven deadly sins, along with selfishness, violence, cruelty, deception, lying, despair, and anxiety. Across all chapters, Deane-Drummond relies heavily on Aquinas to explain the moral psychology of each vice while also considering a smattering of sources from philosophy, theology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, neurobiology, political science, and evolutionary theory. Each chapter stresses different extra-theological interlocutors. For instance, the chapter on pride and selfishness begins by engaging with Richard Dawkins and Mary Midgley, then moves into a review of Augustine and Aquinas’s theological insights. Following that discussion, she spends the bulk of the chapter considering how the social sciences inform those insights, engaging scholars like Darcia Narvaez and Dominic Johnson. Finally, Deane-Drummond concludes with the Darwinian analysis. Staying true to her methodology, evolutionary biology and the social sciences enrich and deepen the Thomistic and Augustinian theological positions she considers towards the chapter’s beginning. The subsequent chapter on violence and cruelty gives a more extended treatment of non-human animals and evolutionary biology. She only considers Aquinas briefly towards the chapter’s end.
The strength of Deane-Drummond’s monograph is the obvious breath of her scholarly research. She easily toggles between an impressive span of disciplines. As a result, she delivers a multifaceted view of vice that is rather unmatched in theology or philosophy of religion. In this regard, the book is an exemplary interdisciplinary feat. At the same time, it is worth mentioning that due to the interdisciplinary nature of this study, there are times at which chapters feel like extended literature reviews. However, I struggle to see a way this could have been avoided, given that Deane-Drummond’s readers are unlikely to have the same diverse scholarly palate. Furthermore, it is the entire point of the study she embarks upon for this series—to reach beyond the resources afforded in theology and philosophy of religion, illuminating the nature of vice and “the complex reasons that we do evil” (222).
Ultimately, Deane-Drummond is quite successful in demonstrating that the impetus towards vice is complex indeed—more complex than mere habituation or conditioning can account for. There are, for instance, compelling evolutionary reasons for anger that must be considered alongside biblical accounts of God’s response to injustice and a philosophical analysis of the different forms of anger (wrath, ill will, rancor, and so on). This is no small task, but Deane-Drummond is able to execute it. She can certainly be said to proffer what I would call a “unity of the vices” thesis. And, I think, she defends that thesis well. For Deanne-Drummond, this unity of the vices looks blurry and inchoate, mirroring the enigma of human proclivity to sin that cannot be “reasoned away through a theodicy” (222). Perhaps the greatest takeaway from Shadow Sophia is that the story human fallenness is not clean and neat. Though it would be convenient to locate human animality as the source of vice, Deanne-Drummond shows things are not that simple.
Lillian M. Abadal is a visiting assistant professor of instruction at the University of South Florida.
Date Of Review:
January 8, 2023
Celia Deane-Drummond is Senior Fellow and Director of the Laudato Siâ€™ Research Institute at Campion Hall, University of Oxford. Prior to this appointment she was Professor of Theology and Director of the Center for Theology, Science, and Human Flourishing at the University of Notre Dame, USA. She holds two doctorates, one in plant physiology and one in systematic theology. Her research work is at the intersection of theology, ethics and the biological and evolutionary sciences. She is a well established internationally renowned speaker and leader in the field and has published hundreds of book chapters and scholarly articles as well as numerous academic books and edited volumes alongside more pedagogical materials.
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