Adrian Bejan is a distinguished professor at Duke University, an engineer. In 1995, while listening to a speech by a Nobel laureate, and hearing him state that the design of living things is random, Bejan reacted strongly. He disagreed. And so, "constructal theory" was born.
Now it's not that I understand much of what engineers say, but when I read about Bejan and saw what he was doing, I began to smile. Bejan's theory is that by studying the design of living things, we can copy (or mimic) nature's successes in our own human constructs. He urged people in his discipline to consider the shapes of trees, river basins, or human lungs as promising blueprints that man-made devices should follow.
Random? To the contrary, Bejan states that "[t]he design of living things is determined. That can be described with a principle. I'm the guy with the principle."
Reading about Bejan, I recalled a classic land-use planning text by Ian McHarg called Design With Nature. In this seminal book from the mid-Seventies, McHarg argued that humans can copy nature's designs to build better structures. It was a tremendously influential book, and when I discovered it in graduate school, I was quite taken with it.
It's not that Bejan or McHarg necessarily believe in "creation," as opposed to "nature." Bejan alludes to evolution (presumably not necessarily to the exclusion of creation, of course) and McHarg laid all the problems with the environment at the feet of Christendom (a dubious attribution). But the point here is not to debate creation v. evolution or discuss the mistakes of unbiblical ideas embraced by the church, but to notice where both men are pointing (the created order) and what they say about it's nature (it's designed) and what they tell us (we should pay attention to it). You couldn't make a better case for a creational theology! Sometimes theology and truth come from the most unlikely places (engineers and land use planners).
There's nothing new about looking to creation for insights about God. That's general revelation, as opposed to special revelation (scripture). But theologian-pastor T.M. Moore makes an excellent case for the development of a creational theology in a 2005 book called Consider the Lillies: A Plea for Creational Theology. It's a book steeped in Reformed theology and Moore's own experience of trying to discern something of God's ways and workings from creation, and bears the artist's mark as well (he cites poets like Gerard Manley Hopkins, for example).
Citing Psalm 19:1-4, Moore draws four conclusions: (1) there is a revelation of God in all creation; (2) this revelation is profuse and constant; (3) this revelation is clear and unmistakable; and finally, (4) it is ubiquitous (inescapable, unavoidable). Creation is, in other words, a virtual treasure trove of accumulated wisdom about God and about how things best work. This is precisely what Bejan and McHarg discovered (sans the God-talk) and yet what so few seem to recognize.
Viewing the world this way is truly illuminating. I recall the forests of giant sequoias my family and I wandered through in California a couple years ago. Not only are they grand and awesome, reminding us of God, they also teach us so much. For example, I discovered that though they have very shallow roots their roots are interlocking, allowing them to support one another. Consider the wisdom of that for the body of Christ. I learned also that fire is necessary to allow them to germinate, setting free millions of seeds. Consider the fruit of trial and hardship for the Christian. Think how much of what a tree does for its life (and our lives) that goes unseen -- producing oxygen, photosynthesis, and more. Consider how much of our working out of our salvation is unseen by those around us. These are just facile lessons from a non-engineer, non-biologist. But it's really just the tip of what settled wisdom lies in creation.
So you see why I am smiling. Bejan and McHarg and their disciples discovered what Christians have known all along -- to consider the lilies, to learn from the natural world. But we can be thankful for their reminder and their applications of creation's wisdom.