on January 2, 2000
Haught's work here is simply unprecedented. Unlike many other books of a similar genre, Haught doesn't merely attempt to "squeeze" God into a Darwinist world view of reality, neither does he end up portraying God as a helpless first cause Deity. Rather, Haught turns materialism on its head, exposes its limitations and prejudices and clearly portrays God as the dynamic Ground of all Being and as the loving power with a VISION rather than a plan for this evolving Universe.
Haught shows clearly that cosmic and biological evolution deeply enriches theological conviction, and he reveals a robust and intelligent belief in God. The author extensively faces numerous arguments from 'steadfast' materialists like Dawkins and Dennet, (he makes numerous references to Dennet's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" and Dawkins' 'The Blind Watchmaker'). Haught effortlessly chews them up, spits them out and reveals an exiting open view of God's creative involvement in the processes of reality and its ecological significance.
His chapter on cosmic 'hierarchical information' was particularly insightful - with specific reference to the genetic code of DNA, cosmic self-awareness and the laws of nature. Not only do these phenomena show that the materialist world view is paradoxical and severely limited, but it also reveals the rationale and logic behind religious convictions that the true foundation of all being is the Divine Mind - (the Universal Consciousness, the Ground of all Being - GOD).
Haught has a delectably open outlook on reality and he refrains from making any kind of 'clinical' conclusions like Michael Behe's "irreducible systems". Haught says such clinical attempts at 'proving design' are "apologetically ineffective and theologically inconsequential." He says that the Behe-style design argument is an "attempt on the part of finite humans to grasp the infinite and incomprehensible God in rational or scientific terms. These arguments diminish the mystery of God, seeking to bring it under the control of the limited human mind. For religious reasons, therefore, we should be grateful to Darwinians for helping us get rid of the pretentiousness of natural theology."
He stresses the importance of including the essential elements of the larger cosmic story rather than looking "too closely and minutely at living organisms and their delicate adaptivity as the primary evidence of a designing deity." He stresses that prejudice can also be attributed to the other extremists - namely, Dennet and Dawkins.
Haught gives plausible insights into the existence of suffering and dead-ends in evolution as he talks about how God is viewed from the Christian perspective as a "self limiting God". He writes: "That God would allow the world to 'become itself' renders plausible evolution's winding through an endless field of potentialities", and then makes the significant point that "an infinite Love will not manipulate or dissolve the beloved - in this case, the cosmos." He references the Sante Fe Institute's observations of Nature's tendency to organize itself "spontaneously", (also see my review for Stuart Kauffman's 'At Home in the Universe').
With regard to this element of 'suffering', it's worth pointing out that God's omnipotence is understood from the Christian perspective as God's capacity to enter into love with all its costs. Indeed, belief in the divine "self- emptying" is basic to the Christian faith.
Overall, this book is chock-full with illuminating insights and stimulating facts, and I keep coming back to it, reading it again, and letting the ideas ferment in my mind. It's truly wonderful - buy it!
on February 17, 2000
Haught, God after Darwin
This is an extraordinary and excellent book. Haught is an established theologian, and religious writers in general, if they do not reject Darwinism outright, or pass it over in silence, usually either question its scientific status, or build up a theological defense position against it. Not so John Haught. He enthusiastically embraces Evolution, and even makes it a fundamental element in a fresh and interesting theology of his own. And it is not a Darwinism conveniently adjusted to suit theological purposes. Haught proves very well informed about the biological issues involved, and about current scientific debates about them. I speak from experience, since my background includes writing a book on the great Darwinian debates in the 19th century (Darwin and the General Reader, re-issued by Chicago University Press in 1991). Haught's style is lively and forceful. Reading this book, the reader will not necessarily be convinced. But he will learn a great deal, and also be intellectually stimulated. Even exhilarated!
on July 25, 2000
Thanks to other reviews on amazon.com, I came across the author's works, and I am very glad I did. His books are very deep, profound, and thought-provoking. Haught is a propoent of the "engagement" of science and religion, as opposed to the separatist position of writers such as Phillip Johnson ("Darwin On Trial"). He is the only theologian I've come across who faces the challenges posed by Darwinian evolution absolutely squarely, refusing to try to defend what he feels is the antiquated theological notion of God as an intelligent designer of an orderly and purposeful universe. Indeed, evolution by natural selection, as well as the laws of physics, do show us a very chaotic, entropic, often destructive, cruel world.
In addition to the difficult task of defining God in terms of evolution, Haught also attempts to refute the strict materialistic scientism of Dennett and Dawkins. Of course, it is very unlikely that his arguments would sway an atheist in the least, which is to be expected. "God After Darwin" is thus clearly for those who want to find purpose and faith in their lives and in God in a world so profoundly influenced, for good and for bad, by Darwin.
I feel that Haught succeeds admirably in these very difficult tasks. I can only imagine his struggle to admit the truth of evolution and how to define a valid theology in concordance with it, instead of denying it. While reading this book the careful reader will sense the author's struggle, and if you agree with him, his victory!
Haught defines these concepts to find purpose in an evolutionary world: a) kenosis - Divine emptying; God does not control Its creation, allowing creation to come to It; b) information, which coordinates parts into wholes, and the emergence of increasing beauty (he uses Whitehead's writing to define beauty), through novelty, complexity, and the contrasts of opposites; c) a definition of time a la Teilhard de Chardin's Omega point, where the future, a theology of hope, is the "ultimate" purpose of evolution. Haught refers to the future as the key to finding purpose in evolution many times, perhaps too many. He makes a fine definition of community as groups of people, of widely differing cultures and belief systems, working together to manifest God's Plan, the increase of beauty.
Haught refutes scientific materialism by pointing to evolution's clear depiction of increasing complexity in living forms, which he feels points to the necessity that beings as conscious and evolved as we are would "evolve" - I use quotes because I don't think that humans evolved from apes w/o an intervention of some "God." He also cites recent discoveries in astrophysics to underscore the fact that the emergence of sentient life, really human life, was indeed no accident.
Haught also refutes the dualism that is inherent in many religions, which depicts maeterial existence as an accident, where the goal is to see our lives as meaningful only in escaping the physical, returning to the timeless spiritual realms beyond the grave. Again, the argument is that we must live in the here and now, and work towards the "glorious" future I discussed above.
I did have problems with several areas in the book, however. First, I feel that one has to find a balance as a spiritual being having a physical experience. I have always found the expression, "be in the world but not of it" to be a good way to live, because it reminds me that physical life is indeed a "soul school," too temporary for one to be so concerned about a "limitless" future, which the author seems to use as a crutch to explain away the awful suffering in the world, including wars and murders on a scale that even God must have difficulty comprehending (!), inhabited by a schizophrenic species which seems to multiply w/o restraint, and so on. I also found Chapter 10, where the author goes on for pages and pages trying to come up with a logical reason for what kind of "subjective consciousness" existed in the universe before sentient beings (esp. humans) came along, to be superfluous. And that is surprising, because elsewhere he appropriately and humbly does "let go, and let God," in acknowledging the mysteries of the universe. Finally, I do believe that the "true" evolution is a Divine Plan of spiritual evolution, especially as concerns humans; ironically, I found no mention of this in the book. The author seems to have rejected such metaphysics, as have most scientists today.
This is a wondrous work, wherein Haught truly presents a theology of evolution. He doesn't show that evolution is consistent with the Bible- rather that the kind of God we read of in the Bible would *have* to create with evolution. And that modern materialistic philosophy can in no way answer for evolution- in fact, alone, Christianity is the belief system that most fits with evolutionary biology.
Haught uses a wealth of authors, some more well known than others, both biologists and theologians. He redeems process theology and shows how it fits with the Bible. He grapples with the best of Gould and presents a way that the magisterium of religion and science *should* mix, while still having their boundaries.
Every year I present evolution in my biology class, to students from Christian and Muslim backgrounds, and receive acrimony from administration, parents, and students alike. To try to assuage the hostility, I teach a day of philosophical approaches to evolution, to indicate that there are many ways to approach this controversial topic, and the students need to talk with their parents about what the best way is for them personally. This book is causing me to rewrite my class presentation of the philosophy of evolution. No longer will I break it up into Theistic, Deistic, and Atheistic approaches. Haught makes a very convincing case for three approaches of Opposition, Separatism, and Engagement. Ironically, the materialistic atheists and the literal creationists are both in the same camp of opposition. Separatism is the belief that both science and religion teach different sides of the same coin- something I have found myself on in the past. But I have long wanted to move more towards Engagement- looking at how evolution would influence the idea of God. After all, if God made the world this way, as all science indicates, then that should tell us something about God- as Romans 1.20 indicates.
Haught provides a way for us to understand God through evolution- but specifically Jesus Christ in God. It is the theology of kenosis, central to the Christian belief, that is most fully formed in evolution (outside the Incarnation); it is this theology which best philosophically explains evolution. It is a God who loves enough to step back and allow for that which He loves the freedom to come to Him, in true Love, that causes evolution. It is a God who opens the doors to possibilities. This is a God who pours Himself out, who took the form of a servant, who became a human and part of His creation, who died, who is willing to be humble, who is willing to love and to risk losing the ones He loves, who is willing to love and have people turn against Him. What kind of world would this kind of God create? Haught argues a world with suffering, with change, always in the process of creation, and therefore not yet perfect, a world that can be changed, is changing, and the creation participating in the creation of itself. It is a God of the Future, and not the present only, or the past only. A God, as witnessed throughout the Bible, of Hope, expecting new things. Behold, He makes all things new.
This isn't Deism, for God is very involved, and emotionally moved by what is happening, and participating in the suffering of His creation. Nor is this trying to step into science. There is no reason, from a scientific perspective, why evolution has to posit the existence of a God, or His nonexistence. But the moment we ask, "Why would such a world have been allowed to evolve?"- when we ask the why questions, then we move into theology. And neither materialistic evolution nor traditional "Intelligent Design" theory answer this question adequately- they both ignore the question in much the same way. ID Theory looks only at the great complexity of certain problems, without answering the awkward byzantine questions of awfulness in creation. The problem of evil in nature is nothing new- evolution just brings it out much more clearly. Haught argues the answer is in understanding the character of a God who suffers with his creation, and is willing to see his creation suffer in order to change into something greater, without dictating the creation be as He sees it should be, as if it were merely an extension of him rather than something separate.
Where is God then in the evolutionary process? Haught suggests within information, at all levels- something not defined by science, and not explained by evolutionary theory. And so God loves all his creation. I loved the novel idea that God loves the atoms of the rocks as well as us. Yes, I think He loves me more, but all of his creation are his sons and daughters, for He made it. All is in the process of forming. And perhaps, he loves those atoms of rocks because one day they will be (or have been) part of a creation that is more capable of recognizing his wonder and brilliance. All creation worships Him, the Psalmist says. A rock is best at it's worship when it is fully rockish. Which isn't hard for a rock. But we worship all the more, for we do it fully willingly, and knowingly. Or we can. And so are loved all the more for it.
But the presence of God is where the book begins to break down. It is in the end a bit too Deistic for me, still. While I don't think Haught argues in any way for Deism, I don't think he fully answers the presence of God. There seems to be little place for the miraculous in his explanations. If this is a God of Kenosis, as seen in the Incarnation, than He is and always was a God of Kenosis, pouring Himself out in suffering for His creation. But also if He was a God of the miraculous in the Incarnation, than He always was a God of the miraculous.
In the end, Haught remains too far on the side of Arminianism for me. Yes, God allows His creation to proceed of it's own will- but at the same time, His will is constantly working to shape all things. In the doctrine of Augustinian predestination, this in no way denies the free realm of chance, for the two happen simultaneously. This is supported by Haught's argument that God is beyond time and ahead in Time. Haught's position is that God is present throughout in feeling, but not as actively working as I would like. He is hoping in the future. But what is He hoping in? Were He to hope in anything but Himself, then He Himself would commit idolatry, God forbid. But then He can not hope in chance, or in the creation that He Himself made through the process of natural selection- rather, He must hope in his continual actions in that same creation.
Additionally, Haught is kind of confusing towards the end, where he goes off on some tangents on the presence of the subjective, and other authors' thoughts on it, without ever defining what the subjective is. And the idea of how original sin entered the world is not well answered. Naturally, Haught posits, like C.S. Lewis, that the two Genesis stories are myth. But he then puts the idea of a perfect world, central to the Truth of the myth, as something that never existed, except in the realm of the Perfect Ideal. Edwards does a better job of answering this issue in The God of Evolution.
Much of the second half of the book is epistemology, which I ironically find very hard to understand, above all the forms of philosophy. That made for slow reading- but that's my fault.
I think the greatest aspect of this book is Hope. Not merely hope that we can reconcile evolution and Christianity. That's there- but that's only a slim part of it. It is the idea of possibility, the presentness of something pregnant. Not a wish for the Real- but real Hope, that there will be something coming that is greater than what we have now. This is God's great desire for us. This is the witness of the entire Old and New Testaments. We are going someplace greater on this plan for the future. What it will be, we don't know. It is the excitement of the Future that we gain from the God of the Future, He who is the Future, pulling us into a new realm. He began this eons ago, and continues now, and will present something New, in creatio originalis, creatio continua, and creatio nova.
on October 20, 2006
The approach advocated by Haught to dealing with the implications of evolution is one of "engagement" which he describes as "taking evolution into the very center of theological reflection on the meaning of life, of God, and of the universe." [I question the "center" characterization because it implies that those who in the past or now lack understanding of the evolutionary idea could not be at the center. A better characterization would be that it amplifies and deepens our understanding of what has or should have always been at the center. And one should also note that we are talking only about the center of "theological reflection," not the center of religious or spiritual life, which is something quite different.] At one level, this engagement is seen as a development of "natural theology" which has generally been disregarded in modern times. Scientists especially have pointed to the connection between cosmic origins which cannot be explained by evolution and the conditions of the evolution which produced life, however apparently indeterminate the process. They point out, as Kauffman noted, the extreme improbability of the precise physical conditions and laws of the universe at the time of creation such that life as we know it was possible. By carrying back the intelligent design argument to the big bang they make it more credible but without removing the difficulties of the apparent arbitrariness of biological development.
More broadly and importantly, some modern theology has attempted to bring the insights of knowledge of cosmic and biological evolution to enhance and enrich traditional teachings about God and God's relationship with the world. Haught summarizes the ways in which evolutionary insights are consistent with and complement traditional Christian teachings. The idea of evolution is seen as more compatible than previous understandings with biblical belief not only in an original creation but God's ongoing or continuous creation which results in a future fulfillment of creation. An initial "perfect" creation, finished and static, could not be a creation truly distinct from its creator. Such a "world" would simply be an appendage of God, not a world which God transcends. It would be a world without a future for there would be no true development, and a world devoid of true life the nature of which is to continually change and go beyond itself. Henry Bergson described life not as things but a tendency which becomes "actualized" or real only in a creative unfolding. Struggle, suffering, even evil are characteristic of true freedom and lead to the an understanding of the universe and the story of humankind as capable of leading somewhere.
The understanding that humankind is the product of and intimately connected with cosmic history supports the Christian belief that the ultimate purpose and hope of human life embraces the entire cosmos. Human beings are not disconnected from the rest of the universe which is simply some kind of prop for the human drama which has its denouement only in the afterlife. Instead, as St. Paul says, the entirety of creation "groans" for ultimate fulfillment. The eschatological expectations expressed by Jesus and held by the early Christians for the coming of the kingdom in real human history may be taken more seriously when judged against the backdrop of the awesome movement of creation through the ages. The reality of God is better understood in temporal terms, God who comes into the world from "up ahead" rather than in the static spatial terms of a heaven "above."
Further, God is revealed not as a series of propositions nor as once for all time historical epiphany, but as a continuing "communication of God's own selfhood to the world." The fullness of divine infinity cannot be received instantaneously into or by a finite cosmos. Such an reception could take place only gradually. A finite world could "adapt" to an infinite source of love only by a process of gradual expansion and ongoing self-transcendence, the external manifestation of which might appear to science as cosmic and biological evolution.
God's grace in the form of unconditional love by its nature does not compel but seeks to persuade. It does not absorb, annihilate, or force itself on the beloved. It wishes the beloved to become truly other by letting it be so that a true relationship in freedom is possible. Such a love may even take the form of a certain self-withdrawal, precisely as the condition for allowing the world to emerge on its own so as to attain the capability of deep relationship with God. Nicholas of Cusa prayed, "How could you give yourself to me unless you had first given me to myself?" The epic of evolution may be interpreted as the story of the world's struggle toward an expansive freedom in the presence of self-giving grace. Such a world is one percolating with contingency rather than one made rigid by necessity.
Our understanding of God's power is recast in this view. It is a power to influence but not constrain or coerce. Such a world given leave to become more and more autonomous, even to help create itself and eventually attain the status of self-consciousness and freedom, has much more integrity and value than any conceivable world determined by providential design. This is the view of "process theology" which does not find any incompatibility in the evident spontaneity manifested at the levels of quantum indeterminacy, or in the undirected mutations in biological evolution. No other conception of God's power is more consistent with the orthodox religious belief that God is infinite love. This God is the source not only of order but also of novelty and ongoing creativity. As such God must also be the source of instability and disorder which make change and transformation possible, conditions essential to life as we know it.
Haught presents a view of redemption which seems less convincingly tied to evolutionary insight. The God of process theology he says,
intimately "feels" the world, as the biblical narratives affirm over and over. God it would seem is influenced deeply by all that happens in the evolutionary process. Everything whatsoever that occurs is "saved" by being taken eternally into God's own feeling of the world. Even though all events and achievements are temporal and perishable, they still abide permanently within the everlasting compassion of God. In God's own sensitivity to the world, each event is redeemed from absolute perishing and receives the definitive importance and meaning that religions encourage us to believe in - always without seeing clearly.
Haught argues that the evolutionary perspective not only allows us "to enlarge our sense of God's creativity by extending it over measureless eons of time; it also gives comparable magnitude to our sense of the divine participation in" ("co-suffering, or com-passionate involvement in") the life-process. The Christian understanding of a God who empties himself and submits in humility to crucifixion speaks with conviction to the real world of evolution that strives and suffers and endures in order to grow and become more than it controls and dominates. In short, God as self-outpouring of suffering love in the person of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ corresponds to the actuality of suffering, struggle, loss, and death inherent in the evolutionary understanding of life. The Christian God provides meaning to our experience of this reality by verifying "our intuition that the agony of living beings is not undergone in isolation from the divine eternity, but is taken up everlastingly and redemptively into the very `life-story' of God."
Haught thus largely accepts the critique of the materialists of an omnipotent "designer God" pulling the strings on a puppet universe or setting in motion and then watching from afar a mechanistic universe preordained to achieve some inscrutable purpose. The reality of evolutionary history rightly contradicts such a notion of God. Instead, it supports a notion of God as the ultimate reality conceived of as fundamentally self-emptying, suffering love which is characterized by self-restraint and the subtle power of attraction and persuasion that respects the true freedom accorded to creation, the possibility of genuine co-creation, instead of either mindless deterministic materialism or the unfolding of an eternally fixed divine plan. This alternate view gives us "a reasonable metaphysical explanation of the evolutionary process as this manifests itself to contemporary scientific inquiry." It does not provide an easy answer to the eternal problem of theodicy. But evolution recognizes the simple fact that the universe is still in the process of being created, that the nature of God's world is such that there is a profound letting be that permits suffering, loss, and death, yet affords us hope that the story of each element is bound up in the story of the whole which is taken up and finally made whole in the heart of divine compassion.
on October 25, 2002
In this book, Haught reveals the most significant and profound insights into the consonance between Christianity and biological evolution.
Overall, Haught claims that when we perceive biological evolution from within the context of the bigger picture, (which includes the big bang and cosmic evolution), we see orchestration, beauty and purpose in the cosmos which wholly warrants the existence of a Mindful God. Haught claims that when we perceive God as the ultimate dimension of reality, empowering nature from within, (see Acts 17.28; Ephesians 4.6; Romans 11.36; Wis. 12.1), and with God possessesing the inherent nature of Christ, we find a view of evolution that positively illuminates and compliments the Biblical portrayal of God, while wholly enlightening and deepening our understanding of God's relationship with Creation.
Regarding this latter point, in context with the suffering that occurs in evolution, Haught says, "Our facing openly and honestly the disquieting scientific accounts of life's evolution can expose us to the passionate and creative divine depths of nature much more nakedly than can a shallow skimming of isolated samples of order off of life's surface. ... Reflection on the Darwinian world can lead us to contemplate more explicitly the mystery of God as it is made manifest in the story of life's suffering, the epitome of which lies for Christians in the crucifixion of Jesus. In the symbol of the cross, Christian belief discovers a God who participates fully in the world's struggle and pain. The cruciform visage of nature reflected in Darwinian science invites us to depart, perhaps more decisively than ever before, from all notions of a deity untouched by the world's suffering. Evolutionary biology not only allows theology to enlarge its sense of God's creativity by extending it over measureless eons of time; it also gives comparable magnitude to our sense of the divine participation in life's long and often tormented journey."
Haught points out that God's omnipotence can be understood as God's capacity to enter into love with all its costs. Divine omnipotence is really the divine capacity for love beyond all human comprehension. God has endowed His Creation with opportunities for creativity and freedom, and Haught rightly says that the necessary existence of suffering can be understood even from the human level of self-giving love, especially when the beloved - in this case, Creation - is fallible and free. Haught leads us to turn away from the antiquated concept of the "god of the gaps" in order to see a deeper, more profound, and ultimately more realistic concept of God which is consonant with the true Christian message.
In Haught's words, "Christian faith provides us with an image of God that is not only logically consistent with but also fruitfully illuminative of the Darwinian picture of life."
In my opinion, the first 55 pages of this book contain Haught's central, and frankly innovative, insights, while the remaining 150 pages tend to divert toward unnecessary verbiage, (his talk about the eschatological future is cumbersome, although he gets back on track in his discussion on beauty in chapter 8). Even so, due to the enlightened insights within the first 55 pages, I rate this book 5 stars.
This book is indeed worth a read for anybody interested in discerning Ultimate Truth.
on April 20, 2000
"God After Darwin" was written by a Christian theologian for other Christian theologians, at least that is my take on it. Haught tries to show that the theory of evolution not only does not invalidate Christianity, but it throws light on the "true" Christian message (true on his interpretation of Christianity). He tries to show other Christian theologians that there is no need for God to exercise supernatural powers in the world, and that God is absolutely and necessarily innocent of any evil in the world. Unfortunately, these arguments aren't of much interest to anyone who isn't already deeply committed to the essential Christian traditions. Christianity carries too much baggage for such people. Only Christian theologians would find it interesting that certain of their fellows can bob and weave traditional Christian beliefs through the hoops of modern cosmology and biological evolution without doing inordinate injustice to them. The center of the book is especially onerous for non-Christians, where Haught's speculations stretch credulity to the limit and where he often walks on shaky scientific grounds. The last third of the book is far more satisfactory, where he gets into discussions of process theology, but it is here where he also seems to detach himself the most from actual Christian traditions. The first third of the book is also excellent, where he states his problem brilliantly. Where he actually gets down to executing his agenda however, in the second third of the book, the book falls off, in my opinion. For Christian theologians, I give it five stars. For non-Christian theists, I give it two stars, as being largely irrelevant to their concerns.
on February 2, 2014
In yet another insillation of his theistic evolution, much taken from Teilhard de Chadin, Haught seeks to show that there is little direct conflict between theism and science. Much like arguments put forth by Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame, Haught describes the true conflict to be between the metaphysical arguments stemming from the polemic positions of evolutionary materialism and intelligent design, both of which attemp to use the field of science to validate their own particular brand of philosophy. Haught proposes instead, that God's complete love for his creation and his self emptying in to that creation, a phenomena the Greeks refer to as Kenosis, allows for processes such as evolution to take root and prosper in a creation full of the promise of fulfillment. This as of yet unfulfilled state of the universe, also allows for the presence of suffering and evil. As put by the Apostle Paul, creation is filled with the groans of labor as it strives toward perfection. Although interesting, I found his argument skirting deism and lacking in explanation of how God might deliver himself totally to his creation yet still able to interact with it as revealed in scripture. Still, it is a worthwhile read and really does point out the flaws in the arguments of both materialism and intelligent design.
on August 14, 2008
I am currently doing a research project on the theological consequences of belief in evolution, and this was a very helpful book if you are interested in this topic. Haught seems to legitimately understand the serious implications evolution has for theology. The problem is that after he identifies them, he frequently fails to really give a satisfactory explanation of how our theology could intergate the implications brought to the table by the acceptance of neo-Darwinian evolution (the science, not the philosophical position). It is rare to find a book dealing specifically with the theological implications of evolution rather this getting hung up on Biblical interpretation issues (which Haught doesn't really discuss at all), so Haugh deserves credit for steering us into relatively uncharted waters.
Despite my opinion on his success on that matter, this is really not a bad book. His sections on why Darwinian evolution does not necessitate (or even lean toward) a naturalistic world-view is good. Unfortunately, this is available in countless other books, and he doesn't really stand out among other authors in his defense of this claim.
His defence of an evolutionary creationistic position as oppossed to either young earth/Intelligent Design is also good, and this is something that is not as widely available (though I think Howard Van Till does a better job of it).
However, I imagine that what most people were looking for in this book was how he dealt with specific theological issues in light of his belief in evolution. In my opinion, he is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in this subject, not because he necessarily gives the best answers, but because he raises most of the right questions. He specifically addresses what we are to do with the problem of natural evil in light of a universe apparently filled with pain and suffering before any Fall of mankind brought sin into the world. He addresses what we are to do with ethics, teleology, divine action, etc. in light of the implications of evolution, and for that I am very thankful. On many of these issues he raised new possabilities/insights that I had not encountered elsewhere. However, he was plauged by a very significant problem in many of his responses to these problems: he often used a lot of words to say nothing.
What I mean by this is that when it got right down to it, his explanation hinged on using expressions that really had no meaning because he never defined them. For example, he frequently describes God pulling the pre-biotic universe toward His purposes, and the universe "responding," "rejecting," or "striving toward" His pull. What does it even mean for the universe to "reject" God's pulling? Could this possibly have any meaning outside of pantheism? To be fair, Haught discusses how divine action works toward the very end of the book. However, he not only fails to find a satisfactory explation of how non-setnient matter could "reject" or "respond" to God's Will, but unless you read that section right toward the very end first, whenever you read about "the universe" apparently having some sort of free will in the first 175 pages or so it is simply meaningless until he explains it. When he does eventually try to say what he means, he waffles between Whitehead's idea that all matter has "feeling" and ability to "respond" in some subjective sense and Jonas' idea that God gave up his ability to influence the universe in His act of creating it totally free. He ends up rejecting both, and saying it is something other than these two options, and by failing to say how it could be that we can maintain both the belief that God somehow pulls creation (via evolution) towards His ends (i.e. the universe can "respond" to God's pulling) and the belief that God is not responsible for natural evil because he left creation free to evolve (i.e. Jonas) he makes all of his previous discussion of BOTH topics (teleology and the problem of evil) meaningless. In short, he uses Whitehead's ideas to defend how God can be said to be guiding the universe toward His ends and Jonas' ideas to defend God in light of natural evil, and since he eventually rejects both Whitehead and Jonas without defining what a correct understanding would be he is forced to either give up his defense of teleology or his theodicy. His attempts to cover this up by saying that both are partly right without explaining how this could possibly be the case are not nearly enough to smooth the issue over.
To briefly sum up, this is a very good book in general, but not in specifics. Much of what he says sounds very good until you get down to the details of how his ideas would work. Further, his theological "answers" to problems for Christian theology posed by evolution frequently require an abandoning of what would be considered "orthodox" theology in favor of process theism, which is openly acknowledged in the book. I'm not saying that it is a bad book because of this, but I did want potential readers to realize what theological position he is defending here. Again, it's not at all a bad book, but it doesn't live up to the expectations generated early on in the book by all of the questions to which we are promised answers.
Overall grade: B-
on April 14, 2014
After reading a number of John Haught's books, I hoped this one would be a summary of his insights into the ongoing dialogue between Christian theology and current scientific knowledge. I was not disappointed. His ability to clearly communicate his thinking on this important subject invites readers to the dialogue and challenges them to further clarify their own thinking. He achieves these goals through a writing style that does not attack other points of view while clearly stating his own. This book makes a major
contribution to a conversation that may be one of the most important ones facing persons of faith today.