Making Sense of Evolution: God of the future

John Haught concludes Making Sense of Evolution with some reflections on how an evolutionary picture of the world should inform–and even transform–our view of God. As we’ve seen, Haught thinks that evolutionary science reveals a creation that is unfinished and in process, analogous to an unfolding drama rather than a perfectly engineered machine. And how we think of creation has implications for how we should think of God.

Specifically, he argues that we should think of God as the world’s “Absolute Future”–the power of new possibilities, of liberation and promise. God is not one cause among others within the world; rather, with classical theology, Haught affirms that God is the ground of all possible being, and the one who underlies and envelops the entire drama of cosmic evolution, drawing it toward its final consummation. As with any dramatic narrative, its meaning and significance can’t be fully grasped until the end. The world doesn’t point unambiguously to the omniscient designer of high-modernist natural theology; we can only discern meaning and direction partially because we are in medias res.

Drawing on the work of Alfred North Whitehead and Teilhard de Chardin, Haught proposes that God beckons or lures creation forward, continually presenting it with new possibilities for greater complexity and beauty.

The ultimate explanation of evolution is the coming (or advent) of God into the world from out of an endlessly expansive future. For Christians, the God who comes from the future becomes incarnate in Christ; in the ongoing evolution of life, the Spirit of Christ–the Holy Spirit–animates the whole of creation so that all things anticipate a final convergence in the wide embrace of God the Father. In the depths of evolution and cosmic process, what is really going on, therefore, is the Trinitarian drama: God the Father speaks the Word that becomes the incarnate center and goal of the universe, and the whole universe is now being transformed into God’s bodily abode by the power of the Holy Spirit. (pp. 138-9)

This story of “what is really going on” isn’t in conflict with the story that natural science tells, Haught maintains. Theology deals in ultimate explanations; science in penultimate ones. Evolutionary naturalists sometimes take Darwinian science to entail a materialistic worldview, but this is, Haught says, to confuse levels of explanation. He contrasts a “metaphysics of the past” with a “metaphysics of the future.” The former says that what’s “really real” are the basic physical particles, and everything else is to be explained as nothing but a rearrangement of these particles over time. A metaphysics of the future, however, sees the ultimate explanation of things as coming from their ultimate end–which is an increasing complexity. From the very beginning matter is latent with the potential for mind and spirit. “The domain of thought has its proper home in nature, and this places in doubt the evolutionary materialist’s assumption that the universe is essentially mindless and hence devoid of purpose” (p. 145). The idea of matter without mind or spirit is a kind of abstraction from the fullness of experienced reality. This inward, spiritual aspect is what allows the Spirit of God to call forth creation’s potential for new and richer forms of existence.

If a theology of evolution questions the materialist dogma that only matter is “really real” while mind and spirit are essentially epiphenomena, it also takes issue with certain theologies that treat the physical world as at best a backdrop to the human story and at worst as a prison from which human souls need to be “harvested.” Whether in the lurid “Rapture” mythology of popular apocalypticism or in more sophisticated versions, this theology agrees with materialism that mind is essentially not at home in the universe. By contrast, Haught-ian evolutionary theology takes a much more holistic view. This has implications for spirituality and ethics: our task is not to maintain our moral or doctrinal purity so we can escape this perishing world into a heavenly afterlife. Instead, our task is to contribute, in our own small way, to what could be called the “divinization” of creation–“the noble enterprise of bringing a whole universe closer to unity and fulfillment in God” (p. 148).

(Previous posts on John Haught’s Making Sense of Evolution: 1|2|3.)

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