Making Sense of Evolution: Multi-layered explanation

I’m reading Catholic theologian John Haught’s Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life. Haught is a well-known advocate of “theistic evolution” and argues that theology hasn’t adequately come to grips with Darwin’s impact on our understanding of the world, which he thinks should have serious repercussions on key theological concepts.

Theistic evolution represents the oft-neglected middle ground between atheistic naturalists and creationists or intelligent design proponents, who tend to hog all the attention. Despite their high profile in the science and religion debates, Haught contends that naturalists and creationists/IDers make the same kind of mistake in thinking about God and evolution. They both think that God and natural selection are providing the same kind of explanation for the development of life. Evolutionary naturalists conclude that since natural selection is scientifically well-supported, there’s no role for God to play in the unfolding drama of evolution. Creationists/IDers agree that natural selection excludes any role for God, so they try to attack natural selection as an insufficient explanation.

According to Haught, treating God and natural selection as competing explanations is a confusion of different “levels” or “layers” of explanation. He uses the analogy of a printed page in a book, which can be explained at a number of levels: in terms of a chemical analysis of ink on paper, the mechanics of the printing press, the ideas that the author was trying to express, the intention of the publisher in publishing a book on a particular topic, etc. None of these explanations contradicts or excludes any of the others. They each operate at a different “layer” of explanation.

Similarly, Haught argues, natural selection provides (to the best of our knowledge) a complete explanation for the development of life at its own level. But that doesn’t mean there’s no role for God. To the extent that God enters the picture, it’s at a different level or layer. An appropriate theology of evolution will deny the atheistic conclusion that evolution proves there’s no God and no role for divine providence in the development of life; but it will also avoid the “god of the gaps”-style arguments favored by creationists and IDers. Haught intends to flesh out his understanding of how God acts in a world of evolutionary change throughout the rest of the book. I’ll likely be blogging my thoughts on this as I go.


4 thoughts on “Making Sense of Evolution: Multi-layered explanation

  1. Pingback: Making Sense of Evolution: Design or drama? | A Thinking Reed

  2. Pingback: Making Sense of Evolution: God of the future | A Thinking Reed

  3. Pingback: Links for the weekend « I Think I Believe

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