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Haught, John F. “Darwin’s Gift to Theology."

According to John Haught, evolutionary theory can seriously undercut the credibility of divine action. Daniel Dennett views evolution as a purely algorithmic process that leaves no room for God’s action. Richard Dawkins argues that impersonal physical necessity drives genes to maximize opportunities for survival. Both conclude that Darwin has given atheism a solid foundation. Hence contemporary theology must include an apologetic dimension. At minimum, it should demonstrate that the scientific concepts involved in evolutionary theory - contingency, necessity, and the enormity of time - do not rule out the action of God. But theology should go beyond this to show that these concepts are open to metaphysical and theological grounding and that a careful understanding of God renders an evolving natural world more intelligible. Rather than a danger, Darwin offers theology a gift: the context for a doctrine of God as compassionate, suffering, and active in and fully related to the world.

This paper argues that such a theology is implied in the kenotic image of God’s self- emptying, Christ-like love. Haught draws on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Jürgen Moltmann in stressing divine kenosis. An evolutionary theology extends this view backward to embrace the history of life on earth and forward to its eschatological completion. With Karl Rahner we are invited to accept the humility of God and to resist what Sallie McFague calls a “power of domination.” Contrary to Dennett and Dawkins, the randomness of variations, the impersonality of natural selection, and the waste and suffering of evolution can be understood through the concept of a vulnerable God who renounces despotic force, who grounds evolution in divine love, and who participates in evolution to redeem nature.

But there is an additional problem here. Science is methodologically neutral, constrained to explain evolution without reference to the supernatural. Still, the assertions that science leaves no room for theology and that what physics depicts is the only reality lead beyond science to scientism and materialism, ideologies clearly in opposition to theology. Haught cites Stephen Jay Gould, Dennett, and Dawkins as conflating the science of evolution and the ideology of materialistic metaphysics. In response, theologians must employ a metaphysics of sufficient categorical breadth and philosophical depth to account for both the Christian experiences of God and evolutionary science, and one that counters materialism. It is Haught’s conviction that some aspects are provided by Whiteheadian philosophy, with its emphasis on novelty and temporality as irreducible features of the world.

Faith’s conviction that God’s relationship to the world is one of complete self-giving can be elaborated, at least partially, through process theology’s notion of the divine persuasive power which invites, though never forces, creation to engage in the process of becoming. Such emergent self-coherence in the evolving world is entirely consonant with the world’s radical dependence on and intimacy with God. According to Haught, union with God actually differentiates the world from God rather than dissolving it into God. In the light of such a theology, rooted in the divine kenosis, we should not be surprised at nature’s undirected evolutionary experimentation with multiple ways of adapting, or at the spontaneous creativity in natural process, or at the enormous spans of time involved in evolution. If God’s incarnate love is expressed in persuasive and relational power, a world rendered complete and perfect in every detail by God’s direct act would be metaphysically and theologically impossible. Such a world would not be truly distinct from God. It would be neither a truly graced universe, as is ours, nor meaningfully open to God’s self-communication.

Kenotic process theology emphasizes God as the sole ground of the world’s being. The sufferings and achievements of evolution take place within God’s own experience and are graced by God’s compassion. Such a theological stance, according to Haught, is not only consistent with, but ultimately explanatory of, the world seen in terms of evolutionary science - and in ways that go beyond the capabilities of materialism. Still, in light of theology’s concerns for both creation and eschatology, Haught emphasizes a “metaphysics of the future” in which the fullness of being is found not in the past or present, but in what is yet to come. The ongoing creation of the universe and the evolutionary process are made possible by God’s entering into the world from the realm of the future.

Haught realizes that science (or, more properly, scientism) is rooted in a “metaphysics of the past,” but this is a view which he believes evolutionary theology will need to include even while surpassing it. To the objection that the future cannot ‘cause’ the present, he poses the metaphorical character of both theological and scientific language, and he invokes Paul Tillich’s suggestions that we refer to God as “Ground,” rather than cause, of being. Ultimately, biblical faith rules out unique mechanical causation from past events and is commensurate with process theology’s insistence on the power of the future and on God as the ultimate source of all possibilities.

Haught returns then to his initial question: Does evolutionary theory leave room for theology? An affirmative response requires that there be an explanatory role for the idea of God in light of evolution which does not interfere with that of science. Haught provides this by pointing to three assumptions in the scientific explanation of life: the contingency of events, the laws of nature, and the irreversible, temporal character of the world. He believes theology’s task is to provide an ultimate explanation and grounding for these assumptions. Theology does so by claiming that contingent events, such as genetic mutations, signal the inbreaking of the new creation, that necessity is an expression of God’s faithfulness, and that the arrival of the divine Novum endows the world with its temporality.

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