When Modern Theology Takes Evolutionary Biology Seriously

By Witham, Larry | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 20, 2000 | Go to article overview

When Modern Theology Takes Evolutionary Biology Seriously


Witham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Georgetown University professor John Haught is stirring a small revolution in the way Christianity approaches the natural sciences. Immersed in the topic for more than a decade, the Roman Catholic theologian's papers at science-religion forums, a popular book on "Science and Religion" and two recent cover stories in the Catholic journal Commonweal have made him a pole star in the God and nature debate.

Mr. Haught's new book, "God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution" adapts some of those papers into a 10-chapter answer to his own recent dare: Is there a modern theology that can take evolutionary biology seriously?

While this volume meets that challenge for the intellectual, Mr. Haught knows that many ordinary believers may balk at this new God after Darwin. "The idea of a vulnerable, defenseless, and humble deity may seem shocking to some," he says. Here is a God who never created "an original cosmic perfection" and who has let evolution run free, which "implies that we live in an unfinished universe."

This is not the God of most Sunday worship, where God is expected to be in charge, have the power to intervene at will - and certainly to answer simple personal prayers. Instead, Mr. Haught profiles a God of "divine pathos," or weakness and suffering. He calls this the true biblical God. And he hopes that this God will deepen faith, for the old God envisioned as a dictator and rigid designer is both "uninteresting" and "religiously pallid."

In presenting such a new theology, Mr. Haught has been both elegant and polemical. A new theology is needed because of the bankruptcy of what he calls a "creationism" that claims to see design in nature. Bankrupt also is a reductionism in science that reduces life to genes and that denies theology a role in interpreting nature. Most of the polemic is saved for the God-as-designer advocates. They have a firm standing in American religion, and polls have shown that a third of educated Americans believe in God mostly because they see order and perfection in the natural world.

Mr. Haught is not unsympathetic. He notes that all religions have based their view of God and human purpose on a "cosmic hierarchy" in which God above works downward, first through human spirit and reason and then the creatures, from the most complex to the most simple.

Mr. Haught says his colleague, the Islamic scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr of the George Washington University, "attempts boldly to safeguard the cosmic hierarchy" in the face of evolution. But Mr. Haught suggests it cannot be done. Instead, God must be redefined in terms of evolution. To do this, Mr. Haught draws on predecessors. There is Alfred North Whitehead's "process" philosophy, the cosmic evolution of the Jesuit anthropologist Teilhard de Chardin, and the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner's idea of "God as Absolute Future. …

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