Making Sense of Evolution

July 15, 2010

Here’s something creationists and evolutionary naturalists agree about: Darwin’s theory of evolution leads inevitably to atheism. John F. Haught disagrees. In Making Sense of Evolution, he proposes that one need not choose between God and Darwin.

Haught is most concerned with people such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett who define faith in narrow, ultraconservative terms. He challenges them by suggesting that one can be faithful to a religious tradition and also open to modern science. Haught reminds those of us who are people of faith open to evolutionary science that coexistence doesn’t mean living in separate homes (as Stephen J. Gould suggested).

Making Sense of Evolution invites the reader to develop a “theology of evolution.” The key to Haught’s argument is found in the second half of the book’s subtitle: “the Drama of Life.” Science offers one lens on reality, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t offer answers to questions of meaning or purpose or explain why people continue to believe in God. Haught suggests that evolution is like a set of grammatical rules that guide the telling of the story of reality but don’t define its content. As we seek to understand this story, we also ask what role God might play in the drama.

The traditional answer to this question is to point to design, and no one laid out the principles of design better than William Paley. But as Darwin himself discovered, Paley’s principles of design were too simple, too mechanical. Haught sees reality as involving multiple layers, one of which can be seen from the vantage point of science. Drama is another one of the layers. In this layer, God is not an engineer laying out the machine called life (Darwin effectively overthrew that image) but is coming into reality from the future, luring and beckoning life to move forward toward God’s desired end. Of course not all the scenes are written in this scenario, for God must adapt to the choices that are made.

A theology of evolution offers an “ultimate reason why things are the way they are.” “It is not in the design, diversity, and descent,” says Haught, “but in the transformative drama of life, that theology finally makes its deepest contact with Darwin’s science.”

Haught's theology is process-oriented. He makes wide use of Whitehead, Hartshorne and Tillich. He assumes that God’s involvement in the creative process is noncoercive and synergistic. Humans play a significant role in the evolutionary process.
Drama allows creation the freedom to work in relationship with the creator. The process isn’t always pretty, but do we really want a preordained, preset world that provides no opportunity for growth or contribution from the creation? Haught doesn’t.

If Christians wish to join in the scientific conversation, they need resources like this one. Evolutionary science and theology need not be done in isolation. Instead, we can see Darwin’s theory as a spiritual gift that will further our understandings of God in our age.


kennebecsal said...

kennebecsal said...

Interesting essay that made me want to read this book--I find the concept of a theology of evolution compelling. As a nurse, I consider myself to be, to some degree, a scientist by trade. I've been puzzled by the either/or of both religious communities and scientific communities. I was admitting a 22-year old woman to our unit last week. As part of the admission process, I asked her if religion/spirituality was important to her. (Follow-up questions would have included if she had any beliefs pertaining to health or her care and if she wanted to see a chaplain.)She said it wasn't important, and by way of explanation said, "I believe in evolution." As if evolution is simply something to "believe in", and also as if this belief precluded any use for religion or spirituality. And I seriously doubt she's thought or studied much about either religion or evolution.

markrich said... We very

markrich said...

We very much do need a theology of evolution, but I very much doubt that process theology is the way forward, as the god of PT is not the personal God of the biblical religions. And isn't it interesting that both evolution theory and process theology are impersonal? Neither of them can account for individual persons. The concept of drama can very much do so...

Anonymous said... "God

Anonymous said...

"God must adapt to the choices that are made."

Say what? No, he doesn't actually. Jeepers.

Bob Cornwall said...

Bob Cornwall said...


Note that I say Process-oriented, that doesn't mean that Haught sees God as impersonal. What he's trying to do is encourage a conversation without either theology or science overstepping its boundaries.