The National Catholic Review
Ilia Delio

In his provocative book Christianity and Evolution, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., raised the question, “Who will at last give evolution its own God?” Teilhard grappled with this question throughout his life, as he sought a new understanding of God at work in an evolutionary universe. Similarly, the theologian John Haught confronts the question of God and evolution, and one might see in Haught’s work an answer to Teilhard’s question. Unlike Teilhard, who pursued a new synthesis of God in the world, Haught assumes a conversation “between Charles Darwin and Christian theology on the question of what evolution means for our understanding of God and what we take to be God’s creation.”

His latest book continues a series of books based on Darwin’s “dangerous idea,” evolution’s unsuspected liberation of a truly biblical God. Haught states that “Darwin dropped a religiously explosive bomb into the Victorian culture of his contemporaries, and Christians ever since, including some but not all theologians, have been scrambling to defuse it or toss it out of harm’s way.” We can no more get rid of evolution, however, than we can rid ourselves of the universe. Darwin’s major work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, “launched an intellectual and cultural revolution more sensational than any since Galileo.” The problem, however, is that many religious people refuse to accept this new understanding of life in the universe, and many scientists see evolution as a self-sufficient explanation of life. Thus religious fundamentalists remain entrenched in a literal reading of the Bible and an outmoded cosmos, and scientific materialists dismiss religion as puerile.

In 11 chapters marked by an alliteration of D’s (Darwin, Design, Diversity, Descent, Drama, Direction, Depth, Death, Duty, Devotion, Deity), Haught takes on the challenge of scientism, the debunking of religion and new theological interpretation in light of evolution. His slim volume is densely packed. On one hand he confronts the cryptotheology of scientific materialists, and on the other hand he elaborates a new understanding of God in an evolutionary world. He challenges the “either-or” criticism of popular atheists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett by pointing out their superficial reading of Scripture and their primitive understanding of God.

He indicates that bad theology, like bad science, simply leads to bad results. Religious reductionism, like scientific reductionism, fails, according to Haught, to see the big picture. By reducing God to a literal designer colored by a stroke of dualism (good God/bad God), scientific atheists wind up making dogmatic claims on the incompatibility of religion and science. He suggests that there is a religious yearning even in the best of atheists who cannot admit of God because they refuse to move beyond a primitive knowledge of God.

As Haught moves his discussion from the misplaced concreteness of scientific materialism to theology, he articulates a new understanding of God, brought about by evolution. In his view, Darwin’s gift of evolution liberates the God of promise and hope, the God of the future, who is the God of Jesus Christ. Evolution does not dismiss God but opens up a new window to the divine mystery. “The God of evolution is a humble, self-donating liberality that avoids any unmediated manipulation of things.” God is at home in this unfinished creation, allowing the created world to be at play, to mess up and to go forward into a new future. Haught emphasizes that drama is inherent in this evolutionary creation; it is an unfolding story of beauty, goodness and love. Only within the context of drama and story, he indicates, can we make sense of tragedy and suffering. “If God had not opened up the universe to novelty and drama from the start, there would have been no suffering, but there would have been no increase in value or beauty either.” The reality of tragedy and sacrifice in nature is an essential part of evolution’s forward movement in the drama of life toward greater unity and beauty.

In the last chapter Haught discusses the God of evolution in light of Teilhard de Chardin, and rightly so. No other modern thinker has done more to unite evolution and the Christian God than Teilhard. To this day Teilhard’s theology is not well understood and even less accepted within the mainstream of academic theology. He remains a marginal thinker in the same way that evolution remains a marginal theory for Christian theology. And this is Haught’s persistent plea: that theology wake up to the reality of evolution. “What is needed theologically,” he writes, “is a thoroughgoing reinterpretation of Christian teaching about God, Christ, creation, incarnation, redemption, and eschatology in keeping with Darwin’s unveiling of life’s long evolution and contemporary cosmology’s disclosure of the ongoing expansion of the heavens.” This is not, in Haught’s view, just a reality check; this is revelation. He invites us to encounter anew the God of incomprehensible love, the God of the future who lures us to new levels of life, to new possibilities and to a new way of being in the world. John Haught is not simply one of the best theologians of our time; he, like Teilhard, is a prophet.

Any serious thinker will find in his book a rich banquet of thought, a depth of insight and a God who belongs to evolution.

Ilia Delio, O.S.F., is a senior fellow at Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University, where she concentrates on the area of science and religion.

Comments

John Klotz | 5/10/2010 - 11:44pm

America introduced me emerging Catholic attitudes towards evolution by an  article by the late Sister Joan Acker in 2000 ( “Creation and the Catechism”, America (Dec. 16, 2000) This review continues Americas leadership in the  area.


 


Evolution challenged Genesis and the self-satisfied Christian beliefs that rested on it even though as early as Augustine we were cautioned that Genesis was metaphor. But science is also intruding in other ways, particularly with the study of consciousness operating at the quantum level.


Perhaps my understanding is simplistic, but what I take from Teilhard is the evolution of consciousness and I am deeply concerned with that point at which the human species became the human species through the its gaining the power of reflection leading inevitably to self love and neighborly love.


Pope Benedict writing when he was Cardinal Ratzinger regarded the doctrine of original sin as a "problem." I see a synthesis of original sin and evolution (not exactly original). The tendency of all creation is to selfishness, it is inherent in all existence. It was Richard Dawkins, ironically, who coined the phrase "selfish gene.” Only love conquers selfishness, the original and still endemic sin.


To me, love is shared consciousness. I take St. John literally: God IS love and the embodiment of that love is Christ. With the emergence of human consciousness evolution began to turn from selfishness towards the eternal consciousness that is God from which all proceeds. Love is to some a cliché, but when we love we play with eternal fire.


If you are interested in my musings, I have written on this at open salon in a piece which moves from the pedophile scandal to science and religion. http://open.salon.com/blog/jc_klotz/2010/04/04/benedictus_agonistes


Last year, I wrote a highly speculative, and slightly tongue in cheek, piece on how, by applying the law of probabilities to the election result in the 2009 Iranian election, two mathematicians had actually demonstrated the existence of God. http://johnklotz.blogspot.com/2009_06_01_archive.html


 

JOSEPH D'ANNA | 3/15/2010 - 9:55pm

On  pp 18-20 of the October 23, 2006 issue, America published, "The Fertile Universe", An Interview with George V. Coyne, former director of the Vatican Observatory, by Jim McDermott.  This short article gives considerable insight regarding our efforts to "understand" creation, evolution, the universe and God.  From the review above, it appears that John F. Haught has expanded on many of the ideas introduced by Father Coyne.  The article by Jim McDermott is short and well-worth reading.

6466379 | 3/8/2010 - 4:09pm
In her review of John F. Haught's new work, "Making Sense Of Evolution," Ilia Delio begins by quoting Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., who said, "Who will at last give evolution its own God"? Professor Haught has already done so, but preposterously I'll give it a try, adding my two cents, even though I feel like a sparrow trying to fly with an eagle!

Well then, what if our mysterious God about Whom we know precious little, is in fact, essentially an Evolutionary Being, so much so that everything Divinely initiated, naturally, supernaturally, evolves one from the other, the natural from the natural, the supernatural from the supernatural, God from God, grace from grace and materiality from materiality? Can this be questioned?

What about evolutionary outcone? Can it be called "processional?" If so, what if the Trinitarian God, as an Evolutionary Being, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, without beginning, without end, eternally evolves (proceeds" is the classic word) one from the other in eternal exchange of "Beauty ever Ancient, Beauty ever New?"

Or is all of this "dangerous ideas" as was Darwin's evolutionary proposal a "dangerous idea?" Or is theologian Haught who persistently pleads that "theology wake up to the reality of evolution" right? Haught says, "What is needed theologically is a thoroughgoing reinterpretation of Christian teaching about God, Christ, creation, incarnation, redemption ..." validating existing truth, while expanding its reach I propose.

There is so much more that needs to be explored but let me conclude by saying the following. Once Father God, Son and Spirit, are accepted as in essence a Triune Evolutionary Being, then the conflict that exists unnecessarily between "Intelligent Design" and "Evolution" will evaporate. The former will then be understood as an appropriate built-in evolutionary outcome intended by the Creator, this according to the "recipe" in the pot of Divine intent, evolutionary stirred.

But really, what do i know? Not much for sure! I agree with Sister Delio, Professor Haught is not only one of the greatest theologians of the day, but like Tielhard, also a prophet!
Colin Donovan | 3/8/2010 - 11:30am

I have not read Haught's book, but this review seems to confuse the objects of the various academic disciplines. Scientific materialism is wrong because it's not science, but philosophy put forward as science. If Darwinian science or Teilhardian philosophizing is assumed into theology, that would be science and philosophy put forward as theology. Theology is "fides quarens intellectum," that is, facts known by faith (in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition), systematically organized into a body of knowledge. Philosophy is about the causes of things knowable by reason, again, systematically organized into a body of knowledge: philosophy of science, or  mathematics, morality, culture, etc.... Natural science concerns empirical facts known through the phenomenon of things. Each has their own objects and method. Confusing them only, well, leads to confusion, aapparently common in science, philosophy AND theology


Evolutionary facts, therefore, do not belong in theology, whether their source is Darwin or de Chardin, as they are certainly not Revelation. At least not without doing violence in the Church's understanding of both Revelation and theology up to and including Dei Verbum of Vatican II. To the extent such empirical facts are proven true they belong in science. Both philosophy and theology already has the means in secondary causation and other categories of dealing with such facts "revealed" though creation, and of accomodating them to a Catholic worldview that includes theology, philosophy and science.