- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 21, 2003

DEEPER THAN DARWIN:THE PROSPECTS FOR RELIGION IN THE AGE OF EVOLUTION

By John F. Haught

Westview Press, $26, 214 pages

REVIEWED BY LARRY WITHAM

The theologian Paul Tillich, who died in 1965, made his last public appearance with the humanist psychologist Carl Rogers. They agreed that feeling “acceptance” by the universe was key to human sanity.

If that was so, asked Mr. Rogers, then why in an age of science did Tillich have to call that acceptance God? Was not “God” just a superfluous word?

Tillich replied, of course, that God is real, though often elusive in such divine depths of reality. This is the argument that Georgetown University professor and theologian John F. Haught has revived in his new book, “Deeper than Darwin,” in which he explains why God is more than just a word. God, he says, is the deepest thing happening in a Darwinian universe that is unfinished on its evolutionary path to the future.

Tillich rose to fame in an era when “depth psychology” intersected with Protestant thought, and the idea of looking for something deeper swept popular culture. Today, however, it can have a ring of fuzziness. So Mr. Haught sharpens up the topic by contrasting the new and deeper “God for evolution” with two rival stances of our day.

One is strict materialism, which is saying the evolving universe has no “point” to it. The universe in fact may dissipate into nothing. The religions we hold dear, the materialists say, are helpful fictions and “adaptive” tools produced by genes. As a theologian, of course, Mr. Haught could not disagree more, though he has no quibble with the materialists’ science itself.

His other foil is a group that doubts the accuracy of some Darwinian science and allows for God’s “design” in the universe. Their idea of finding design and purpose in the universe answers Carl Rogers’ question of why call it “God.”

Mr. Haught, an ecumenical Roman Catholic who heads Georgetown’s Center for the Study of Science and Religion, has argued this “middle path” of theistic evolution in three previous books.

With some degree of elegance, his writings have argued the continued relevance of insights from Alfred North Whitehead, the father of process thought, and the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who said the universe is evolving to oneness in Christ, the Omega Point.

Thus, they both suggest that the ultimate fulfillment of God’s providence is in the future, toward which man and nature are drawn in an extremely long and deep evolutionary process.

By this approach, God can be described as the source of the love, freedom, creativity and patience of an evolutionary world. The struggle, death and sadness of life are tragic parts of how God’s providence works, not a falling away from an original paradise.

Mr. Haught’s book is partly a collection of papers he gave at conference or wrote for journals, and that is how Tillich shows up in various chapters. Tillich, too, tried to find God at the deepest level as science seemed, on the surface, to debunk so much of Christian dogma.

What Mr. Haught brings us is a nice survey of these problems and proposed answers. He adds a few new touches as well. The book talks about why religions are diverse and imperfect (but essential), how “intuition” of God still drives much of humanity, and why nature is really a God-given narrative of life. He also touches on how God keeps each person in eternal memory, assuaging the fear of being eternally “forgotten” once we die.

Meanwhile, the author himself has become part of a decade-long battle between the materialists, design thinkers, and religious evolutionists that he writes about. He uses one chapter to rebut Frederick Crews, a literature professor and arch-materialist who made fun of Mr. Haught’s theology in a famous New York Review of Books article. Indeed, Mr. Crews attacked 11 books on science and religion.

While Mr. Crews and Mr. Haught can agree on Darwinian evolution, their contention is over God — which the theologian argues as still necessary to human yearning. His book has a logic, beginning with God as the deepest thing around and ending with human significance in God’s creation, even as science looks for other intelligent life in outer space.

Mr. Haught’s book has the feel of a meditation, just as reading the Psalms, for example, has a repetitive but pleasant quality. His argument is shy on concrete points of science or theology, but one senses that is done to keep the narrative simple. The end notes have plenty of detail.

This theologian has a taste for polemic as well. Those who look for God’s design in the universe, or who are materialists, are no better than “literalists,” not deep-minded thinkers appreciative of symbolism and vagaries in life. They lack “metaphysical patience.” And both “are willing to settle for a world devoid of depth, taking refuge in their respective versions of literalism.”

To be fair, the people Mr. Haught rebuts are fairly strident themselves. And polemics that are ad hominem are a great theological tradition, from St. Augustine to Karl Barth.

In the 1950s and 1960s, when Teilhard de Chardin’s “The Phenomenon of Man” and Tillich’s “The Courage To Be” came out, they were difficult, abstract books. But they became popular sellers.

This is a different era, however. Mr. Haught takes the lead in reminding us of these past thinkers, and integrating other theologians — such as Karl Rahner and Jurgen Moltmann — into a religious response to the growing claims of biology, genetics and cosmology in “the age of evolution.”

His current book, though as challenging as any popular theological work, continues that integrating task. We can hope that it will provide “something deeper” to a new generation, most of which has used the “God” word, but who probably has never heard of Tillich, or Teilhard, or even Carl Rogers.

Larry Witham is a writer in Maryland.

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