John Haught and the shape of theistic evolution (2)

When John Haught presents his own response to the “challenges of evolution” in Debating Design  it turns out to be essentially the same as Howard van Till’s, only a little better argued. He begins:

Once we accept evolutionary science in an intellectually serious way, we cannot have exactly the same thoughts about Providence as we had before Darwin.

That, of course, has the effect of dismissing those who follow his first alternative (see the last post) as not intellectually serious. It reminds me of those who used to say that the Enlightenment changed forever the way modern man must view religion … before Postmodernism came along and showed that nothing human is forever, and least of all in philosophy.

How… can the idea of divine providential wisdom be rendered compatible with the obvious randomness or contingency in life’s evolution?

That, of course, is to say that ateleology is detectable by the metaphysics-free science he recommends (which outlaws equally ID’s detection of design and naturalism’s refusal to see it). It is to say that the “obvious” lack of empirical teleology can then be used to comment on the teleological Providence of God. As I suggested in the previous post this is clearly illogical. Now as I’ve shown elsewhere, Scripture clearly teaches that chance is under God’s guidance. Apart from being historically the Christian position other TEs have accepted it too, such as David Wilcox:

Chance is, in fact, the hand of God.

Haught unequivocally rejects this:

It is entirely – and indeed theologically – wrong to deny that chance is a real aspect of the world.

Well that puts Wilcox and me in our place, and settles the equivocation of so many of the TEs over at BioLogos. But it is tempting to reply, “Well, that’s what you say.” He does, however, justify the “theological necessity” of chance. Rejecting the idea of God as a “mere designer” he says:

Many theists will be much more concerned with the question of whether and how Darwinism fits the vision of God as humble, self-giving love.

And he goes on to ask if Darwinism refutes the notion that:

…divine Providence is essentially self-giving love.

There follows, as we shall see, the now-familiar apologetic for the freedom of creation. But hold on – who said that Providence is essentially self-giving love? Or, come to that, that God is exactly equivalent to humble and self-giving love? Is the latter not a truncated view of the Father who is also Sovereign Judge and the Disposer of all things according to his will as well as, in Jesus, humble and in the Incarnation, self-giving? As for Providence, the historic view echoed in the Westminster Confession is this:

God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy Providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise and glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness and mercy.

That, you will agree, is a rather different kind of Providence – so whence comes the new view mandated by Haught? It arises from the “freedom” rhetoric we recognise throughout TE literature. Try and follow the logic, rather than the rhetoric, of this novel theology:

An infinite love, if we think about it seriously, would manifest itself in the creation of a universe free of any rigid determinism (either natural or divine) that would keep it from arriving at its own independence, autonomy and self-coherence.”

This is actually a pretty rigid concept of love, especially as he develops it. It arises, he says, from the “intuition that human love means letting the other be.” That’s actually an intuition that most – apart from a few libertarians – would consider very incomplete (if they think about it seriously too!). Loving a spouse isn’t greater because the marriage is open, any more than if it is authoritarian. Loving a child means doing everything for it at first, protecting it from others and itself (by force if necessary), and – in a well-functioning society and family – using both restriction and freedom to nurture, indeed, a person who is “himself” – but also a person whose self reflects the virtues of his parents and willingly shares them – the paradigmatic case here is Jesus the Son of God, who was pleased to say, “I and the Father are One.”

Ask any good farmer, and he will tell you about the love he has for his animals – even though he is raising them entirely for slaughter, not independence or autonomy. You may reply that no loving father raises children for slaughter, but that’s the whole point. Lifestock are not children, and a different kind of love is appropriate – and the cosmos is neither a child nor even a farm animal. Process theology takes every event as mental (panpsychia), and therefore this cosmic freedom makes some sense in that context. But an autonomous stone, or a self-coherent amoeba aren’t actually particularly high manifestations of divine love, when compared to the ravens being fed by God’s hand, the lily clothed in more glory than Solomon or the trees that clap their hands with joy in service of God.

Haught cites Aquinas (or Mooney citing Aquinas, actually) to say that a universe devoid of accidents would be theologically incoherent, but neglects to say that Aquinas has a very different view of chance as under, not independent of, Providence.

One argument he offers that differs from van Till’s is that it is the very separateness of God from creation that demands it be “free to become itself” – implying the freedom to go astray, to take a good long time in its “becoming”, and to be “self-actualising and self-creative”. All this is standard TE fare, and since it is apparently such an inevitable conclusion from the separation of God from Creation, it makes one wonder why for 2000 years theologians hadn’t worked out from first principles that an old earth and unguided evolution had occurred.

The answer is that the logic is flawed. The core paradigm of creation in Scripture is God’s effectual word of power (actually personalised, in the New Testament, in Jesus the Logos). What that word speaks is as separate from him as our own words are, but as expressive of, and dependent on God’s purpose and will as what we say is of ours. My words do not take on an independent existence, or “become themselves”, after I speak them. If I love music, and write a symphony out of that love, is it not truly separate from me? Was it not love that wrought it? But does that then require it be free to self-actualise apart from human (and therefore rational and spiritual) musicians?

John Polkinghone, in his own chapter of Debating Design, says a little more both about the interaction of human and divine wills, and the analogy of the music of creation as being “improvised” rather than “static” – but to my mind he is still too influenced by what is actually rehetoric rather than theology. Maybe I’ll comment on him in a subsequent post, but suffice it for now to note that most who “think seriously” about music do not place the symphonies of Beethoven on a lower creative or artistic level than the improvisation of Eric Clapton: they are just different horses for different courses.

In summary, Haught’s theology of nature in Debating Design is argued somewhat more thoroughly than Van Till’s in Nature of Nature, but in my view it is still lacking logical rigour – and even more, lacking the basis in Scriptural teaching than would make it truly Christian, rather than philosophical, theology.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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