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Book: God After Darwin

In this wonderful little book (God After Darwin [ISBN: 0813338786]), theologian John Haught looks at our concepts of God in the light of evolutionary theory, and in relation to intelligent design. My notes are more of a response than a review.

This book is not an examination of each movement in great detail, but rather a look at theology, and how it might need to adapt in the light of what evolutionary theory has shown us about the universe. Haught does not believe that metaphysical materialism is an adequate view, because it does not support, in his view, the novelty of creation. He rejects the views of philosophers like Dennett and Dawkins who claim that science has shown that there is no purpose in the universe and that everything can be explained by mechanistic natural causes.

But he also rejects intelligent design, not on the usual grounds that it is not science–after all, he’s discussing theology–but because it too fails to adequately deal with novelty in the universe. Haught postively embraces evolution, moving God from the Alpha, the God who pushes from behind, to the Omega, the God of the future. God, as Haught sees him, does not coerce his creation, but rather continuously invites it into the future. God gives the gracious gift of new creation to the universe continuously.

In this view, he includes ethics, as an acceptance of God’s invitation into this promised or offered future, and the ecology, as we are invited to be part of not merely preserving but also creating along with God.

Haught believes that theologians up till now have largely either opposed evolution because it threatens their comfortable position, or chosen to ignore it and its implications for theology. He thinks theologians have thus missed an excellent opportunity, the chance to present a metaphysics that truly meshes with what evolution has shown us about the origin and historical nature of life and the universe.

Those who are looking for a debate about the scientific merits, or even a detailed discussion of the theological merits of evolution within a traditional framework will be disappointed. He doesn’t take ID apart–he dismisses it not as wrong but as inadequate. You will also not find extended discussions of the evidence for evolution here. Haught takes evolutionary theory as a foundation and starts to build his theology from there. He also requires that the God he combines with evolution be the God of experience. His is not simply an exercise in defining a God who will “work” but in looking at the God of religious experience and seeing if that God fits even better with evolutionary theory than he did with previous views.

Seeing God as emptying himself, and experiencing suffering with his creation, while calling, rather than driving that creation toward new life, Haught believes that evolutionary theory actually fits better with the God of religious experience than previous “power-based” views. His God is the Christ, emptying himself (kenosis), rather than Caesar commanding allegiance and ordering things as he pleases. It is a God of involvement, not an Aristotelian first cause.

Haught deals a great deal with suffering and theodicy, and I think his comments are good. If I could intrude some of my own thoughts at this point, I have always felt that Christian theodicy was very inadequate. At the same time I question those who see the violent history of life proposed by evolution (or by old earth creation) as central problem for theodicy. Surely any system that can handle the holocaust can also handle the evolution of life. Of course, many would argue, with some merit, that there isn’t a system of theodicy that handles the holocaust.

My own comment on this, from my book Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Confessions of a Liberal Charismatic is this:

We put a low value on freedom of choice, on autonomy, and on creativity. We prefer comfort and safety. Many, many people will give up their own decisions and their own stewardship in exchange for the feeling that they are safe.

I believe that if nothing else evolutionary theory takes away that notion of safety.

I would warn lay readers that theological terms and long paragraphs may make it a substantial read, but if you are a bit patient you should get through it. It’s nothing like as dense as reading Tillich, for example.

I strongly recommend reading this book. It is challenging and enlightening.

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