An evolutionary view of creation
John Haught fully embraces the insights of science and especially those of Darwinian evolution. He contends that these scientific insights are not only compatible with the experience of biblical faith, but that they nourish a theology that is richer than pre-Darwinian religious thought.
Scientists begin with the commitment to the belief that the world is to some extent intelligible and that truth is worth the hard work of science. These faith commitments of scientists do not prove anything about the ultimate nature of reality, but they are more compatible with a religious vision than with a materialistic one. Unlike the materialist interpretation of reality, the religious view sees the work of the scientist as part of a larger cosmic narrative characterized by a hopeful outcome.
Haught shows the weakness of naïve theism as well as naïve atheism both of which find a world that grows from random events, as depicted by Darwin, incompatible with belief in God. These theists therefore argue that the events happen by design and the randomness is illusory; the atheists affirm the randomness and declare belief in a Creator to be the illusion. Haught grounds his view of creation in the religious insight that God’s love is self-emptying, which allows creation to develop on its own as something other than the Creator. As Haught writes:
An unrestrained display of infinite presence or “omnipotence” would leave no room for anything other than God, and so it would leave out any evolutionary self-transcendence on the part of the cosmos. It is a humble “retreat” on God’s part that allows the cosmos to stand on its own and then to evolve as a relatively autonomous reality distinct from its creative ground. In this sense, creation and its evolutionary unfolding would be less the consequence of an eternal divine “plan” than of a humble and loving “letting be.”
The crucial meaning of Haught’s insights shows that a slowly evolving and chaotic universe does not necessarily lead to a materialist view of reality. Theists and atheist alike cannot get by with a simple choice of affirming or denying design.
Haught’s process theology takes a different approach to the notion of God as designer. He maintains that the universe is allowed to grow as something independent of the Creator. He contrasts the understanding of God in process theology with the portrayal of God in naive theism and atheism:
A coercive deity---one that immature religiosity often wishes for and that our scientific skeptics invariably have in mind when they assert that Darwin has destroyed theism---would not allow for the otherness, autonomy, and self-coherence necessary for a world to be a world unto itself.
A non-coercive creator allows not only human freedom, but also the pre-human spontaneity that allows for the formation of the universe and the evolution of life and of species. Haught concludes that God is the source not only of order, but also the instability and disorder that are necessary for novelty and for life itself.
While John Haught approaches the issue of evolution as a theologian with a deep understanding of science, Kenneth R. Miller approaches the same question as a cell biologist with a rich understanding of theology. In his book, Searching for Darwin’s God, Miller begins by demolishing the array of Creationists theories including Intelligent Design. These theories, while claiming the label of “scientific,” deny the validity of much well-established science, and they present a diminished notion of God.
In chapters 3, 4 and 5, Miller shows that Creationists present God as: first, a charlatan who created the earth only ten thousand years ago, but through fakery, made it look older; second, as a magician who made living things appear out of thin air; and third, as a mechanic who tinkered together the intricacy of the living cell. Miller then demonstrates that the origin of life as well as of species can be accounted for by the scientific study based on Darwinian natural selection.
The conflict that still endures between some religious thinkers and some scientists
stems partly from the notion that religion can answer questions better left to science, for example, questions on the origin of life and origin of species. But the controversy is fueled by many evolutionists who contend that evolution makes mechanistic materialism triumphant to the point that any religious or spiritual ideas are superfluous and irrational. Those evolutionists hold in common with the creationists the premise that evolution and religion are mutually exclusive.