Monday, December 17, 2007

Georgetown Theologian John Haught On Why He Thinks Like De Chardin

I found an interesting interview in with John Haught, I culled three questions out of a couple of dozen. I think a secular interviewer allows for a less cautious response, then say if Haught would be interviewed by The National Catholic Register. It is still a statement of fact that the writings of Fr. Tielhard de Chardin, S.J. are still banned by the Vatican. They are not allowed to be taught or referred to in any educational setting, do to the fact that they incompatible with the Catholic faith, you can read more about the Vatican decrees (here). De Chardin's Piltdown man is also a known hoax you can read more about the hoax (here)

John Haught has set out to answer by proposing a "theology of evolution." Haught is a Roman Catholic theologian at Georgetown University and a prolific author. His books include(review) "God After Darwin," "Is Nature Enough?" and the forthcoming "God and the New Atheism." He's steeped in evolutionary theory as well as Christian theology. Haught believes Darwin is "a gift to theology." He says evolutionary biology has forced modern theologians to clarify their thinking by rejecting outdated arguments about God as an intrusive designer. Haught reclaims the theology of his intellectual hero, Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who died more than half a century ago. Teilhard believed that we live in a universe evolving toward ever greater complexity and, ultimately, to consciousness.
Haught is an intriguing figure in the debate over evolution. He was the only theologian to testify as an expert witness in the landmark
2005 Dover trial that ruled against teaching intelligent design in public schools. Haught testified against intelligent design, arguing that it's both phony science and bad theology. But Haught is also a fierce critic of hardcore atheists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, who claim that evolution leads logically to atheism. He says both sides place too much faith in science. "Ironically," Haught writes, "ID advocates share with their ideological enemies, the evolutionary materialists, the assumption that science itself can provide ultimate explanations."
So if you're a person of faith who wants to be intellectually responsible, you can't just shove all this science into a drawer. You do have to deal with it.
Exactly. Theology has always looked to secular concepts to express, for its particular age, what the meaning of God is. In early Christianity, St. Augustine went to Neoplatonism. Later on, Thomas Aquinas did something adventurous: He went to a pagan philosopher, Aristotle, to renew the understanding of Christianity in his own time. Islamic and Jewish philosophers and theologians have done the same thing. But as we move into our own time, theology has to deal with other concepts in order to make sense of its faith. Darwin's thought seems to be more important intellectually and culturally than it's ever been. My view is that theology, instead of ignoring or closing its eyes to it, should look it squarely in the face. It has everything to gain and nothing to lose by doing so. In my view, Darwin's thought is a gift to theology.
Why? Because it forces theologians to sharpen their thinking?
Yes. I came to this idea of evolutionary theology long ago when I was still a young man. I read the works of a famous Jesuit paleontologist named Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard was saying in the early 20th century pretty much what I'm saying today. In many ways, my vocation as a theologian has been to expand on the work he started. Teilhard was sent by his superiors to study geology and paleontology. He was a priest at the time, trying to figure out what the evolutionary character of life on Earth had to do with his Christianity. He wrote essays synthesizing evolution into a broad understanding of his faith, including a deeper understanding of God. His religious superiors thought these essays were a bit too adventurous. So they shipped him off to China, which is the wrong place to send people who like to dig up old bones. Teilhard got involved in expeditions that uncovered Peking man and other interesting evolutionary phenomena. During all this time, 25 or so years in China, he was developing his ideas, synthesizing Christianity and evolution, and writing his major work, "The Phenomenon of Man," now translated as "The Human Phenomenon." But he couldn't get it published in his own lifetime because the church wasn't ready for it. But after he died, his lay friends flooded the religious world with his publications, and Teilhard ended up having an enormous influence on religious thought. Some major Catholic theologians were steeped in Teilhard's ideas by the time the Second Vatican Council came along. If you read the documents from that council, you can see the imprint of Teilhard's attempt to unify evolution and Christianity. Teilhard argued that the universe is still evolving.
Wasn't that the cosmic process he was trying to explain?
He put the Darwinian story of nature in the larger context of cosmic evolution. He saw the emergence of what he called "more" coming in gradually from the time of the big bang. Atoms become molecules. Molecules become cells. Cells become organisms. Organisms become vertebrates with a complex nervous system. Nervous tissue developed and eventually became complex in humans. He saw this process of growing complexity as something that's still going on. This planet is itself becoming more complex. And the process is accelerating today at an enormous pace because of communications technology, engineering, economics and politics. The globe is shrinking. We're able to connect instantaneously with other parts of the Earth, in the same way that nerve fibers carry an electronic message from one part of the body to the other. We should place what's happening now in the context of the previous phases of evolution and the cosmos. And we should expect -- and hope for -- the universe to keep becoming "more."

Link to book review (here)


johnmac said...

Jim Casey, a Marist College professor who co-chaired the Marist 2006 conference on "Evolution, Faith, & Co-Creation" tells me that John Haught is neither a Jesuit or nor any type of priest -- and your link to his bio describes him as "Dr. John Haught, a Catholic Theologian"

Joseph Fromm said...

Good Catch!
I fixed the error.

Order Pills Antibacterial said...

I will be your frequent visitor, that's for sure.