Michael Mawson

Assoc. Prof. Michael Mawson



What’s in a Name? Genesis 2:19-20 and Scientific Naming in the

Naming has consequences. The ways we name often expresses the Fall and human sin, but can at times also indicate our status as God’s creatures and covenant partners. This paper begins by reflecting on Adam’s naming of the other animals (Gen. 2:19-20) and how this story has been connected to dominion theology (from Gen 1:28). I then turn to some ways in which Joseph Banks named and categorised animals and plants during the HMS Endeavour’s first voyage to the Pacific (1768–1771). During this voyage, Banks used and consolidated the Linnean system of naming, a scientific system that remains in place today. I explore how Banks’s way of naming directly served British imperial interests. In the conclusion, I return to Genesis and consider whether and how we might understand naming in ways that are less imperialistic and sinful, and instead expressive of our creaturely goodness.

In the winter of 1932-33, Dietrich Bonhoeffer delivered a set of lectures at Friedrich Wilehlm’s University in Berlin, subsequently published as Creation and Fall. In these lectures, Bonhoeffer undertakes a close and careful reading of Genesis 1-3. My paper will set out Bonhoeffer’s theological reflections and suggest their ongoing relevance with a view to the relationship between theology and science. In particular, I will attend to Bonhoeffer’s critique of speculative or general understandings of these stories, and related insistence on reading them as disclosing specific insights into what it means to be human.


Michael Mawson is a Pākehā theologian and the Maclaurin Goodfellow Associate Professor at the University of Auckland/ Waipapa Taumata Rau. He has published widely in Christian ethics and on the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His current research focuses on theology and ageing, decolonisation and liberation theologies.