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By 
Heather Bennett
 on March 12, 2024

Biomimicry: Imitating God’s Genius

Biomimicry uses nature to solve human problems. For Heather Bennett, biomimicry can also hold deeply spiritual principles, and connect us to the Creator.

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close-up of bird flying

Image used under license from Shutterstock.com

Growing up, the woods behind our house beckoned me. The trees, with their unfolded limbs waved an invitation for me to come and spend time frolicking between their trunks and sitting in their shade. Their invitation was irresistible. Once I was among the trees, I could see and experience another world. Birds would chirp and flit between the branches. Spiderwebs would brush my eyelashes. Mushrooms that resemble turkey tails spread the length of a dead tree, and moss blanketed the rocks near the creek. All of this I eagerly received into my being as I was being received.

There was a sense of belonging into this greater world that seemed still greater. It seemed to whisper the “yes” of something larger than myself, the trees, birds, rocks, and plants. This whisper, or invisible quality the apostle Paul writes about in Romans 1:20 was enveloping all of creation in that space to Godself: For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse!

I never lost that feeling, but I did lose the ability to talk about it, to ask questions of my Sunday School teachers about God and my experience in creation. In my 20s, I read “Serve God Save the Planet” by Dr. Matthew Sleeth. It answered my questions and affirmed my relatedness to God’s creation. I felt a deep need to protect God’s creation, and I wanted to learn more. And so in 2013, I enrolled in a nearby graduate Sustainability program at Lipscomb University. The expectation was to use what I learned about the environment to teach others, particularly Christians, how to follow our biblical mandate to care for the earth. I used every project in my classes as an opportunity to relate what I was learning about sustainability to Christians and the Church.

Upon graduation I began Blessed Earth Tennessee, and have been living into the mission to inspire and equip Christians to become better stewards of the earth. Now I am incorporating biomimicry into the ministry through resources like Bible studies and beginning conversations with churches and organizations.

colorful image of plant tissue under the microscope, showing water transportation system

Image used under license from Shutterstock.com; water transportation system in plant tissue.

For me, biomimicry introduced the Creator in a way I had never imagined…God [is] not just the creator of what [can] be seen, like a tree, but also the system within the tree that can transport water and nutrients from the soil to the canopy without a pump, and how this [can] be emulated to plumb buildings.

Heather Bennett

Defining Biomimicry

I was first introduced to biomimicry a few months into my graduate program. My professor began class giving the definition of biomimicry: “the imitation of life’s genius.” To me, this quickly translated to “the imitation of God’s genius.” I have been smitten with biomimicry ever since. With biomimicry you move from learning about to learning from nature. What was such an embarrassingly “a-ha” moment for me in class was realizing that God was not just the creator of what could be seen, like a tree, but also the system within the tree that can transport water and nutrients from the soil to the canopy without a pump, and how this could be emulated to plumb buildings. Or, the baleen of a whale’s mouth allows water and fish to go through the feather-like structure, but only allows water back out, retaining the caught fish. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about Jonah being caught up in a whale’s baleen!

Today, in 2024, the definition of biomimicry has evolved to “learning from and then emulating nature’s forms, processes, and ecosystems to create more sustainable designs,” but I still use my original definition. For me, biomimicry introduced the Creator in a way I had never imagined. I was really fascinated with biology and how it pointed me to the Creator, but I was unable to imagine how I could apply biomimicry, at least in the contexts I desired. Could my fascination with biomimicry serve the Church? If so, what would that look like? What could understanding biomimicry offer the Church?

As I reflected on these questions, I remembered Dayna Baumeister’s biomimicry handbook. In her book she describes three essential elements of biomimicry. I realized that each element resonated with a Christian worldview, and that there were deeply spiritual principles and ideas embedded in the biological concept of biomimicry. Three compelling ones I’ve discovered are: (1) Ethos – biomimicry can offer a framework through which we see God and God’s creation, (2) (Re)connect – biomimicry can help us reconnect with creation and God, and (3) Emulate – biomimicry can help us imitate creation and Christ. I briefly unpack these below.

1. Ethos

Dayna Baumeister defines ethos as “respect for, responsibility to, and gratitude for our fellow species and our home.” In a Christian context, our ethics are rooted in God. They come from believing that God is the creator of the seen and unseen, and that Christians were given a Biblical mandate in Genesis 1-2 to respect creation, to be responsible to creation, to love God and to be grateful for and love our neighbors (human and more-than-human). We are interconnected and our flourishing on Earth depends upon each other as cohabitants. To deny the relationship between humans and more-than-human creation is to deny the Creator’s genius.

2. (Re)connect

In biomimicry, (re)connect is “about regaining the understanding and recognition that two ‘separate’ identities (i.e., people and nature) are actually deeply intertwined. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ We are nature.” I believe God presented us with two books to learn from and experience God: creation and the Bible. When I refer to creation, I am referring to the “we.” Baumeister further defines re(connecting) as a “practice and a mindset that explores this relationship…it is quieting our human cleverness and looking with respect to other species in nature; they are elders with guidance to share.” Integrating this with Christianity, I (re)connect people to the Word of God, the Bible. (Re)connect is purposely written this way to acknowledge that some have had relationships with creation and the Bible in the past or present and some have never had the experience of connection with creation or the Bible.

3. Emulate

In biomimicry, emulation “brings the principles, patterns, strategies, and functions found in nature to inform design.” In Christianity, we are to emulate Jesus in the world, his love, compassion, and relationships. Jesus also spent a lot of time in nature with God. By paying attention to “nature as our model, mentor, and measure,” we can commit to sustainable designs that mimic and honor God’s creation, as an act of loving God, loving ourselves and all of creation in today’s world. Job 12:7 describes this beautifully: “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or ask the birds of the air, and they will tell you. Speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea tell you. Every one of these knows that the hand of the LORD has done this.”  Indeed human and animal limbs have inspired the design of “earthquake resistant bridge columns,” the kingfisher, owl, and penguin have inspired the Shinkansen bullet train design, and slime molds have inspired more efficient complex routes in city planning.

Concluding Thoughts

These three essentials of biomimicry resonate with a Christian worldview rooted in God. Biomimicry’s ethos is a summation of Genesis 1-2. Humans are made in the image of God, and we are to respect, care for, and be grateful for creation. (Re)connecting to the symmetry of the creation story in Genesis 1 reminds us that we are deeply intertwined and not separate from creation. Further, (re)connecting to the Christian Bible and creation expands our ability to experience God. Emulating nature’s “forms, processes, and ecosystems to create more sustainable designs” is one way we can emulate God’s Biblical mandate to care for creation and emulate Jesus in the world.

For me, in a Christian context, the definition of biomimicry is “the imitation of God’s genius” as recognition that God is the creator of all life, life’s systems, and life’s principles. As I continue learning about the more-than-human creation and how that creation innovatively solves problems, I also learn about God. And lest I think myself greater than God, I can learn from God’s creation and apply those lessons to human problems.

About the author

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Heather Bennett

Heather Bennett earned a Masters of Science in Sustainability in 2014 and a Masters of Arts in Practical Theology in 2023. She spent her final year of seminary integrating biomimicry and theology while attending three biomimicry immersions in Costa Rica, California, and Tennessee. Heather is reimagining her nonprofit, Blessed Earth Tennessee, to incorporate biomimicry.  She lives in Tennessee with her clergy spouse, son, and puppy.