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3.9 out of 5 stars
Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life
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on January 10, 2012
This book is framed as a "discussion" with Charles Darwin and some of his followers. Each of the chapters consist of a brief meditation on an aspect of life that Darwin's science requires theology to reconsider. The themes are listed alliteratively, in true Baptist fashion, even though the author is Roman Catholic. They are intended to be starting points for the reader's own theological meditations. The themes (chapters) are Darwin, design, diversity, descent, drama, direction, depth, death, duty, devotion, and deity.

Haught does not challenge evolutionary science, only evolutionary naturalism. He argues that Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Jerry Coyne get it wrong when they go beyond the science of evolution and try to extrapolate to theology.

He urges the reader to think in terms of layered explanations (explanatory layers), i.e., both/and instead of either/or: different levels of explanation as simultaneously operative without ruling one another out. He suggests that we allow for divine creativity at a more fundamental layer of explanation than that at which natural science operates. Scientific and theological explanations can both be accepted without being rivals. Science and theology have different roles.

Haught's book is basically a treatment of the questions that biological evolution raises for Christian faith and theology. I recommend it to anyone interested in "making sense of evolution."
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on December 11, 2011
I was pleasantly surprised by John Haught's overview of the deeper meaning of Darwin's work. But, it took me nearly the entire book to get to the meat of Haught's argument. In brief, John Haught views evolution as a layered process involving the materialistic and theologic components. While separate in their need to be evaluated by man to gain an initial understanding of the "transformative drama" ongoing in the universe, the two disciplines are themselves intimately entangled in man's future evolution toward cosmic significance. Drawing heavily on the work of Pierre Teihard de Chadin, Haught explains the significance of Darwin's work as allowing us to view man's evolution as a process eventuating in a conscious level high enough to recognize and partake in God's plan to reveal himself on a universal scale. The development of self awareness in the course of evolution, while rooted in foundational materialism, is itself necessary for man to recognize his role in the transformative drama of the universe. According to Haught, materialism can only partly explain the role of evolution in man's transormation. Theology is need to help illuminate the important principles behind evolution. Evolution and the physical processes in the universe are not blindly driven, as the materialist philosophy explains it. The universe as a whole, is transforming into a more complex entity culminating in the promise of final renewal.
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on July 10, 2014
This book is my "pick" of the YEAR!!!! I'll never part with it - no one would want it as it is colorfully highlighted in bright pink and orange! John F. Haught is awesome! I'm studying this summer with the hope that I'll be able to gather a group to study the topic of faith and science. Currently, I'm "marching through" Ilia Deli0's The Unbearable Wholeness of Being...simply remarkable.
Finding great books is all about following footnotes and taking note of advertised books. Yesterday, I received and devoured in a couple of long gulps, Peter Sis's book, The Tree of Life (on Charles Darwin). I've placed it on a visible table. Two grandchildren are visiting from D.C. over the weekend. Wouldn't it be absolutely lovely if one of them (twins of age 14) picked it up and were intrigued enough to say, "Grandma, this is so cool"?!? I can only hope!
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on February 14, 2015
John Haught is one of the finest evolutionary thinkers today. I enjoyed the book and hope to follow it with another.

LeRoy Clementich
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on December 7, 2013
Liked the book a lot, chapters 3-6 however drag on and repeat a lot; picks up a lot after those chapters
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on September 28, 2010
Evolution has always been a subject of interest to me. And when I read the preview of John F. Haught's book I found that he supports most of the theory and concepts I hold concerning evolution and the mysteries of God working still in His creative process. Haught's book will be one of the references I will use in my Christian teaching ministry.

Herb Rouson,Sr.,
Pastor Emeritus
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on January 16, 2012
Readers who have appreciated John Haught's earlier book God and the New Atheism may be a bit disappointed by this one. Haught here moves beyond an analysis of the intellectual sloppiness of the Dawkins/Hitchens/Harris phenomenon to a discussion of the way theology needs to be reinterpreted in the light of what he understands to be the established truth of evolutionary origins. While the evidence that evolution is a primary mechanism of creation is now incontrovertible (see Denis Alexander's Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? for an accessible and scientifically robust demonstration of this from a committed Christian), this for Vaught seems to have become a dominant new paradigm from which everything else has to be interpreted.

Vaught approvingly summarizes Teilhard de Chardin's view that "the intellectual context for any believable theology today is shaped primarily by science, and especially its new story of an unfinished universe. So what is needed theologically 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." (p.142)

The key issue is whether in a context "shaped primarily by science" theology should also be shaped primarily by science. It is true that theology must live in the 21st century and not the 19th, or the 16th, or the 3rd century. It is also absolutely correct that if it is true, Christian theology will not find any challenge, but rather support and stimulus from anything that material science can reveal. If alongside the daily newspaper and popular culture Christian thinkers and preachers can't also refer when necessary to discoveries in cosmology and genetics; if we are not reading and thinking in these areas as part of our intelligent engagement with the real world of knowledge in which we live, then we are failing in our task. But if it is truly theology it surely must be shaped, not by science, but by what God has revealed of himself through the ages of his involvement with human beings. That is, the living word of God encountered through scripture must be the starting place. We don't have a God about whom we have to speculate, a God whom we have to re-envisage or re-cast in the light of a new revelation (even supposing that material science could provide such revelation). We have a self-revealing God, not one whom we have to discover ourselves, or to re-conceptualize in the light of new data.

It seems to me that, while not necessarily coming from a non-orthodox starting place, Haught continually walks along the edge of that latter possibility. The content of "God" as Haught uses the title does not seem to be driven by revelation but by scientific discovery (seen as a set of established conclusions, rather than as a still-breaking wave). This leads to a kind of free-floating speculation about how we might think about God. Haught's many thoughtful discussions still at bottom have this air of speculation: as if the ideas were floating six inches above a ground so taken for granted that it seems not even to exist. In particular, the past seems in Haught's thought to have been almost entirely relinquished to evolutionary processes. While the terms creator and creation are used, they occur as ciphers rather than as having real content. The much more dominant sense is of a self-creating universe, come to awareness in human beings, and being called in its growth and development into a future grounded in God. Haught correctly eschews a view of God that sees him primarily located in the past. But instead of the eternal God, Haught's God appears to be located exclusively in the future: the universe is growing on into God, and it is that future-located God who meets and calls to us in the present.

One result of the ungrounded nature of the discussion is that Haught's suggestions for reconfiguring theology often seem much less tangible than the `solid' scientific foundation that has been assumed as the central reference point. Despite the often tellingly acute observations about the inadequacy of a purely materialist viewpoint, the theological suggestions that are made seldom feel any more tangible or authoritative. The impression one gets is of a philosophically interesting but not demonstrably necessary or compelling alternative narrative. Christian concepts are used vaguely, and in numerous places Haught swings into what feels more like mystical rhetoric than hard argument. As one example it is hard to see what actual meaning there is in statements like `The Bible gives us such a worldview, one in which ultimate reality--in other words, God--arrives from out of the future to give new life to the creation and fresh hope to human history." (p.135) My suspicion is that any scientist worth their salt (and the book is a conscious invitation to dialogue) would consider this nothing but mystical claptrap. I feel uncomfortably sympathetic to such a judgement.

With regard to this particular example, one is reminded of the earnestly bizarre theories of the physicist Frank J Tipler in his The Physics of Immortality, who (without giving any indication that he has read Teilhard de Chardin) sees `God' as the future cosmos-filling noosphere reaching back in time to cherish and preserve every aspect of its progress to divinity--including individual human beings (hence the title). While Haught doesn't go nearly this far, it is hard to see what would decisively distinguish his Christian point of view from this charmingly dotty secular one. Teilhard, by the way, along with Whithead, Hartshorne and Tillich, is one of Haught's major influences, and is quoted many times. (For the record I myself think Teilhard's The Phenomenon of Man to be a truly splendid book--up to the point where towards the end he slips across, in my reading of him, into a kind of process pantheism.)

I'm aware that these are pretty robust criticisms. And yet I still think the book has interest and value. It is at least a real attempt to integrate what we know about evolutionary mechanisms into serious Christian theological thought about creation and providence --even if the result makes it appear as if the balance of authority and therefore the need for integration runs the other way. The underlying discussion of the lack of depth or explanatory power in materialist explanations is often excellent, and there are fresh and thought-provoking observations on almost every page. As a short, thoughtful and often wise discussion it is definitely worth your time, even if many Christian readers will want to move on fairly quickly to something more solidly grounded.
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on January 25, 2012
Haught presents his text as a source for forming a more detailed compact of the evolution and Christian theism discussion. Haught calls for a deeper understanding of God's plans and provisions as it relates to scientific evolutionary theory. Haught terms this deeper understanding as the "drama of life."

Haught's text centers on Charles Darwin as the never personally intended antagonist to theism in the scientific discipline of biology during the mid 1800's. Haught also intertwines Darwin's contemporaries' thoughts during the enlightenment period, in which Darwin lived, in the fields of science, psychology, philosophy and theology into the text.

In addition, past and present day scientists, psychologists, philosophers and theologians thoughts are brought into the text. Several present day scientific reductionists and their beliefs and theories are highlighted throughout the text. Also, a postmodern Christian scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is introduced in the end of the text as an interpreter of evolution.

Haught's evidence on the tension between Christian theism and scientific evolution is detailed in eleven chapters. Each chapter is expanded very sufficiently to grasp Haught's logic. His logic is without polarization on every issue.

Haught presents many valid points. Several could be generalized below as:

1. There are scientists that profess in theism and scientists that profess in atheism. The irrationality of belief in a God that an atheistic scientist brings to the table because it is not logical can be a projection of his scientific understanding. Whereas the rationality of belief in a God that a theist scientist brings to the table because it is logical can be a projection of his scientific understanding.

2. Philosophy has seen the physical and metaphysical as separate. Atheistic evolutionary biologists' quests for reductionism truths are attempting to blur and erase the line between the two and reduce all meaning of life to a genetic pool. Meaning or purpose cannot simply show up at the level of scientific analysis.

3. Man is a moral being with ethics written in him by God and not due to an adaptive design through a natural selection process as argued by evolutionary naturalists. Evolutionary naturalists' arguments of inbred morality of man conflict to the survival at all cost mentality of evolutionary theory.

4. Creationists and Intelligent Design proponents maybe be and Evolutionary Materialist proponents are missing the deeper understanding of God unfolding in man and the universe. The drama of life is much more detailed with a beginning and an end and consummation. There is hope in life.

5. Charles Darwin observations and discoveries never lead him to discount a creator but that he grew to be an agnostic through those efforts. His public and personal writings reflect this.

Haught's text is not a standalone source on scientific evolution theory and theology. Haught has previously published at least eight sources on science, evolution and theology.

I think that Haught is on target when he sees the field of science as a subset of a much larger picture that presents itself in man and in the universe. The quest for scientific understanding can bind a preconceived atheist to his findings and blind him from the truth. Haught might agree with me when I say that science is a tool for truth but not the truth.
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on August 23, 2014
Except for the chapters on Duty and Devotion this book borders on nonsense. Dr. Haught has simply rolled over and caved into the Darwinist view of life, and instead invents some "higher order" worldview that makes it OK to believe that life evolved randomly. This is total and utter nonsense, even shameful. He needs to expand his horizon by embracing works by Dr. Stephen Meyer (Signature in the Cell, Darwin's Doubt), Dr. Gerald L. Schroeder (The Hidden Face of God, The Science of God), and Dr. Michael Behe (The Edge of Evolution).

I do give Dr. Haught 5 stars for the chapters on Duty and Devotion, so the book is worth reading just for those thoughts. Dr. Haught simply shreds Darwinian thinking to pieces, as he should. Why he shied away from doing the same in the rest of the book is a mystery to me.
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on February 22, 2012
Haught's Making Sense of Evolution builds on his already prolific and inspiring work and is even more accessible. For those who consider it impossible to speak of evolution and theology in the same breath, Haught teases out themes from Darwin's Origin of Species demonstrating how Darwin's sense of story provides a way of making profound connections. Instead of remaining stuck in the controversy, Haught shows when perceived as a drama, evolution opens us to the fact that we are in the midst of an exciting journey that is ever moving towards the future.
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