This week, we take up the nature of “nature.” We take the opening chapter to Oliver O’Donovan’s Begotten or Made? as our starting point, particularly this passage:

When every activity is understood as making, then every situation into which we act is seen as raw material, waiting to have something made out of it. If there is no category in thought for an action which is not artifactual, then there is no restraint in action which can preserve phenomena which are not artificial. This imperils not only, or even primarily, the ‘environment’ (as we patronizingly describe the world of things which are not human); it imperils what it is to be human, for it deprives human existence itself of certain spontaneities of being and doing, spontaneities which depend upon the reality of a world which we have not made or imagined, but which simply confronts us to evoke our love, fear, and worship. Human life, then, becomes mechanized because we cannot comprehend what it means that some human activity is ‘natural’. Mere FidelityPolitics becomes controlled by media of mass communication, love by analytical or counseling techniques. And begetting children becomes subject to the medical and surgical interventions which are the theme of this book.

This interview with NT Wright also came up during the show.

We were joined this week by occasional Mere-O writer and doctor extraordinaire Matthew Loftus. And, as always, follow Derek and Alastair for smart thoughts on this and much more.

Special thanks to Christopher Hutton for  editing work. 

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. As mentioned during the podcast, here is a direct link to an mp3 of the Berry/Jackson discussion on “Nature as Measure”:


  2. To be honest, I’ve always been deeply conflicted about O’Donovan’s reliance on the so-called “natural moral order.” As fallen beings, I fear that we can too easily rely on such reasoning to reimagine our sinful ingroup prejudices as reflections of the natural order. After all, the overwhelming majority of Afrikaners believed that Apartheid merely reflected the natural moral order, and therefore accepted it as prescribed by the Creator. In other words, I fear that teleological approaches to ethics, such as that propounded by O’Donovan, understate the degree to which humans are prone to blind themselves to their own injustice and cruelty.


    1. Is this comment informed by O’Donovan’s larger thought outside of this book? Or this chapter? (B/c that’s all I’ve read so far lol). Setting that aside until you answer, I thought his reliance on the natural moral order here was insofar as we can recognize limits to ‘making’. Like the ‘body hacks’, Alastair was talking about, which are less extreme versions of our instrumental bent. Framed that way, I’m not sure I see how it could extend so far as justifying Afrikaner prejudice.

      (Btw, will the Mere Fidelity podcasts finish out the rest of this book, or was this a one-and-done?)


      1. These are all important questions. Just a quick note that we will be returning to the book. I think we’re going to alternate weeks, so we’ll do a new chapter every other week! : )


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